The importance of strategic marketing planning
The last few years have been extremely tough for many Australians. We’ve had fires, floods and a global pandemic. It’s a truly challenging time to be running a business.
It’s also very challenging to plan as no one knows what will happen next.
This exactly is why strategic marketing planning is so important right now. We need to spend time reviewing what’s working and what’s not, and planning how we’re going to react to the unexpected, as well as what’s likely to come.
Why you need to consider your marketing strategy
If you don’t put time aside to consider your marketing strategy now, you’ll be rushing into the new financial year minus a plan. This generally means you won’t know what success looks like, nor how you’re going to reach your business goals.
You won’t be on top of some key metrics, such as where your prospects like to spend their time, or how much you should be spending per channel based on customer lifetime value.
Taking time out to create a strategic marketing plan will help you get clear on your business goals, as well as give you the best shot at succeeding in your marketing activities. It can be the difference between being in the right place, at the right time, with the right message, and being in the wrong place with the wrong message (at the wrong time!)
Taking time out
So, if you can take a couple of hours or even half a day for your strategic marketing planning, how can you use your time wisely?
This process doesn’t need to be a formal, months-long activity. A simple whiteboarding session in which you review your marketing actions and outcomes, as well as how you’d like your business to grow is a great start. Booking this in as a quarterly review is also a great idea.
With this in mind, here are 11 steps to help you make the most of the time you can set aside to plan for FY2021.
1. Set clear business goals
What’s your focus right now? Customer acquisition? Retention? Simply getting enough cash flow to make it through the next few months?
The more specific you can get in being clear on what you want and need to achieve, the easier it is to confirm the marketing tactics you can use to help you achieve this.
Often, by placing importance on your strategic marketing planning, you discover that your business goals aren’t quite as clear as you’d like. Now’s the time to revisit these and flesh them out, preferably to the point of SMART goals.
2. Consider what you already know about your customers
What do you know about your current customers? Do you know their likes and dislikes? What interests them? Why do they use your product or service? Was it for the reasons you originally intended or other reasons?
If you know why your customers use your products or services, and you understand where they enjoy spending time, you already have a good idea as to where you can spend time and money reaching prospective customers, as well as what you may want to talk to them about.
The key is placing your product or service in front of your desired customer at a time that suits them, with a message that appeals to them. The more you understand and the more specific you can be per customer type (or segment), the more likely it is that you will see a positive response.
3. Review the data you have
What have you learned across the current financial year, and the years before that? What’s worked? What hasn’t? Why? How did you evaluate this?
Consider your product/market fit, customer feedback, existing marketing tactics and any other information you feel will be useful.
You may not have a lot of data, but is there data you’d like to gather in the future? How will you go about doing this?
Finally, are there any particular areas you’d like to gather more data on?
You may even have a good ‘gut feel’ about something that you need to validate in-market.
4. Consider the current business environment
The current business environment is uniquely challenging, and it’s likely that your industry has been reshaped even in the past couple of months.
Make some time to consider what’s changed, and what you think may happen in the future.
So, what needs to change and what can stay the same?
5. What do you know about your competition?
As marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, your competitors are always looking to learn and grow as well.
How does your value proposition compare to theirs? Are there any channels that are over-saturated or that you’re keen to try as you can’t see any of your competitors using it?
A high-level competitive analysis can help you understand where you fit into the market, and if you need to adjust your approach in order to meet your business goals.
6. Bring the team together
Strategic marketing planning shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. If you have a team, you need to get them engaged in the planning process. They are likely to have great ideas to contribute based on their interactions with customers in different contexts, and the more you involve them, the more likely they are to have buy-in with the final plan.
Block a few hours out in their diaries and bring everyone together. Food always helps in a brainstorming session – whether you’re able to get together in the office or you’re on video conferencing (which can be a great excuse for a food theme!)
This is particularly relevant if you have a sales team – they need to agree with the marketing approach that you’ve chosen, and they have a unique insight into your customer base. You’d be foolish not to include them!
While it may be harder if you’re conducting your team gathering over video conferencing, there are a variety of inbuilt tools in video conferencing solutions to help you as well as other whiteboard tools you can use while sharing your desktop.
As a team, consider what went well in the current financial year, and what didn’t go so well. Consider what the notes you’ve made from the above points (1-6) are telling you.
What does this mean for your marketing activity? And can you action this with your existing team, or do you need to bring in outside expertise?
When throwing ideas onto a whiteboard, keep in mind that no idea is a silly idea. This initial planning stage should be a judgement-free zone. All weird, wild, whacky (and expensive!) ideas are welcome. You can then whittle them down to those that make the most sense based on your business goals and available cash flow at a later stage.
Once you have a good set of ideas, vote as a team on what’s most likely to get you closest to your business goal. Beware of the HiPPO effect as you do this.
8. Be clear on your action items and desired outcomes
Whittle the ideas from your whiteboard session down to a list that is realistic to action and that support your business goals.
If you have time, you could even consider forecasting what’s likely to happen in each channel based on any past data you have or industry benchmarks.
Be clear on who is taking which action, how and by which deadline before anyone leaves.
9. Forecast your plan and adjust
How much is your plan likely to cost? Ideally, you should base your marketing budget on the cost of the activities you have planned to achieve the business goals you have. This is better than budgeting an abstract amount, or allocating whatever you have leftover in the budget following a general expense allocation exercise for the previous financial year.
10. Know when and how you’re going to evaluate your plans
What does success look like? For your business and per audience and per channel? What data will you be capturing? When and how will you be reviewing your marketing plans?
Being clear on this and scheduling regular check-ins will give you a much better chance of success. Effective marketing is very rarely achieved through a ‘set and forget’ mentality.
11. Be flexible
Remember that this is a plan, not a strict set of instructions.
Always leave room to learn from what you try in-market and run A/B tests when you can. Gather relevant data at every single opportunity.
Some ideas will work, and others won’t.
Being flexible means that you can move budget and resourcing between channels based on what’s performing best.
And you will know what is performing best based on the desired outcomes you set earlier.