Everybody's got some sort of marketing plan. It may be a full-blown document that outlines each step you're going to take, a simple diagram on a napkin, or just some ideas and expectations in your head. The bad news is that your plan is broken. Or it soon will be.

Former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson once said something along the lines of "everybody's got a plan until they get hit." That's how it is with marketing plans.

You've got it all choreographed. "I'm gonna send out this email, release this report, and post a video to YouTube. My affiliates are gonna promote like crazy. It's all gonna go viral. Conservative estimate: I'll make $500,000. More likely, I'll make $1,000,000."

Then you get hit.

Your affiliates yawn. Nobody shares the video or report. Only 10% of your subscribers open your email, and only 1% click through. You sell $5 worth of product on the first day, and move on to something else.

Sure, that's the way it goes when your marketing plan is more of a daydream. But even the best plans often flop. Google Wave and Buzz flopped. Do you think it's because they didn't bother making a plan? I doubt it.

Plan, Meet Reality

A fighter may have devised a million devious ways to dodge and block Mike Tyson's punches, but unless he accounts for the hard reality of the ones that hit their marks, that plan's going to go out the window quick.

And even if you prepare for things that might go wrong, there's always something you won't foresee.

As Helmuth von Multke said, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy."

So what's the point of planning?

Planning prepares you for the unexpected.

Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "Plans are nothing; planning is everything." In other words, even though most plans aren't likely to work as expected, the exercise of going through the planning process still makes all the difference. By carefully crafting a plan, you:

  • ...discover what assets you have.
  • ...get an idea of the kinds of challenges you may face.
  • ...prepare for the most obvious problems in advance.
  • ...create a solid starting point for your marketing campaign.

With all that done, you're prepared to reassess and adapt to whatever reality throws at you.

What's wrong with internet marketing plans?

It's easy to be an internet marketer. Depending on the approach you choose, you may not even have to build a website. And even if you do, it's a whole lot cheaper and easier than building a brick and mortar business.

Because of this, many internet marketers rush in with pretty flimsy plans. If you were going to invest $200,000 to start a business, you'd be a lot more motivated to plan than if you only had to invest $200.

One common internet marketing plan goes like this:

  • Buy an "easy button" (an autoblogging script, a package of 10,000 Twitter followers, an email list, etc.).
  • Push it.
  • Make money.

Reality looks like this:

  • Buy an "easy button".
  • Push it.
  • Decide that it's broken.

...or maybe this:

  • Buy an "easy button".
  • Push it.
  • Google, or the FTC, or VISA...smashes the easy button.

So much for that plan.

Perhaps the problem with it isn't so much that the easy button was doomed to fail as that the marketer never had the slightest idea what was really going on. So they were completely unprepared to adapt and fix the part of the plan that didn't work. When the easy button broke, they had absolutely nothing.

The marketer mistook ease of entry for ease of success.

Success in the face of reality requires more. You've got to choose a viable market. You've got to get to know the market: what they want, where to contact them, how to talk to them, what they're willing to pay... You've got to differentiate yourself from the millions of other offers they're bombarded with every day. You may have the greatest product in the world -- the one that really works where everything else they've tried has failed. But until they have a good reason to believe it, why should they even give you the time of day?

Then you've got to make a plan -- not just a hope or a dream, but a plan based on you're best understanding of reality. You've got to look at what you're planning to do from the point of view of the potential customer.

If you're going to send a broadcast to your mailing list, how responsive are your customers likely to be? How have your open, click-through and purchase rates been for past promotions? Even if this is your best offer ever, it's not going to get a 50% open rate out of a 10% open rate list. If you typically get 10% opens, you're probably going to get about 10% opens. Reality.

If you're going to advertise on Google or buy banner space somewhere, put yourself in the customer's shoes. How often do you click on AdWords ads or banners? No matter how great your ad is, customers are going to click it about as often as they click all the other great ads out there. Reality.

If you've created an eBook or video designed to go viral, consider how often you share the eBooks and videos you see. Even if they're good. As a potential customer, would you really think yours is that much more worth sharing? Reality.

I'm not saying it's impossible to get high response rates. I'm saying that if you're following the typical formula for creating products and promotional materials, you can expect a typical response. Success generally requires going beyond the formula. If you face reality while making your plan, you'll have a chance to identify opportunities to stand out above the noise.

Your plan probably won't go as planned. But you'll get your foot in the door. And you'll be ready to improvise, take what's working a little bit, and drive it the rest of the way to the sale.