That may seem an odd question for the middle of May, but it’s definitely an important one to answer. And it’s not just a matter of getting this vital task “out of the way.”
Some businesses may have skipped or rushed through their annual marketing planning late in 2015. However, most companies accomplished some form of planning before January 1st. And the most effective companies will be starting their 2017 plans by next month, which makes this time of year a good time for every marketing director or VP to ask themselves:
Have I done our annual marketing planning effectively? And am I actually using that plan to guide our daily marketing actions?
That’s where the tires really meet the road when it comes to planning as a step toward marketing excellence. And on a positive note, it’s not too late to turn things around if you’re seeing room for improvement.
We discussed the subject of annual marketing planning in an article late last year, but consider this a timely reminder if your planning efforts didn’t quite pan out or you’re not getting as much from the experience now as you’d like.
Planning the work
The average annual marketing plan consists of a series of tactics a company wants to try over the course of the year, but that’s not even close to the most valuable kind of marketing plan possible.
A quality annual marketing plan goes far beyond outlining potential tactics and truly takes a holistic, strategic view of the upcoming year’s marketing activities as they relate to overarching business goals and measurable success.
Here are the main elements that make up a strategic marketing plan that drives real business results over the course of the year:
- A detailed situational assessment - This vital first step takes into account real historical data, informed projections of the year to come, and a detailed analysis of both to identify and prioritize issues and opportunities marketing can address in the coming year. This assessment serves as a solid foundation for strategies developed through the planning process.
- A set of SMART marketing goals - Not a pie-in-the-sky wish list, but rather a concrete set of measurable goals that are based solidly on data and a causal model that shows exactly how your marketing efforts impact customer attitudes and behaviors, and eventually financial results.
- Established marketing strategies - As opposed to a simple list of tactics, this collection of documented, prioritized strategies directly connects key issues and opportunities with specific marketing goals, making clear the financial value and return tied to each strategy.
- Appropriate marketing tactics - Yes, tactics have an important place in the annual marketing plan, but only after a situational assessment, measurable goals, and documented strategies have made crystal clear which tactics are most likely to provide the preferred outcome for the company.
- Realistic and appropriate budget allocation - Rather than deciding on goals, strategies, and tactics based within a predetermined budget constraint, the best method is to allocate an appropriate budget based on an analysis of the above and mathematical modeling that optimizes the budgeting process.
Other important factors - competitive anticipation, scenario planning, assumption validation, and internal integration - all play into how effective your annual marketing plan will be.
Of course, the marketing team’s ability to factor all of these elements into their annual plan depends to a large extent on whether or not marketing has a seat at the table in your organization. Without the necessary autonomy and mutual respect necessary to support this kind of strategic annual planning, the chances of success dwindle.
If the marketing department does not have a seat at the table in the eyes of the rest of the organization, the necessary buy-in and support from sales, operations, finance, and other departments will be difficult if not impossible to obtain.
Working the plan
As with every planning endeavor, all of the effort invested in creating a beautiful annual marketing plan is only as good as the effort invested in bringing that plan to fruition.
That’s why factors like budget allocation and internal integration must be part of the initial plan. When factors affecting long-term adherence to and optimization of the plan are not established early on, they will likely stand in the way of it being carried out.
However, when these factors are established from the beginning, the resulting annual marketing plan becomes a strategic guide for every tactic-based decision that is made throughout the rest of the year. As complications arise, the marketing plan can be used to help determine and prioritize appropriate responses. As the market fluctuates or unexpected competitive action occurs, the plan can serve as a buoy keeping the ship on the right course through rough seas.
The plan becomes a living document in that its data-based assumptions and strategies can be constantly reviewed and compared to real-world results to fine tune tactical decisions. Then, year over year, the annual marketing plan continues to improve.
In short, with the annual planning done properly, the entire organization can benefit from a more efficient, strategic approach to the year’s marketing efforts.