Let's face it, many businesses and organizations just don’t seem to prioritize developing and implementing
an annual marketing plan. “Winging it” and sporadically implementing tactics to drive business
are often the norm.
Is Your Planning Reactive or Proactive?
In my experience, I’ve found this question is as relevant for small, mid-size and yes, even
enterprise level companies. For smaller companies with limited resources — or no marketing
teams — the tendency is to focus on simply running the business and keeping their heads
While understandable, that tends to become a reactive model instead of a proactive approach.
That means key opportunities are lost or marketing and communications executed may not be
well thought out or produced at the highest level of quality. Because of that approach, the
business can suffer.
Similarly, with larger organizations, primarily in the professional services B2B space, long,
enterprise sales cycles and an absence of pressing deadlines to drive planning and goal setting
(like the seasonality of retail, for example) create less need and less urgency to have a plan
ready at the beginning of the calendar year.
One of the biggest challenges that I have experienced in these environments and with these
mindsets, is executives having concerns that a plan will be restrictive and lock them in to
strategies, tactics and budgets that they won’t be able to change.
Your Plan Should be a Map, not a Straitjacket.
Consider these scenarios. You’re going on a vacation and driving somewhere you have never
been before. You’re not in a hurry and want a scenic route. So, you map it out and avoid
highways to allow you to take back country roads and enjoy the drive.
On the other hand, if you have an important appointment at a new location, and you need to
arrive promptly, you would most likely map out the most direct route, following major roads and
highways. In either case, if you came across an accident, a detour or construction, you would
consult your map to find an alternative path. Today — most of our navigation apps like Waze, Google or Apple maps, will help provide suggestions and anticipate accidents ahead.
Digital or even printed maps are tools to help you navigate the most direct route by avoiding or
working around obstacles — quickly — so you can be confident in knowing when and where to
pivot and flex.
It’s the same concept for developing and relying on an annual marketing plan. No one knows
what the market or economy is going to do in the year ahead. Or what natural disasters or
health crisis we might face. Although it’s difficult to plan for such catastrophes, you can create
marketing plans built on a foundation of results and best practices that also provide flexibility
and agility to adjust on the fly.
For instance, you plan strategies and tactics that have worked in the past and continue to
produce results. But, at the same time, you build in tests and new approaches that you
evaluate along the way —weekly, monthly, quarterly — and then you adapt.
If something isn’t working, you have contingency plans waiting in the wings and you reallocate
budgets to test and learn in those key areas. Or, if something is meeting or exceeding
expectations, you use a reserve of additional funds to increase your investment in that category.
Or you cut back temporarily and reinvest in a different activity in the future. When unexpected
opportunities present themselves, perhaps you shift available budgets there.
The Bottom Line.
You save time by developing strategies, tactics and various options in advance. You’ve got to be organized yet agile and flexible. In other words, “You plan for the anticipated and prepare for the unexpected.”
Some ways to help stay organized and be flexible are by taking advantage of the continuous
evolution of technology. For example, I’m software application agnostic (though I do have my
favorites) but firmly believe in relying on digital platforms, apps or team workflow tools to help
organizations and marketing departments effectively manage their campaigns and analysis.
When there are more than two people on your team, or if you want to scale and grow your team,
it’s time to start using project management and online chat, file sharing and collaboration tools.
Email, Word documents and Excel files alone are not the best solution to efficient, reliable team
In addition to project management tools, CRM systems and marketing automation platforms are
also critical for effective sales and marketing integration, tracking, analysis, management and
So, where do you start? Let me boil it down…
Five Key Steps for Effective Marketing Planning
1.// Start by establishing quantifiable business financial goals for the year. They should
include revenue targets, new business, retention, new product development and
2.// Evaluate your organization’s past results and research industry statistics for relevant
comparisons to establish marketing benchmarks and goals.
3.// Keep it simple. Identify about three key objectives and up to five marketing strategies.
Be reasonable and realistic relative to your internal and external resources and budget.
But establish stretch goals and reserve additional funds to support new opportunities.
4.// Develop a marketing budget based on various factors including business maturity,
industry, B2B or B2C space. Evaluate market changes, competition and opportunities
for new offerings, costs of your products and services, the value of a lead and a longterm
customer and ROI targets. Although a broad range, most companies allocate 2-8%
of revenue towards marketing efforts.
5.// Put it in writing. Document your plan. Learn, refine, adjust, expand, eliminate and
adapt. Remember, words go in Word, numbers go in Excel and a brief “Plan on a Page”
goes in PowerPoint – and goes a long way to clearly and simply communicating your
overall marketing game plan!
Again, it serves as a high-level map. Build the detail, share the high-level summary with executives and stakeholders, and provide the detail as requested and appropriate.
If your firm’s fiscal year is a traditional calendar year, plans for January should be developed
and approved by the end of September. So, now is the time to build your plan! You should
always be working a quarter ahead – that way, you have adequate time to invest in developing
powerful programs, creative campaigns and results-producing tactics.
Remember, "If you don't know where you're going, any road'll take you there." Control your
destiny. Use your map.
Reference for quote: Any Road - Wikipedia