I always liked this quote from Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish philosopher:
“The main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance but to do what lies clearly at hand.”
Maybe it’s because I am part Scottish and very practical in nature. For many of us creating a marketing plan for the coming year is nerve wracking. What new strategies should we use? How can we quadruple our results while spending half the money?
Hyperbolic (or at least hard-to-replicate) stories about companies roaring to prominence on the backs of viral videos or clever but nearly-free means of attracting attention are what make marketing a stressful profession.
Trying to predict what brand new strategy might yield breakthrough results is like trying to see what lies dimly at a distance. You might think you know what it is, but you can’t be sure.
Does that sound like a prudent way to commit your marketing resources? What if we were to restate that famous quote to be:
“Doing the right things that lie clearly at hand will carry you toward what lies dimly at a distance.”
What do you think? Does that approach sound less stressful than trying to predict the future or roll the dice with an untested marketing approach?
Let’s not worry so much about coming up with a grand, out-of-the-box, marketing idea for next year. Instead, let’s concentrate on asking the right questions that will guide you toward a really effective and innovative plan.
Answer these questions, in this order, and you will see how a true strategic plan for 2016 will start to take shape.
- How much time are you willing to commit to marketing each month? For an organization with a marketing team, your answer would reference the size of your staff -- do you plan to hire? Reduce by a team member?
- How much money? This is your “marketing spend” budget, outside the expense of your own time or that of your staff.
- What strategies produce the best results for you already? Why? Answering this question may require some analysis of your sales. How well can you connect revenue back to a lead source or other marketing investment?
- What strategies or activities would complement your best strategy? Answering this question could lead you down the path of easily adding another strategy (because you’re already doing a lot of the work to execute your best strategy) or simply enhancing that primary strategy so it is even more effective.
- What will you do more consistently? If you’ve seen spotty results from something to which you’ve given spotty attention, it’s likely time to try it more consistently and measure results to gauge it usefulness.
- What will you give up? If you have strategies you are ready to execute more consistently, then you should have some you are ready to halt or at least pause.
- Given the above, what additional resources will you need to achieve greater consistency? More people? Allocate more time? More money to outsource something (either marketing related, or a different type of task so that you have more time to dedicate to marketing)?
- Given the above, what one-time investments will be required? Maybe your website needs updating or you need to take a course to learn a new technique.
- What results will your business need to get from these investments in order to have “budget headroom” to experiment with something truly new? While your marketing foundation will be constructed of tried-and-true strategies that you enhance for even better results, it’s important to make room for new ideas to test.
- What single new marketing idea would potentially double your business all by itself? A potential game-changer you’ve contemplated or maybe even tested. What has caught your interest that is going on in other industries?
- What is the minimal investment you’d need to make in order to evaluate this new idea? What will it take to give this new technique a fair try, and even test a few different “spins” on it?
- How will you determine its success? You’ll want to know before you start how you will judge success (so you can pull the plug or double down).
- What do you need to do in the next 30 and 90 days to get on track with this plan? Time to get down to business!
There you have it. Thirteen questions that start by helping you make simple decisions you need to make anyway and end with greater clarity about what lies (not as) dimly at a distance.