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Taking the pain out of planning

We’ve all caught ourselves repeating the age old cliché ‘where does the time go?’ – and if you’re like us you’ll currently find yourself planning Christmas campaigns despite it being only the tail end of a (somewhat bleak) UK summer outside. Yes, thinking ahead can be painful when there’s still this year’s plan to get through – but it mustn’t be ignored.

With the not so distant memory of a nasty global recession, marketing spend is still under close scrutiny. In order to secure prosperous marketing budgets the savviest marketing departments will be already thinking about 2012 plans. But with Q4 projects not even out the door, incomplete results still coming in, and the usual amount of future uncertainty, it’s hard to know where to start.

Here are 5 tips to help you get the most from the planning process. Unsurprisingly (or surprisingly to some) it’s back to basics:

1. Make sure every marketing activity, and every penny attached to it, is linked to a specific business objective. Engagement and awareness are nice but contributing to the bottom line is much more valuable! This is something we live by – we call it the Slide One Principle (you can read more about it here).

2. Be realistic – look at what you did and didn’t do in 2011. Ask yourself why activities weren’t executed. Be critical of what was in and out of your control. With this insight, make sure you aren’t going to fall into the same traps again next year. A plan is no good unless everyone believes in it and is committed to it.

3. Get the right people involved – all too often we see marketing departments almost competing with sales teams or customer service departments. If your organisation is serious about leadership – you should all be working towards the same business goals, so your plans should be aligned to maximise impact. Resist the silos – work together to pool expertise and create a plan that really delivers for your organisation! (For advice on aligning marketing with sales, click here).

4. Look ahead – big events could help make your marketing efforts more relevant and amplify their impact. This year we had an epic Royal wedding and next year London hosts the biggest sporting calendar event! Map out any key dates important to your industry – awards dates or technology releases for instance – and think about how you could use heightened awareness to get a conversation started. (You can check out our tips on winning with the Olympics in 2012 here).

5. Be flexible – try to think reasonably of things that could de-rail your plans (do you suspect head count is under threat? Are there any new regulations or laws posing a risk?) and have a plan for them. We have already been through quite a lot in the recession so we can all appreciate how crucial it is to accept (and embrace) change in order to succeed.

Putting in the time now to agree the direction you are heading, assess where you are now and decide how you will advance will stand you in good stead to ensure your 2012 story is remarkable and profitable, instead of stressful and regretful.