The new year is already in full swing. You've got vendors to manage, campaigns to push through creative, and end-of-month reports to run. But as the first months of the year come to a close, you feel a sense of anxiety.

The annual plan you created last quarter already feels out of date. Facebook Live is gaining more traction, and you didn't include it in the plan. You've recently read marketing predictions that say your website will fade into Internet oblivion if it takes more than two seconds to load—and website speed wasn't even on your radar!

How on earth are you supposed to plan for an entire year of marketing when the technology and platforms are changing at the speed of light?

The answer is simple: You can't.

The Traditional Annual Marketing Planning Is Dead

The Internet and technology have radically changed your customers' expectations for interacting with your organization. And the pace of changes won't slow... New, innovative platforms and technology will continue to emerge.

What does that mean? It means traditional planning, starting in August and mapping out every detail of your annual plan, doesn't cut it anymore. Your marketing plan must be a living, breathing entity that can adapt and evolve.

To win, you need to get comfortable constantly nurturing and adapting your plan throughout the year.

Adjusting Your Annual Marketing Plan for the Digital Economy

Luckily, it's not all doom and gloom. More likely than not, your marketing plan simply needs a few adjustments and additions to ensure you are successful.

Here are eight core elements of a successful annual marketing plan that can survive the ever-changing world of marketing channels and technology.

1. Your plan answers the question 'Who are we as an organization?'

The famous Harvard Business Review article titled "Building Your Company's Vision," by James Collins and Jerry Porras, says "the basic dynamic of visionary companies is to preserve the core and stimulate progress. It is vision that provides the context." That statement is especially true in the digital economy.

A company without a clear mission, vision for the future, and friendly culture comes across as fake and cold. The company's vision is the context for creating a marketing plan that feels authentic and inspires customer loyalty.

If your company or client doesn't have documented answers to the "who are we" question, including its vision and mission, it's time to start the conversation. For guidance, begin by reading the HBR article by Collins and Porras. It will help you wrap your head around the core concepts that define a company's vision. It also provides great examples of other companies' vision messaging in case you need inspiration.

If you already have a "brand bible" or style guide that includes your company's vision, this step is easy. Simply review the document to ensure it's up to date, then share it with everyone involved in the marketing planning process.

2. Your plan outlines your verticals and buyer-persona targets

When you speak to everyone, you connect with no one.

In our content-overloaded society, if your message doesn't speak to a very specific audience it's almost guaranteed to get lost in the mix. Your marketing plan needs to communicate exactly who you are, whom you're trying to reach, and what you're looking to promote.

Start by creating a list of the core products and services you're looking market. Next, determine the ideal customer for each one. If you're having a hard time narrowing that down, talk to the Sales team: Who are their favorite clients? What industry or vertical do they work in? What are the demographics and psychographics of the person buying the products or services?

More than likely, you'll find several verticals and targets for each product.

Once you've compiled that information, take it to the leadership team or your client to discuss. If they could choose only 2-3 verticals and buyer personas per product line, which would they choose and why? The narrower the focus you create, the more effective your marketing spend will be.

Once you've collected all that information, document it in your marketing plan and move on to the next step.

3. Your plan documents the previous year's successes and failures

Tracking and analysis are a successful marketer's best friends. Review whatever information you have about the marketing programs that were in place last year, and document them.

It's almost impossible to have too much information included in this section of your plan, but if it looks a little bare, make sure to spend a little extra time reviewing No. 8 on this list.

4. Your plan outlines big-picture growth goals and defines marketing objectives

Now that the company's vision and targets are in place, and you've collected performance reports from the previous year, it's time to talk goals.

Start with the company's big-picture goals. These should be created by the company leadership team. Among common big-picture goals are those that focus on business expansion, profit growth, customer satisfaction, and giving back to the communities the businesses serve.

Once you have these goals, your marketing objectives will fall into place. If your company's goal is to increase lead generation in a new market segment, for example, outline the specific growth you're looking to achieve and where you're looking to target. Continue that sort of thought process for each of the big-picture goals to help set your marketing objectives.

Keep in mind that setting marketing goals and objectives isn't about choosing the specific channels, it's about defining your success.

5. Your plan defines and segments your budget into three core categories

All annual marketing campaigns need a baseline budget for the planning process to be of value. Without it, marketing dollars are misallocated, leading to excessive wasted spend. Define the budget before you go any further.

The next step is to split your budget into three core marketing-budget buckets: the traditional bucket, the digital bucket, and a variable expenses bucket. Determining what percentage of your budget should go where can be based on many factors, including previous marketing successes and failures, industry trends, and competition.

As you look to create your buckets, don't forget to allocate for large-scale projects already in progress or projects planned for the coming year.

6. Your plan includes set expectations for how Sales and Marketing will work together

It's wonderful to have a great marketing plan in place, but if the sales team isn't kept in the loop, or if there's no documented process for converting prospects into customers, you'll be left spinning your wheels. Your plan should outline exactly how Sales and Marketing will work in tandem. Required for inclusion in this section of your plan:

  • A documented sales process specific to each product or service line
  • A set of cross-team goals and a plan for tracking wins and losses
  • Set touchpoints to ensure communication is constant between the teams
  • A process for how a lead is transferred from Marketing to Sales

For best results, collaborate with your sales team to create this section of your plan.

7. Your plan includes a set of rules for how to select your marketing channels

With a flexible marketing plan, it's important to establish a set of guidelines so you remain focused on the goal. Create a list of rules for how you will determine which marketing channels and platforms to choose.

Here are a few examples of channel selection rules:

  • All marketing channels and platforms must be used by our target personas.
  • All digital marketing channels must be trackable through Google Analytics.
  • All marketing channels must be analyzed for minimum budget requirements and will not be implemented if minimum budgets cannot be met.

In addition, outline how often you will review and refine your marketing channel plan. Outline an appropriate approval process and the people for each decision. Once these expectations are set, stick with them. They are essential to maintaining clear communication throughout the year.

8. Your plan details a marketing tracking and analysis plan

The final part of your marketing plan is one of the most important: How will you track your marketing efforts? What will be the key performance metrics you need to optimize your campaigns? How often will you review your data and who will it be reported to?

Documenting this stage helps to establish the expectations for success.

* * *

Once you've made tweaks to your marketing plan, take the time to review the changes with your teams. After all, a marketing plan is only as good as the team's understanding and buy in.

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Eight Key Elements Your Annual Marketing Plan Must Have to Succeed

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image of Lauren Davenport

Lauren Davenport is CEO of The Symphony Agency, a marketing and technology consulting firm.

LinkedIn: Lauren Davenport

Twitter: @lfdavenport