The fall season—especially in the marketing world—seems to be the craziest time. It’s that last big push before the end of the year, and, for most forward-thinking marketers, it’s the time when next year’s marketing plan and budget begins to take shape. It’s a daunting task, and fitting it in with day-to-day marketing and communications activities can be a challenge.
When I last wrote, I examined the ways that the agency and client relationship is very similar to a marriage in that it is critical for both parties to be on the same page. But, I began thinking about the long-term relationships that exist between agencies and clients. What can they do to keep the relationship fresh and, more importantly, keep their strategic marketing plan current and relevant to their target audiences?
I’ve developed a set of 10 questions for marketers at agencies and companies alike to use as a discussion guide when thinking about a 2012 marketing plan. Some questions may be easier to answer than others, while some may really challenge traditional thinking.
1. Is your plan a living, breathing plan?
In other words, does your plan have flexibility? Can you make changes to it during the year? New opportunities and challenges arise and a rigid marketing plan can hamper your ability to adapt. Don’t lose sight of your goals, but allow for change if necessary. For example, our client, CENTRIA’s, micro-site allows for their integrated plan to be constantly adapted as components change throughout the year.
2. Is your plan incorporated into your marketing communications meetings?
Oftentimes, marketing plans are written and put on the shelf or saved on the company server. Use your plan as the agenda for your regular marketing communications meetings. This will help you and your marketing team remember the plan and work towards accomplishing the goals you set forth when you developed it.
3. Are your marketing partners on board with the plan, and do they understand their roles?
If you use multiple marketing agencies, or outsource to marketing consultants, make sure they understand the role they play in helping to execute your marketing plan. In some cases, agencies draft the entire plan and present it to their client, but it often makes sense for this to be a collaborative process so that all marketing professionals on the team (both internal and external) understand the goals and objectives of the plan.
4. Has the plan been shared with your sales force and channel partners?
It still amazes that, in some organizations sales, and marketing professionals don’t share plans or sales goals, when, in essence, the two work like and hand in glove. Marketing professionals should strive to get buy-in from their sales team to ensure that their marketing messages match the sales team’s messages to new and existing customers.
It’s also important to inform channel partners about your marketing plan. These could be key distributors, trade associations and other third-parties that can help carry your marketing message to your customers. They don’t need to know all of your specific marketing tactics, but they should at least have a familiarity with your message and your overall goals and objectives. For another of our clients, PPG Ideascapes, we actually integrated a section dedicated to a key channel audience for them – certified glass fabricators.
5. Have you elevated your plan to the “C” suite?
Have you received buy-in on your marketing plan from senior leadership in your organization? Providing company leadership with an executive summary of your goals, objectives and key marketing initiatives can give them much needed support as they go about business building and customer retention efforts. This also goes back to having a flexible and living marketing plan. There could be potential business changing efforts underway, such as mergers and acquisitions, or corporate restructuring. All of these issues should at least be possible considerations as marketers plan for the year ahead.
6. Have you set up a tracking report to monitor movement towards goals?
What good is a plan if you’re not tracking its progress and results? This is often the toughest part of a marketer’s job, but with the technologies available today, it’s getting easier to measure what’s working and what’s not.
It’s important to build a proper reporting infrastructure and stick to it. Don’t just include hard numbers and data, but include anecdotal information, such as customer feedback from the sales force, social media posts and media stories. Make this a part of the monthly routine, so that you can easily pull together a mid-year and year-end report for senior management.
7. Are specific individuals assigned to each strategy/program or initiative?
Most robust marketing plans have multiple moving parts. Therefore, it’s important to have a team that is empowered to manage each component effectively. This team should not only execute individually, they should work synergistically and keep the main marketing goals and objectives in view while going about their daily work. The critical component is routine collaboration and adaptation to changes in the marketing plan. An example is president of Innovation Works, Rich Lunak’s, commitment to their blog, Pittsburgh Innovation.
8. Have realistic budgets been assigned to each strategy?
Whether it’s developing a new website, increasing your organization’s social media presence, launching a new advertising campaign, or ramping up your media relations efforts, are you being realistic with the costs?
Building a marketing plan that isn’t appropriately budgeted sets the plan up for setbacks and delays. While developing proper cost estimates are critical, it’s also important to determine priorities and stick to them. Perhaps the new website is a priority and the social media presence can wait until your entire website is completed. Is your advertising spending delivering results and good leads? Are you focusing on the right publications through your media relations strategy? Through all of this make sure to manage the expectations of senior management and help them understand that a successful and sustained marketing plan is a marathon, not a sprint.
9. Do you consult the plan when new marketing opportunities arise?
Again, this goes back to making sure your plan is a living, breathing document. Allowing for flexibility, both in your marketing plan and in your budget will allow you to take advantage of new opportunities that arise.
10. If you have an existing plan, do you really need to start over?
Well-established organizations may already have a fairly robust marketing plan that is working well. However, it’s always good to check in periodically to review target audiences, current markets and key messages. You don’t have to totally scrap your marketing plan, but certainly keep it current and make sure it’s reviewed more than once a year.