Marketing Planning for 2021

By Jeffrey Barnhart

With the dog days of summer and Labor Day behind us, it’s time to start thinking about next year’s marketing plan. If the thought hasn’t even crossed your mind at this point, chances are, you’ll miss a critical window—which could impact your business’s success in 2021.

Typically, businesses should begin working on their marketing plan by October 1 and finalize it no later than December 1. This window allows enough time to do the appropriate research and planning. You’ll have plenty of time to get valuable input from various staff in your organization.

However, due to the current economic uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, “the sooner the better” is key as you develop your 2021 marketing plan. This is the year you need to speed up your planning cycle, which will allow you to analyze, adjust and easily navigate impending market changes.

If this process is started too late, you won’t have enough time to roll out the plan to team members to get their buy in and adjust it, as needed. By October 1, you should have a good idea of where you’ll end up for the year, which will serve as a guide for what you want to achieve in the upcoming year.

Consider a marketing plan your “roadmap for success.” Unlike a business plan, which covers the entire business including financial plans, operations and sales, a marketing plan focuses just on the marketing. There are many benefits to having this plan in place before the new year. It not only will serve as a guide for yourself, but also for the company and everyone who has a role in carrying out the plan. It will also identify where you want to go, why you want to get there and when you want to get there, so you’ll have targets to meet. Most importantly, a marketing plan helps a business measure its success. It provides businesses with a plan of action, which they can reference throughout the year—at least on a bi-annual basis, if not quarterly—to see if it’s on or off target.

Creating your 2021 marketing plan means navigating the “new normal” amid the COVID-19 pandemic without reducing brand visibility and communications—critical elements during an economic downturn. For most businesses, the importance of marketing has increased since the pandemic. As you map out your 2021 marketing plan, be sure to maintain or increase saturation of communication from your business. That will keep your business or association top of mind for customers and prospects, creating an advantageous position when recovery from the pandemic begins.

Eliminating marketing during a crisis will begin to erode brand equity and increase the cost of marketing when you resume. In these uncertain times, consumerism doesn’t look the same. Consumer behavior and digital media consumption has shifted—marketing practices need to reflect those changes. Gaining a competitive edge will require fine-tuning your marketing strategy to include digital marketing tactics. In 2021, focus on providing digital solutions, recognizing the economic fallout and offering genuine expressions of empathy and responsiveness to your customers and prospects.

Here are some steps to creating a 2021 marketing plan that will get results:

Survey the landscape

Begin your market research by looking at the process in terms of current market positioning and trendlines. CMA utilizes a proprietary discovery process, Marketecture™, to engage in a strategic analysis, which helps its clients understand how their business can be best positioned in the marketplace.

CMA analyzes its customer’s pain points, buying motivations, competitive challenges and marketplace forces that impact its business. CMA then orchestrates Marketecture insights into differentiated positioning, captivating sales messages and, ultimately, a game plan of tactics to get results for its clients.

For your business or association, that means taking a holistic approach and reexamining your SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis as part of your overall marketing strategy. Your marketing strategy may have worked well pre-COVID-19, but now you likely need to do some fine-tuning. That includes considering external influences such as political, socio-economic, legal/regulatory and technological impacts.

CMA utilizes The Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) Growth-Share Matrix, which considers growth opportunities by reviewing a product line and considers where to invest, discontinue or develop new products. It’s divided into four categories (e.g. dogs, wildcats, cash cows and super stars), based on an analysis of market growth and relative market share. The greatest emphasis should be on the area that’s going to give you the greatest return, which are the super stars.

This process also gives you an opportunity to reevaluate your product mix and answer questions including:

  • Are there marketing tactics you are currently implementing that aren’t working?
  • Will the continued spread of COVID-19 lead to more online activity for your business?
  • Do you have a strong digital presence?

Align your strategy with your target audience

Defining your target audience sets the foundation of your marketing efforts and even your entire business. Who are the people who need your product or service? How will you reach them? In addition to identifying your marketing mix (i.e. price, product, promotion and place), determine which audiences you need to pursue, as well as the target market. They are a distinct segment of customers that you are trying to reach to promote your business, products and services.

Once you’ve identified your audiences, you’ll be able to strategically determine which tactics to employ, as well as which key words and messaging will resonate with them, increasing the chances of moving them to action—whether it’s down the sales funnel or purchasing your products or services.

