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Planning for a Prosperous 2012

Measure twice; cut once. With 2012 shaping up to be a banner year for uncertainty (a presidential election year and a global economy grinding to a halt are perfect storm ingredients, to be sure), sound strategies and thorough planning can help you create a plumb line that will keep you on mission regardless of what the market throws at you. Here are seven concepts to consider as you embark on integrated marketing communications planning for 2012:

Get serious about goal setting.

A great plan starts with SMART—Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Based—goals. Getting all of your stakeholders to agree on SMART goals is tough and potentially time-consuming, but well worth the effort. Objectives and strategies that meet your most pressing business needs are far more easily determined through SMART goals. In 2012, if you can’t tie a tactic, strategy or objective directly and meaningfully to a SMART revenue goal (or a SMART, major non-revenue goal), dump it.

Make the most of your engagement and nurturing tactics.

For considered purchases, customers are won during engagement and nurturing, not the point of sale. And most are won only after a lot of convincing. So, it’s vitally important to ensure that you can efficiently help people learn, shop and buy faster after the customer or prospect first reaches out. Whether that first contact happens online, offline or in person, you’ve got a system in place to quickly identify their specific interests, their readiness to buy, their motivations to buy and any barriers to buying.

Find a real insight.

We hear quite a bit of discussion over whether a particular research nugget is a research finding, an “insight” or an “Insight.” Whenever primary research is conducted or secondary research is reviewed, a ton of information is often unearthed. Rather than force everyone to wade through everything, a good research team dives in and mines the highlights. Are those insights? Not yet. Right now, they’re still research findings expertly culled from reams of information.

How do these research findings become insights or, maybe, Insights? An insight is that “aha” moment when you connect the dots of the research findings in an interesting way. When we’re talking “capital I” Insights, though, we mean the capacity to gain an accurate and deep, intuitive understanding about a person or a thing. An Insight is bigger than the “aha;” it is borne from a fluid combination of subject matter expertise, experience and the ability to expose a non-obvious intersection of numerous research findings. Whereas the “aha” insight is interesting, a deep Insight makes you weak in the knees—and gives the creative team that kernel of truth from which Big Ideas emerge.

For 2012, challenge your research and planning teams to uncover the Insight that can turn a functional plan into a rallying cry.

Update your personas and customer journeys.

Funny thing about people: They’re constantly changing, along with the passive and interactive media they consume and the way they consume them. Since your SMART goals (and, therefore, your planning efforts) are likely aimed at accelerating your personas’ paths through their customer journeys (i.e., getting your target audiences through the consideration process faster), you may want to freshen your research to identify how your personas and their journeys have changed this year and where they’re likely to head next year. Mapping your integrated marketing mix against these journeys can be a huge contributor to your plan’s success in 2012.

Achieve goals faster and adjust more nimbly with superior measurement and analytics.

If you can’t prove something, it didn’t happen—or, worse, you don’t get any credit for it. And if you don’t know why something happened, making it happen again is really tough. In your 2012 plan, determine tangible, collectable metrics for every tactic. Also, make sure you have a solid process for ensuring that each tactic is appropriately tagged and links back to your tracking system reliably.

You can also create a basic predictive model by mapping your marketing vehicles against your customer journeys. You can estimate how customers will move from vehicle to vehicle (based on industry benchmark data and/or your own historical data)—which also helps you identify likely leakage points throughout your integrated platform. This comes in handy in two ways. First, it helps you better determine optimal spending levels for each tactic based on the predicted movements. Second, it serves as a reference point for determining tactical effectiveness once actual data starts pouring in. If you adjust your predictive model based on actual results, you’ll have a much clearer idea of which tactics are working and which need to be tweaked and/or removed.

Get shoulder-to-shoulder with sales.

Sure, part of marketing’s role is to build great brands. But if you’re not helping directly move product in 2012, you may find yourself without a budget. Working closely with sales to align goals, objectives and performance metrics ensures that all oars are rowing in the same direction and makes it far easier to connect marketing initiatives to sales efforts.

To truly measure effectiveness, all elements of the marketing and sales funnels must be appropriately aligned. We’ve modified these traditional funnels into a consolidated funnel from the prospect’s perspective. This helps us connect marketing leads delivered to sales teams in a more fundamental way and measure the entire system. Closing the loop between marketing metrics and sales data helps both teams connect the dots and more quickly optimize platform elements to decrease prospect leakage and increase close rates. We’ll talk more about the funnel and how to apply it to your business in a future EMAbstract. The pertinent point here is that, in 2012, you must build a plan focused on helping more customers and prospects buy faster.

Optimize your existing customer relationships.

The beauty of the funnel-centric integrated marketing approach is that the same platform can serve both first-time prospects and existing customers. If you think of customer relationship management (CRM) as the process of re-engaging and re-nurturing customers to accelerate re-selling, cross-selling and up-selling, it’s easy to see how a single unified platform can work for all customers. The trick is making sure you’re leveraging your customer data to appropriately match the right products to the right people at the right times. So, when you’re creating your plan for 2012, be sure to include time and dollars for customer analytics. The results of your efforts will profitably inform all of your strategic and tactical initiatives.

2012 will be a bellwether year for many organizations. The money you invest in developing an integrated plan based on SMART goals, and helping more people buy faster, will pay huge dividends and help you accomplish great things with tighter budgets and increasingly nervous stakeholders.