December is upon us, and in business that often means one of a few things: You’re pushing to get as far into the black as you can during the holidays, you’re making decisions about next year and what to keep or to chuck… or you have thrown in the towel and decided to start everything all over again in January.

What we need is a plan.

In his book Duct Tape Marketing, John Jantsch defines marketing as “getting someone who has a need, to know, trust, and like you” (xiv). It makes sense, and it’s a smart way to think about what we’re doing when we build our marketing plans.

Later on, Jantsch distinguishes between strategy and tactics. He writes, “Goals, missions, and objectives are nice, but how you plan to achieve them— Otherwise known as strategy— paired with a logical set of tactics, is the surest route to victory” (4). This distinction is important. The trip we’re going on below focuses first, in step two, on what Jantsch refers to as “strategy,” and then moves on to tactics in step three. This post assumes you’ve already established a broader strategy behind your brand that includes niche, identity, etc..., though you may find inspiration to revise those things as we move on.

Grab your fancy pencils, colored pens, and some paper, and make sure you have a calendar printed for 2018 (is True Value handing them out yet?). Or, if you’re all electronic these days, create a calendar that’s just for your marketing plan, and start a fresh document to put down your thinking. (You might still want some paper and a pencil.)

We’ll work through these steps:

  1. Take stock.
  2. Analyze your existing and ideal customers.
  3. Select your marketing channels.
  4. Plan the timing of your promotions.

Step 1: Take stock.

How do you define what you sell?

Are you selling

  • a solution to a problem?
  • a want or a need?
  • a frame of mind (peace of mind)?

If you haven’t before gone through the process of writing a clear Unique Selling Proposition (USP) for your brand (an important strategy move), a good time to do it is while planning for the new year. Clarity there can save you some work in other areas and foster consistency in your messaging. If that’s a task you still need to undertake, a good place to pick it up is between steps two and three.

What did you try this year?

You worked hard. What worked for you?

Write down the broad marketing channels (social media, radio ads, etc…) and the specific ones (Facebook ads, unpaid tweets, fifteen second FM radio spots, long info-station radio ads) you embraced. Use the list of channels in step three below if you need to jog your memory.

John Maxwell is fond of citing the Pareto Principle, the idea that 20% of your effort will yield 80% of your results (and vice versa).

With this concept in mind, think through these questions:

  1. What results were each of your efforts aimed at?
    Most promotions are aimed at educating customers and developing trust, promoting brand recognition, and/or persuading customers to take action.
  2. Which of your efforts yielded the best and worst results (and how are you measuring the ROI)?
    If you’re not sure, add measuring your metrics as a part of this year’s goals! After all, the Druckerism still holds true: “What gets measured gets managed.”
  3. What was fun?
    If you’re enjoying yourself, your customers are more likely to do the same (so have fun!).
  4. What do you want to try that you haven’t tried, and what will you never, ever do again?A consideration: If you weren’t successful with a particular channel, do you need to know more about it, or was it not appropriate for your brand, product, or market?

Where are you going?

Time to set some goals. Remember that “SMART” goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (one of a few useful versions of this acronym).

You want to be crystal clear about what each of your marketing efforts should achieve; it will guide your decisions later in the process. For instance, you might decide that you want to produce 300 new qualified leads for your service by June 30, or that you’ll increase foot traffic in your store by 15% this winter. “Make more money” is not Specific or Time bound (If you make nine more cents, you achieve this goal). Make SMART goals.

These goals are your “why,” as in “why” you will implement the tactics you choose. Your marketing plan is a commitment to yourself to combine some new effort with efforts that already worked in order to produce a better result than before.

Other ways to take stock:

You might include a survey of:

  • Your Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis
  • Your competition (what they’re doing and not doing)
  • Pricing for similar products or services
  • Any direct mail you receive (what do you actually read?)


Step 2: Analyze your existing and ideal customers and the paths they take.

This step is a natural extension of the “take stock” section because you’re taking stock of who your customers are and who they could be.

