There’s a saying that “failure to plan is planning to fail.” That’s certainly true, but the sad truth is planning doesn’t guarantee success. Most of us, at some point in our lives, have planned something and then failed anyway.

This is clearly as true in the marketing space as anywhere. The unspoken implication in the never-ending cycle of “new ways to do marketing” is that something in the current way isn’t quite working out.

Not all failures are completely preventable – whether it’s an unforeseen change in the market or a natural disaster, sometimes you just have rotten luck. Often, however, there are root causes when a plan simply doesn’t come together. One of the most common ones, and our subject today, is when a strategy is decoupled from execution.

In his book The Five Tensions of Marketing Orchestration, Noah Brier asserts that “strategy becomes disconnected from execution when it doesn’t help people make decisions.” Noah goes on to explain that a common problem with marketing strategy is conflating specific objectives with general business outcome.

A good example is a strategic objective to “drive leads.” Of course that’s the desired end result, but it’s not really a strategy. It’s a lot like signing up to run your first marathon, and getting a training plan that just says “get better at running.” It identifies a goal, but it doesn’t tell you anything about how to get there.

Similarly, a strategic objective to “drive more leads” doesn’t help someone on your team make a decision that will help move the objective forward, particularly when it comes to making content.

So how do you help people make decisions, and thus drive successful execution? You make sure the strategic intent behind what they’re doing is explicit, with objectives that are clearly defined. Rather than “did this content drive leads” (which can be difficult to answer for top- and mid-funnel content, even with multi-touch attribution models), a better question is “did this content accomplish its objective.” Whereas “make a content piece that drives leads” is a vague objective, “make a content piece that explains our value for the retail vertical” is quite specific, and helps the person producing the content make decisions around it.

The benefit to this approach is twofold – your team has a clearer idea of what to do, and it also ensures that your content is tightly mapped to your customer’s journey. We don’t mean the traditional awareness-consideration-purchase funnel; we mean the journey your customer is on, from their own perspective. Each stage of that journey represents a task the customer is trying to accomplish – and an opportunity for your company to help them along the way.

To bring this back to our actionable strategy: at each stage of your customer’s journey, what is the content you create intended to do? Is the purpose to deliver a certain message? Is it to build credibility? Or is it, yes, to directly inspire your reader to hit that “contact sales” button?

When you have that objective clearly spelled out, and mapped to the customer journey, it’s much easier for the person making the content to figure out if what they’re working on will meet that goal – and to measure the results to know for sure.

In the end, a strategy is only worth as much as its results. High-level goals are important, obviously – but without a clear way to get there, the organization will struggle to execute. Clear, actionable objectives for each stage of your customer’s journey helps your team see where they want to be, and how to get there.