It’s that time of year again. As the final months of the current year seem to fly by, a new year waits on the horizon full of new possibilities and new challenges. Is your marketing strategy ready to take them on? One of the most important things that you can do to make sure your brand is prepared is to have an annual marketing plan to guide, define and track your marketing activity throughout the year. Here are our top five key things to consider in crafting a winning marketing strategy for the coming year.
#1. Take stock of your situation.
They say the only thing constant is change. That’s definitely true in the fast-paced world of marketing and business. Even if you know your brand well and think you have a tried-and-true set of tactics, if you don’t set aside time from time to time to look around and understand the market and your place in it, then you risk falling behind. Some core questions to consider include:
- What is the current state of the overall market?
- How do you compare to your competitors?
- What sets you apart and can give you a competitive advantage?
- What gaps in the market could you potentially fill?
One simple tool that can help to get you started is to compile a basic SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis focuses on identifying and defining your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. From there, you can more easily recognize and maximize opportunities as well as plan strategically for anything that might threaten your success. The key to an effective SWOT analysis is to think critically and specifically. This is an opportunity to take a step back and objectively assess all the variables – both assets and roadblocks. Take an honest inventory now, and plan accordingly.
A competitive analysis can also be important in understanding both where your competitors are succeeding and where they are falling short, which allows you to identify both potential opportunities and pitfalls that you may not have considered. In addition to being an important benchmark, it can also provide valuable insight into how you stand out from the crowd so that your marketing messaging can amplify those things to your greatest advantage. Start by defining your competitors and their products or offerings. Then take a good look at their sales tactics and results. How do you compare in terms of pricing? Messaging? Content? Technology? Engagement? All of these things can help you to understand and identify where your brand can grow and where it can excel.
#2. Spend some quality time with your target audience.
If you want to maintain a relationship, you have to keep in touch. So, now’s a great time to check in with your target audiences. Understanding your customers, their needs and their challenges is key to making sure that your brand resonates.
Many brands use buyer personas as a tool to help them define and understand their target customers. That means creating representative personas, ideally based on actual customer data or market research, that match your target audience to help you reach a greater understanding of what drives them. Putting a fictional face to the name can make it easier to think through all the facets of who they really are as people. What is their background? What are their interests? What do they need? What do they not have time for? Who are they connected to? How do they spend their free time? What problems do they need to solve? Understanding all of these dimensions of your customers as real people can help you to tailor and personalize your marketing messages and tactics in ways that will maximize effectiveness and efficiency. (For an easy head start on creating some basic personas, check out the HubSpot Make My Persona Generator.)
Already defined your target audience? Think you know them like the back of your hand? Before you’re tempted to skip this step, consider what may have changed since the last time you took a look. Life moves fast, and things change rapidly, especially as the role of technology in our everyday lives continues to evolve. The last two years, in particular, have been transformative for virtually everyone and every business and have radically changed the ways that we live, work and interact. So, if you haven’t checked in lately, now’s the time to take a fresh look at where your customers are and what they’re doing in the here and now.
#3. Set your goals.
If you don’t define your destination, how will you know if you’re on track to reach it? Specific and measurable business goals for your marketing program are a must. Setting goals may seem basic but it is one of the most overlooked and under-utilized tools in many marketing programs. Without well-defined goals, you have no way to evaluate the effectiveness or efficiency of all the time, resources and dollars that you spend on your marketing outreach and, by extension, no way to refine or improve it.
You’ve likely heard of SMART goals and this fundamental method can give you a great start on creating goals for your marketing programs that are connected to your real world success. SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. That is to say, each goal that you set should involve a particular event that is both realistic and meaningful to your business. And there should be a defined period of time and a defined metric for determining success. Examples might include:
- Boost leads generated through your website by 10% over three months.
- Increase your email subscriber list by 25% by the end of the year.
- Improve the click-through rate on your social media ads to 3% by the end of the 1st quarter.
In each case, you have a specific event that is tied to your overall business performance, a defined metric to evaluate and a defined time period in which to do so. Once you’ve set your goals, then you can start to develop the actions you need to take to achieve them.
#4. Plan for action.
Once you’ve defined your specific goals for the year, it’s time to get creative. Under each goal, define several specific actions and tactics that you will take in order to achieve that goal. For example, if your goal is to boost lead generation through your website then you might decide to optimize your contact forms, update calls to action on your site and create new landing pages.
When making your tactical plans, it is important to consider any potential new platforms or avenues to evaluate and explore. Marketing tools and technology are evolving rapidly, and there may be new or updated options that you can put to work for you. Similarly, think about different placements that you may not have tried before. (See our previous breakdown of one such unsung hero: native advertising.) And it pays to keep up with how existing platforms and their audiences are growing and changing. Social media is one arena where the demographics and psychographics of the a given platform’s users often grows and changes over time. One of the most poignant current examples of this may be the rapid diversification of the TikTok audience.
Of course, planning your actions necessarily goes hand in hand with our last key consideration: budget.
#5. Set your budget.
To implement your marketing plan, you’ll need an appropriate budget to achieve your goals. There are a variety of ways to set your marketing budget. Some organizations take a top-down approach – that is, allocating a certain percentage of sales revenue to marketing. For example, The U.S. Small Business Administration recommends that small businesses allocate 7-8% of their revenues to marketing. Many larger organizations set a benchmark at 2-3%, while start-ups may require higher levels of investment up front. Others take a bottom-up approach by building out their marketing tactics, channels and campaigns then totaling up the necessary budget for each.
It’s also important to remember that dollars are not the only resources at stake when it comes to putting your marketing plans into action. Time is one of your most precious, and often most scarce, resources. Take into account the time investment that it will take to achieve your marketing goals as well as the potential cost of any outsourced resources you might use, and the relative cost of each.
To maximize your opportunities for success, it is critical to ensure that your goals, tactics and budgets are all aligned. Once they are, you know what to do! Your marketing plan will provide a vital roadmap to implement and evaluate your initiatives and results with consistency and focus.
Need help getting your marketing plan in order or making it happen? Connect with our Clementine bunch and let’s talk marketing!