Next year is right around the corner. Do you know what that means? Board rooms worldwide are packed with teams drafting marketing plans and setting budgets. But, even though 2019 hasn't started yet, most of those plans are already obsolete.
That's a bold statement, but the truth is that many marketing plans fail to translate into business results because of a built-in flaw: they increase confidence while being largely based on assumptions.
These might be assumptions about customer acquisition, revenue growth, or even the political climate. Regardless, most marketing plans are a neatly-packaged set of guesses about the next one, five, or even ten years.
Ready for the bad news? That's wrong and those marketing plans suck. Since no one knows the future, these plans aren't really plans--they're guesses--and humans are really bad at guessing.
That's why, instead of a marketing plan, you should invest in a marketing strategy. Defined, a marketing strategy is "the guide that helps marketers choose, prioritize, plan, and execute projects to influence profitable customer action."
Creating an agile marketing strategy
When I started at CoSchedule in November 2014, our website had a few thousand page views, about the same amount of email subscribers, and a couple thousand customers. Today, CoSchedule has over 500,000 email subscribers, more than 1.35 million monthly page views, and over 7,000 customers in more than 100 countries around the world. And we did it all without a 30-page marketing plan stuffed in a neglected desk drawer.
Instead, we used an agile marketing strategy. And you need a strategy, too. A good marketing strategy provides the roadmap for you and your team to execute well-planned projects that you'll measure against a clearly defined goal.
In fact, a study by The Economist found organizations whose actions are aligned with strategy accomplish more than 60 percent of their initiatives -- and enjoyed significantly more financial success than those who didn't.
So, how do you do it? There are four fundamentals to developing a marketing strategy that works.
1. Set your marketing goals.
Before you can succeed in marketing, you have to know how to get there. Clear goals offer your marketing team direction and a defined understanding of what success looks like. A strategy is "agile" when it can shift, change, and adapt to unforeseen conditions. But, even when your strategy shifts, your goals don't. This means every action and initiative is still aligned with ultimate success.
2. Define your marketing persona(s).
Knowing who your customers are, what they look like, what they care about, and how to compel them to profitable action is the heart of marketing. Developing a marketing persona(s) is the perfect way to refine your approach.
A marketing persona defines the ideal customer, or audience, you want to attract to your product or service through your marketing efforts. Personas are vital for understanding target audiences. They help marketers visualize who they're trying to reach, and empathize with their needs to deliver delightful experiences.
3. Select your key marketing metrics to monitor.
Goal setting and identifying key metrics go hand in hand. You can't effectively have one without the other. There's no way to know if you're reaching your goals without selecting appropriate metrics to monitor. My favorite method of doing this is the One Metric That Matters (OMTM) framework, popularized in Lean Analytics: Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster.
The authors explain OMTM as picking "the one number you're completely focused on above everything else." Your OMTM may be new customers, sales-qualified leads, or even email list subscribers. The practice builds focus and discipline so that all of your activities are tied to growing the metric most closely tied to growth for your stage of maturity.
Your OMTM will evolve with growth and mastery of a given metric. But the framework works from startup, to scaling, to IPO, and beyond.
4. Define your tactics.
The best strategy is useless without solid execution. So, which tactics will you use to achieve your goals and make that strategy a success? Here, methodically match your tactics with your OMTM. Throughout the year, make a habit of eliminating some tactics while doubling down on others depending on how they influence your OMTM.
Marketing in 2019 doesn't need to be a bummer, and you still have time to throw out the plan and replace it with an agile strategy. Do whatever it takes to get your team on the right track. Shred the marketing plan, craft a strategy, and get rocking.