Your 2021 Marketing Plan—Gleaning Meaning from Last Year’s Data

At the end of the year, it's all too normal to focus on the performance of your holiday campaigns. You're probably preoccupied by thoughts of year-end goals too, the upcoming tax season and other more personal endeavors. Yet you should assume that your competitors are already coming up with their own marketing plans for the new year. It’s never too early to get started yourself.


How, then, to Strategize for 2021?


The answer lies in looking backward first. Your past performance is a good indicator of what you might do this year if you change nothing about your marketing approach. What's more, it's best to go over last year's KPIs while they're still fresh in your mind.


Crafting a plan now puts you ahead in two ways:


• You avoid potentially crippling procrastination


• You analyze last year's goals with an eye toward how well you did


Research has shown that the best way to avoid procrastination is to dive right in. If you jump in with gusto, your brain doesn't have time to trip you up.


5 Simple Steps to Crafting a Winning Marketing Plan in 2021


According to a CoSchedule survey, marketers who go into a new year with a written plan are over 300 percent more likely to meet their goals. What's more, when marketers proactively plan their campaigns, they're 356 percent more likely to report success. Adding chunked goal setting to the mix boosts that to a staggering 376 percent.


So make full use of the steps in this section to craft a devastatingly effective marketing plan for 2021.


#1 Review your KPIs


What was your initial 2020 marketing plan? If you have any notebook materials or journal entries from back then, all the better. Go ahead and drag them out. What were your goals for 2020? How many of those goals did you meet, and did your plan require any refinement once the year got under way? How effective were you in the first two quarters compared to the final two?


Keep in mind, of course, that COVID threw a wrench into everyone's plans. Take this into account when evaluating last year’s performance.


Next, move on to your key performance indicators, or KPIs. Here are a few key KPIs you should always review at the end of the year:


• Sales growth rate. Knowing your overall sales growth from year-to-year is essential. Simply subtract your 2020 sales from your 2019 sales. Then divide this by your 2019 sales. The result is your 2020 sales growth rate.


• Growth by product. Don't neglect this one. It's important to know how each product or service in your inventory or catalog is performing. Most modern inventory, sales management or campaign management software packages will determine this for you automatically. If you don't know this KPI, you can't determine which areas need special attention. For instance, restaurant owners must always know how each dish is performing. Especially if a given dish uses an expensive ingredient. If that dish is under-performing, it can become a drain on an already thin profit margin.


• Customer segment performance. Does your customer persona accurately represent your ideal customer? Do your customers have needs that you're ignoring?


• Marketing expenditures. Did your marketing costs increase or decrease? If your average cost per click across all platforms increased this year, this may be a signal that you'll need a larger marketing budget. Or, you may decide to invest that money in other marketing channels. Whatever you do, don't get caught flat footed. Don't ignore elevated costs.


• Best performing marketing channels. Rank all of your marketing channels from most profitable to least. Then rank them by most traffic. Do you see any clear lame ducks? Could you drop these under-performers and funnel that money into proven channels instead?


This list is, of course, not exhaustive. See this resource for a more complete list of KPIs.


Reviewing your KPIs, ask yourself: were your goals for 2020 realistic? Did you overestimate your abilities? Did you overestimate the efficacy of your marketing channels? Or did you underestimate your competition? It can be tough to take a cold, objective look at your own performance. But doing so can help you find marketing insights that can take you to the next level in the new year.


#2 Review Your Standard Marketing Modus Operandi


Your marketing plan should always support your overall business goals. Not every business needs a robust social media presence. Often, though, it can help. Sometimes, it’s essential. But what’s your situation? Do you really need a YouTube channel or an Instagram account? Even if you don’t pay people to create messages or videos for you, there’s an opportunity cost to doing so yourself. It’s always possible that your time could be better spent elsewhere. So the next step is to evaluate all your marketing activities and ask yourself, “Does this really serve my business?”


