At the end of the month, another decade of the 21st century will have come and gone. The last ten years have seen incredible changes in the business world, and entire industries have emerged to serve a shifting landscape that is always pursuing the latest trends. One thing that has always remained constant, though, is the need for an effective marketing strategy.
2019 was a tough year in western Canada, and there’s still a lot of uncertainty for the future. Established businesses are being more cautious out of concern that they’ll lose their place, and new businesses are even more hesitant to break out and spend money on perceived non-necessities – such as a solid marketing budget for 2020. But what we’ve seen time and time again is that the right strategy, applied well – even in lean times – is crucial to the success of a business, whether they’re starting up or seasoned veterans.
Our clients come to us from a variety of different industries and with a range of marketing experience. Some find us after having never had a plan before, whereas others come with a yearly plan that didn’t prove successful, and are wondering why. When companies reach year-end and realize that they haven’t hit their marketing goals, we usually find that the root cause is something fairly common – and often has more to do with application than with the economy.
What we mean by that is this: sometimes, the excitement of launching something new at the beginning of the year fades as time goes on, and consistency and quality drop over the intervening months, until there is only a trickle of the original plan left. Other times, hardly any attention is paid to the strategy at all until the last month or two of the year – not only is that too short to make up for lost time, but it’s generally a slow time of year, so the impact is felt twice as hard. And in other cases, budgets are slashed in response to fiscal reports, leaving a company with little choice as to how they can attract new customers.
But if experience has taught our agency anything, it’s that businesses who maintain their approach through the year, and understand the value of good marketing year-round, whether small or large, are the ones who can build that momentum up and take advantage of increased opportunities. So, to ensure your future marketing strategy works, whether it’s your first time or your fiftieth, we’ll help you identify first what a marketing plan is, what it isn’t, and highlight some basic considerations to help you structure your plan for achievable, measurable success in 2020.
What A Marketing Plan Is (and Isn’t)
Coming up with a strong plan for your business’s marketing takes more than jotting down some ideas at 4:30 on a Friday. A marketing plan is a comprehensive blueprint outlining not only your marketing efforts, research, and objectives, but also an audit of current strategies, baselines for how success will be measured, and any other relevant details that should be covered. It is not a one-time, 200-page document written to appease your CEO and sit in a ‘Marketing’ folder on your computer; it is based on research and astute planning – and is a roadmap for where you are now, where you want to go, and what it’s going to take to help get you there. Its size, scope, and overall direction will be determined by the budget you set aside, as well. It has a formal structure, but can easily be used informally, too.
If you’ve never done a marketing plan before, considering all of the above will help you focus your efforts and direct your money where it will be most effective, helping you to achieve your overarching goal, whether that be to increase awareness of your brand or grow your customer base. And if you’ve had experience creating a marketing plan, you can use what you have learned (from methods that didn’t work, which are still useful!) in order to create a more targeted and accurate plan for next time.
Keeping People Accountable
Coming up with the first marketing plan for your business can be daunting – you’re not sure who should be doing what, and where the responsibility for final success lies. But the plan itself will help with that, because part of the process is delegating tasks to the right people, allowing for quick identification of pain points.
When it comes to building your plan, collaboration is key, and different perspectives matter. If you haven’t had prior success with a marketing plan, accountability is a good place to start when trying to improve for the future. It’s important that everyone on the team pulls together to do their part and contribute to the strategy together – and the parts are all easier when everyone is pitching in to keep things moving ahead. As obstacles are dealt with, and milestones are met and celebrated together, the thought of achieving the next goal or objective becomes ever more tangible. Start by booking a planning meeting, and then a second. It will take more than one afternoon to flush out the essentials of your plan, especially with pieces of input from different people, but encouraging everyone to invest the time at the onset will help build a solid foundation for your plan at the beginning of the year – something which you can execute on each quarter.
Spending Wisely = Returns on Investment
If you’ve never had a plan in place (or one that worked), you might be skeptical of the ROI you will get from spending the time up-front to develop a marketing plan. You might hope to go viral – somehow – or rely on word-of-mouth for boosting your sales, and think that with the rise of instant social media access, paying to build and promote your brand is an unnecessary cost.
But a marketing budget can be transformed into many different metrics, depending on how you define success. It can become media coverage, increased event attendance, more calls and sales, reputation, or many other outcomes. It could be as simple as putting the right video, positioned and advertised at the right time to the right people through social media, which could boost your brand awareness and drive a substantial increase of credible leads to your website. Set your overarching goal and measurable objectives from the start, and focus on the results you want – it will ensure you’re getting the best return for the time, money, and effort you put in every day.
It’s tough to build a fully thought-out plan, let alone start a yearly plan, without even a template of where to begin. The great thing about marketing is that there are many ways to get to a destination – with different routes not necessarily easier or harder along the way. The biggest thing is to ask for help when you need to – every sound leader knows (or should know) that alone, you can only do so much. Most businesses, including yours, have a support system built on strong relationships. It can be hard to ask for help, but reaching out to see how others have innovated to overcome challenges can help you consider things you may have not otherwise thought of. No one marketing plan is the same – and you’d be surprised at who will be there for you and what you might learn just from sending out a single email.