I started writing this article a month ago but became sidetracked when I realized that marketing plans were as unavoidable (and as important) as Death and Taxes. And while we all try to avoid these topics, the best way to deal with them is straight on. The best approach to dealing with uncertainty is to be prepared and to have a plan.
If you haven’t started, you’re already late. It’s that time of year for creating your marketing plan. Having crafted a few myself, I am writing this article to share my experiences and tips on what has worked and what didn’t.
If you are looking for a more formal approach, check out The Marketing Leadership Council which offers a marketing planning tool called MarkPlan and recently held a series of workshops on marketing planning.
The Hunter – Gatherer Model
One of the biggest mistakes a marketer can make is to create a plan in a vacuum. Or to create a plan with only your team’s objectives in mind. It starts with reaching across functional areas. Gather as many inputs as you can from as many perspectives as you can. Think about the entire lifecycle from new product ideas all the way to customer retention. Do not allow any “realities” to restrict your thinking as you gather these inputs.
Another huge mistake I see marketers make in planning is to put it off because “I don’t have my budget” or “I haven’t been told what our goals are for next year.” Hogwash! You know how to get started. The world hasn’t changed that much. Worse case, you may need to adjust. As marketers, we need to read the market and always be ready to adjust.
You have gathered a complete set of inputs from far and wide, so now it’s time to become a hunter and focus in on what has worked in the past and why. It helps here to take a narrow view. Pick a metric you can use to separate the good from the bad. I have used sales pipeline return on marketing spend.
If you use your CRM system to track marketing activities from inquiry to close, then you know how many opportunities you have created and how much sales pipeline that has generated. Total unweighted pipeline divided by total marketing spend is a good measure because it allows you to analyze a wider set of marketing activities then if you just looked at closed sales.
The point here is to pick a metric that is right for you and your organization. Then take all the inputs you’ve received, analyze those against historical performance and model towards the most efficient way to achieve that end goal: higher return on marketing spend.
Now there are those secondary goals you may have neglected by picking one metric to focus on. An effective marketing strategy focused on one goal will have a halo effect on other marketing metrics. For example, effective demand generation with high quality content that meets customer needs will produce awareness and will drive consideration of your product. You may need to supplement your programs with these types of tactics depending on your corporate goals. But focusing on one primary objective will still produce secondary benefits.
The Principle of “Always On”
This is a basic and fundamental concept of effective marketing that is too often overlooked or undervalued. Our customers do not decide to start searching for solutions to their problems because we decided to run a campaign. Demand is “always on,” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So why shouldn’t your marketing?
We need an always on demand strategy that utilizes an effective inbound marketing approach: optimized website, consistent paid search activity, drip nurture programs and marketing automation. The cost of going in and out of the marketplace with time-bound campaigns often cannot compare to an effective always on campaign.
Create a “train schedule” of activities that starts early in the year and ends late. Pick your best content from this year along with your best media and plan to fund that to start. Once you’ve planned the always on activity, you can now fill-in your calendar with all major time-based events. Major tradeshows, online events, product announcements and other major communications.
With this calendar view, you can begin to see opportunities for integration across the entire marketing mix.
Now that you’ve completed this process, you will be ready to present a strategic marketing plan that will drive a higher return on marketing spend, no matter what template your are asked to fill out and regardless of when you are given your budget and objectives.