Q4 is coming to an end, and, frankly, 2021 cannot come soon enough for many organizations. A new year means new opportunities, a new start, a chance to put 2020 on the books as a deviation and return to normal business.
For marketing departments worldwide, 2021 could mean a few things. It could be the year to run some campaigns originally intended for 2020. It could be the year when you need to regroup and spend your budget more wisely. It could be the year where you go all-in for some radical new opportunities that have emerged in the past year.
Either way, below are 11 questions to ask yourself as you finalize your marketing plans.
Do I choose the right ‘battles’?
Pick your battles! The first thing you want to ask yourself: “What are my goals for the coming year?”
For example: Do you want to reduce churn by 200%, or do you want to increase acquisition by 300%?
That’s right: “or.”
Choose a focal point for the coming year. Don’t try to kick every ambition in one year. If you try to accomplish many things at once, you probably won’t do any of them well. Even if you have the people and the resources, aligning them will bring more clarity and yield better results than splitting the responsibilities and budgets.
Dramatic reforms tend to fail rather than the other way around. Drastic and dramatic are usually in line with each other.
Am I prioritizing the right things?
Put an extra priority on what works. It may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often we start hunting rainbows when there is still so much potential in our sure things. We get it. It’s nice to get excited about upcoming marketing trends. Influencer marketing, chatbots, VR ads, etc, all seem game-changing to opportunities to promising. But before you start experimenting, see where most of your success is currently coming from.
Have you allocated enough resources to further support and build on your current successes?
Wouldn’t innovation in these existing channels yield better results than innovation in new, unknown territory?
A 1% increase in sales in your existing marketing mix may be worth more than a 100% bet on something you don’t quite know yet.
Initially, bet on something certain.
Can I cut costs somewhere?
As you look at your existing marketing mix and ways to optimize it, consider the marketing tools and services you use. Too many marketing teams (and companies in general) like to buy new toys. Still, they tend to forget about them when usage drops or no longer exists.
Forgotten subscriptions can quickly add up. Do you remember that email automation tool where you created an account two years ago? No? Your credit card does.
As marketing technology progresses, you should also reassess your arsenal from time to time and examine whether you are still getting the most for your money. You know what you need, and you may have several tools that do the job, but if there’s a solution that does it all for two-thirds the price, it’s well worth a look.
The same goes for your team members. While letting go of people isn’t nearly as easy as quitting software, sometimes both have to happen. A team is only as effective as its weakest link.
Am I where my best customers are?
The best online marketers understand their customer base. They understand that not all customers are the same and that there is no such thing as one fixed blueprint for ‘one customer.’
Instead of trying to reach every customer, focus on your best customers first. Just like getting the most out of your existing marketing mix, focusing on your best customers generally yields better results.
A few questions for you to answer:
- Which type of customers will bring you the most money?
- Can you characterize your best customers through a buyer persona?
- What is their life like?
- What challenges do they face?
- How do they find a solution to these challenges?
Am I patient enough for long-term results?
Prioritizing and doubling what already works (see question 2) does not mean that you should not innovate and not think about the future. On the contrary, once you’ve laid the foundation for today’s and tomorrow’s profits, start working on the day after tomorrow. Some things just take time, like building a trustworthy brand or gaining traction with your content marketing.
Don’t get discouraged if your campaigns don’t deliver immediate results.
Am I flexible and ready to adapt?
Even if you’ve figured out your short- and long-term strategy, there’s still one area you should always address: the unexpected. Maintaining a flexible mindset can be the difference between steadfastness and bankruptcy.
The challenges will not always be of the magnitude of a global pandemic or an economic crisis. Yet even small, unforeseen changes can leave quite a few traces. Think of social media platforms that change algorithms overnight or major brands that decide to enter your market.
Flexibility is also necessary to be able to respond to unexpected opportunities. Society can suddenly take a big hit in something to do with your product or service. An agile marketing department has the upper hand to go viral with a well-timed and relevant campaign. Always keep your strategy lean & mean, just in case.
Don’t put it in one place or spend it all on up-front deals, for example. Via self-service channels such as Google or LinkedIn, you can turn your marketing euros on or off with one click. You remain in the driver’s seat.
What are my competitors doing?
You shouldn’t always try to reinvent the wheel. Take a look at your most successful competitors and research what works for them. Use tools like BuiltWith to see how their tech stack works. Use Similarweb to see how many visitors they have on their website. Use SEO tools (e.g., Moz ) to find out which keywords they rank well on. Use the Facebook ad library to find out what kind of ads they have running. Sign up for their newsletter to understand how they communicate.
Buy a product on their website or fill out a lead form to experience what their onboarding flows look like. Be creative. The list is long!
Do this before finalizing your plans and not halfway through. You will save a lot of time if you can implement some of the existing elements in advance and improve later in the year. Never just copy, but rather see it as collecting inspiration to apply to your own unique plans.
Not sure who your competitors are?
Ask your customers.
They will tell you who they compared you to and why they chose you.
Are my marketing plans realistic?
In other words, do your capacities match your ambitions? Your plans may look perfect on paper: clear goals, good priorities, flexible … And yet you may still have to go back to the drawing board if you:
- Don’t have the right people to do this.
- Do not have a sufficient budget to accomplish this.
Also, take into account seemingly smaller factors that can have a major influence. Take the law of diminishing returns, for example. As you increase your production, your marginal profit will decrease… In other words, for every additional amount you invest in your marketing mix, your return on investment decreases every time. All other factors remain the same. The only way to counter this is to have a big enough team, an increase in the budget, and so on.
Have I collected enough feedback on my plans?
However structured, thorough, and focused you have worked on your plan, you are still ‘only’ human. It won’t do you any harm if you always assume that you have missed an opportunity or chance for improvement. Ask your colleagues for feedback, sign up for marketing roundtables to pitch your theories, talk to people you know have different opinions from you, and so on. Get different perspectives.
Ultimately, it’s okay to keep your plan as it is, but at least you’ve done your due diligence and gathered all the knowledge to base your decision on.
What if I don’t implement these plans?
A simple question, but one that you must be able to answer. If not executing your plans does not really have much effect, are the plans worth executing? On the other hand, if not carrying out your plans has huge consequences, your plans may not be too realistic. You may not be able to answer this question with 100% certainty (unless you are a fortune-teller), but see it as a fresh opportunity to challenge yourself.
Besides, there is always the chance that you will get this question from your boss sooner or later. Having a ready answer to this will certainly not hurt his / her opinion of you.
How do I determine the success of my plan?
Simple: Always set your goals on a bottom-line level.
Let’s go back to our first question: what are your goals? Well, your main goal is to contribute to the overall bottom line. If you are a business that relies heavily on lead generation, understand that your business success is not determined by the number of leads you generate but by the amount of revenue generated from qualified leads.
You have to measure the success of a campaign in terms of turnover.
More than that, you understand that turnover is one thing, but ultimately your company is looking for profit. Your marketing team must therefore also be accountable on that front. Monitoring and reporting the ‘ins’ and the ‘outs’ is a must because this way, you speak the language your boss speaks.
A language that leads to more confidence in your abilities opens the door to get things done faster. He or she will better understand your efforts and see marketing as an income and profit entry, rather than a “necessary evil” that converts money into attention.
Demonstrate the power of a great digital marketing strategy as extensively as possible, to the point where even your CEO will want to join the brainstorming for your next big marketing effort.
From strategy to operation
Before you create a campaign, activate a channel, or set up your KPI framework, answer these 11 questions. Drawing up your marketing plan is the most important task you perform as a marketer. Therefore, do not go overnight while preparing it.
Let your strategy guide your operation, and not the other way around.