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Annual Planning – The Key to a Successful New Year

We know many people are ready to say goodbye to 2020, but don’t rush the year away before planning for 2021. After everything this year has brought, it’s more important than ever to spend the time budgeting and planning for success moving forward. In our line of work, that means we’re working with clients to develop meaningful marketing plans for the new year.

Your plan for 2020 may have gone up in flames sometime in March thanks to COVID-19. And while it’s certainly been a tough year for many, this unusual year also offers the opportunity to apply lessons learned to your 2021 plan.

We’re big advocates of having a strategy and plan in place before moving into marketing tactics. While 2020 has taught us that things can change rapidly, developing a proactive plan and implementing it lays a baseline that keeps things on track, even if you need to make adjustments along the way.

We’re bringing back one of last year’s popular blog posts to help you prioritize your planning as you prepare for the year ahead.

Don’t start off a new year aimlessly. Plans can fall apart, but starting the year without one is much worse than having to redirect later. Just the exercise of planning forces your leadership team to take a detailed look at your target audience and organizational goals as well as the effectiveness of your current marketing efforts. Taking this time to come together, reflect, plan and brainstorm is critical before jumping to tactics. It might be fun to jump in the car and just drive, with no plan or map, but realistically — who has time or gas to waste?

Reflecting on the past twelve months has perhaps never been more important. The state of the world today is much different than it was a year ago. How has this changed your goals? What about your audience? Are they looking for the same things they were last January? Getting your team to evaluate how the events of 2020 have affected your goals, audience, and overall performance is a crucial step in setting your business up for success in 2021.

Whatever you come up with, get it on paper. This ensures that everyone on your team and any outside consultants are aligned on marketing objectives and efforts. It will also give you clarity and a framework for answering advertising, sponsorship, or marketing requests throughout the year.

1. Goals: Big-Picture and Short-Term

Different organizations have different goals and it’s important for every strategy to clearly define what these goals are. Ultimately, your audience and tactics are tied to reaching these goals. Working with a number of professional service clients, we can safely say that these goals vary broadly. All goals should have a solid connection to the firm’s bottom line but vary with the maturity, industry, and culture of the organization.

For example, we find more mature professional service firms are focused on staying relevant, brand awareness, and client retention. Smaller, fast-growing firms often have very specific financial and business development goals, such as reaching a specific level of revenue or obtaining a specific amount of leads per quarter. Others want to break into new geographic markets. Some simply want to clear up confusion about their brand in the marketplace. Some goals are “big-picture” and may take years to achieve. Others are shorter term and can be met quickly with the right tactics.

The decision of what types of goals you will focus on is up to you and your team. Just be careful of overdoing it. It’s better to work toward achieving two to three goals, instead of starting out with a list of 10. Setting up too many goals can not only feel overwhelming but can also make it seem like you aren’t making any progress.

2. Target Audience/Market

Do you know your audience? Are there segments? How many decision-makers? A useful strategy includes a clear and concise description of your target audience. Some clients truly believe that because they are willing to sell their services to anyone, they shouldn’t limit themselves. We believe that being specific is the most effective. Tailoring your efforts to the interests of your buyers is a much more powerful way to engage, educate, add value, and ultimately sell your services based upon credibility and trust.

Like we noted in the intro, it is possible that your target audience or market has shifted their priorities during this last year. Do not assume that what you knew about them before is still relevant. While planning for 2021, take time to reevaluate what your audience finds important. Where are they located? What are they looking for? What has changed about them since you last checked in?

One way to stay focused on your audience is to use Personas — fictional characters that represent your ideal target market, their interests, their pain points, and why they need your services. They help you quickly remember and relate to your audience.

Once you have your audience, it’s time to understand their needs and how your service is going to meet those needs.

3. Positioning Statement

This step may seem insignificant because it’s inward-facing. However, a positioning statement brings it all together into one powerful statement to serve as an ongoing guide. The formula for a positioning statement is made up of four distinct parts: the target market, the point differentiation, the frame of reference, and the reason. Embrace the effort and reflection it takes to deliver a high-quality positioning statement.

It’s likely that any positioning statement you created last year, or have used in the past, needs a little updating. We may be getting a little redundant here, but this was no ordinary year. Many brands and businesses have reevaluated their priorities or overall mission. Take a moment to check-in with what it is you stand for, care about, and want to accomplish.

We included target market is as our second component to creating a positioning statement for a reason. The point of differentiation is what sets your product/service offering apart from the competition. This is what makes your product or service unique. The frame of reference is the specific market the company is competing in. And, finally, the reason (or reason to believe) is the reason people should believe the other parts of your positioning statement.

4. What’s Worked (and What Hasn’t) + What to Aspire To

Before you spend time developing new marketing campaigns and creative, it’s important to have a baseline of your competition, to see what’s out there, what’s working and what isn’t. We do this by identifying a client’s top competitors, reviewing their brand assets, and reviewing non-competitive “aspirational” brands in similar industries, but in other markets.

Depending on the industry or the size of your company, benchmarking may be useful. This involves evaluating the data of successful companies within the same industry as yours and comparing their successes (and failures) to your own efforts. The data you’ll be interested in can often be found in the Annual Report of publicly traded companies. These reports provide a wealth of information for entrepreneurs and businesses to utilize such as gross and net income, financial margins, and operating budget expenditures. While no two companies are financially the same, this can give you a starting place to help you calculate how best to invest your revenue.

It might seem strange to include what hasn’t worked. To us, it’s common sense to be honest about past efforts and potential pitfalls to avoid. If you don’t document what hasn’t worked, it’s possible you’ll make the same mistakes in the future.

Another tool to measure how your business stacks up to competitors is Share of Voice. This is calculated by taking overall mentions of your brand, along with your competitors and measuring the portion of those mentions that belongs to you and each of your competitors, individually. We use this to get a sense of the biggest players in our clients’ industries, and to see where they fall in that ranking.

Next Steps

So now that you have a solid strategy in place, you’re ready to get tactical. For every tactic, you should be able to justify its importance by revisiting how it fits into the annual strategy you’ve worked hard to create. Be sure to include measurable objectives for each goal and plan to check in on your progress by reviewing analytics at least quarterly.

If your team could use some outside input as you plan for the future, get in touch by using the form below!

  1. What is your name and organization?

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  1. Tell us briefly about your business.


  1. Who is your audience?

  1. Are you looking for long term support or a short term campaign?

  1. What are your top objectives in working with a marketing agency?

For example: brand awareness, media coverage, lead generation


  1. Do you have experience working with a marketing agency?

  1. What is your estimated annual marketing budget for hiring an outside agency?

  1. Anything else you want to share with us?


  1. Would you be interested in a free 30 minute integrated marketing brainstorm session over the phone?

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Fluent IMC is a Maine marketing agency specializing in integrated marketing communications. Our expertise ranges from brand strategy and marketing planning to digital marketing and online advertising to public relations and communications.

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