Last year was unprecedented, brutal, trying times, and more. But enough of the 2020 talk.
Now you’ve got your whole year in front of you (which, if your schedule looks anything like mine, started in a dead sprint!).
There’s just one thing: You haven’t actually put together a 2021 marketing strategy.
You aren’t alone.
Marketers and remote workers the world over felt the heat of the last year. Bouncing from fire to fire and crisis to crisis, trying to keep all the balls in the air left us simply trying to survive and respond tactically.
We didn’t get as much done strategically as we might like, because how do you plan during a pandemic you’ve never experienced, on top of major civil unrest? (Hint: You don’t really, but you can prepare for the worst.)
If you kissed 2020 goodbye without a solid idea of what you were going to do at midnight, don’t panic. You can still create a 2021 marketing strategy, even in mid-January.
We are a few weeks in now, which means that you can still act — but you’ve got to act fast.
Here’s a step-by-step plan for how to create a quick and effective marketing strategy for 2021.
1. Dig Deep Into Your Data
This is probably the longest of the phases, which is why it often gets skipped (or people start and then they stop and give up).
Despite the current uncertainty, your historical performance data is still the backbone of any future strategy.
Pull all your metrics:
- From past social media campaigns.
- From your website traffic audiences and acquisition points.
- From your heatmaps and user paths.
- From your email open and click rates.
- From all of your paid media buys.
- From your content engagement.
Take a look at the metrics that matter most to you.
If you aren’t sure which metrics should matter most, it’s easy to export everything and then decide. Don’t start the exercise by getting hung up in data analysis paralysis.
What you’re looking for: Where in your data did you see spikes? What about valleys? What were your averages as far as CTR or time spent on page or scroll depth?
These are the items that are going to tell you how to act in 2021.
Do more of what you did when you saw spikes and less of what you did when you saw valleys; seek to improve your averages overall.
2. Then Throw It All Out (Not Really)
2020 was an anomaly, to say the least.
Do not expect that your 2020 data has any 1:1 comparison value to 2019.
Even if your brand continued to truck along as usual in 2020, or you’re in an industry that experienced a boom rather than a bust, the variables are entirely different.
Don’t be too hard on yourself when you see the numbers from 2020 vs. 2019.
Conversely, don’t rest on your laurels, either.
(And feel free to remind clients or internal stakeholders of that, as well!)
Similarly, your 2021 data is not going to map 1:1 over 2020, so factor that in when creating your quick-and-dirty marketing strategy for 2021.
This data is still useful, it’s just not an overhead-projector-transparency with one year aligning perfectly on top of another.
We are already in mid-January (so I keep reminding you).
Lockdowns didn’t start in most places in the U.S. in 2020 until at least mid-March and some places took even longer.
If you’re outside the U.S., chances are fair that your country got a better handle on the pandemic earlier on, so you have to compare these current months with the worst months of last year.
If you’re in the United States, you are comparing some still-very-bleak current months with these same months last year where impacts weren’t being felt as deeply.
We also didn’t have an insurrection mid-January last year to contend with, but we did have an election for nearly the entire year, so keep those variables in mind when comparing throughout the year.
Additionally, vaccines may not be widely available until summertime and even then, we have no idea how the country will move forward between now and then.
I am reiterating this to remind you that your data is necessary and worthwhile, but it’s also not going to tell a linear story between last year and this year.
Don’t forget to factor in variables when you’re plotting your data points or planning your strategy for the upcoming year, and remember that there are some variables we cannot (and don’t want to!) replicate.
3. Validate Your Audience Segments & Buyer Personas
So many clients I work with, from small organizations to enterprises, set their buyer personas once upon a time (perhaps in the Dark Ages) and then just… stayed with those people.
Since they started their company 30 years ago selling to Financially Solvent Fred and Judgmental Janet, they continue to do so to this day.
I’ll let you in on a little known secret: As our buyers and the rest of the world changes, so too do our buyer personas.
It’s healthy and recommended to revisit these personas regularly and make sure the data still validates them.
Maybe Judgmental Janet got tired of your product and isn’t interested anymore.
You’ve been selling to her for the last 30 years, but she stopped taking your calls at least 5 years ago.
Don’t keep wasting dollars selling to someone who isn’t buying, especially when your data makes that clear on paper.
It’s not enough to take a look at your biggest revenue-driving audiences.
Take a closer look at your website traffic, as well.
Figure out who might be a sleeper audience for you and how you can reach them.
Validate who you are already talking to, but see if you can flesh out new people in the meantime.
4. Start With Your Objectives
Your brand likely already has an overall strategic objective that serves as sort of an umbrella for all actions the company takes, whether it’s “grow more revenue,” “be the best customer experience,” or something else along those lines.
But have you mapped out your marketing objectives?
How is your team feeding into this overall company-wide strategic objective?
Find two to three objectives of your own that match.
If the objective is to “be the best for our customers,” align yourself to that with your marketing objectives: “improve website experience,” “streamline checkout process,” “improve return traffic rate.” or something similar.
Look at your data when you do this to make sure you’re coming up with an achievable goal. And keep in mind, objectives aren’t about quantifying — they’re about a big goal.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are about creating quantifiable goals, and they come next!
But start at the top and work your way down:
What are you trying to achieve?
5. Map Your KPIs to Actions
Next, it’s time to develop your KPIs. These, as I said, should be quantifiable goals.
They cannot be “increase website visitors” because that’s not quantifiable.
If even one more person visits your website in 2021 than in 2020, that’s technically an increase. But it’s not one to write home about.
So what do you want to increase them by? 10%? 20%?
If you want to improve the customer experience on your website, you may have a KPI of “20% bounce rate reduction,” or “reduce the number of steps to checkout by 2,” or something similar.
Get specific about it.
You may ask: But what if I don’t hit my goals?!
You’re right, it’s scary to make them if there’s a chance I may not achieve them. But having quantifiable goals isn’t the last step here.
Now you map actions to your goals.
How will you drive 20% more visitors to the website? Map your action to it.
“Run social media traffic campaigns every other month for the whole year,” or “Add links to each of our organic social media posts to increase traffic,” or “Write four blogs each month to share on social media and email to drive more traffic.”
KPI Mapping doesn’t stop at KPIs. Create a list of actions to match each KPI and then you won’t have to worry about whether you will achieve it; you’re already on your way!
6. Start Testing!
Now there’s nothing left to do but start executing.
Build that content calendar with those blog titles, then assign them and project manage their development. Create that social media campaign.
Start adding those links to your posts.
Get to building your email nurture campaign designed to drive more return traffic.
The most common thing that stops people here is: Well, what do I do first?
Pick something. Anything. The beautiful part of our job is that we should be in testing mode constantly.
ABT: Always Be Testing.
If you’ve built your personas, your objectives, your KPIs, and your actions based on your data, then you’ve already got the head start.
Now just pick something and run with it.
Test for a few weeks or a month and evaluate the data. Then run the next test with tweaks. You’ve got this!
When I run or pitch strategy sessions for my clients, I say this over and over again: What we are about to do in building a marketing strategy is nothing new.
It isn’t rocket science.
It’s not cutting edge.
It’s not anything you don’t already know you should be doing.
You’ve Got Time… But Act Fast
As marketers, we know it’s best to execute strategically instead of reacting tactically. We feel it in our burnout and our numbers feel it in the outcome.
But the hardest part is often setting aside the time and effort to just do the thing.
Putting together a 2021 marketing strategy should take less than a week and, for many marketers, may only take a 4-8 hour commitment.
It’s only mid-January.
You can do this.