Mark Watney: At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.
I thoroughly enjoyed “The Martian,” director Ridley Scott’s 2015 movie of astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) surviving alone on Mars and ultimately making a safe return to earth. The quick-paced story covers space travel, rugged environment, farming, disco music, and a bevy of space geek personalities. But what really got my attention was all the strategy, planning, and problem solving. Wow! And to think, we can apply the same process to our marketing function to get better business results.
If we reflect on Mark’s story and actions, the parallels to a strategic marketing plan are easy to see.
Mark’s goals were (1) survive as long as he needed to on Mars and (2) ultimately return to Earth. If we focus just on survival, his objectives covered food, water, and shelter. His tactics (daily activities) – growing potatoes, distilling water, patching structures with duct tape, and so on – were focused on meeting objectives that would keep him alive.
As he worked each day, some activities were successful and some failed. Mark could learn from each experience and change his actions as needed to stay on track. On-going observation, assessing, learning, course correcting.
In marketing, you develop and execute a plan in much the same manner as Mark. Basic questions to address include:
• What does my business want/need to do
•What resources do we have readily available
•What resources are we missing and how do we get those or a suitable alternative
•How do we execute the plan
•How do we know we’re on track, what are our success indicators
•What will indicate a need to reassess and correct course
Even if you’re not trying to survive being abandoned on Mars, if you’re just building your marketing effectiveness or even just trying to decide what to do next, developing and executing a strategic plan can be daunting. Mark could survive alone on Mars but only for a short time. He could return to Earth but only with the skills, insights, and inspiration of a big team. You, too, can call on the expertise and experience of those outside your usual team.
To paraphrase our opening quote with our own strategic marketing needs in mind…
At some point, you’re going to hit a wall and you’re going to feel stuck. You’re going to feel as though there’s no way to meet that goal or complete that activity. When this happens, you can abandon the plan or you can get to work. Put your head down, adjust your plan and activities as needed, and keep moving forward. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And if you solve enough problems and the right problems, you get back on course to meet your objectives and your bigger goals.
And then you arrive back on Earth, safe and sound and a little wiser.