How to Begin Building Your 2021 Marketing Plan

Few things these days are certain, but one thing is for sure: 2020 has been a year of change, adaptation, and (hopefully) growth for each of us. And while we have spent a lot of time thinking and talking about what has transpired this year, it is coming time to look forward.

Just as our own needs, expectations, and behaviors have changed this year, so too have our customers’. With less than four months remaining in the year, organizations must begin thinking about how they will meet those needs, exceed those expectations, and predict and respond to those behaviors in 2021.

After a year like this one, sitting down to plan — especially with many unknowns still up in the air — can feel daunting. So rather than try to develop a comprehensive plan in one fell swoop, build it in stages. After all, effective marketing is organization-wide: it is about creating partnerships across departments and bringing alignment between teams. Lean into this concept to develop a strong foundation for your 2021 marketing plan.

1. Align with leadership

While your marketing department hopefully has a good grasp on what customers are needing and what has (and hasn’t) worked this year, chances are that other subject matter experts in your organization have insights they have not yet shared.

Begin building your 2021 marketing plan by sitting down with leaders across the business, particularly those that are in customer-facing or strategic roles. Depending on your organization, this may include:

  • Sales team members
  • Customer service managers
  • Executives
  • Delivery or service managers
  • Department leaders
  • Product development/innovation

The purpose of each interview should be to understand what they are seeing, hearing, and understanding from customers, as well as the ways your marketing department can best support them. Develop a set of role-specific questions, such as:

  • What value did we create for customers this year?
  • How did our customers’ needs change this year? What will they need from us in 2021?
  • What did you feel was successful this year? What wasn’t?
  • What are your goals for your department or role next year?
  • How can you use marketing’s support in 2021?

2. Research your competition

You are not the only organization who has had to pivot this year. In a period of dynamic change like this one, many of your competitors have also altered their go-to-market strategy. In order to protect your market share and identify opportunities for differentiation, it is important to ensure your competitive intelligence is up to date. Revisit your top competitors to identify areas of their strategy that have changed, including:

  • Messaging or positioning
  • Website experience
  • Digital marketing channels
  • New customer targets

3. Revisit customer segments

With insights from your boots-on-the-ground experts across the organization, it is now time to turn attention back to your customer segments. Segmentation is the single most powerful tool available to marketing teams (read this previous blog post to understand why), and an effective 2021 plan cannot be built without it.

Bring together all of your engagement and referral data – email marketing engagement, sales reports, customer service reports, etc. – to begin to match the data to what you heard from your leadership interviews. Are there segments that performed exceptionally well? Which represent the greatest opportunity for growth?

It is possible that changes brought on by the global pandemic have brought to the surface new customer segments that are relevant to your business, such as those in the PPE or janitorial industries.

Use this data to revisit – or develop – customer personas for each segment. How should your brand messaging be adjusted to communicate the value you create for them in today’s “new normal?” Which product lines or services might they be more receptive to? This exercise will ensure you are entering 2021 with a comprehensive, up-to-date landscape of exactly who you should be targeting and what is most important to them.

4. Establish shared goals

Effective marketing plans are not executed in a vacuum; in order to deliver value to the organization – and ultimately to the customer – they must be a result of a shared vision across the business of what success looks like and how you will get there.

Review your interview notes and begin to pull out the themes in the feedback. Perhaps there is a shared concern about service level decreasing, a consensus that customers did not respond well to a particular offer or campaign, or agreement that focus needs to be on digital tools in 2021. These themes shed light on the shared interests between leaders and departments, which serve as the best place to begin establishing goals that will support each area’s growth and success.

Work to develop 3-5 measurable, actionable, and practical marketing goals that align to these themes. Then, review these with leadership to ensure they contribute to the organization’s strategic goals for the year, refine as needed, and you’ll have a set of benchmarks to direct each of your marketing efforts over the next year.

Armed with clearly defined goals, you can now begin fleshing out the marketing strategies and tactics you will use to achieve them. And with buy-in from around your organization, you now have a shared vision of the path forward into next year – one that, with any luck, will not be quite as crazy as this one.

Looking for support for your sales and marketing teams in 2021? Schedule a free advisory call with us for some practical advice on how to set your organization up for success in the coming year.