Why using Excel spreadsheets for marketing planning is a bad idea – especially during a crisis

Why using Excel spreadsheets for marketing planning is a bad idea – especially during a crisis

Since the coronavirus outbreak, marketers everywhere have been busy revising their annual plans to adapt to the new circumstances and, more importantly, to prevent campaigns from causing a backlash. While some CMOs may think now is not the time to discuss switching to a new tool, we highlight how getting rid of spreadsheets will help marketers navigate the crisis.

Marketer using Excel spreadsheet for annual marketing plan

Photo credit: El Nariz / Shutterstock.com

If you work in marketing – or any other industry, for that matter – chances are life was much easier a few months ago. Maybe you were able to welcome new team members as a result of ongoing business growth? Maybe you had finally managed to improve some business processes? Or maybe your first few marketing campaigns were delivering outstanding results?

Giving your marketing plan an overhaul isn’t as easy as you thought

When the coronavirus started spreading to countries around the world in March, it still took a while for some people to understand that it wasn’t “just the flu”. As several countries were preparing for lockdown, emails started pouring in to inform us of yet another event being canceled due to the pandemic. It did not take long before businesses realized that their marketing strategy was going to need an overhaul.

As a result, marketing teams everywhere are currently reviewing their annual marketing plan. Apart from the fact that attending trade shows and networking events simply isn’t an option at the moment, marketers are also having to adapt campaigns to ensure they do not come across as insensitive or inappropriate.

Now, anyone who has been adapting their marketing plan will also have to shift budgets. Let’s say you want to spend some of the budget previously allocated to events on online ads instead. What if you don’t know which campaigns to pick because you haven’t been able to monitor them properly? Giving your marketing plan an overhaul can be a daunting task, especially if you aren’t using the right tools.

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If you’re in the middle of dealing with a crisis, spreadsheet overload won’t help

As challenging as the current crisis is for many of us, it is also an opportunity for businesses to rethink some of their processes.

Marketers using Excel spreadsheets to do their marketing planning were probably finding it difficult to keep an overview even before the coronavirus pandemic. Whether it’s to plan campaigns and budgets, to monitor campaign performance or to compile reports – spreadsheets are still the go-to solution for many marketers because they have always used them, and they are cheap.

We get it – transitioning to a new tool can be a stressful experience, but here are three reasons why it’s time to ditch that Excel spreadsheet and adopt a digital tool instead:

  1. Updating a marketing plan in Excel is cumbersome

If you have ever tried changing a marketing plan in Excel, you probably know what we are on about: Spreadsheets are just not flexible enough. Try adding a few rows and columns and you will soon find you’ve completely ruined your carefully prepared layout.

The problem with marketing plans is that there are usually several items attached to a campaign or any other action such as an event. In other words, you cannot just move a single campaign or an event – there will be a whole set of items you will have to move at the same time. Since spreadsheets do not have a drag-and-drop function, you will probably spend an awful lot of time reorganizing and redesigning your entire spreadsheet.

  1. Spreadsheets are not designed for team collaboration

Many companies not only have to revise their marketing plan, but they also have to do so in real-time. This means a lot of coordination. However, the fact that most people are working from home at the moment is not exactly going to make things easier. What if you are still relying on a paper-based approval process? What if your company does not use a cloud-based storage solution yet and your VPN connection doesn’t work properly? If several people are working on a new marketing plan at the same time, things get chaotic.

  1. Spreadsheets make it hard to zoom out for an overview

Another reason why spreadsheets are not great for marketing planning purposes is that they do not offer an overview. One spreadsheet to create your marketing plan, one for budgets, one to track campaign performance, etc. Unlike digital tools, spreadsheets do not allow users to upload content, meaning that you cannot link your content to the relevant campaigns. This lack of functionality makes it much harder for marketers relying on ‘old-school’ tools to react quickly if needed.

Now is the time for marketers to transition to digital tools

Maybe we all agree that spreadsheets are not great, but you have always used them, and you know a few workarounds? Here’s the thing: During difficult times, companies cannot afford to rely on inefficient solutions. First, because they will need their marketing team to be on top of their game to make sure none of the campaigns backfire. And second, because they will have to spend resources more carefully as turnovers are expected to decrease.

Still not sure whether transitioning to a digital tool is worth it? The beauty of using a digital tools is that you and your team will ultimately have more time for meaningful tasks such as coming up with ideas for original campaigns, tracking campaign performance, testing new channels and – last but not least – making sure you are better prepared for when the next crisis hits.