End of the year or beginning of the new year—when is the best time to create a new marketing plan?
Traditional business planning suggests that the answer is near the end of a given year. A business can take time to reflect on what it’s accomplished; end of year is also an excellent time to look forward to what’s next, possibly through the lens of an updated SWOT analysis. After doing some analysis and deep-thinking, you’ll end up with a comprehensive, forward-looking operations plan, complete with a new revenue forecast and “bottoms up” budget in support. The next year is planned, set in stone, forecasted, and budgeted—forward we go!
Another approach is more reflective over time, flexible in approach, and makes current trends more evident. The “rolling twelve” method takes into account monthly performance and fluctuations, allowing you to get a better idea of how the business is trending so you can react accordingly. In this approach, marketing departments are not locked into an outdated marketing plan that only made sense during a planning session months ago.
The reality is, business leaders should always be looking at their marketing plan and asking the fundamental question, “is what I am doing today going to get us where we need to be tomorrow?” Plans and budget allocation should be a bit flexible, based on what is working, has momentum, and is supported by data. The marketing playbook is not static, but ever-evolving and iterating to support the most efficient mix to drive the business.
So, to answer the central question, “when is the best time to create a new marketing plan?” The resounding answer is NOW!
New Year, New Marketing Plan
Developing or continuously improving a marketing plan is always a good idea.
Inc. offers seven essential components to a marketing plan, including:
- Market Research – understanding the market is the backbone of the marketing plan
- Target Market – while a given market may be massive, you can’t service all of it so focus on the most likely customers in a segment
- Positioning – your desired value proposition vs. your perceived value proposition vs. your competitors’ position
- Competitive analysis – who are you competing against in your target market, how are their products and services the same or different, and how are they priced
- Marketing strategy – your strategy to obtain customers and your mix of tactics to develop leads
- Budget – your forecasted amount to spend on marketing with specific ROI targets and decision points on when to accelerate or curtail spending
- Metrics – leading, trailing, and performance benchmarks that ultimately lead to revenue
With these in place, it’s time to break down the marketing strategy section to see what tactics best generate demand and ultimately expand the pipeline for revenue. Typical demand generation tactics include, but aren’t limited to:
- Direct mail
- Social media
All of these can be run as an individual tactics, known as single-channel marketing. Still, a better result can be had by engaging customers across channels as they go through the journey and decision making progress of purchasing goods and services.
Is There a Missing Piece of the (Marketing) Puzzle?
Gluing this all together is a company’s online presence. While all the tactics above can drive traffic of all kinds—direct, referral, email, social—to your website, the arguably most important type of traffic is organic. Search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Baidu, and others drive organic traffic when end-users search for keywords of interest to them.
According to pymnts.com, 88 percent of consumers pre-research their buys online before making a purchase decision. In other words, consumers are more sophisticated and knowledgeable than ever, using online search to research alternatives and form opinions on your (assuming they find you) offerings vs. your competitors (assuming they can find them). Pre-armed with information, and a couple of alternatives, consumers will then engage with a company to answer remaining questions and make a final choice.
Your strategy for capturing organic search (among other traffic sources) is search engine optimization (SEO), and it needs to be part of any comprehensive marketing plan.
Where Do I Start With SEO?
While a majority of small and medium businesses (SMBs) know they should be doing SEO, according to searchengineland.com, only 36 percent have an SEO strategy in place. In that 36 percent that are actively “doing SEO,” 54 percent rely on in-house effort. The question, though, is how robust are those efforts? As the SEO landscape changes from year to year, are the marketing tactics adjusting with the times? Also, it is no longer enough just to do “on-page SEO.” There are so many more factors in play. Does your SEO plan account for them and how robust is the program?
While SEO is a broad topic with many facets and demands attention to detail, as Moz.com outlines in “The Beginners Guide to SEO,” some primary areas to focus on include:
- Keep website code clean and optimized
- User-friendly site layout
- Relevant and useful pages
- Site is mobile-optimized and responsive
- Site performance (speed)
- Use of HTTPS
- Local SEO
- Integrate with social media
- Deliver content that matters
- Build quality links to your site
While the on-page SEO tactics listed above are vital to establishing the basics of your SEO program, it’s your content that helps make you relevant to readers. Add to that “off-page SEO,” like quality link building, and your website can start to develop a voice and rack up website authority.
On-Page SEO is essential; it sets the foundation for your comprehensive SEO program, but the program is incomplete, and you aren’t fully optimized, unless you are looking at off-page SEO, as well. Relevant, content-driven, contextual link building helps develop the authority and votes of relevancy to round out your SEO program and elevate your visibility in keyword-driven search. Inbound links, also known as backlinks or external links, are like validity or reputation votes. A brand mention, or the citation of your site or content from a contextual link on another page is a nod of relevancy or authority, like the citation of a source or quote in a term paper.
Since any time is a good time to get your marketing plans in order, it’s also a good time to get serious about getting your SEO plan together. Don’t forget!