Why Marketing

Marketing ideas for small and medium-sized businesses

Level 2 – Annual Marketing Planning


✓ set your measurable annual marketing goals
✓ allocate an annual marketing budget (include contingency)
✓ plot your recurring and promotional campaigns on a calendar
✓ identify the channels & audiences you will focus on
✓ review your plan to finalize resource loads

You know where you want to be in 5 years, so how do you get there? Laying out a complete annual marketing plan will align all the thoughts and brilliant ideas running through your head, to the all-important business goals that you and the leadership team laid out. My one big tip for this step?

Focus on strategy, not tactics

– Me, I just said that

Let’s face it, tactics are fun! The problem is that they’re not doing anyone any good if they’re not aligned to any goals. That’s where strategy comes in. So to make sure you’re prepared to take on the annual plan, here are some questions you can ask yourself (and your team) to get started:

  • What do my strategic marketing analysis insights (i.e. SWOT) tell me, and what can I focus on this year?
  • How/what did my competitors do last year?
  • What is the health of my brand? Will that need to be addressed?
  • Are there key business milestones that need to be promoted? Things like anniversaries, product launches, new strategic direction, etc…
  • What customer segments (audience) will best support my growth this year? Do I need to define them?
  • Did the channels and marketing mix I focused on last year give me the results I needed?
  • Will I need help promoting my business this year?

Have handy your market research, customer research and any feedback you’re collected over the year to inform the next steps. Let’s dive in.

Set your annual marketing goals

It’s important to look at marketing as an investment that will help you accomplish business-wide goals. Take a look at your your business goals for the year and think about ways in which marketing can help you reach them. Realistically, there few areas to truly consider, so don’t get overwhelmed.

In the B2B world, top marketing professionals are looking at these 3 areas:

  1. Converting contacts/leads to customers
  2. Grow traffic to website
  3. Increasing revenue derived from existing customers

The worst kept secret in marketing? These three annual priorities rarely change – your challenge is to figure out the benchmark (your start point) and the realistic amount of percentage growth you’d like to see in each of those areas. This is where your research (see above) comes in.

Although seemingly generic, these goals are useful in guiding your decisions throughout the year in the types of marketing activities you invest in. If they don’t directly impact one of these three goals (for example), they’re not worth exploring just yet. This is not to say that you can’t keep it in your back pocket for another year.

Allocate an annual marketing budget

Based on the goals you’ve set and the growth you’d like to see, figure out what revenues you’ll expect if you meet all of your goals. Got a number?

Great. The easy way to go about this to allocate a percentage of that number to your marketing activities. Depending on how focused the organization is on marketing efforts, the percentages can range from 2% to 20%. Some well-known brands may go higher to maintain or improve their reputation.

Part of this budget will be spent on campaigns and any additional marketing resources you may need – digital community manager, graphic design, signage production & printing, etc… Make sure your number is realistic for the goals ahead of you to make sure you’re set up for success.

Budgets can spike if you foresee a large investment in your marketing that year. For example, if you want to implement a CRM or CMS system to manage your sales funnel and content management. These systems are costly but necessary tools for those looking at accelerated growth. Those in the B2B world may consider investing in HubSpot, while B2C companies may look to more robust systems like Salesforce.

A common pitfall with setting a budget is forgetting about the contingency money. This is a “rainy day” pot that can cover opportunities that come up over the course of the year. It’s great to plan, but the markets change quickly and you want to be prepared and nimble enough jump on a profitable bandwagon. How much do you put away? About 5 to 10% of your marketing budget.

Your annual calendar: recurring events

I like to keep an annual calendar on hand that highlights recurring, annual events that are important to my market. This is the first layer of your annual calendar. Why is this important? Nothing amplifies a message and/or a campaign better than joining an existing conversation. You benefit automatically from an audience that’s already interested in what you have to say. So let’s take a quick look at what you need to pre-populate this calendar with.

  1. All the major national holidays. If you’re doing business globally, plot the international holidays as well. Keep in mind local religions!
  2. Relevant celebratory time periods. For example, if you’re into the food industry, there are specific days, weeks and months throughout the year dedicated to nutrition and different types of food. If you’re into academia, you can include the Back to School time periods. You get the idea.
  3. Recurring trade shows and events. If you participate, these are essential to plot. Each trade show should have a pre, during and post marketing plan that highlights your activities around each trade show and gives you an opportunity to define metrics to measure your success. Yup, it’s not just about showing up, looking pretty and making sales. But for our annual marketing planning purposes, you just want to plot the month in which they take place.

