Making Your Marketing Map, Part 2: A Plan Without A Map Is Just A List…

ali rahman Blog, Marketing Map


This is the second post in a series we’re working on, introducing the concept of the Marketing Map. The Marketing Map is a strategy tool we’ve been developing in-house in working with our clients. We think it’s time to share it.

The first post in the series lays out some of the many tactical opportunities available to small businesses today. It’s a good foundational piece. It can be found here.

This, the second post in the series, talks about the problems with traditional marketing plans and introduces the concept of the Marketing Map as something different. As the weeks roll on we’ll go into more detail about what exactly goes into a marketing map. By the end of this series we’ll have built a fully interactive Marketing Map Maker tool that you can use to make your own.

But for now, let’s start with looking at what a marketing map is, how it’s different from a marketing plan and how it can help you.

How does that old saying about best-laid plans go?


Have you read Rework? It’s a great, practical guide book to building a business. Chock full of little insights that seem totally intuitive once you read them. A major theme throughout the book is that entrepreneurs sometimes put a disproportionate amount of emphasis on planning, at the expense of doing, making, learning, improving.

The problem, they say, is twofold:

  1. 1. Planning every little detail of your macro-brand strategy takes time and effort. Big plans tend to involve a lot of futurecasting, so you’re working with unknowns. Human brains slow down when contemplating unknowns. You’re missing opportunities while you spend a huge amount of time planning.
  2. 2. You can’t predict the future. Inevitability, things are going to go off the rails. Unpredictable events will occur. A rigid, linear plan based on dependencies and outcomes won’t easily withstand the real-time trials of the market. Plans can be stifling. If you’re too invested in a rigid plan, you won’t know how to react if something changes. Hell, you won’t know if you should react should something change. If you’re unwaveringly wed to your plan you risk double-downing on your mistakes either via the sunk cost fallacy or via missed opportunities.

Brework-backasically, what they’re saying in Rework is that plans will kill your business if they’re too broad in scope, and inflexible.

I happen to think there’s a time and place for planning. Especially in marketing where hard costs are involved. But I think the problem with most marketing plans is that they’re too grandiose in scope. They’re too big. They involve too many dependencies. They aren’t resilient to market realities. They take too much time to produce, time lost that is better spent trying, learning, optimizing.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb introduced the world to the concept of Antifragile systems; those that improve when confronted with unpredictability. The rigid, broad marketing plan is fragile; it breaks when dealing with the unpredictable.
The Marketing Map is intended to be antifragile. It’s not a substitute for plans so much is it provides a way to contextualize them, to get right down to what matters for your brand and how you can bounce between planned tactics to hit the overall cross-channel goals you’re going for. It’s a way to understand the big picture, without being unwaveringly married to a single set of actions to get you there.

Marketer Heal Thyself: Our Own Marketing Map

So, this is Fractal’s Marketing Map:

It looks like a bunch of islands, floating in a sea of nothing, right? Let’s break it down:

  •  Each island represents a particular tactic to help us get our business out there
  •  The X-Axis represents the resources (time or money) required to effectively use the tactic
  •  The Y-Axis looks at the average consideration one of your prospective customers has to make to convert to a sale. We feel like this dimension “high-consideration vs. low consideration” carries a lot of information in it. For example, high-consideration purchases tend to be bigger, and if they’re corporate (B2B) might involve multiple decision makers. Low-consideration purchases tend to be more transactional and impulsive, meaning the sales cycles are likely shorter. This model doesn’t work all the time in all industries, but as a general strategic and conceptualization tool, it can help.
  •  The size of each island represents the overall value of each of these tactics to your business needs; their size is dynamic and based on a series of intake questions we ask our clients about their business needs, budgets, brand equity, value proposition, key differentiation and customer profiles.
  • The arrows between islands represent relationships and dependencies. For example, a strong social media presence is fed by content, or successful PPC advertising begins with solid SEO.
So, what does this tell us?

We’re a marketing firm, so our value-per-converted-customer tends to be pretty high. A typical client for us is worth upwards of $20,000. That tells us two things:

  1. 1. Fractal’s prospects are going to take time to convert, there will have to be multiple touches and exposure to our brand before they select us
  2. 2. Direct sales are worth it for us. We’re not a retail purchase, personal connections and care are required for us to convert prospects.

The lines between the islands also strongly suggest that content is a key lynchpin to our conversions. After we reach out to prospects via direct sales tactics, they’re going to look us up, and that’s where we need to be able to demonstrate value with useful content and a strong website.

Our social media tactics are more closely tied to building soft-leads and garnering brand awareness. But these too rely on solid content. Because if you don’t have good content, what do you have to talk about on social media?

A Metaphor: Maps Versus Routes


So, what’s really going on here? Why is this kind of visualization actually helpful?

The answer is context. The map gives us a macro view of what we can be doing without forcing us to follow a single linear path like plans tend to do. It gives us options. That way, if we burnout on a single tactic, or discover it isn’t working, or find out that our customers are more responsive to other tactics, we can pivot easily. It allows us to react, without being reactive.

We’ll then make mini-plans for each tactic, but we won’t find ourselves inflexibility tied to some grandiose, cross-channel, perfect plan that will inevitably go off the rails.

Remember Mapquest? You’d punch in a starting location and ending destination and it would output a route for you. An itinerary. You’d print it. You’d put it in your car. You’d cross your fingers and hope there are no detours or accidents or anything mucking up your route.

A plan is a lot like an itinerary. It works great if no obstacles appear en-route. Of course, the larger the distance between two points, the more complex the route becomes. That means you encounter more and more opportunities to fail.

So, what happens if something comes up? A highway is closed? There’s an accident en route? Traffic is untenable? What do you do? That’s why you need a map to compliment your itinerary. The map gives you knowledge, confidence, context at multiple scales and most importantly, alternative options.


Directions + a Map. Context! Aha!

mapquest itinerary

Old School Linear Mapquest Directions.

If you don’t have a map to compliment your plans, you have no way of understanding the geography around you. The bottom line is, plans are linear, route directions, and by themselves are useless and dangerous. Maps complement plans. They give you a broader picture of what’s around you, and help you navigate between tactics when the unforeseen occurs. You should have plans, but they should be tight, small, executable and measurable in scope. They should be tactical. Things get dangerous when your plans start including dependencies across broad scope.

Homework and Next Time

In the next post in this series we’ll go over what goes into a Marketing Map in more detail. In the meantime, here’s a blank map with some select tactics plotted on it. The tactical islands have no size, because their size is based on dynamic input. There are no connectors between them, because they too depend on your operations and type of business. And the location of each tactical island relative to resources required and our conversion/volume binary are obviously generalized. But it still gives you a place to start.

Take a look at the blank map and read more about the tactical opportunities we’ve plotted on it in our Universe of Opportunity blog post. That will help you understand why we’ve situated them where we have.