Built to flex. Adapt planning for an “anything is possible” world

Planning. In today’s unpredictable world, does the traditional definition of the word still mean anything, especially when thinking of it in the context of marketing and communications?

At the risk of sounding like one of those Progressive ads where I’ve turned into my parents (love those, by the way), I’m of an age where I remember working with clients to build annual marketing and communications plans. Yes, annual plans. And not only did we build those plans, but we also executed on them nearly to a tee. Does this sound familiar?

It would start with a meeting in late Q3 where we’d look ahead at product launches, events, marketing campaigns and initiatives and then develop the strategic framework and tactical execution roadmap for all 12 months of the year. And just like clockwork, in January the marketing plan would officially launch, and we’d be off running to deliver on nearly exactly what was planned.

While there was a sense of comfort in knowing what to expect, looking back, it’s possible that approach wasn’t all that effective. Granted, we didn’t have the array of digital tools at our disposal to measure and adjust our strategies based on real-time data and insights, but that “set it and forget it” mentality didn’t lend itself to the type of creativity that is born from having to think on your feet and adapt to the rapidly changing world around you.

As we hit that point in the year when it’s time to plan for 2022, despite all that continues to change around us, we can embrace the unexpected and stay focused on a few key areas to help bring stability and consistency to a marketing and communications plan that is guaranteed to flex and change throughout the year.

Know your audience and what they value. How well do you know your customer beyond their job title? What do you know about their expectations, challenges and pain points that keep them up at night? Initiating a voice of the customer program is the best way to ensure your purpose, product and services are aligned with what your customers need and when they need it. One way to capture that insight is through customer reviews. It’s important to develop questions that allow them to respond in a way that addresses problems, solutions and outcomes. Interactions with customer service, online reviews, forums and social media are also beneficial to generating insights into the customer’s voice.

Keep the digital buyer’s journey top of mind. Now that digital habits are here to stay, including in the B2B buying cycle, how are you making it easy for your customers to move forward in their buyer's journey? With more than 70% of mobile users turning to their smartphone for product research, and 50% using mobile for purchase, your brand’s web presence must be optimized to provide a seamless experience that customers expect, regardless of the platform they’re browsing. Another consideration is how you are prioritizing your customer’s desire for self-service. Build in ways to make it easy for them to find what they need by presenting multiple ways for buyers to get answers in a self-selected and immediate way, 24/7.

Consider a hybrid option for everything. It seems the return to in-person-only events was short-lived, given the new surge in the pandemic. But it’s not just the virus that’s pushing us back to virtual engagements. There’s a demand from customers for that remote option, too, in large part due to the convenience that it offers. The benefits to get together face-to-face are many but being able to participate in an event from the home office, without the travel time and expense that goes with it, has its perks too. Marketers should continue to build hybrid events to cater to both audiences—those who want to be in-person and those who prefer to join the experience remotely. That may mean you consider investments in augmented or virtual reality technology to create immersive experiences that will help boost engagement and satisfy everyone in your target audience.

While the 12-month plan may now be one of those stories that starts with “back in my day,” the core strategic communications principles haven’t wavered. Stay focused on what matters most—connecting in meaningful ways with your customers, but in more real-time, quarterly action plans with the flexibility to adapt to an “anything is possible” scenario.

Ready to retire your traditional annual plan? We can help you get there with a Solve 2.0 strategy session.