January 2012 – a clean slate.  How will you use it?  Developing an annual marketing plan is one way to start the year off on the right foot.  And a plan balanced in structure and flexibility will pave the way for your journey through a year of triumphs. We know the hardest part to any project is getting started, so here are some tips.

Review and Reflect. Before deciding where to go, take a look at where you’ve been.  Reviewing the past year will help you sort out priorities.  Set aside time to answer the following questions:

  • Did you achieve desired results?
  • Which specific marketing activities were effective?  Which ones were not?
  • Did you use proper resources?  Were they reliable?
  • Has your target audience changed?
  • Did you stay within budget?  Where do you need to cut costs?  In what areas should you invest more?

Reflecting on last year’s strengths and weaknesses will reveal themes, which you can use to help set more practical goals for this year.  But don’t spend too much time dwelling in the rearview.  That was then, this is now.

Organize. Now it’s time to build your plan.  Start by pinpointing essential categories for the structure.  Some typical examples include:

  • Advertising – print, online
  • Collateral – sell sheets, brochures, business cards.
    • Events – trade shows, webinars
    • Direct Marketing – email, direct mail, list generation, promotional incentives/contests
    • Research – focus groups, surveys, marketing reference books.
    • Social Media – Twitter, Facebook

Choose components most suited for your company, and be sure to identify all potential categories as well.  You may not see a need for a social media category now, for example, but you should brainstorm how to handle this area if, for instance, loyal customers become more involved in social networking.

Set goals.
You are now ready to set objectives – what does your company want to achieve and when do you expect to accomplish results?  If you need direction, try setting goals within the bounds of financial budgeting.  Also, make your goals quantifiable, something you can measure – volume, money value, percentage.  This will help later when evaluating your strategies throughout the year.

Strategize. It’s game time.  If a touchdown is the objective and a 20-yard pass is the strategy, one tactic may be to fake a pass to left.  Another tactic may be to block for the receiver.  Your marketing plan strategies and tactics should state how you are going to achieve your goals and objectives. For example:

Objective 1: Increase product awareness among audience by 30 percent.

Social Media Category: Facebook Page

Strategy 1 – centralize Facebook Page theme on the product.

Tactic 1 – Post a product-related trivia question in status daily.

Tactic 2 – Add a Facebook “like” button to each product-related post on web site.

Tactic 3 – Start a Facebook group for the product.

When strategizing, don’t forget to consider the audience. Who are you trying to impact? Determine tactics to reach them. Do you need to diversify your approaches between potential customers and loyal customers?  Also, timing is everything. If used at the wrong time, a great strategy will go unnoticed, but a decent strategy used at the right time could make your year.  Schedule activities according to the cyclical seasons – economical, natural, commercial – that influence your audience.

Evaluate. You should also develop methods for tracking your activities throughout the year. Doing so will help you monitor the effectiveness of your tactics and strategies.  When evaluating data, don’t be too hard on yourself.  There are always variables working against you.  Just work even harder to find the variables that are working for you.  You may also need to make adjustments to your annual plan throughout the year, and that is ok.  In fact, it is essential to successful marketing.  Look at each change as an opportunity to improve your strategies.  And as you fine-tune throughout the year, always look up with optimism.