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Planning to win

Marketing and market research are not generally hazardous professions, but those who track or comment on market trends often have their knuckles rapped for reporting the truth or for producing disappointing forecasts.

In an extreme case recently, two Iranian pollsters who released survey findings about the country's fundamentalist regime are now starting jail sentences of eight and nine years having being judged guilty of espionage. The survey - which was commissioned by a Parliamentary committee -revealed that 75% of Iranians supported reopening diplomatic relations with the US. It's not like Iran here, but people still fear the truth. They worry that forecasts may be self-fulfilling. That talking about bad news somehow creates it. Words are powerful, it's true, but news itself isn't harmful - it's what you make of it that does the damage. If the market is turning down, or someone's plans don't stand up to examination it's better to say so.

If it looks too good to be true, it probably is

Marketing is rarely mysterious. It's a down to earth discipline that connects opportunity with implementation. It makes things happen. It works with the real world and with how things are. Good marketing plans should be like clear diagrams that show you how an engine works. If all you can see is smoke and mirrors, or it depends on luck or the throw of a dice, then your plan is probably just wishful thinking. And if you cannot show how your plan will work, it almost certainly won't. As they say about pyramid schemes and other scams - if it looks too good to be true it probably is.

It's easy to lose touch with reality if you're a successful company, led by a dominant or charismatic leader, surrounded by 'yes men' and people too nervous to tell you the truth. Marconi plc, still better known as GEC, was once a mighty, cash rich conglomerate. Its failure to transform itself into an IT company left it on the brink of extinction. Amid public recriminations thousands lost their shirts, and thousands more their jobs. It's a sad tale of senior managers who thought they walked on water, and a company that sold off its core money making parts to buy into an IT future that was based on little more than wishful thinking.

Good marketing is not about wishful thinking, or refusing to see what you don't like the look of. That's just a way of losing money. Good marketing is about a realistic appraisal of strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and an ambitious but achievable objective with a blueprint to make it happen.

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