Hey everyone.

It’s almost Q4.

You know what that means.

Annual budgeting!

And with the annual budgeting process comes the “oh crap, what’s my plan for the next year look like” moment.

Let me help you transition to the next year with confidence and some marketing swagger.

First, a question. When you need to step up and create a marketing plan, where do YOU start? If you’re like many marketers, you take a look at what you did last year, run a few reports, scan a few “best practice” websites, and then roll the dice hoping that this year you strike gold.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. But I believe there’s a better way. And it’s all about designing your next marketing plan.

Design is about finding elegant solutions to problems.

Design is about finding elegant solutions to problems, and the context surrounding the creation of a marketing plan is filled with problems to solve. Who are your customers? What problems do they have? How might you solve those problems and create business value at the same time? The list goes on.

At its core, a design methodology follows a common pattern. The pattern includes understanding and defining the problem, thinking of diverse ways the problem can be solved, testing and learning, and rolling out an optimized solution.

Compare this to how marketing plans are often developed. We as marketers start with our own experiences and knowledge, make assumptions about what our customers want and how we can add value, we socialize and invest in “bet the farm” ideas – all in hopes that this year’s results will be better than last year’s.

Pretty stark contrast, right? And I can tell you from experience that one of these approaches works demonstrably better than the other at creating business results.

So.

How might you design your next marketing plan? I like to use a design methodology that has three broad phases – inspiration, ideation, and implementation. It’s also fun because of the alliteration…we design and marketing types enjoy that kind of stuff. I’ll use these three design methodology phases to help you craft your next marketing plan:

  • Inspiration. Any design process worth its salt begins with analysis of the context of the problem. In this case, it’s important for you to understand your customer’s journey, your brand’s purpose, industry patterns, as well as influential stakeholders. You need to have a clear understanding of customer types and their journey so that your marketing helps to motivate them to act as well as helps them solve problems they encounter. Understanding your brand’s purpose will help you shed light on what type of marketing activities are important based on why your brand exists. If you’re a brand that’s all about empowering people to learn something new, perhaps having your CEO stand up on the TED stage is a relevant marketing activity. Industry patterns are also crucial to know; if it’s common to market your products through distribution, you’ll want to allocate time and resources to elements that support the channel. Finally, get a grasp on who influences the ultimate purchase and craft tactics around those folks; so many times “it takes a village” to go from need to purchase and your marketing needs to reflect this reality.

It’s important for you to understand your customer’s journey, your brand’s purpose, industry patterns, as well as influential stakeholders.

  • Ideation. Once you’ve got a handle on all of the factors influencing your situation, you can now begin to think of ways to solve problems and motivate customers to action. I like to kick this phase off with a series of brainstorming sessions involving the core marketing team as well as individuals from other areas. That part is crucial…you need to involve other teams in order to envision the most creative ideas as well as to get buy in on execution. Huddle together, grab a bunch of post-its and start to throw ideas on the wall (literally…or digitally with tools like Mural if you’ve got a distributed team and/or just want to more easily preserve ideas over time). As brainstorming goes, don’t judge ideas initially, go for quantity and allow others to riff on each other’s ideas. Once the riffing has subsided, come back as a team to prioritize ideas based on a simple effort/impact matrix. That’s where you’ll start the implementation phase that comes next.

You need to involve other teams in order to envision the most creative ideas as well as to get buy in on execution.

  • Implementation. This is where the rubber meets the road. Your prioritized ideas become a roadmap for execution. This is also where your marketing team begins to operate like a Silicon Valley software startup. Take the most important ideas and turn them into your first execution “sprint” (a sprint is a time-boxed workstream where the team focuses solely on building and launching those elements in the timeframe). You’ll find that the length of your sprints will probably be somewhere between 2-6 weeks depending on complexity, organizational size, and culture. Regardless, have the team focus on only those tasks and watch how quickly new ideas are executed in the real world. You may also find, that in true design fashion, you want to test some experiments as part of your marketing activities. This is especially helpful when you believe you have a big idea on your hands, but their is significant risk associated with the underlying assumptions. In those cases, bet the garden before you bet the farm and test & learn your way to success. Finally, in this stage, don’t forget to create a feedback loop for each sprint whereby at the end of the sprint you measure the effectiveness of what you recently launched. Learn from it and tweak the plan going forward.

Implementation is where your marketing team begins to operate like a Silicon Valley software startup.

That’s it, folks. Because “hope is not a strategy”, drop the old-school way of creating a marketing plan and think like a designer to create your next plan.

How do you plan for what’s ahead? I’d love to learn; please share below in the comments.