It’s that time of year again when as marketers, we’re all either starting or about to start putting together our marketing plans for the coming year. With COVID-19 still being very real with no viable timeline on when we’ll be back to doing business as usual (or if that’s even plausible), it makes it almost impossible to try and plan for 2021, especially if a significant portion of your marketing budget every year is allocated to in-person events. While no one knows all of the answers, here are a few things that I think will be helpful when trying to create marketing plans and budgets for 2021!
Be realistic about events
Events, Tradeshows, Conferences…if it’s an in-person event scheduled for the first half of the year, you have to assume that there’s a good chance it’ll go virtual or at the very least become a hybrid event (a combo of in-person and virtual). That’s not to say that you should scrap all of your tradeshow/event plans. These shows, whether in-person or virtual, are still going to be vital for your marketing goals and reaching that target audience. It’s just deciding how you actually want to participate and make sure that you’re bringing exceptional expertise and content that’s aligned best for that market.
Additionally, when you do attend virtual events, you need to be actively participating in the sessions and networking opportunities. At a traditional Tradeshow booth, people come to you, but at a virtual conference, you have to put in the work if you want to make this type of event work for you and benefit your company. It’s not going to be enough to sit in your virtual booth waiting for someone to come chat with you or your sales team, you’re going to have to be proactive and make sure people really see you. You can do that by doing more digital initiatives around the event, or by getting more involved in the show by being a presenter or offering a webinar that people can sign-up for (that’s relevant to that market). The power of digital media is vast, you just need to take the time to get creative and intentional with it. Then earmark a little bit of budget to maximize your efforts and you’re going to be on the right path.
Plan in shorter increments
Most marketers are used to planning for 12 months at a time. Unfortunately, in a climate of unknown, that’s not going to be the best strategy for at least the next year or two. Planning your marketing budgets in 3-6 month increments will be much more beneficial for you to be able to plan and make sure that you’re utilizing your budget as best as you can. We’re all going to have to be more flexible than we’ve been in the past if we want to properly use our planned spends to the best of our abilities. This also means having a higher percentage of discretionary funds than things that are set in stone. What we ran into this year was having large amounts of spends in our budget reserved for big events and then once those were canceled, we were in a scramble to try and figure out what the heck to do with that unused budget. You don’t want to necessarily not use that money (or use it frivolously) or be in a situation that you lose budget for the coming year so planning your marketing in these shorter timeframes, I believe will really help make sure that doesn’t happen again. For example, say its Q1 and you planned to be at (3) conferences that end up being canceled or going virtual for a lower cost than you budgeted for. Just looking at your Q1 plan, it’ll be much easier to pivot and use those extra funds to look at what additional digital initiatives that you could funnel those extra funds into instead of just pushing them to later in the year and ending up in the same boat a lot of us are in now. I would also suggest looking into Account-Based Marketing (more on this later!).
Getting more aligned with your Sales Team
Marketing and Sales are going to need to become the best of friends and work much more aligned for the coming year(s). With traditional sales roles shifting to a fully/mostly digital model, their roles need to evolve to be successful in the long run. You’re going to have to go back to your sales funnel and revamp it to make it work for both departments with the notion that all leads that come will be coming in digitally. What’s also more important than ever before, is that you’re going to have to make sure that you’re qualifying your leads before you send them to sales. This is going to be work on both sides to prevent garbage leads being sent to sales. Additionally, the sales team also needs to play a big role in helping to develop the content that’s going to be marketed and used to gain those leads. Like I mentioned before, you’re going to need to become the best of friends, but when executed effectively…you’re going to be a driving force!
Thought Leadership is going to be #1
We should all know by now that content is critical to your digital marketing strategy. This is only going to keep getting more important in the light of this virtual boom. It’s a really basic concept, people want to learn and if you’re teaching and educating them, they’re going to trust you. And if they trust you, they’re going to buy from you. Easy as that! Just kidding, while the concept may be simple, executing the strategy isn’t easy. It takes a lot of effort, planning, and creativity. But it will always be worth it if you’re doing it the right way. And if you’re not, get an expert to write it for you. Cough, cough…like us! 😉 Thinking out of the box is also going to be important here. While whitepapers, case studies, webinars, are all great content that you should be creating regularly, you also need to make sure that you’re thinking of the more unique ways that you can get your thought leadership out there. Sponsoring diversity and inclusion related organizations, being featured on Podcasts, there are so many things that you can do that fit in that “out of the box” concept that you can be incorporating into your plans.
In conclusion, planning your 2021 marketing is not going to be an easy task and there are going to be plenty of things that change along the way, but planning for things to change can help with making sure that you’re still marketing effectively and you don’t have any big gaps in your marketing efforts. While there are still so many question marks for next year, all we can do is plan as best as possible and have backups in place for if/when things change.