In other words, are your marketing efforts in alignment with your stated business goals?


Whenever you spend time or money on a marketing activity, it should yield results that you can track. You should get a concrete result, whether that result is positive or negative. If you’re planning a marketing task that doesn’t yield measurable results, you may need to drop it.


Of course you can, in theory, track engagement on a Facebook or Instagram post. But can you really—objectively—determine whether that engagement is converting into sales at some point? It’s all well and good to get new leads into the top of your funnel, but how many of those leads eventually convert? If you can’t tell, you may have a leaky marketing mechanism. You’re bleeding either time or money.


#3 Revisit Your Target Audience


As you enter the new year, consult your sales and demographic data. You need to know:


• Who engages with your content most?


• Who opens your newsletters?


• Who is finding your blog posts through organic search?


• Of those people finding your blog posts organically, who reads the entire post?


These people are your ideal customers. Or, at the very least, they make up your target audience. If they haven’t converted already, they just might. Cater to these folks. They’re your bread and butter. What do they like? What do they want to read? If you’re not sure, ask them. Surveys are a great way to engage with your target audience and find out what they want from you.

Just keep in mind that you may need to offer an incentive to receive maximum engagement. An Amazon gift card to one lucky winner is usually sufficient.


Bottom line: consumer tastes and preferences change year to year. Your marketing and content output must change somewhat with these tastes. If you don’t adapt, you risk losing your audience, and all of your content marketing efforts may fall on deaf ears.


Who is your 2021 target audience? If you’re unsure, use a service like BuzzSumo or Answer The Public to determine what type of content your audience is reading and sharing. You can—and should—also use these services to find the best performing content in your space. Review these articles, case studies, videos and infographics and do some brainstorming. How can you improve upon what’s already out there?


When you identify the people who are engaging with your brand and content the most, you can better tailor your 2021 marketing plan to them. It’s a simple concept, but it’s powerful—and it’s often overlooked. Don’t assume that what people found interesting in 2020 will be relevant this year.


#4 Identify New Channels to Test


As mentioned, consumer tastes shift and change. In the same way, new channels come and go. Don’t be afraid to experiment. But always keep some powder dry to be used on your tried-and-true channels when the going gets tough.


Think back to your review of last year’s marketing.


What areas did you miss out on? Did you miss the TikTok boat? Is TikTok a platform used by your target audience? If so, then you may want to create some content for the platform. But don’t just use TikTok because it’s trendy. Don’t just use YouTube because it’s one of the largest search engines in the world, either. Let’s say Bob sells a widget, and let’s say that Bob sells his widget to wholesalers. A YouTube channel or TikTok profile are probably not a good use of Bob’s time and money.


Everything is contextual, and remember: everything has an opportunity cost.


Once you’ve identified a few channels you might want to experiment with, do some spying on your competition. Look at their digital presence and ask yourself:


• What promotions are they running and where?


• What third-party software programs and services are they using to facilitate these promotions, specials and sales?


• What social media platforms do they use, and which platform seems to be performing best for them—looking for signs of engagement such as thumbs up, retweets and likes?


• What type of content do they have on their website, and where do they promote that content?


Always remember to prioritize signs of engagement. Don’t get distracted by finding your competitor’s posts on flashy new social media platforms. New, untested platforms often look great. But if they lack a user base, your competitor may be wasting their time. In that case, you may wasting your time too if you jump on a band wagon.


#5 Be Authentic


This is perhaps the most important aspect of setting up a marketing campaign for 2021. Today’s consumers crave authenticity. They’re tired of faceless corporations raking in cash and giving little back in return. This one is pretty simple: your content and messaging should accurately reflect your company’s values. If it doesn’t, millennials will tune out.


We hope this post has given you a few ideas for creating your 2021 marketing plan. If it has, could you do us a favor and give this post a share? It helps us out a bunch. Thanks, and have a great 2021!