In their annual survey of life science organisations, our friends at SCORR found that 78% of respondent companies develop an annual marketing plan but only 35% develop annual communications plans. At first, we found this quite surprising, but on reflection, it isn’t. Most b2b organisations that engage with us are actually looking for help in one way or another to put together a comms plan, whether it’s for their entire business or division, a specific campaign, new product, or a foray into a new market.
It seems there are a number of common barriers for b2b marketers to developing their own communications plans. The most cited challenges are of course time and resource, but others can be things like a lack of internal support, or company cultural barriers. In our experience, companies do find that outsourcing this important activity brings them real benefit. Not only do we plan how to develop the plan (that’s really how organised we are!), we drive it, make sure it materialises (and is actionable) and provide a useful external viewpoint from which to validate, challenge and enhance it.
The process really works best though when we work collaboratively with clients. While we can (and do) go off and develop a plan in relative isolation, if necessary, we create better and more impactful plans when the client is engaged in the process. So based on 25 years of partnering with b2b clients to develop and implement effective comms plans, we’ve put together some key tips that cover the main activities and milestones involved.
Step 1: audit + evaluate what you already have
Most organisations are unaware of how much marketing insight there already is within their walls / clouds / heads, but it’s of course, the most obvious place to begin. We always ask clients to share as many documents with us as possible, including things like market reports, voice of customer research, business and sales strategies and plans, customer presentations, recent marketing materials, buyer personas and messaging documents. This is all a great starting point from which to draw trends and indicate any opportunities or gaps, ready for step 2…
Step 2: talk to your colleagues
Involving key people from various departments (particularly sales) in the planning process is a sure-fire way to gain valuable insights and start to generate all-important buy-in for your comms plans. We like to interview key people, or set up workshop sessions, which can generate really interesting discussion and insight. As an ‘external’ party, we find that people open up and we often uncover real gems of information. For even more insight, if you (or we) can speak to some key customers, then even better!
Step 3: develop a sensible strategy
Once you have collected all of the insight from steps 1 and 2, it’s useful to put together an overview that draws out key themes, opportunities, challenges and points of interest. We’d always recommend at least 2 people working on this phase, just in case anything important gets inadvertently missed. From the summary, you can then get your strategic juices flowing and work on a roadmap for how you will achieve your marketing comms goals. You might have those already in mind before starting step 1, or they might have either come out of, or been shaped by, the insight generation phase. Either way, they are central to developing a valid strategy and should of course be SMART.
Step 4: create an actionable plan
Your marketing strategy should set the direction and overall approach you are going to take. Next, you need to put some meat on the bone and map out what you are going to do, how, why and when. We tend to start with mind maps and move on to spreadsheets and calendars. You could try grouping the activity by audience, theme / topic, product / service area or marketing channel. We usually create integrated calendars that show all of the planned activities for each campaign or focus area. This tends to work better than having separate plans for each marketing channel in our experience as it avoids siloes emerging or being reinforced.
Step 5: allocate budgets and resources
Once you have the overall plan, you can decide what resources you need to deliver it and who will be responsible for which parts. If you don’t have a set budget, a useful guide is to allocate 10% of your planned growth (revenue) to marketing. How you carve up that budget will depend on your strategy, priorities and internal resources.
Step 6. define how success will be measured
There is no denying that measuring marketing success can be incredibly tough, but it is entirely achievable if you have a focused plan with measurement at the forefront of everything in that plan. We use the AMEC framework, which is a useful tool to help you to plan and undertake effective measurement of your marketing activities. When properly implemented, it gives you a great one page summary of marketing ROI to share with key stakeholders.
Hopefully, we have illustrated that developing a marketing comms plan doesn’t have to be a chore. We advise breaking it down into manageable steps and allocating the work out among a team / to an agency partner. Having any plan at all is better than nothing, so the steps outlined above can be reduced or streamlined further if time is of the essence. Once you have a plan in place, its success or failure usually depends on your ability to measure effectiveness in real time and flex / adapt to focus on the most impactful activities.
For more in-depth guidance on the 6 steps above, download our ebook. To discuss your marketing communications needs, contacts us.