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It’s annual planning season…the hap-happiest season of all

It’s October. Q1 will be here in a flash. Now is the time for budgeting, planning and getting 2020 in order. ‘Tis the season for helping our clients develop a thoughtful, integrated marketing communications plan.

Here at Fluent IMC, we’re fairly preachy about the importance of strategy and planning before jumping into tactics. Because how can you budget without a plan? And how can you plan without goals? How do you prioritize goals without a strategy? Without a plan, you’re a reactive marketer. We get it. Things change throughout the year. Unexpected directives crop up. We believe in developing a proactive plan, implementing it and adjusting as needed – if needed.


Don’t start off a new year aimlessly. Before we dive into the key components of an annual strategy, let’s take a minute to discuss why annual planning is important. The exercise alone 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?

The act of putting a plan on paper works to keep your team focused by solidifying ideas and establishing timelines. 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.

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 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.

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.

The target market is so important we included it as our second component (see above). 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 you 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.

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.

Need an outsider’s perspective on your 2020 marketing plan? Fill out the form below to get in touch.

  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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