The holidays are on the horizon, and the end of the year is rapidly approaching. While it’s a season of celebration for the past year’s accomplishments, it’s also an important time to look ahead. Have you set aside time for marketing planning?
That old adage, “New Year, new me” isn’t just for your personal goals; it works in business, too. As you look into the future, you can envision a new, improved version of 2017. In 2018, you can take all those lessons you’ve learned over the past year and combine them with renewed optimism, motivation, and the endless possibilities laid out before you. Why not apply that mindset to your marketing plan for the new year? Read on for a few tips to make planning easier, smarter, and more strategic in 2018.
Start with an audit of your 2017 efforts.
Look at the different facets of your marketing mix, both individually and as part of campaigns. Are you on an overall uptrend in follower growth on social media? Did you see a surge during the integrated campaign your team completed surrounding Father’s Day this June? Where is your website’s inbound traffic coming from most consistently in terms of owned media? Did your leads from social media increase when you added a particular call to action on your company’s Facebook page?
Searching for correlations and causations during a marketing audit is critical to your 2018 planning process, because it shows your team what worked, what didn’t work, and what initiatives can be improved to reach your marketing goals in the New Year. And though you may think you have a handle on what the numbers will say, it’s incredibly important to break out those spreadsheets and really study the nuances of the results. Analyzing after a few months have passed gives you and your team fresh eyes to critically evaluate your efforts and results.
Set your goals with measurement in mind.
If you’re a veteran Marketing Director, you likely know all about SMART goals – goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. And though each of these is an important element of the goal-setting process, setting measurable goals is perhaps the most critical piece of this. And while qualitative results are crucial to understanding your customer and your company’s reputation, at the end of the day most marketing programs will be measured by quantitative data, and the ability to prove that the year’s goals were, in fact, met.
But before you start making notes to increase social media followers or email news subscribers, consider the company’s goals. Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of the bigger picture when you’ve traditionally been judged on a particular set of criteria like increasing PR impressions by X% or averaging Y number of unique monthly visitors on the website. These numbers are important, we know. But challenge yourself to move outside of the box and ask, “How can I prove my team’s contribution to the company’s success?” If your audit proved that the highest number of website visits leading to conversions came from your company email newsletter, set goals surrounding its audience size, open rate, and click rate to build on those results. If your research shows that your primary audience reads a particular local publication, set goals surrounding the number and types of stories and thought leadership opportunities secured in that publication.
Look at the year holistically.
Now that you’ve analyzed past efforts and set your goals, it’s time to dive into the nitty gritty – objectives, strategies, campaigns and tactics. And the best way to ensure you approach 2018 with an organized, well-researched, integrated strategic marketing plan is to look at the year as a whole instead of one, two or three months at a time. This is the part that can intimidate even the most seasoned Marketing Manager – often primarily because of the time commitment involved.
To help save time and to ensure you account for every holiday, industry-related event, seasonal campaign, company program and notable date in history, we recommend starting with a 12-month editorial calendar. This can be done in a word document, an excel file you’ve designed to mock a visual calendar, or a Google Sheet for maximum collaboration capabilities. It’s a simple tool that gives you a clean, visual representation of the year ahead, and allows you to plan around these important dates. Plus, you can build in vertical integrations when you’re ready to assign tactics.
Research marketing trends and industry best practices.
Not every popular marketing trend is going to work for your business, and best practices from companies with a budget 10 times larger than yours likely won’t apply. But in an industry that changes as often as the Facebook algorithm (so, pretty much every day), it pays to stay up-to-date on what’s working for your peers. While a campaign may not be easily replicated, strategies and tactics can be brought into your 2018 planning. However, in this case once a year – or even once a quarter – isn’t enough. It’s important to do some trend and best practices reading on a more consistent basis. Sign up for professional association e-newsletters and daily or weekly news digests from publications that cover your industry, and then set time aside weekly to catch up on your reading.
Define your objectives on a quarterly basis. Then, break it down into tactics.
It’s intimidating to plan tactics for an entire year, and often, it can be a waste of time. If you are evaluating success on a continuous basis – whether monthly, quarterly or by project – you’re going to learn a lot about what’s working for you, the platforms you’re working with, and new technologies that can change your industry. Your goals and objectives aren’t likely to change, but your tactics might. Working in quarters allows for you to adapt more easily, and ongoing evaluation ultimately leads to higher levels of success.