How Far Out Should You Plan Your Marketing Strategy?
Developing a marketing plan requires delicate balance. On the one hand, you don’t want to be flying by the seat of your pants, desperately trying to get projects done under the wire. You want time to plan, organize, and review your work before it goes out into the public, and that means planning ahead.
On the other hand, you don’t want to be set in your ways. If you schedule all your content weeks or months in advance, you might miss out on responding to a hot-button issue or story that concerns your brand. Worse still, a piece of content that seemed innocuous at the time might rub people the wrong way in the context of a new story — as Airbnb learned the hard way.
In 2017, Airbnb sent out an email featuring an image of a water-themed house floating on a large expanse of water, with copy that included the lines “Stay above water,” and “live the life aquatic with these floating homes.” It was in keeping with Airbnb’s theme of highlighting unusual homes, but it launched on August 28, 2017 — the same week that Hurricane Harvey submerged 400 square miles of the Houston area and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes.
The campaign was doubtless planned months in advance and was perfectly harmless in itself, but Airbnb’s slip-up seemed horribly insensitive at the time.
So how do you walk that line between being out-of touch and being unprepared? Here are a few tips.
Plan Your Holidays Six Months Out
There are a few events that you can predict with absolute certainty every year, though they’ll vary from business to business. Almost every business does something big around Christmas and Black Friday. Some run promotions around other federal holidays like July 4th or Labor Day. Some do their own branded promotions, like REI’s Anniversary Sale every May. In any case, there’s no excuse to be caught off guard by events you know are coming up.
Planning six months out offers a few benefits. First, you have plenty of time to adapt if something comes up — you don’t want to get your consumers excited about a particular sales item only to run out of it, so planning ahead gives you more time to prepare.
Secondly, you can build your budget around your biggest events. If your Black Friday sale is the biggest sales day of the year, you can set aside the money you’ll need to promote it in May and adjust the rest of your year’s budget accordingly.
Finally, it gets them out of the way. If something big happens in your industry in October that you need to respond to, you don’t want your whole marketing team tied up with last-minute preparations for Black Friday. You want them agile and flexible enough to respond to what’s happening right now. Getting the predictable marketing events out of the way frees up your team for the unpredictable.
Plan In Broad Strokes For The Quarter
We’re not saying that you need to break up your year’s marketing plan into exact three-month chunks — some campaigns will run across quarters and some will be shorter than that — but it’s a good idea to sit down with the team at least once every quarter and talk about the broader plans you have for the next few months.
Think about major business themes. Are you trying to increase conversion? Are you trying to get a bigger social media following? Maybe you’re launching a new product or service that you want to start talking about. Whatever those themes are, having them planned out ahead of time will help everyone to plan and inform their day-to-day tasks so that they all serve the same goal.
Plan Your Day-To-Day Marketing A Month In Advance
When it comes to the individual pieces of content you’re creating — blog posts, emails, social posts, premium content, videos, and so on — we’ve found that doing them a month at a time is a good balance.
Planning a month’s worth of content allows you to make sure you’re sticking to campaign themes so your content doesn’t overlap too much or too little. It also lets you keep your finger on the pulse of your industry, so you know your content is relatively current. And it gives you plenty of time to get your content created, reviewed, and revised so it’s as polished as possible when it goes live.
Stay On Your Toes
No matter how well you plan, eventually something will catch you off guard. Maybe it’s a big news story that concerns your product or your whole industry, like a recall or some new technology. Maybe it’s something local, like a snowstorm that everyone is talking about. No matter what the scale, you want to be a part of the conversation, and that means listening to what everyone is buzzing about.
Being aware of what’s happening in your industry gives you the opportunity to adapt, respond, and change your marketing plan to accommodate new information. You don’t want to be caught off guard when something big happens that might make you look bad, like Airbnb’s unfortunate timing in 2017. No matter how careful you are, you’ll need to stay flexible. After all, in the words of President Eisenhower: “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”