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5 Steps to Plan Your Annual Marketing Strategy

As Q4 kicks off, most marketing teams are wading into annual planning waters. For healthcare marketers, long-term planning has been tricky over the past few years due to the highly unpredictable nature of the pandemic. Though COVID-19 is still present, and it’s impossible to know what the years ahead have in store, setting goals and creating a strategic plan are essential. Clear objectives—even if they must ultimately shift with circumstances—offer invaluable direction and unite the team around a shared purpose. In this post, learn how to simplify your annual marketing planning process with a five-step framework for crafting an effective marketing strategy for the new year.

Step 1: Assess what worked best for you this year

What is the best way to predict future behavior? Examine past behavior. Before plunging into new initiatives, reflect thoughtfully on what worked over the past 12 months and what trends you observe in your customer base over time. Ensure you invite key stakeholders from non-marketing teams (such as operations, sales, and executive leadership) into the conversation to gain diverse perspectives. The insights you glean will be excellent fuel for your strategic planning journey.

What to ask:

  • What were your marketing/growth goals last year – how did output and performance measure up? Was there a quantitative/qualitative value in the efforts?

  • Which channels brought the most leads this year? How qualified/relevant were those leads? What was the cost per lead?

  • Consider where your best leads came from – direct outreach by your SDRs? Google Ads? Speaking at a conference? A referral from a friend?

  • Which investments did you make this year that you want to make again?

  • Which channels delivered a lot of quantitative and/or qualitative value for your business this year?

  • What opportunities have you discussed for new channels or approaches that you didn’t try last year but would like to in the coming year?

Who to include:

  • Marketing

  • Business development

Sales and marketing should work together to discuss what worked and what didn’t. Once sales and marketing as an initial strategy, key operational leaders should be briefed on the plan and have the chance to offer edits or additions based on their areas of expertise and interactions with prospects and customers.

Finally, if you find upon reflection that you don’t have reliable materials and metrics to look back on, ensure that you put something like, ‘Invest in data collection tools and processes’ on your annual goals list.

Step 2: Set measurable goals

After assessing the ROI and impact of last year’s initiatives and outcomes, you can begin looking forward. Setting goals and deciding how you will measure success is the most critical part of building a strategic plan. Many organizations rely on SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goals to define reasonable parameters, but you can use whatever format makes sense for your team. Below are some suggested metrics to track and set goals around.

What to ask:

  • Growth: What are we looking for in new client growth? How many new clients do we want from marketing-generated leads? What collaborative objectives could we set with sales? 
  • Brand awareness: Can we drive more website traffic? Can we improve visibility at industry events?
  • Engagement: Can we increase web form fills? How many opens and clicks can we get from prospect outreach? Who do we want to reach on social media?
  • Production: How many content pieces should we create? What is our posting cadence on social platforms? What new pieces are needed to support sales and business development? How many campaigns are we launching?

Once you match up your qualitative goals with quantitative outcomes, you can move on to step three.

Step 3: Evaluate your resource pool

You likely started thinking about your available resources during the goal-setting session, but now is the time to really dig into what’s available for you and how to optimize your assets.

Many factors come into play when reviewing and understanding your resource pool. Depending on your marketing team’s size and experience level, you may be able to achieve all your goals internally. Knowing what you can accomplish with your current team is directly dependent on knowing your team’s strengths.

What to ask

  • What skills do team members have that we aren’t currently tapping into?
  • What professional goals could team members accomplish by participating in different initiatives?
  • What tools have team members successfully used previously to accomplish goals?
  • What trainings might fulfill team members’ interests while advancing the team’s internal strength?
  • What contributions might other departments or teams be able to offer (software licenses, skills)?

If your team cannot accomplish the goal you set relying only on your internal team, you are not alone. Nearly 60% of B2B brands utilize some form of outside help with their marketing efforts. To select the best partner(s) for you, identify the primary areas where you are lacking and make a short list of external solutions that fit the bill.

Step 4: Build your budget

Now that you know what you want to accomplish and which tools and teams (internal or external) you need, it’s time to talk dollars and cents. Start by thinking big (reasonable, but ambitious). 33.1% of companies expect their marketing budget to grow next year. When you set your marketing budget, make a strong, data-supported case to financial leadership for why you need the requested amount, how you will allocate it, and what return is expected. If you ultimately need to modify your anticipated budget, there are some simple ways to optimize spend.

What to ask:

  • What goals do we want to prioritize?
  • What expenditures are likely to have the most impact?
  • What initiatives are nice-to-haves versus need-to-haves?
  • Do we need to adapt any goals now that we better understand budget constraints?
  • Do we have any time-sensitive needs?
  • How can we allocate resources appropriately throughout the entire year?

Even the best-laid budgets won’t pan out exactly as you thought—and sometimes, that will be for the better. Over 14% of companies raised their marketing budgets in the first quarter of last year So, give yourself a bit of flexibility. Yes, budgeting is important—but no, you do not need to have a plan for every single dollar. Remember that change is the only constant in the marketing world, and you’ll want to leave a little wiggle room to capitalize on unexpected opportunities or change course according to circumstances.

Step 5: Develop a strategic plan

You’re nearly there! Using the pieces you’ve picked up through reflecting, goal setting, resource planning, and budgeting, you can start putting the puzzle together. At this point, making your strategic plan should mostly be a matter of assembly.

What to ask

  • What are our overall growth goals?
  • What tactics are we using to achieve each goal?
  • How are we balancing tactics to execute consistently throughout the year?
  • How often will we assess benchmarks and determine if a change is needed?

    Note: We suggest a full review and assessment on a quarterly basis, as well as a monthly data and performance overview.

  • How could we incentivize the team(s) involved to achieve their goals?

    Note: This can span from extra PTO days to company-sponsored trips, depending on your budget.

  • How much time will we leave for the inevitable pop-up needs and requests?
  • What workflows will be most efficient for moving projects along and hitting deadlines?

Stay organized throughout the entire planning process. It will be much easier to build out your strategic plan if you’ve kept detailed notes and records along the way. Once you’re set on a path forward, put together a summary presentation for leadership and detailed materials for your team member(s). These reference documents will serve as a helpful tool for getting everyone aligned in this phase—and will be essential in keeping everyone on track throughout the year ahead.

In summary…

Creating a marketing strategy can be a daunting task. Use this framework to stay organized and grounded throughout the process, so you can develop meaningful goals and devise a robust plan to achieve them. And remember, an outside perspective from a B2B healthcare marketing expert is a powerful resource to help you gain fresh perspective and overcome roadblocks along the way.

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