Marketers put serious time and effort into determining who the customers are (or ought to be).

Since your product or service may appeal to many people, it pays to consider the broad groups that would want or need it, as well as how each of those groups might find out about it.

In an ideal world, a company will have plenty of existing customers to interview or survey in order to determine what they like or don’t about the brand, how they use a product or service, etc…

Even if you don’t yet have that kind of access and information, you can think through the project to get a fair idea of where to start. Like so much of business, you’re better off starting with what you have and improving over time.

Marketers usually call the archetype that defines a customer segment a “persona” and refer to the path the prospect takes to be become a customer the “customer’s journey.”

Build 2-5 clear personas for your target clients and customers.
Begin by considering the following questions to determine your target customer segments, but feel free to come up with more.

  • What groups (age, education level, interest, etc…) do/could you sell to?
  • What types of work do your customers/prospects do?
  • What types of interests might your customer segments share?
  • Do your customers attend business networks? Which ones?
  • What difficulty(ies) does your product help with?
  • How are your ideal customers like you (or different)?
  • What are your most common service calls?

Look for trends in your answers to the questions above and others that seem relevant in order to create a small set of distinct customer stereotypes.

Marketing and sales software-as-a-service (SaaS) company Hubspot suggests defining your personas in terms of their characteristics (background, demographics, and identifiers) and motivations (goals, challenges, and how your company can help). You can learn more about building customer personas here and try out Hubspot’s “MakeMyPersona Tool” here.

Even if you do not use the MakeMyPersona Tool, it’s a good idea to create a document for each persona. Give him/her a memorable name, put a relevant looking stock photo on there, and add the characteristics of that persona in easy-to-read type. Companies often go as far as to put these on the wall as a constant reminder to focus on those customer segments in all of their messaging.

Once you’ve determined who your customers and prospects are, decide how they become your customers by answering questions like these:

  • Where/how do your customers learn about new products, usually?
  • Where do your prospects go to find vendors?
  • Where do your customers/prospects “hang out?”
  • What social media do your prospects use most?
  • Where do your customers get their news?
  • How do your prospects go about professional development?
  • What steps can you take to help customers know and trust you?

Create a map of the journey each persona will likely take to:

  1. First become aware of your brand/product/service
  2. Learn about your company and your product
  3. Assess your company and compare it to others
  4. Buy
  5. Persuade others people to buy

Without going too deep here, keep in mind that you’re educating the customer more than you are going for the hard sell in most cases, especially early in the journey. It’s imperative that you put yourself in the customer’s shoes— this is the journey s/he is likely to take, not the one you wish s/he would.

Keep in mind, too, that these steps may take place in the real world, online, or a combination of the two, and you need to consider your role at each phase of the journey in either case.

Marketing SaaS company Kapost’s blog provides a great evaluation of the customer’s journey and content marketing products companies can provide at each step here. It provides a clear way of understanding how you might interact virtually with your customers at each phase.

There are plenty of ways you could document the customer’s journey. Whether you choose plain outlines, fancy flowcharts, or giant butcher paper and sticky note montages, put these with the persona documents from before.

Step 3. Select your marketing channels.

Which media are most likely to foster a particular customer’s getting to “know, like, and trust” your company?

When you think through your personas and their respective customer journeys, some channels will have clear advantages over others. For example, if your target demographic is sixteen year old girls (maybe you sell the popsocket?), you’re extremely likely to use Snapchat, less likely to use Facebook, and fairly unlikely to take out an ad in AARP’s Healthy Living.

Look at the journey for each persona and choose a medium, or marketing channel, to utilize at each stage. If you were a good student at step one, you have already considered channels that worked before and channels you want to try, so make sure those get on your list, so long as they fit the personas and journeys you identified.

