Marketing Planning

9 Keys to Marketing Planning that Deliver Growth

Companies that develop a clear marketing plan consistently outperform those without one. Marketing planning helps you to strategize in line with your goals and in contrast to the competitive landscape. It’s a way to have an efficient and systematic approach for connecting with your target audience and driving them to action.

Follow these nine key steps for a marketing plan that ensures stronger results in 2021.

1. Start with Both End Goals & Process Goals

As an agency, we meet with many companies. What surprises us time and again is how many companies fail to establish clear marketing goals.

When you set your goals for the coming year, be sure they are clear and measurable. Aiming to increase revenue? By how much? Within what timeframe? For which products? In which geographies? Etc.

Make sure everyone on the team is informed and can immediately recite the team’s goals. Alignment among all team members helps you to galvanize all of your resources and brainpower towards your stated goals.

Go beyond lag goals, though.

How? With lead goals.

As explained in the book The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals, in addition to defining your team’s end goals, it’s critical to set lead goals (otherwise called process goals). Looking to increase U.S. revenue for your services by 35% within the next year? What are the specific actions you need to take each month in order to make that happen? Be specific, and track these monthly actions as their own distinct milestone goals. Do so, and you’ll increase the probability of achieving your marketing goals exponentially.

2. Get Upstream Input from Your Agency

Upstream Input

Sitting in a conference room with your internal team brainstorming your marketing plan? Do you find you’re regurgitating and recycling the same ideas?

A far better approach to marketing planning is to involve your marketing agency from the start — and throughout the entire process.

Your agency works with many different brands and is constantly talking with new companies as well. What this means is that they are exposed to a great deal of approaches and campaigns, and they see what’s working and what’s not across a broad sample set.

It’s crazy to ignore all of this insight and instead try to figure out your plan myopically with only internal team members, only to fill in your agency after the fact. As Gartner stated in its Annual CMO Spend Research Webinar, “Agencies still offer an unparalleled breadth of scope and an ability to offer much-needed external input.”

Want more intriguing ideas and better results in the coming year? Easy — get your agency involved upfront, and let the ideas flow.

3. Audience Segments & Personas

Any time you are developing marketing plans, you need to align goals, strategies and tactics with your audience and their various pain points. To that end, revisit your audience segments.

Are you missing an opportunity to break down your audience into more granular segments? Often, narrowing your focus will help you resonate more deeply with hyper-targeted prospects while helping you to stand out from the pack.

Similarly, you may be ignoring adjacent audience segments that could be low-hanging fruit for profitable new sources of revenue. Already selling to restaurants? Then perhaps you should target food management services at universities, as well.

For each segment, define your target personas, prioritizing the goals they are trying to achieve and the challenges they face in achieving them. Document the questions that run through each persona’s mind as they think about your types of solutions.

4. Budget for Growth

Marketing Planning - Budgeting

With marketing planning, budgeting is a necessary part of the process. Too many companies look at the prior year’s budget and then add a certain percentage to that.

Sorry, but that’s not strategic in any way.

Instead, look at your goals — including process goals — and determine what it will take. A common attribute among high-growth companies is a marketing budget that exceeds 10% of revenue. Are you investing defensively, or to smash through your marketing goals?

To get more bang for the buck and even greater results, force your team to cut the 20% of last year’s budget that didn’t perform as well as the rest of your activities. Next, double down on the 20% that performed best. Literally double your commitment.

It’s only through this type of evolution that your budget will act as a strategic asset for your marketing.

A Winning Marketing Plan for Greater ROI

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5. Establish Your Marketing Strategy

Too many companies confuse tactics for strategy. Deciding to do email marketing or SEO is not a strategy. It’s nothing more than a tactic.

Yet, if you want to maximize your marketing results, it’s important to clarify your marketing strategy and then to fully commit to it in your marketing planning.

Strategy is simply creating a game plan to win:

  • How are you going to win?
  • Determine how will you do it consistently
  • How will you do it decisively?

Certain companies are customer-obsessed, and that drives all of their marketing. Others are committed to the environment and want to be the eco-friendly leader. Some others are going to build emotional connections. Others are set on being the most innovative, or the funniest, or the most local to a region, or the most trustworthy or the most technologically advanced.

Pick your strategy and go all in.

6. Be the Only One

Be the Only One

Too often, we run into companies that are merely one among a sea of options. They may be a good company with good products or services; however, they cannot run from the fact that their audience has difficulty understanding how they are different and why they should pick them among all of their options.

This is seriously problematic in that it leaves your sales up to chance.

It’s also bad as you lose all pricing power.

The solution? Determine where you can be the ONLY one to offer a particular solution or the ONLY one to deliver it in a specific way or for a specific audience, etc.

For example, Stratabeat is the ONLY B2B marketing agency that offers a science-based marketing program guaranteed to double leads.

In what way is your brand the only one of its kind?

7. Rethink Your Marketing Mix

Once you have your marketing strategy in place, it’s time to define your specific vehicles, tactics and calendars in your marketing planning.

Going all in on content marketing this coming year? Define whether this means blogging, white papers, webinars, videos, podcasts or other types of content. Determine the timing and frequency. Define the audience per content piece.

Rethink Your Marketing

Read Stratabeat CEO Tom Shapiro’s book, Rethink Your Marketing, to learn how to apply lateral thinking to your business for accelerated growth. Download a Free Chapter!

An excellent tool to help you pick winners among your top options is a matrix defining effort, time, cost and ROI per option. Stratabeat uses this approach for both ourselves as well as clients, and it’s extremely effective. If your marketing goals are focused on a major achievement in the next six months, then you cannot be relying on a marketing idea, no matter how awesome, that will take too long. Similarly, if you don’t have the bandwidth, don’t select options that require a group larger than what you have or what you’re able to outsource.

And of course, be honest about ROI. A great idea might impress your CEO, but if the ROI isn’t there, it won’t benefit you no matter how clever. Calculating the projected ROI ahead of time helps you keep expectations in the reality zone and enables you to focus your efforts on what matters most.

8. Innovate for Growth

Marketing Planning - Innovation

Here’s an essential ingredient for continual growth:


But innovation doesn’t happen by magic. It takes a concerted effort. If you want growth next year, not to mention the year after that and the one after that, run two businesses concurrently, not just one. Operate your business of today while also running your business of tomorrow. Reserve at least 10% to 20% of your marketing budget for innovation, testing new things and pushing the envelope.

Innovation should be a necessary part of your marketing planning. After all, the market won’t wait around for you. Your competitors certainly won’t. It’s up to you to look around the corner and stay ahead of your audience in solving their problems and marketing to them in fresh ways that resonate.

9. Measure & Optimize through KPIs

Finally, be sure to decide on your KPIs for measuring progress against your goals. Define what “success” looks like, and be specific. The success metrics for your process goals must be measurable.

Strategic 2021 Marketing Planning

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Too many companies set goals and plans, but then lack the proper tracking, monitoring, measurement and analysis. Without this type of follow-through, it will be difficult for you to optimize your marketing for better performance and to blow through your annual goals.

Set up a dashboard and hold your team accountable. Make it easy to keep on top of your progress. A dashboard is an effective way to keep all of your team members up to date and on target for a stellar 2021.

This post was originally published on December 19, 2019, and was updated on November 16, 2020.