In the course of our engagements with organizations of all types and sizes be it nonprofit, for-profit, or association, there comes a time during discovery when we ask the client if they have a marketing communications (marcom) plan. This question may seem a bit outside of the realm the associated tasks of building a website, but in reality, most of the decisions you make during the website design and development project should be tied back to the goals that are outlined in your organization’s marketing communication plan. Creating a solid plan with your team members is well worth the effort and it serves as an easy-to-use roadmap for your marketing activities.
The purpose of a marcom plan is to demonstrate how marketing is going to support the organization’s business goals over the next year. It keeps the entire organization on the same page in terms of messaging, tactics, and brand management. A thoughtful and realistic (think SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely) plan acts as the organization’s reference in explaining the who, what, and where of marketing activities for the year: Who the audiences are, where you are trying to reach them, and what you are trying to get them to do. Creating and then revising the plan each year lets you ditch the tactics that didn’t work, keep those that did, and add appropriate market trends into the mix. It also outlines who on staff will be responsible for what and how your martech tools will be used to accomplish your goals.
Creating a plan does take some time but if done right, can make implementing the marketing tasks pretty easy. Each year, your marketing department should set aside a few half-day sessions for brainstorming, brainwriting, or idea rallies. This may seem like a big chunk of time for overworked teams, but it will no doubt pay off in work efficiencies when the plan is implemented. Putting together the plan should involve the entire marketing staff who will come together and determine goals, objectives, tactics, messaging, audiences, and methods for measurement and optimization. Once the goals and objectives are decided upon, the writing for each section should be distributed among the appropriate specialists in your department.
When creating the plan, keep in mind the capacity that the department and staff members have in implementing these goals and adjust accordingly. If you work in a one- or two-person marketing shop, the marcom plan is equally important and creating it will highlight areas where you may need to bring in outside to help with implementation. Think also about your marketing budget and what you can realistically do with that money across channels.
A formal marcom plan usually consists of the sections below, and once the plan is completed, it can be updated each year.
Goals – Identify two-to-three top-level goals for the marketing department that directly tie in with the goals of the organization. Examples include: increase brand awareness, generate leads for specific products or services, or improve customer service.
Objectives – Now that you’ve identified the goals, it’s time to talk generally about how you will get there. Let’s say you have a new company that sells running shoes online, your objectives will be numerous and will most likely include increase brand awareness, generate leads, drive website traffic, etc.
Tactics – The tactics section is really the core of the plan and it’s where ideas and creativity come to life. Since there are numerous tactics that can support objectives like brand awareness or lead generation, put them into categories such as Digital, Out-of-Home, Events, etc, and then further categorize them into, for example, SEM, Google Ads, social media marketing, etc.
Audiences/Personas – If you’ve worked for an organization for a few years, you are probably familiar with its different audiences and their personas. So identifying them for the plan will be a no-brainer. If you don’t have a good grasp on your audiences, now is a good time to have the staff talk about them and include persona attributes.
Messaging – Most of your marketing tactics are going to require the creation of content of various lengths that speaks to different audiences with corresponding messages. That’s why incorporating a messaging architecture with personas, key messages, and proof points will make your life so much easier. When writing content, you can simply pull out the specific message for your audience and customize it to the product/service and platform.
Measurement/Optimizing – Whether you agree with the Peter Drucker saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” it’s appropriate for this section of the marcom plan since it should outline how each tactic will be measured and how success will be defined.
Marketing Communication Chart – The marcom chart is really our favorite part of the plan. It’s a visual representation of which tactics are happening when. Top headers on the chart can be Month, Tactic Category (e.g., paid social, SEM, blog post), Date, and Tactic (e.g., FaceBook Spring Video Campaign). The chart is not only great for organization, but also it shows you what you have going on during the year and where there are gaps. Instead of coming up with tactics and campaigns, on-the-fly, you simply have to plug and play and can focus on design and copy tweaking where necessary.
When the plan is complete, do a quick before and after. You’ll probably see that your marketing activities in the past were a series of one-offs and campaigns that were put together on-the-fly and don’t fully support the organization’s goals. The beauty of a marcom plan is that it reaches so far into everything that your organization does and it gives you measurable goals that show you where you’re going and at the end of the year, how far you’ve come. It may seem like a big lift when you start, but the benefits to your department and your organization are numerous.