A few considerations:

  • If you just decided to use all the channels next year, slow down. Unless you suddenly have a huge marketing budget, you aren’t going to use fourteen unfamiliar media well in Q1 (even though you’re amazing).
  • Don’t forget that your existing website and storefront function as points of contact in the customer’s journey.
  • Some channels work just fine for different customer segments in the same phases of their separate journeys (”evergreen” web content is a good example). Use these channels when you can, so not everything has to be a new effort.

Some marketing channels:

  • Social media (Did you know that Facebook has reached 2 billion accounts?)
  • Direct mail (used so rarely that it works again)
  • A branded marketing kit (ideal for first meetings with service clients)
  • A mastermind group (This will serve you and your members endlessly, generating referrals, content opportunities, and good will.)
  • Business networks (especially 4BR— tell your friends!)
  • Affiliate marketing (pay other businesses a commission to sell your product)
  • Speaking engagements (builds credibility and confidence, especially when it’s not sales-y)
  • Website copy (This workhorse represents you 24-7-365, so make it count!)
  • Blog (a facet of a good content marketing strategy, necessary for customers to find you in searches and build trust in you as an expert in your field)
  • Storefront Ads (What would bring you in the door as a new prospect?)
  • Paper media ads (newspapers, magazines, and trade publications)
  • Online courses and webinars (Experts teach, and experts are credible!)
  • TV or Radio advertisements (still reach people all day and night)

Obviously, there are more. Take your time on this step. If you can find one or two channels that match each step in the journey for each customer, you’re on the right track.

Determine the frequency of any recurring communication.

Examples of recurring efforts might include an annual trade show booth, a monthly newsletter, a weekly blog post, or multiple daily Instagram posts.

Recurring publication is most critical if you’re employing a content marketing strategy (efforts that are intended to educate and/or entertain your customers rather than directly sell to them). Regardless, publishing regularly will yield benefits for your website’s web search prevalence, your customer's’ readiness to buy, and your own sanity.

Make sure that your recurring items land on your calendar in step four!

Determine the focus and nature of your promotions.

For instance, if you decided you’re using seasonal advertising of any kind, you want to be sure that you’re thinking about what promos are tied to which holidays, seasons, etc… and be sure to include that in your plan.

Also, some things just take longer to put together, whether you’re doing them alone or you have a team. You have to consider this in advance so you make sure to build in time for creation and to be sure promotions don’t end up right on top of each other (contrary to the mythos, entrepreneurs need sleep, too).

For example, if you’re planning on attending trade shows, you don’t want to just show up ready to talk. You want to think about what you can provide to prospects there that will help them remember you and will answer their questions. Will you provide a customized marketing kit based on your conversation with a potential client? What information sheets do you need to produce in advance in order to provide that? How long will producing them take?

You'll be putting that time on the calendar too.

4. Plan the timing of your promotions.

When you are sure of how often you’re producing and presenting which promotions, it’s time to start balancing them on the calendar.

BTW: We’re talking about doing a whole year, here, but, as online marketing maven Amy Porterfield points out in her podcast, it’s smart to do six months to start. Then you can use what you learn in the first four or five months to plan the second half of the year in May or June. On the other hand, if you don’t trust yourself to come back and do all this again before December 2018, git’ r done now and give yourself some grace to shift things around as you learn.

Not complicated, no, but be sure to:

  • Leave yourself room on the calendar to breathe between promotions
  • Take into account other BIG items on your personal and business calendars
  • Give yourself sufficient time on the calendar to produce the promotion (or have it done)
  • Put space on the calendar for weekly and monthly reviews, because:
    • People who review and plan the week, every week, are more successful
    • You need time to check your metrics and see what’s working
    • You don’t want things to get away from you

It’s not over until you publish.

What’s left is to actually build your promotions. It’s wise to determine at least a month in advance of a new campaign which items you’ll hire out or delegate, if any.  And, once again. be sure that you leave yourself, or your team, time to produce the promotion before the deadline.

Do you want to join a fast-growing business network that recognizes your level of achievement and cares about your personal and professional development?  Come visit one of our meetings and experience for yourself what 4BR is all about.