I’m one of those truly weird marketing geeks who loves planning, simply because I can’t stand just doing “stuff” without having conviction around whether or not it’s the right stuff.

So how do we approach marketing planning with the greatest chance of success? Here’s how I’ve worked with my teams on planning, along with a few tips for planning during these hybrid times.

Start With the Customer

As with most things in marketing, good planning starts with the customer. This typically means revisiting your ideal customer profile (ICP) and customer segmentation. Has anything changed? What is your data showing — is one segment far outperforming another? Has your ICP changed, or (for enterprise) has your buyer’s committee expanded to include more influencers? Ask yourself these critical questions before you start formulating those brilliant marketing ideas. It’s also helpful to look at the market and see if any outside factors have had a significant impact on your customers’ businesses. For example, how has the global pandemic affected your businesses? What changes have you made as a result?

Related Article: Is It Time to Rethink Your Customer Personas?

Don’t Ignore Your Competitors

Unless you’re working for one of those huge tech companies that have few (if any) competitors, it’s also a good idea to take a look at what your competitors have been up to. Have they launched new features that they’re promoting? Have they changed their pricing strategy? Have they updated their website with new messaging that makes you think a little differently about your own?

While I think it’s smart to stay more focused on your customers’ needs vs. playing chicken with your competitors, it’s helpful to stay current on what they’re up to so you don’t find yourself scrambling to compete one month into your new marketing plan. I find it particularly helpful to create SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunities, threats) grids for each competitor as well as my company. Doing this can help you define where to place your bets. If you go this route, be sure that you don’t make assumptions about your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses — rely on objective facts you gather from actually using their product(s), from customer reviews on third party review sites, and from your competitors’ websites.

Related Article: Where Does Competitive Response Fit in Your Marketing Strategy?

A List Is Not a Plan (and an Objective Is Not a Goal)

One of the biggest mistakes I see marketers make is jumping right to the fun stuff: that list of marketing ideas they want to try! No matter how creative or even how data-driven that list is — and even if it’s a timeline or calendar view — it’s still just a list of stuff unless you’ve started with an idea of what you’re trying to achieve. In other words, what is your objective? It’s important to understand that an objective is not the same as a goal. For example, an objective might be: Grow business from the Retail segment. Whereas your marketing goal would be: Deliver 1,500 MQLs from Retail by June 30, 2022.

The objective helps set the stage for the marketing strategies you’re going to employ. Whereas the goal is simply a measurement of whether or not you achieved the objective.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: It's Time to Set Your 2022 CX Goals

Strategy … the Hardest (and Most Critical) Part

I’ve seen great marketing plans that started with an objective, had a great list of creative marketing tactics … and still failed. Typically when this happens it’s because there was no clear glue between the objectives and the tactics. The “glue” that’s missing is the strategy, and it’s often missing because it’s the most misunderstood word in business. I guarantee that if you Google the word “strategy," you’ll likely find multiple different but somewhat overlapping definitions. I think of strategy as the way you define at a high level how you’re going to achieve your objective.

If we go back to our example above, our objective is to grow business from the Retail segment. How are we going to do that? Are we going to double-down on paid search with Retail keywords? Sponsor more third-party webinars? Create great thought leadership content to use for lead generation? A mix of all of the above? The answer depends on what works for your business, but I can promise you that if you don’t know, then the list of tactics you come up with will be just that ... a list of random stuff. If you tie your strategy to your objectives and your tactics to your strategy, and you document your progress with a measurable goal, you’ll be ringing that bell of success!

The final part of a kick-ass marketing plan takes each of the strategies you come up with and blows them out into specific tactics on a specific timeline. This is the part we’re most familiar with, as this is typically what is called a “marketing plan” at many companies.

Related Article: What Trustworthy and Transparent Marketing Looks Like Now 

Plan the Work, Then Work the Plan

Finally, a cautionary note: while it’s critical to plan, in marketing we also need to be flexible and react quickly to outside market dynamics. So, plan the work, then work the plan … but always be ready to blow up the plan!

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