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Five Critical Tips for Strategic Planning in the Midst of the Pandemic

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With frequent market shifts and an ongoing pandemic, it’s crucial to plan efficiently, effectively, and strategically. Planning this year has been radically different than any other year in my experience. The past few months have been a steep learning curve, but that’s not going to stop my or many other marketing organizations from delivering results. Here are my five critical tips to strategically plan for the unknowable.

Tip #1 – Align Marketing’s Strategic Targets With Corporate Goals

Driving impact for the business is marketing’s top priority. In order to drive that impact, you need to understand your company’s top priorities, and factor in changes that you’ve seen in the past few months that were influenced by the pandemic.

For instance, did one product line suddenly have a burst of growth while other traditionally-stable product lines tanked? These factors need to be taken into account when looking at how you’ll drive impact in today’s world.

Your company’s goals create the context to outline SMART strategic targets for marketing that help the business achieve results. SMART strategic targets are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. I don’t recommend setting more than 3-5 targets so your team can prioritize resources and achieve results. And, remember to re-evaluate them at least every six months as you measure success.

Tip #2 – Scenario Planning Begins and Ends With Your Marketing Budget

No plans are made possible without budget. In March, marketing organizations that weren’t scenario planning, and didn’t have budget visibility, were paralyzed by indecision.

Scenario planning is the only way to tackle the unknowable and create a manageable set of plausible ways forward. I ask my team these questions:

  •  What additional promotions or campaigns would you run with 10% more budget? How about 20%?
  • What if your budget is cut by 10% or 20%? What would you do differently?
  • Which programs can be scaled up or down as needed? How fast?
  • Are any programs time-sensitive?

As the market evolves, my budget owners and I want flexibility and calculated options to choose from. Ideally, your final marketing plan and budget is a mix of investments that can be scaled up as needed and ones that advance strategic goals in any scenario.

 Tip #3 – Deploy Scenario Planning Strategically and Effectively

Any potential scenario plans need to be modeled against business outcomes, checked against marketing’s strategic targets, and game-planned to ensure they don’t negatively impact revenue goals. This isn’t something marketing leaders can delegate. We need to roll up our sleeves and do this work ourselves, because research shows that if the CMOs only engage with scenario planning in the final stages, we rarely act on these plans. 

Which is another question – when should we act on back-up scenarios?

For each scenario, you need to identify a tipping point that triggers the plan. These will be either when your current plan is starting to become irrelevant or right before a scenario becomes critically necessary. Keep 5-10% of your marketing budget earmarked as a slush fund so you can pivot quickly to a new scenario.

Tip #4 – Partner with Finance To Achieve Maximum Impact

Marketing budgets are the largest source of discretionary spends in a company. Obviously, finance is interested, especially to see how these investments create results for the company. Using performance-based metrics to talk about marketing investments clearly demonstrates that marketing’s decision-making aligns with overarching company investments and revenue strategies.

How does this help with planning?

Questions like “what are the implications of passing on the opportunity” aren’t just useful to the CFO. It helps weed out which plans are necessary for success and when to establish trigger points for scenario plans. And understanding how finance views and categorizes marketing spend as part of the company’s investment portfolio helps marketing leaders set SMART strategic targets.

It’s also critical to be proactive rather than reactive. Partnering with finance helps you be a more strategic CMO, even if the initial numbers you crunch aren’t pretty, because it helps establish a common understanding of where marketing is investing, and why. When you can present a compelling business case to Finance, rather than waiting for them to tell you what you have to do, it goes a long way towards creating credibility with your finance partners.

Tip #5 – Execute and Iterate Plans with a Data-Driven Mindset

Executing a marketing plan isn’t enough – marketers need to measure success, analyze the results, and optimize. Otherwise, you miss out on opportunities to scale and drive impact or even worse, sink resources into a failing program.

Using resources effectively and efficiently is a critical skill for marketers these days. Look to your ROI measurements to find the best performing programs and tactics when building out a data-driven plan to support strategic targets. I begin by looking at the three areas below, but CMOs in other industries may also look at share of voice, Customer Lifetime Value, or increases in brand awareness.

  1. Pipeline influenced and created
  2. Opportunities created
  3. Closed/ won deals

If I see opportunities consistently dropping out at a certain stage, that tells me which programs need attention. In the first tip, I said the driving impact for the business is marketing’s top priority. Moving opportunities through the buyer’s journey faster and easier, is a critical focal point to create business impact and make marketing a revenue driver.

The year 2020 has been a long and difficult year, and we’re not even two-thirds of the way through it yet. I recommend marketers keep a data-driven mindset when building marketing plans. This will help you stay efficient, effective, and strategic as you focus on driving business impact. If plans need to pivot, that doesn’t mean that your strategic targets also need to change – you just need to take a different path to achieve results.

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