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The turkey leftovers are long gone. Christmas shopping is coming down to the wire and all those ancient holiday ornaments have been hauled down from the attic. This is a glorious time of year, especially for youngsters.

It’s also a critical time for planning if you own or manage a business. Because markets change, personnel come and go, company services and products evolve and new media come from out of nowhere (who saw SnapChat coming?), a fresh marketing plan should be developed every year. Here are some tips you might consider when wrapping up 2014 and planning your marketing for the new year.

Learning from History

planning2015_02Spanish philosopher, novelist and poet George Santayana made the famous observation that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is one of those quotes a business manager or owner should place in a prominent position on his or her desk. The only way a company can grow from quarter to quarter, year to year is to learn from the past – both the successes and the failures. This is the reason for the first step in developing a company’s annual marketing plan: analyzing what worked and what didn’t in the previous year.

This analysis starts down that long, dark and no doubt scary hallway where the company’s accounting is done. Getting the real facts about the company’s sales and, more importantly, profits for the previous year is the most direct method of building a marketing plan for the year to come. There are several factors to consider:

• What were the company’s gross sales in 2014 and how does this number relate to previous years?

• What were the marketing expenses – advertising, public relations, social media, sales travel, and other expenses – involved in generating these sales?

• Were there any sales spikes in the year, and if so, what caused them?

• What were the advertising campaigns or media expenditures which resulted in the best return on investment?

• In general, what worked and what didn’t work in 2014 from a marketing perspective, and can a determination be made as to “why”?

Getting Input from Everyone

planning2015_03No matter how smart you are as the CEO, someone in your organization likely knows more about some aspect of your business than you do. There is also a good possibility that your outside consultants such as advertising agencies, public relations specialists and others will have valuable insights in areas where you might have less expertise.

It’s much smarter to use the specialized knowledge of these people in the preparation of an annual marketing plan. Ask them to join your planning sessions and advise your team on the best options.

According to Entrepreneur Magazine, “You can’t do a marketing plan without getting many people involved. No matter what your size, get feedback from all parts of your company: finance,  manufacturing, personnel, supply and so on – in addition to marketing itself.”

Once this input is gathered, and it could take a few weeks for this to occur, it’s important to synthesize it into a manageable document. In most cases, a marketing plan should require no more than five or six pages.

Arriving at a Final Plan

Once it is in draft form, the marketing plan should be circulated to the entire team charged with making it happen. This widely spread input and especially the quantifiable objectives (sales projections, advertising expenditures and other marketing expenses) set by the management team is critical to the success of the organization in 2015.

There will likely be several changes in the plan between the original draft and the final document. While this can drive a CEO nuts, it is critical to the success of the plan. Monthly and quarterly sales, and profitability schedules should also be included in the plan, and quarterly meetings should be held to compare plan-versus-results.

Once the leadership and personnel of the company have committed to this plan – both the marketing budgets and the sales projections – if there is a dramatic deviation between plan and result, something is wrong and must be fixed as soon as possible. A good marketing plan, created with company-wide input and outside consultants such as advertising agencies and technology providers, should serve as a blueprint for the year’s marketing activities.

The Benefits of Having a Marketing Plan

Let’s face it. Everybody’s busy. Perhaps the last thing you want to think about, especially this time of year, is a marketing plan for 2015. However, if you want to be successful in the coming year, you need to step away from the eggnog (at least for a while), hunker down and get a plan.

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According to the Small Business Encyclopedia, there are several good reasons for doing this.

It’s a rallying point: Your marketing plan gives your troops something to rally behind. If you want your employees to feel committed to your company, it’s important to share with them your vision of where the company is headed in the years to come.

It’s a chart to success: We all know plans are imperfect. How can you possibly know what’s going to happen 12 months or five years from now? However, if you don’t plan, you’re doomed, and an inaccurate plan is far better than no plan at all.

It’s a company operational instruction guide: Your marketing plan is a step-by-step guide for your company’s success. In order to put together a genuine marketing plan, you have to assess your company from top to bottom and make sure all the pieces are working together in the best way.

It’s captured thinking: You don’t allow your financial people to keep their numbers in their heads. It should be no different with marketing. Your written document lays out your game plan. If people leave, if new people arrive, if memories falter, if events bring pressure to alter the givens, the information in the written marketing plan stays intact to remind you of what you’ve agreed on.

Doing the hard work of planning your marketing for the coming year will pay big dividends. It’s not easy, but nothing of value is. Contact us if you’d like to talk about your 2015 marketing plan.