Creating a marketing plan for the year ahead is a winter classic. There is something truly refreshing about taking a blank piece of paper (or its digital equivalent) and giving ourselves the time to think about what we want to achieve in the coming 12 months.
But, more often than not, the task of building a marketing plan is considered at best tedious, at worst daunting. Also, it’s easy to overcomplicate the best approach to reach our goals. So, in order to help marketers out there, here are my hacks to go about it.
1) Focus on the essence of your marketing plan
They say that the devil is in the detail, but, when you get started with your marketing plan, you want to be very aware of the big picture. Chances are you will have several ideas about what you want to do in the next 12 months. But are they really aligned with your ultimate goal? In fact, let’s stop there for a minute. What is your main objective for the year? What are you really trying to achieve?
Marketing planning hack: give your year a theme
Having an overarching theme for the year (or quarter, or half year if you prefer to chop things up a bit) will help tremendously when you’re creating a marketing plan. Summarise your main goal for the year in a short statement. Even better, just a word that defines your theme for the year ahead.
Perhaps your primary objective for the year ahead is to gain new customers or increase the money they spend on your product or service. The theme of your marketing plan will be revenue growth. Suppose you have a new product that’s got tremendous potential but that nobody knows about yet. In this case, you’d be focusing on awareness. Maybe you’re not quite sure which direction to take and have some ideas to try things out and eventually decide what road is for you at the end of the 12 months. Your theme for the year would be experimentation.
Having a single concept guide everything to you throughout the year is immensely powerful, and can really boost your performance.
2) Simplify your reality
Real life is messy, but a marketing plan needn’t be. Granted, in your day-to-day job there will be things popping up that you hadn’t planned. That’s life, and if you can’t live with it, you’re up for a very stressful career as marketers. However, creating a marketing plan is the one chance you get a year to take a step back from your routine and identify what’s essential. It’s also a great opportunity to weed out the little things that sap energy away in spite of not being correlated with our success.
Marketing planning hack: work in threes
Think of the three key areas you need to work on in the marketing plan for the year. They may be awareness, client retention and new products, or perhaps service A, service B and service C. It could even be different projects that will be pivotal in the year ahead, such as a rebrand, going global or growing the team.
Do a team brainstorm for each of those areas. Think about what your plans for this year. Don’t just consider what you already know you want to do, or what you’ve done every year. What new tools, tactics and activities you could use to leverage and grow those areas? You may decide to continue your email marketing activities, but how about hiring the services of an external optimisation expert to give them a boost? Or you can run your usual advertising campaign, testing a new channel at the same time.
Limiting your priorities to three ensures that you only include in your marketing plan what’s truly relevant to your business. Brainstorming in three separate goes will also give you the opportunity to think about each area separately, focusing on its specific needs and requirements.
3) Build the plan from the top down
It’s easy to build a marketing plan simply copying what was done last year. For marketers who have been in their role for a few years, it’s so tempting it’s almost inevitable. But this bottom-up approach doesn’t really consider whether the planned campaigns truly feed into the ultimate goals for the year. It will also lack a narrative, a story, which as we know is something customers are increasingly aware of in their relationship with brands.
Marketing planning hack: start with what you can’t control
Take a piece of paper and split it into three columns, one per target area. Now, split them into twelve rows, one per month of the year. Then, add to the calendar you’ve just created the key events for your plan that are outside of your direct control. Whether it’s a product launch, an industry event, a seasonal occurrence or a speaking opportunity, write them down in the relevant column. Next, take the results of your brainstorm and scan them to identify the best ideas. How can you use them in your marketing plan?
Suppose the theme of your year is branding, and column one concerns generating awareness in the industry. If you have a speaking slot at a major conference, why not build an integrated campaign around it? You could let your contacts know about your presentation; organise face-to-face meetings with industry players attending the event; build a content marketing campaign around what you’ll be talking about; even grow your email list by asking attendees who have requested a copy of your slides to subscribe to your newsletter.
By building campaigns around what’s already on your calendar you will maximise existing opportunities and optimise your marketing plan, It will also help you identify potential bottlenecks so you can plan ahead, and find when there will be time to devote to non-seasonal projects.