How to create your 2021 marketing plan

For many of us, it may feel like 2020 will never end, but for marketers tasked with developing plans and nailing down budgets for the upcoming year, they know all too well just how quickly the new year is approaching.

With the current pandemic still affecting every aspect of life—and business—this normally daunting task may now seem downright impossible. But it doesn’t have to. Before you go from a “we’ll take it day-by-day” approach that most businesses have adopted to suddenly sitting down to plan for the next 12 months, take a deep breath and keep these things in mind.

Be Flexible

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s to stay light on our feet and be ready for anything. Unfortunately, 2021 doesn’t promise to be much different—at least not at its start. As you put together your marketing plans and budgets for the upcoming year, it’s important to also create a contingency plan that takes into account possible pivots. For instance, if you plan to attend a conference or trade show scheduled for April, create a plan that includes marketing, travel and support for an onsite event, as well as a virtual one. This may include adapting from printed banners, and leave-behinds to digital ones or replacing in-person seminars and classes with virtual webinars.

With a little extra planning upfront, you can avoid scrambling at the last minute to fill voids or spend dollars that were earmarked for something that’s been canceled or postponed. This approach will also help you keep your brand top of mind and ensure you don’t miss out on any opportunities that may be coming. Just be sure you understand the refund and credit policies before you make any commitments or sign any contracts.

Think Small

It’s long been thought that the smaller something is, the more nimble it can be. This same philosophy can be applied to your marketing plan. Rather than trying to plot out a full 12 months of marketing and budgets during these uncertain times, think smaller. Creating a three- or six-month plan or using a rolling budget you can constantly update will allow you to evaluate the current business environment at the time and make more strategic and informed decisions. Besides, you may be more likely to get budgets approved when they are based upon what we know to be true for the next few months than trying to predict what will happen nine months down the road.

Understand Your Audience

The audience you had in 2020 may not be the audience you’ll have in 2021. As customer needs and business models have changed in the wake of the pandemic, many businesses may have lost some of their customer base and/or attracted new customers and prospects. Allocate funds for customer research to evaluate all of your possible customer segments in 2021 and then create buyer personas for each of them. Even if your customers haven’t changed, their needs probably have. Without getting this right, the rest of your plan may be irrelevant.

Don’t Spend Every Penny

Old-school thinking (aka pre-COVID mentality) had marketers allocating every dollar they could in order to secure the maximum amount of funds. But as many have learned over the past seven months, those funds suddenly disappear quicker than you can say “canceled.” By keeping a higher percentage of discretionary funds in your plan, it enables you to tag the dollars without tagging exactly what they’re being used for. This gives you more time to plan the best way to optimize your budget to get the best results. What CFO will argue with that?

Keep an Eye on ROI

While gauging the return on marketing dollars has always been a priority, in 2021, it will be more important than ever. As marketing budgets are the first to get cut in the face of economic downturns, being able to prove the outcome of your efforts will help make a strong case for why you need those dollars.

According to a recent study by Dun & Bradstreet, 70% of marketers say their budgets have been cut as a result of the pandemic, yet despite these limited budgets, more than three-fourths of them are feeling added pressure to deliver leads.

When developing your marketing plan for 2021, be sure to allocate funds for investments in the tools and talent you need to analyze your efforts and performance across various campaigns. Once you have the tools in place, determine your metrics and measure against them monthly or quarterly. This will allow you to keep your plan fluid—adjusting to remove what’s not working and capitalize on what is.

Understand the Evolved Digital Environment

As many face-to-face interactions continue to remain on pause as we close out the year, digital marketing will occupy an even larger slice of marketing plan pies for 2021. But just having a digital presence is no longer enough. New technologies and trends are being added to modern marketing plans including SEO optimization for voice searches that are often more conversational than traditional keywords and AI technology such as chatbots that help keep up with surging customer service demands and faster resolutions.

Bottom Line

When it comes to developing your marketing plan for 2021, a simple cut and paste just won’t do. The business world has changed drastically in the past year—and there’s no telling when or if we’ll ever get back to where we were. Take the time you need upfront to incorporate some of these tips when developing your plan. Then be ready to change it as often as needed. Remember, with change comes new opportunities!