Following are categories to examine:

  • Location (i.e. local, national or international)
  • Demographics (e.g. age, gender, occupation, income level, marital status)
  • Psychographics (e.g. values, hobbies, lifestyle, personality, attitude, behavior)
  • Industries (e.g. medical, accounting, lighting, nonprofit), if a B2B focus
  • Personality type (i.e. persona) and pain points
  • Motivations

Hone in on ROI with S.M.A.R.T. goals

Marketing is all about goals. Do you want to increase sales? Do you want to increase membership? Do you want to expand market share or reach new audiences? A solid marketing plan requires concrete goals and objectives that are tied to business objectives, such as increasing brand awareness, establishing your business as an authority or reaching new customers. I’ve grouped marketing goals and measurement together because one feeds the other. Each goal should have a timeline and completion date. They also should follow the S.M.A.R.T. goal structure—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Bound.

One of the most important components of the S.M.A.R.T. goals is the measurement aspect. Calculating return on investment (ROI) is critical for any business. Aside from the fiduciary reasoning, ROI is a tool that you should always utilize. It helps prioritize marketing investments and base that investment on actual results, as it relates to the campaign goal.  Without goals, you have no way of knowing whether your marketing tactics are driving business results.

Measurement tools can include sales conversions, media impressions, blog traffic and website hits. By measuring your business’s success, you can take a closer look at the return on your marketing investment. You also can shift dollars to the areas that are giving you the most return, which is important for marketers. It is ideal to meet with your team monthly or quarterly to check in and see if your business or association is on track to reach the goals that were outlined in the marketing plan. If off target, you can readjust as needed.

Due to the pandemic, many marketers were forced to make 2020 midyear budget adjustments—for many that meant eliminating marketing to prioritize short-term cash flow. During uncertain times, it may seem like cutting marketing spend is the way to go, however; the opposite is true. Continuing to market during an economic downturn is critical.

In 2021, measuring ROI will be more important than ever. Marketing tactics that are unproven in terms for driving revenue will likely be cut. That will mean investing in tools to track outcomes. Analytics will be key in guiding your team to adjust tactics to deliver the highest return.

Determine strategies and tactics

The marketing strategy section of your plan should answer the “how” in a marketing plan.

Some examples are:

  • How will your product stand out in the marketplace?
  • How will you differentiate your business, products or services from your competitors?

The tactics should be wide-ranging enough to tie back to the goals and strategies, as well as answer the question: what will be done? Tactics can include digital marketingpublic relationssocial mediaweb and mobile app development, and advertising. Within those broad categories are smaller tactical elements encompassing podcasts, content marketingvideo marketingemail marketing, webinars, pay-per-click advertising, blogspress releases and collateral to name a few.

Develop a budget

A marketing budget details the marketing tactics, activities and expenditure that are a part of your overall marketing plan. It is not a standalone document, but a financial plan within your overarching marketing plan.

While we are still faced with economic uncertainty amid the pandemic, many CEOs and marketers still feel optimistic about 2021 marketing budgets. As you begin planning and budgeting for 2021, the key in the coming year will be “flexibility.” Allowing for some fluidity in your budget so you can maximize your impact in 2021 will be easier once you know which marketing activities are essential.

At a time when every dollar matters, consider utilizing digital marketing channels  that are highly targeted and reach people online—where they spend their time and money. In 2021, businesses and associations will need digital marketing to compete—it is where your customers are. Invest in SEO, integrate the mobile experience with the physical, get found with pay-per-click advertising and engage with customers and prospects on social media. Be sure your digital mix includes email marketing. It has the highest ROI of any marketing method.

Not to mention, digital marketing is an extremely cost-effective way to create brand loyalty. For small businesses, digital marketing levels the playing field. It can be segmented or hyper-personalized and it is easy to scale and adapt—and you can track your success.

In addition to all of the benefits I outlined, having a marketing plan helps a business or association take an in-depth look at what it’s doing and how it’s doing it, along with serving as a refresher that keeps businesses from doing the same old, same old, every year—especially during these times of uncertainty.

Eliminating your annual marketing budget may be tempting; however, by planning ahead and knowing how you can modify your marketing plan, if necessary, you will have ability to make decisions that will maximize your impact. Ceasing marketing means stopping communication with those who matter most—your customers and prospects.

By continuing to market during an economic downturn, you will have the unique opportunity to grow your market share.

Are you scheduled to begin working on your 2021 marketing plan? If not, we can help. Contact us today, to begin the conversation.

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