It might seem premature, but we start getting concerned about our client’s plans for the following year in June.
We don’t expect our clients to have a plan for the following year by June (even though some of us do), but we start nudging our clients in that direction by June, and we start thinking of the broad strokes plan for Switch at around this time, too.
Why now? Isn’t it too early to plan for something that will finish in 18 months time? Well, not really. It is not too early because our definition of a marketing plan is not as rigid as most would expect it. We don’t expect to have each and every facebook post sorted out for our clients by September (even though it would be nice to have that, and we do have some clients who like it that way).
Instead we use this time to build a loose plan with:
- the goals for the year,
- the main activities we expect to work on with the client,
- the results we’re expecting from our efforts
- the areas we’ll be putting most focus on.
So, for the purposes of this post, the steps of the plan can be defined as the following:
- Analyse the situation you are in and revisit your goals.
- Understand what needs to be done in light of your re-defined goals.
- Articulate a set of events in chronological order (or a set of high level actions).
- Evaluate each action and the way you will measure its performance.
- Reassess the situation and repeat.
Our plan has to feel more like plotting our way around a map with blind spots rather than a list of events with an exact sequence that we can’t deviate from.
(Analysing and) Setting Goals
We find that the most important part of a marketing plan for the year is to set our goals. If we don’t start from our goals we can’t really judge whether our efforts have been working over the past period, and we also can’t set new parameters for the upcoming year(s). The goals have to be SMART, that much is clear, but it is also critical to note at this stage that our marketing goals have to be tied to business needs.
Unless our marketing goals match our business needs, we will never get buy-in from the entire business, and without this we can’t make any significant progress.
Start by looking back and seeing if your goals for this year are on target. Check whether you need to build on them or whether you need to start from scratch on some of them.
One of the things, I learnt this year, and which I will therefore be implementing in all of our plans going forward, is to set two goals. The attainable goal and the unreasonable, but achievable goal. The explanation of this, given to us by our Vistage chair, is one which I love:
An attainable goal is something that technically you can achieve. If you’re in the starting group at an olympics sprint, then you can aim for a placing in the medals, as long as you’re there you have a great chance of achieving it. Winning the gold medal is attainable, but it’s also unrealistic to expect that everyone in the lineup can win it, because there’s one gold medal and 8 of you. It’s unrealistic.
I’d recommend setting three top end business goals (with attainable and unrealistic numbers for each) and then working on breaking these down into the marketing efforts you’d need to support these.
One word of caution: even if a goal is unrealistic, it could become realistic in three years’ time, so keep that in mind and ensure that your progress builds towards this, don’t set goals that will see you scratching a year’s progress if you don’t achieve your goals.
The main activities for the year
Once we have our goals set, we need to take them apart and figure out which activities we should be putting our efforts in.
If, for example, we look at the goals we set for Switch in 2020 (for 2021), they included growing our international business. We had to break this goal down into a set of activities that would contribute to this.
- We started by committing to a level of content on our site that allows us to compete with global agencies.
- We also needed ways of getting potential clients to that content, so SEO and a great LinkedIn strategy were critical for us, too.
We have other goals, but in each case we need to look at the components that will bring us closer to those goals, and we planned for those accordingly, based on our budgets and resources.
What results are we expecting?
I spoke about goals earlier, and we should be absolutely certain that we hit our targets by the end of the year. The problem with this, however, is that we can only measure these results at the end of the year. Our goals give us trailing numbers, just like the standard P&L sheet will not really help us out if we reported a loss by the time our accountants sent our yearly accounts to the auditors.
This is why we have to set a number of goals by which we’ll judge the performance of our efforts. I’m not going to delve into this in much detail today, simply because we’re going to discuss how to plan for KPI-led marketing in a separate post a few weeks down the line.
But what I can tell you is that you should have a number of goals in mind to help you judge whether your efforts are making a difference or not, both marketing goals and business goals.
To take our earlier example into consideration, if we’re looking at growing the international business of Switch, then we should look at how many followers from outside these shores we’re attracting to our social media. We should also look at our website traffic and expect a steady increase, ideally with a split that skews more to users from outside Malta (and, ideally, from the geographies that we’re targeting).
From a business perspective we’re also measuring how many non-local leads we’re generating and figuring out how many of them are converting, where the leads are coming from, and whether they’re a match for the kind of business we’re after.
The areas we’re putting most focus on
This might sound a little like a repetition of the above, but there’s a nuance to it that sets people down a path of doing a lot of work, and of being very busy, but not getting to where they need to be. And this is because they market in a way that does not target their audience.
By focusing on content (in the broad sense of the word) that is designed to appeal to your audience you can save a lot of time and money.
To keep matters simple I’m going to use our example, once again. One of the easiest ways for us to drive traffic to our site is by focusing on content that’s technical. When we post how-tos for setting up ad sets, or other tips that help show our knowledge, we get a lot of traffic. The problem with that traffic is that we’re usually getting in marketers like us.
Marketers like us.
Let that sink in.
What’s the likelihood of a person looking for an in-depth guide to setting up a Facebook campaign buying our services? Not much. If they’re implementing, chances are that they’re either employed at a level where they can’t really take a decision to choose an agency or else they’re in a position where they can, but they probably don’t have the budget for one.
There are exceptions.
But we don’t plan around these exceptions (unless we have a damned good reason for doing so).
Plan, but be ready to change.
Ensure that your activities for the year can be loosely planned in advance, too. We all know that unpredictability is the order of the day at the moment, but if you can: plan your efforts for a best case scenario and set up contingencies in advance. This is one of the reasons we’re starting now, not in January.
We work on content well in advance (usually), and this allows us to put set content plans in place well enough in advance to allow us to shift them if we feel that there’s a different strategic priority at some point in the year.