Tips for Making Your Marketing Plan
To paraphrase a famous exchange in Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” And while wandering aimlessly like that might work for some, in marketing it can be very costly, especially during uncertain economic times, when every marketing dollar spent is closely scrutinized.
That’s the scenario in which we find ourselves now, and it’s expected to continue as we roll into 2024.
Without a clear understanding of desired goals and outcomes, audience needs and channel use, and the most effective ways to connect with and engage both customers and prospects, marketers are likely to spend more money than necessary and generate fewer results.
Fortunately, today’s marketers are largely aware of and committed to strategic planning to ensure that their efforts are both efficient and effective.
In fact, marketers who proactively plan their marketing efforts are 331 percent more likely to achieve success, according to research by CoSchedule, a provider of marketing scheduling software. The data also showed that organized marketers are 674 percent more likely to report success through their efforts; goal setters are 377 percent more successful than their peers; and project management software users are 426 percent more likely to be successful.
Planning matters, of course. And so do the rapidly advancing tools that are aiding marketers in their planning efforts. But marketers continue to face challenges. Chief among these challenges are the needs for more budget, more head count, and more support to drive marketing success. They also face challenges related to measurement.
CoSchedule reported that developing consistency with measurement was identified as a challenge by 44 percent of B2C marketers. While it also notes that those using project management software were four times more likely to report success, 65 percent of marketers aren’t using project management software.
B2B marketers are particularly likely to face challenges in 2024, according to Forrester Research. The main pressure point, which Forrester also says is highly likely to impact B2C marketers, is generative artificial intelligence.
“Generative AI is going to create the opportunity for change at a much faster rate,” says Laura Ramos, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. “Figuring out where to focus the resources that you’re using to turn your generative AI experiences into business value is where the pressure points are going to be.”
Generative AI, which has been a central element in any CRM conversation since OpenAI launched ChatGPT in late 2022, will be among the top areas of focus as marketing leaders set their strategies for the new year, but it is by far not the only technology that can help deliver marketing success.
A BUDGETING BOOST
Matter Communications, in its 2024 Marketing Outlook Survey, found that 84 percent of marketers are planning to increase their marketing investments for 2024, and 40 percent say they’ll do so substantially. The research identified the following as marketers’ key priorities in 2024:
- investments in AI;
- a focus on brand building;
- increased use of predictive analytics and data-driven decision making;
- optimization of marketing budgets;
- emphasis on customer retention; and
- adoption of new digital marketing trends.
The biggest challenges marketers face, according to Matter’s research, include driving qualified leads/sales (23 percent), doing more with less (20 percent), measuring marketing performance (17 percent), and proving marketing’s value to leadership (14 percent).
Technology and data can both help to address these challenges, but marketers need to approach their challenges and opportunities strategically.
Tim Wolski, director of marketing at nxtCRE and an adjunct professor of marketing at Bryant University, suggests that companies follow a four-step introspection process when creating their strategies.
- Look within.Before you study your key performance indicators, ask if they align with your goals. If your goal is signing new customers but your main KPIs are about simply signing deals, alignment is missing, Wolski says. He also suggests asking employees for input, noting that this is especially true of customer-facing employees but could be true for everyone.
- Look to your customers. Are there common complaints? Are they asking for something new? “Call up a few of your best customers and a few of your more tenuous customers. Ask them about your service, but also ask them about your competitors.”
- Look to your competitors. This could be as simple as setting up a Google Alert, or it could require more work, Wolski says. “Pretend you’re a potential customer and shop both you and your competitors. Sign up for their newsletters and email alerts.”
- Look to the market.Start by looking at associations that are related to your field, even tangentially, Wolski recommends. “Then seek out articles and trends that are related to your production cycles, your main material used, etc.”
These efforts shouldn’t be undertaken cursorily. Customer analytics, in particular, must be granular, says Contrecia Tharpe, a marketing communications practitioner and founder of FayeVaughn Creative. “Beyond just demographics, harness the power of data mining and analytics to evaluate customer behavior, sentiment, preferences, and micro-targets,” she says. “Use these insights to develop highly personalized marketing tactics that resonate across various customer segments.”
DEAL WITH DATA
Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a strategic marketing consulting firm, agrees that data must underpin planning. Marketing plans are being fueled by all forms of data being used across all marketing channels and customer journey stages, Arnof-Fenn says. She points to the recommendation engines that companies like Amazon and Netflix have used so successfully. “They almost know what you want to buy or watch next and can be so accurate that, at times, it feels like they’re reading your mind. That’s the type of hyper-personalized marketing that I aspire to in 2024. The reason Netflix’s and Amazon’s personalization works is because it solves the problem of information overload.”
Having a solid understanding of prospects and customers can help marketers tailor content with messages and specific calls to action and product recommendations can be served to hyper-specific personality types based on specific context, enabling marketing to affect behavior, Arnof-Fenn says. “To build trust, brands need to get rid of irrelevant messaging, making navigation and communication easier, serving only content that is genuinely compelling and relevant, and ensuring that their process is transparent.”
