How to Develop a Successful Marketing Plan

Planning your marketing strategy for the year ahead can seem daunting. How can you be sure you’re making the right moves for your business? How can you prepare for the future when you don’t know what to expect? The world of marketing is always changing. That’s what makes it fun! But it may also be the source of your annual meltdown. Don’t worry. This time, we’ve got your back. At WilsonMcGuire Creative, we’ve written hundreds of marketing plans. And while it’s true every year poses new challenges, we have a few tips that can help any marketer create a solid plan to guide her/him through another year of curve balls and plot twists.

If you’ve been tracking the performance of your campaigns, you probably have a wealth of data ready to be analyzed. Look back at the last year (or two or five). What worked? What didn’t? Check the numbers – compare creative executions and media (Google Search, social ads, email, print advertising, influencer partnerships, local sponsorships, trade shows, etc.). Focus on the numbers that matter (engagement rate, conversion rate, session duration, ROAS, etc.).

If you haven’t been tracking the performance of your campaigns, make it a priority for the upcoming year! Start by setting up your Google Analytics account and using UTM parameters for every link to track digital campaigns (read our blog on how to do that). Then decide how frequently to pull reports and go to work. We recommend starting with monthly reports to track progress throughout the year. Come time to start your marketing plan for the next year, you’ll be locked and loaded with 12 months of information to guide your decisions.

You may not have a crystal ball, but you do have access to marketing experts who can give you some insight into where things are headed in our ever-changing industry. If you’re working with an agency, consult them. It’s their job to stay on top of the latest trends and newest tech in the marketing world. If you’re flying solo, with no agency partner, you still have access to the World Wide Web, where marketing experts around the world like to post their predictions and comment on industry trends.

You may read about the growing importance of personalization, you may decide it’s time to invest in a marketing automation platform that allows you to personalize emails for different audience segments. Or, you may learn that apps are losing steam and decide to modernize your website for a mobile-first audience rather than build out a custom app. This research will help you determine where to invest your marketing budget and where to experiment with new media or technology.

Keep in mind that looking at industry trends is like driving. If you look only at the car in front of you, you’re not going to be prepared when that driver slams on his brakes. But, if you look a little further ahead, you’ll see the traffic start to slow long before the guy ahead of you looks up from his phone and stomps his brake pedal. In other words, don’t focus on what’s trendy now. Look five years ahead. Otherwise, you’ll end up blowing money on short-term fads and pivoting to the next “hot thing” every year.

Growth doesn’t happen without change. When you discover one avenue isn’t profitable, you have to fill that hole with something new. And, often times, there’s no way to know if that something new will be effective until you try it.

Luckily, you can experiment with new media, partnerships, marketing channels and more without taking a huge risk (Side note: Sometimes a huge risk is just what you need! Playing it safe can be just as detrimental to your brand as a failed experiment.). Set aside a portion of your marketing budget each year for experimentation. This budget can be allocated from the start to a new channel you’re interested in, or it could be left open to allow you room to experiment with something new that pops up before the year ends.

When you discover a new avenue to reach your audience, it can be exciting. But don’t get caught up in the moment and make a big commitment to an unproven tactic (Mad Scientist). Instead, try testing new channels with smaller budgets over short time periods to maximize your spend (Sane Scientist). For example, if you think a local mom blog might be a good place to advertise your bouncy castles, buy a couple of their inexpensive e-newsletter features before you sign a yearlong contract that includes bigger-ticket items. After just 3 newsletter features, you’ll probably know enough to determine if it’s worth experimenting further or if it’s time to cut bait.

Budget, ad placement and brand messaging are all key to your marketing plan. But your internal culture and habits can be just as significant to the success/failure of the upcoming year.

Maybe you need to streamline communication within your company or start using some project management software to help your team stay on top of deadlines. Or maybe you’ve noticed your team is stuck in a rut and you need to shake things up to get them thinking outside the box. In the upcoming year, that could translate to purchasing new software, rearranging desks to encourage collaboration or making “Outside the Box” the theme for this year’s team retreat.

These things probably won’t make it into your formal report, but they should still be a part of your plan for the year. So write them down. Even internal changes should be defined by real goals with real action steps and real deadlines. Treat these plans just as you would your annual media budget or social strategy. Treat them like your success depends on them, because it does.

A well-thought-out marketing plan should serve as your guidebook through the upcoming year – even in the face of unexpected turns. Base your strategy on strong data, plan with the future in mind, leave room for strategic experimentation and don’t discount the importance of your internal culture. So go make a plan. And stick to it.