Your annual calendar: business activities

Now, take a look at your business. This is the second layer of your calendar. Think about what you’re doing, internally, to tell your story. Here are some things I like to plot:

  1. Business-level milestones. Are you celebrating an anniversary? A new partner? Launching new products? Plot the expected timelines of the milestones you know about here. Remember to partner with other business support functions like IT and HR and see if they need support with their projects. Typically, internal (employee) communications projects spring up last-minute so, with a little bit of collaboration and team work, you can get ahead of it.
  2. Sales cycle. Identify the times when you need to provide extra support for sales – seasonal promotions, customer retention campaigns, etc…
  3. Recurring marketing efforts. For example, if you have weekly or monthly newsletters, plot those now. Keep in mind the audience that it’s going out to. The purpose of this is to see how it all overlays so if you choose to mark a specific holiday, you can stagger your email marketing campaigns so you don’t overwhelm recipients. This applies to blog posts, social posts, etc… It’s important to remember that this is a bird’s eye view – not a content calendar. You don’t need to write what you’re saying in each message, just that you’re saying something around this time on a specific topic. That’s it. Your goal is not to overwhelm and over-saturate – strategy, not tactics!
  4. Annual campaigns. Now, this will be therapeutic. Brainstorm campaigns idea that seem like a good idea to you, along with the time at which you want to run them. Make sure you capture everything. As we prioritize (next step), some of these campaigns will get shelved. As you realize that you’re overwhelming an already busy couple months, more campaigns will get shelved. This is a great process to target the campaigns that are best aligned with your goals, and with an eye to your desired outcomes.

Prioritize channels & audiences

The feeling that it all needs to get done at the same and to every degree of success you can muster is common. That’s where burn-out lives. A key part of marketing planning is to make sure that you prioritize as much as you can ahead of time to avoid projects that won’t yield the return you’re looking for. A good marketing mix will you keep you, and your business, healthy throughout the year.

Two key areas of marketing are the audiences we engage and the channels we engage them through. How do you prioritize? Refer to your annual business and marketing goals to guide you and collaborate with your leaders to align marketing efforts with their annual focus.

For example, if your sales leaders decide to focus on developing and nurturing one customer segment over the rest, make sure that’s the audience most of your marketing campaigns target. In other words, take stock of all of the channels you use, and only plan for the ones targeting that one customer segment. Look at only the channels which this audience frequents. A great way to manage your resource load and work load, is to zero on in on the channels that give you the best conversions.

Although social media is free, you must cherry pick which channels are best for your business. You can take a look at some basic metrics to assess which channels worked well with your content and which didn’t. Another way to know which channels to use is to simply go where your audience is.

There is also no rule to say that you have to use them all at the same time. Some years, you may choose to focus on Instagram, while other years will be targeted more to reputation building and Twitter might be your best bet. This is not to say you can ignore social channels – they must be maintained. You can choose the frequency and type of content you share on them annually, though.

Review & Line-up your resources

Because you now have a complete annual marketing plan comprising of your market analysis, goals, budget and action plan, you’re ready do a final sweep to make sure everything is aligned.

Take a look at your calendar: when are your busy periods? Do you have enough resources to complete the work you’re setting out to do? Do you have a budget line for extra help should you need it? Can you institute a vacation black-out period for certain times throughout the year?

You want to have those key questions answered sooner rather than later. When they’re addressed last minute, there’s a reputational risk that may turn off employees and customers.


✗ all the Level 1 risks
✗ all ideas are costly good ideas that have a high risk of not yielding results (what are you measuring against, anyways?)
✗ you feel overwhelmed by the number of ideas you have
✗ many projects catch you by surprise
✗ find yourself understaffed for the work that needs to be delivered
✗ you don’t know how much you’re willing to spend on a campaign
✗ you don’t have a realistic idea of required campaign outcomes

Address the requirements and… level up. Don’t know where to start? We’re here to help.

Level 2 – Annual Marketing Planning
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