That’s a heavy order. Fortunately, today’s technology options can help to inform, automate, and streamline marketing activities. The use of technology will be foundational to marketing efforts in 2024.
Matthew Tilley, content marketing lead at Vericast, a marketing solutions provider, points to his company’s data indicating that 40 percent of advertisers are considering AI-powered tools to help sort and activate first-party data, but they haven’t made a purchase or implemented the technology yet.
“An implementation strategy, including staff training, will be crucial for the success of leveraging new technologies and data-driven insights,” Tilley says. “Understanding how to sift through a massive amount of data and analyze it will also be beneficial to outpacing competitors and providing the personalized content consumers want to see,” he says.
In addition, marketers are going to need to balance “the efficiency and power of AI-powered tools with the need to authentically connect with consumers,” Tilley notes, pointing out that 26 percent of advertisers see AI as effective in establishing those authentic connections.
A NEW REALITY
But, again, while generative AI might be getting all the attention these days, it’s not the only technology that will impact marketing planning for 2024, Arnof-Fenn says. “I am also excited to see how much more virtual and augmented reality will impact strategies,” she says. “Currently, VR and AR technology is mainly used in gaming, but the trend is for people to use technology for social interaction, healthcare, and many other purposes going forward.”
AR devices, she adds, “will allow you to use your smartphone to interact with objects in real life too. The possibilities for SMBs is fascinating.”
Tharpe agrees that AR and VR will be important technologies to incorporate into marketing planning. “In 2024, AR and VR will revolutionize customer experience by offering immersive and interactive environments,” she says. “Use these technologies to create simulated experiences, virtual product tours, or gamification strategies that can vastly improve customer engagement.”
In addition, Tharpe recommends that marketers consider the following technologies as they prepare for 2024:
- Voice-activated search optimization. Today’s consumers are increasingly turning to smart assistants and devices like Alexa, Siri, Google Home, and others to answer their questions and help them find products and services. With the rise of smart assistants and voice search, Tharpe recommends optimizing marketing content for voice-based queries, including conversational keywords, long-tail phrases, and localized information.
- Omnichannel strategies. We live in a multi-screen environment these days, and consumer interactions take them from one device to another. The more seamless customer experiences can be across these devices, the better. It’s important to integrate messaging and design across various digital and offline channels, Tharpe says. “Identify touchpoints where customers interact with your brand and create marketing strategies tailored to them.”
- Video and live streaming.Video remains a key priority for marketers, Tharpe says, recommending that marketers “leverage video and live streaming platforms like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn to create highly engaging content.” Marketers should prioritize interactive features that encourage user engagement and experiment with different formats, varying in length and style, Tharpe suggests. The good news is that today’s video content doesn’t have to have the same production values or high costs that it used to.
- Proximity marketing. In 2024, marketers will continue to have the opportunity to use location-based marketing strategies, like geofencing and beacons, to customize marketing messages based on the user’s location, Tharpe says. “This can enhance personalization and contribute to a more relevant customer experience.”
As we approach 2024, there is no excuse for not using technology and data to drive your marketing planning efforts. Doing so is essential, Tilley says. “Leveraging data around consumer preferences, behaviors, and demographics, as well as harnessing the power of predictive analytics and artificial intelligence, will help enable more hyper-personalized content and product recommendations, overall enhancing customer engagement and conversion rates,” he states.
But as marketers increasingly rely on technology and data to inform their marketing strategies, they must also be alert to growing concerns about data use and abuse. Consumers are very aware of how digital media operates and have a general skepticism about how businesses are using their information, Arnof-Penn says. “Creating an impression of surveillance and misusing data could spell disaster for a brand,” she says. “The winning marketing plans put customers first and prioritize individual needs over profit, demonstrating they are trustworthy and making consumers feel valued as individuals.”
Tharpe agrees. “Take measures to protect your customers’ data privacy and be transparent about how their data is collected and used,” she recommends. “Adherence to data protection regulations like [the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)] and clear communication contributes to improving customer trust.”
To stay on top of technology trends and new advancements, Wolski recommends connecting with tech vendors regularly to stay up to date on advancements. “It’s a good practice to try to get on a call or a webinar with a variety of technology providers on a regular basis,” he says. “This is true even if you aren’t really in the market. Seek out providers in a wide range of fields. Don’t waste their time but take the first phone call and see if they have something interesting to say.”
But Wolski says to remember one important point: Technology is not a strategy. “Technology is there to enable your strategy.”
And finally, it’s important to keep in mind that though we might be heading into 2024, the fundamentals of effective marketing strategy really haven’t changed since the days of Mad Men. At its foundation, effective marketing is about connecting with people and compelling them to some desired action.
Linda Pophal is a freelance business journalist and content marketer who writes for various business and trade publications. Pophal does content marketing for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, and individuals on a wide range of subjects, from human resource management and employee relations to marketing, technology, healthcare industry trends, and more.