As I write this blog post, there are 47 days left until Christmas. 53 days left in 2017. And that means if you haven’t started your 2018 marketing plan, time is running out. Fast.

Just blink and WHAM. January 2nd will be upon us.

Thanks to the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we won’t have a good handle on rolling-view 2017 metrics. We haven’t looked at a funnel report since Q3. We haven’t written a blog or sent out an email beyond obligatory holiday greetings in over a month. There is no content calendar in place. We haven’t mapped out events or product launches for Q1, let alone Q2, and all of our tools and vendor contracts expired at the stroke of midnight December 31st.

Sorting it out – properly – will take eight to 10 weeks. So now we’re looking at no valuable marketing activity for most, if not all, of Q1.

Isn’t Q1 when most of our customers get fresh budgets? Isn’t it a good time to be top-of-mind?

I can see you nodding your head. Yes. Yes it might be a good idea to plan in advance. Maybe we should get the ball rolling on 2018 before we get caught up in eggnog and tied up in ribbons and bows. Maybe we could even have our early Q1 tactics booked, prepped, approved and ready to hit the market before we hit the bar at the office Christmas party.

So what makes a good planning process?

Step 1: Revisit Your 2017 Objectives

The first question you need to ask is “Did we achieve our objectives?” and the second is “If not, why not?” or “If we did, how did we do it?”

Sometimes there are projects we can’t undertake and objectives we can’t meet due to forces beyond our control – like engineering delaying a product launch – but most of the time they should be the exception instead of the rule.

You should also take a good, hard look at your objectives. Were they relevant? Were they concrete, finite and measurable? Did they tie directly to the organization’s business objectives? Were they part of a larger, longer-term plan?

Step 2: Talk to Sales

I can hear the groaning from here. In a lot of organizations, sales and marketing lack alignment. Or, they flat-out resent one another. First off, sales is a gold mine for voice of the customer insight we can leverage in messaging.

And second, as marketers, we simply must know what happened with the leads we sent to sales. Were they the right people, able to make a buying decision? Were they warmed up enough by nurturing campaigns to be ready for the conversation? If the answer is ‘no’ we need to tweak our targeting or flesh out our nurturing programs. If the answer is ‘yes’ we can confidently calculate ROI.

On the flip side, sales needs to know what marketing is up to. A sales team that doesn’t know we’re launching a promotion or touting a specific benefit may end up missing the boat or appearing a fool in front of a prospect.

Step 3: Set Your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Before planning 2018, it’s essential to know what worked – and what didn’t – in 2017. And this is never about gut instinct or vagueness. It’s about cold, hard data. Relevant data.

And by relevant, I mean tied directly to the business plan.

You should know how many sales you need to make target. And you should know the sales team’s close ratio. That will help you determine how many warm leads you need to hand off to sales to empower them for success.

So often, we as marketers focus our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) on the fun and easy stuff at the top of the funnel – impressions and traffic. We can buy those. But if they don’t pass through to engagement, nurturing and, eventually, sales, they are completely irrelevant. Yes, we need impressions and folks coming to the website. But it’s far more important to know that they are the right people and where they are in the buying process. That way, we can help move them along to the point of impacting the bottom line.

Step 4: Understand Your Audience

Go way beyond demographics. Get insight. Build a key value proposition for each audience segment. Tailor your messaging. Confirm it by talking to real customers who have already purchased to find out why and how they came to that decision. Immerse yourself in the market drivers.

Create a prioritized audience matrix:

  • Company types
  • Job roles
  • Challenges / pain points / misperceptions
  • Desired behavior as a result of content consumption
  • Role in decision process (i.e. influencer, decision maker, etc.)

Now, craft an editorial calendar for each audience. Know where they go to consume their business-related content. Are they on LinkedIn? Do they use Google to find articles? What about YouTube? Enewsletters? Traditional business media?

Step 5: Get Creative

Armed with audience knowledge, you can begin planning your tactics for delivery channels, which may include:

  • Organic search (SEO)
  • Paid search (SEM)
  • Social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Social selling
  • Native advertising and/or media relations
  • Email marketing / marketing automation
  • Live events

The best marketers understand there is more than one way to engage the audience. The key is storytelling – good stories about overcoming challenges, solving pain points or debunking misperceptions.

Some stories will naturally lend themselves to simple formats such as blog posts. Others will require deeper exploration through case studies, testimonials, videos and webinars – or even live events like trade shows or breakfast meetings.

The goal is to add value through education. To showcase the benefits of doing business with your company and the success of your existing customers (not tell people how clever your organization itself is), and get the audience to imagine themselves enjoying the same successes.

Need Help with Your Plan?

Explore our marketing strategy resources and accelerators then talk to us about your specific needs, objectives and questions.