Marketing Planning During Uncertainty

Marketing 101 states that a strategic marketing plan is the key success. With a plan, campaigns and projects have structure and goals. A good marketing plan details what needs to be done, the tools to get it done, and the order the tactics should be executed. It requires thought and not just whims. However, a great plan should also have flexibility not only for innovation and optimization but also for the unknown.

What happens when unexpected challenges arise?

If 2020 has taught businesses (and frankly, individuals) anything, it highlighted the necessity to be able to pivot and to remain agile. The state of the world and business in 2021 still remains uncertain for many, so it may feel daunting to create a robust marketing plan with so many unknowns. However, there are two things that can make planning a more productive and less scary activity.

Make short term plans

Instead of creating an annual plan, consider a quarterly or even monthly plan. A shorter term plan allows for more agility as environmental situations change as well as encourages more frequent review of new tactics, campaign effectiveness, and competitive environment.

Social media platforms are constantly tweaking features – think Twitter Fleets, Instagram Reels and Guides, and LinkedIn Stories – all introduced or expanded in 2020. A shorter term plan allows for integration of the new features that will support business goals.

In a world constantly in flux, past marketing effectiveness may not be an accurate indicator of current (or future) results. With a short term plan, a campaign can be measured and analyzed more frequently allowing for faster shifts in resources. Note, there is of course challenges with campaigns that require long(er) lead times that can’t be avoided or those with heavy investments and can only be produced once. However, short term plans may be able to limit some exposure with those programs.

Competitor sets also evolve as different external factors change. For example, some restaurants started selling make-at-home meal kits as a means to survive during indoor dining restrictions. Traditional meal kit companies such as Hello Fresh and Blue Apron should have taken notice of these new competitors at a minimum to see if they should change any of their marketing plans.

Plan for the worst- and best-case scenarios

When businesses are closed by a lockdown or clients no longer have marketing budgets to spend, a business faces a potential loss of partial or even all income. Even if business is slow, reducing marketing efforts to zero is not ideal. Taking a page from financial models, marketing plans should include scenarios for the worst- and best-case scenarios, in addition to the “average” case which is the plan to initially follow.

For instance, a worst case plan can include any free – organic, grassroots, earned, in-kind trade, etc. tactics. These tactics can include organic social media posts, speaking at events, press releases, or partnerships with other organizations. Or the worse case plan can include marketing a special promotion that is more about driving some revenue over none, or it can be focused on current customer retention with community building.

Best-case scenario planning is just that – if business is good and growing, then the sky is the limit. The plan can include any paid tactics that will reach the appropriate audience. It can include rich incentives for new and existing customers, and it can be an opportunity to give back to the community. Regardless of what the specific details of the the plan are, the plan should still be strategic; as in, each dollar allocated should be towards a business or organizational goal.

The future may be unclear, but plans don’t have to be

It seems counterintuitive to think about a plan for the unknown. However, marketing plans that account for that uncertainty can help a business effectively adapt and reach their audience.

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