While planning and executing holiday campaigns will take center stage for many marketers this time of year, it’s also time for another annual marketing project: creating your marketing plan for next year. It’s always a time-consuming task, but worth the effort to get the new year off on the right foot. Having been through this cycle more than a few times, I have come up with several tactics to make the process go more smoothly and hopefully lead to more effective marketing strategies over time.
Every company handles budgeting differently, particularly for the marketing department. I’ve worked for companies with a strict budgeting process, involving multiple meetings and semi-negotiations with finance to secure approval for an itemized budget each year. I have also worked with organizations where the marketing budget was fluid, allowing us to evaluate different opportunities as they arose, deciding whether to take on new expenses on a case-by-case basis.
If you are working with a more structured budget process, then this likely needs to be kicked off before the marketing plan itself can be addressed. One of the biggest challenges in working with a definitive, line-item budget is remaining nimble enough to test new ideas or take advantage of unforeseen opportunities that inevitably arise. My main suggestion for budgeting is to try to include a discretionary amount that you can devote to new opportunities that come up during the year. This helps you maintain some flexibility in your marketing plan each year.
Review Past Performance
Many marketing teams start off each year’s marketing plan by replicating the plan from the prior year. Since no one wants to reinvent the wheel repeatedly, this approach makes a ton of sense as a starting point for your planning process. However, this needs to be just the first step in your planning, rather than acting as the final template for next year. Otherwise, after a few years of cookie-cutter planning, you will likely find yourself including a variety of marketing tactics that used to work, but are no longer the most effective options.
So, while it makes sense to use last year’s plan as a starting point, it’s important to review how each initiative performed in the past year before confirming it again for the next year. Look at your performance metrics for every campaign or channel and make sure you’re moving forward with programs that either achieved results or that you intend to optimize to improve past performance.
Brainstorm New Ideas
This is usually the area that gets marketers excited about the planning process. Coming up with new marketing channels or tactics to try out, new promotion ideas or other novel approaches to drive results is right up a marketer’s alley. We love thinking of new ways to engage with clients and prospects and trying them out in the real world.
One key here is to focus on the results you are looking to achieve. Try to avoid the “bright, shiny object syndrome” where a new marketing channel (virtual reality!) seems so exciting that you have to include it in your plan, regardless of whether it really fits with your product or service or is something your audience has any interest in. Remember that there’s a reason why a channel like email continues to be so popular — it’s about performance, not just novelty.
Prioritize The Big Projects First
Have you ever seen the demonstration where a jar is filled with rocks and the audience is asked if the jar is full, then the process is repeated with smaller pebbles, sand and eventually water? It’s a great reminder that you need to fill your time with the big, important items first and then fit in smaller projects around those core activities. This approach can be beneficial when setting up your 2020 marketing strategy.
Once you have gone through your evaluation of past performance and come up with new ideas to test, the next step is prioritization. Using the same principle as the full jar exercise, start by scheduling your cornerstone projects and initiatives. Next, build around those larger initiatives with supporting and complementary activities throughout the year to round out your plan.
This tactic is particularly useful if content marketing is a part of your marketing strategy, but it works in virtually any marketing plan. As you are planning your various projects for the year, put them on a 12-month calendar. Put dates on those monthly email newsletters, planned product releases, major content promotions, etc.
This can be extremely beneficial in a number of ways, including ensuring that major initiatives don’t overlap or conflict with each other. You can also get an idea of how your team’s workload will be distributed over the year. It helps to be able to identify potential issues where you might overcommit your team in one month, while another month is largely empty.
Industry Event Calendar
The importance of this step varies depending on your business. However, if attending, exhibiting or speaking at industry events is an important part of your marketing strategy, then this calendar may be one of your most valuable marketing tools. You’ll want to highlight those events you have involvement with, but it also makes sense to have a list of other events you are simply monitoring for potential involvement in the future.
It can be a big project to complete the first exhaustive industry event calendar, but this is one place where replicating the calendar from the prior year really is a great time-saver. You do need to keep an eye out for new events and remove events that have been discontinued or just aren’t relevant anymore. But, in many industries, there won’t be that many updates to make each year.