Our perspective at VantagePoint

8 steps and 3 tips for getting the most from annual planning

Getting ready for a new year is a behemoth task for many marketers — and sometimes one that gets pushed until after the ball drops on New Year’s Eve thanks to shifting budgets or other operational priorities.

If planning for 2018 is still on your to-do list as January approaches — or if you just want to have another look at what you’ve already laid out — here 8 steps and 3 tips to inspire fresh thinking and help you prepare for a successful year to come.

Plan the work

There’s little good planning that comes from off-the-cuff ideas. Taking the time to think strategically about the year ahead and planning for needs and challenges is critical to ensuring goals are accomplished.

So, where do you start? Here’s an 8-step process for tackling a successful strategic plan:

  1. Start with the goals.
    What are the business goals, and what (reasonable) marketing objectives can help achieve them? For example, if the goal is growth, then generating leads might be the focus. If it’s to demand higher prices, then improving perceived value in the marketplace might be necessary.
  2. Review your audiences.
    In the B2B space, it may seem like audiences don’t change much over the years, but don’t put too much stock in that. Each year, review your target audiences and update your list of which value propositions matter most to each group. Also take some time to validate your persona of each group. As millennials enter into new roles, technology changes or various industry regulations add new pressures, things might change.
  3. Plot out what you already know.
    At this point, you should know what major tradeshows, product launches, annual sales meetings, training events or special anniversaries are planned for 2018 and even early 2019. Gather those dates into one spreadsheet, and pre-schedule internal planning meetings 3-4 months before each event.
  4. Consider each key “bucket.”
    Considering your goals and audiences, think through each category of marketing initiatives to see if any specific needs come to mind. Buckets to consider are branding, trade advertising, collateral, sales tools/support, training, digital and programs (i.e., customer acquisition, customer penetration).
  5. Review your current resources.
    What does your company have already that can be leveraged in terms of websites, social media, sales kits and other items? What can be improved? What can be expanded? What’s missing?
  6. Think about the bigger picture.
    Now that all the necessities and low-hanging fruit have likely surfaced, review the goals and audiences and determine where there might be other opportunities.
  7. Cross-reference the budget.
    Use historical data to assign budgets to each initiative on the list and compare that to your department’s budget. If you can’t get the funds to cover all that you want to accomplish, strike a few of the lower impact ideas from the list.
  8. Schedule and prioritize.
    Take that spreadsheet where you’ve plotted out key events and start to add in the other initiatives from your list. Not everything can be accomplished in first quarter, so place things throughout the year in a way that makes sense for workload, seasonality and potential for impact. Remember, you don’t need to have everything figured out from the beginning. As long as you know you want to pursue a lead generation campaign, for example, you can schedule when to start thinking through the details.

Of course things will come up that you can’t predict — that’s the nature of what we do. But having what you can predict mapped out ahead of time makes blocking and tackling the things you can’t foresee much easier.

Making it work

Once you’ve laid the groundwork, you may find that some of the things you’re planning are starting to feel a little too familiar. It’s all too easy to fall into a rut of offering the same kinds of solutions for the same kinds of challenges, over and over again.

But as our audiences’ attention spans get shorter and our marketing environment gets more complex, we certainly don’t work in a copy/paste kind of world.

So how do you know when to mix things up? Try these tips.

  • Identify areas where results aren’t where you’d like them to be.

Are your e-newsletter open rates falling?

Is there a message you’ve been trying to communicate that people don’t seem to understand or remember?

Do you have a program that used to be really successful but hasn’t had the same engagement levels lately?

  • Consider format. Maybe your message is valuable, but people aren’t interested in how it’s being presented to them.

It may sound like stepping back in time, but maybe your sales channel would read the newsletter more if they could take a printed copy with them on the road or pass it around to dealer counter staff.

A copy-dense brochure may be right for some people, but a more visual infographic with the same data points might be more appealing to others.

If your customers are accustomed to receiving the same kinds of promotions from you on a predictable basis, it’s time for a new approach to reengage your audience.

  • Take a closer look at content. Maybe the format is the right choice, but the content itself isn’t where it needs to be.

Can you use animation to liven up your videos?

Could you utilize neuromarketing principles to make your copy or design more effective?

Can you embed videos into your e-marketing to encourage higher click-through rates?

Can you get more specific and appealing with your CTAs and offers?

As marketers, we need to stay on top of what’s working, what’s not and when it’s time for a change — and annual planning is the perfect time to give this some serious thought.

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