3 Steps to Creating a Reliable, Budget-Friendly Marketing Plan

August 6, 2018 Zach Nelson

As you enter annual planning season, ask yourself two questions:

  1. What do you use to inform your annual planning and proposed budget? 
  2. How close is it to what you end up executing the following year? 

Marketers often use broad-stroke pillars and base budgets on a percentage increase over current spend (or other loose estimates) with the eventual tactics bearing little resemblance to the original strategic framework used to build those budgets. If this sounds like you, read on to learn about a better way of building grounded marketing program proposals that can be more accurately budgeted and ultimately produced.

Marketing plans work best when grounded in “moments that matter most,” a customer-centric view of mission-critical actions or experiences along the customer journey. These “moments” are derived from guiding insights (i.e. limited in number and reinforced by multiple analyses/perspectives), and in turn provide fodder for designing program “blueprints” that clearly define goals, segmentation, messaging, and channel strategies/requirements.

Creating such blueprints now will help you maximize impact and optimize marketing investment.

There is an art to bridging from “guiding insights” to “moments that matter most” to highly-honed “blueprints.” Thankfully there is also a formula that, if followed consistently, goes a long way toward ensuring success, and that’s what we’ll walk through below.

Step 1: Use Guiding Insights to Identify Moments that Matter

Begin with the end in mind. Before defining anything related to the actual program you’re designing, first determine what you want your efforts to accomplish. What does success look like for this particular marketing endeavor? If the purpose is to encourage more members of a subscription program to re-enroll, then the goal may be a 76 percent retention or re-enrollment rate.

The definition of success helps the team focus on the kinds of data insights required to understand the mindset and expectations of that target market. What information would reveal why they enroll, and which would explain why not?

These insights are synthesized from various sources—primary and syndicated research, sales reports, data analysis and/or modeling, and competitive/marketplace analysis. Cast your net wide: Look to experts in analytics and research within or outside your organization, including brand strategists, data and analytics teams and vendors to provide you with as broad a set of insights as possible.

Next, use a disciplined funneling process to focus on a limited set of insights—three to five is usually the magic number—that sit at the intersection of several sources of insights (for example: behavior data such as clickstream, secondary market research and data modeling).

Step 2: Identify Moments that Matter Most

Use your “guiding insights” to tease out the absolute most important customer experiences/behaviors that meet their needs to achieve your goals. These are the “moments that matter most” (to both your customers and to your organization).

You may be wondering about the role of personas and journey maps in the exercise. I’m an advocate of these tools for sure, but treat them as the means, not the end. Personas and journey maps should help narrow your focus to more quickly reach the moments that matter. If they muddy your focus, you are getting hung up on the wrong exercise.

Step 3: Prototype Your Marketing Blueprint—The Finished Product

Because moments that matter are experiential cues or inspirations teased out of patterns of engagement, they will infuse all core requirements of the blueprint; no exceptions. All blueprints should clearly specify the following:

Segmentation

In a marketing blueprint, you narrow your standard audience selection rules through disciplined focus. Determine the circumstances under which you would send communications and what they should achieve. For example, what situations would qualify a customer to receive communications for a given program, and then how many variations? That’s the versioning aspect of it. These guidelines must be established in advance, otherwise you will try to reach too many people with too many choices, and the exercise will collapse under its own weight. Always test for feasibility.

For example, people who register for coupons will answer lots of questions, including age, shopping frequency and brand preferences. Lots of data means lots of potential insights, but it’s not cost or time effective to segment and create communications along each finding. Know which insights matter most toward achieving the predetermined goal and narrow the segments down to manageable number.

Messaging

Again, let your goal inform your next move. Your content and offers should be designed to inspire the behaviors required to achieve your definition of success—within cost and complexity feasibility measures. Don’t get greedy and expect to motivate a dozen behaviors. Focus on the core, critical activities you want the customer to perform upon reviewing these specific communications. This is your call to action.

Contact Flow

Message placement is as important as its substance, but it extends beyond making a path of bread crumbs. There’s sequencing. Use a decision tree to map out next steps (touchpoint sequence and timing) based on how a customer reacts to the communications. And we know not all customers are the same. A customer might not respond to an invitation to enter a baking contest but would enter a recipe in a contest or just read some recipes the brand posts on its website. Whichever sticks, it is engaging her with the brand and leading to the goal.

You know you have a blueprint when all the “if thens” are cleanly laid out. It’s a tight, manageable product of focus (aim for 10-12 pages) that can be cleanly parceled out.

Just like a building blueprint is used by plumbers, electricians and other specialists, a marketing blueprint can be shared across disciplines and inform other strategies. The creative team can use it to manage design complexity and the technology department may use it to write functional specifications or build automation tools.

Also, and perhaps most important, it should be easy to cull budget needs out of a good blueprint, making the program easier to sell to leadership and/or finance.

Parting Words of Advice

It doesn’t matter in which industry you operate, or the type of marketing program you intend to deploy; these blueprint steps can apply. And yes, there is an art to intuitively knowing when to forge ahead and when to regroup, which you will learn over time. The end goal should always be to ensure your marketing plan is built on moments that matter to your customer.

About the Author

Zach Nelson

As Vice President of Marketing Strategy, Zach designs, executes, and optimizes highly-effective marketing efforts on behalf of marquee clients in automotive, consumer electronics, CPG, healthcare (DTC pharmaceutical, medical device, managed care) and non-profit/membership organizations.

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