The Fearless Marketer’s Guide to Annual Planning

By Suzanne Martin & Tim Cook 

If you’re like most marketers we know, at this time of year, you’ve got one eye on your current projects, and the other eye on your calendar. We all know the end of the year will be here in a heartbeat — and your annual marketing plans should be locked down before that happens.

That leaves you with two options. You can throw away your calendar and try to pretend the new year isn’t coming, or you can dive into your plan and build an innovative new strategy to tackle your biggest challenges. Because how can you make next year different if you don’t plan differently?

To make the most of your planning efforts, ask yourself these three questions. Your answers will determine the gaps in your marketing foundation, and help you move forward fearlessly to fill them.

1. Who are your buyers?

Your goal for next year is to create targeted, useful marketing programs that encourage buyers to convert. But before you can achieve that, you need to know who your buyers are, and what they’re looking for.

What influences their purchase decisions? How frequently do they buy? What language do they use to talk about their industry? What media do they consume? What are their biggest pain points? If you can’t answer these questions, your marketing programs will be shooting in the dark.

As you’re creating your annual plan, now’s the time to invest in buyer personas. Research your main buyer types until you can answer all the questions above, plus additional ones relevant to your industry. Armed with that insight, you can optimize your marketing to be useful, relevant — and to drive more sales. In fact, according to research from MarketingSherpa, using buyer personas can increase marketing-generated revenue by as much as 171%.

2. Can your buyers buy the way they want to?

Once you know your audience, you can focus on getting them the information they need, how and when they need it. You can’t rely on cold-calling your buyers — you have to help them feel enthusiastic about your offering. And if you don’t know what they need to get there, finding out should be your first priority.

Take the time in now to build effective journey streams for your buyers. A well-built journey will nurture buyers from the first moment of contact all the way until they’re ready to purchase. And by drawing on your persona research, you can ensure that these journeys will provide the valuable information your customers need.

Of course, journeys are only as effective as the content powering them. Think about what content will best serve your needs at every touchpoint. Will you need video? Product literature? Interactive content? Deciding this now — while you’re creating your annual budget — will help take the pain out of next year’s content creation.

3. How useful is your database?

If personas and journeys are the framework of your marketing programs, your database is the fuel. The better your data, the more accurately you can determine who’s engaging with you, when you should add them to your journeys and what they need before they’ll purchase.

If you can’t get this information accurately from your database, make data hygiene a priority. Scrub your database for duplicate, missing or inaccurate records, so you won’t pull out-of-date information into brand-new campaigns. If this cleanup shrinks your records dramatically, consider launching email or telemarketing campaigns to gain additional information about your buyers.

But it’s not enough to have accurate data — it should also be easy to leverage strategically. Segment your records based on your personas’ characteristics: company type, buy frequency, purchase history, marketing behavior and so on. The more you segment your database, the more targeted you can make your messaging, and the more likely your campaigns will deliver results.

We know year-end is stressful, but don’t let the planning pressure get you down! The first step toward a top-notch plan is identifying what held you back this year. By asking these questions, you can decide where to focus your efforts first — and move forward feeling confident that you’ll succeed.

Ready to start improving your plan today? We’re here to help! Our team of experts at The Mx Group can evaluate your marketing strategy, data and technology, and help get your personas and journeys in place. There’s still time — learn more here.

Tim Cook

Tim is the former vice president of client services for The Mx Group. Previously, Tim held senior marketing positions at the global outsourcing firm Convergys, where he served clients at McCann and Resource Marketing. Tim is a graduate of Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. He also completed certificate programs in integrated marketing communications and change management at the Chicago Graduate School of Business.

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