It’s that time of year again. Christmas decorations are already up at selected retailers and thoughts are turning toward 2019.

So, what are the plans for next year? Besides dieting, exercising and keeping in touch with the family more often, marketers also need to start thinking about how they will allocate their budget in 2019.

This process is often anxiety-inducing as marketers will need to come up with a plan which fends off the predictable annual budget cuts for marketing and perhaps even get a nice increase.

To help marketers with the planning process, Econsultancy is running a Strategic Marketing Planning training course in Singapore on November 26th. For those in Asia-Pacific, you can find out more and book your spot here.

For the rest, here are four options for what you could do next year along with some of the benefits and pitfalls of each approach.

1) Do what you did last year

The most obvious approach is to stay the course and do what you did last year.

This makes sense. If marketing’s performance is satisfying the business and operations are running smoothly, why rock the boat?

Also, at the moment, the digital landscape in 2019 looks a lot like it did at this time last year. While there has been a lot of talk about new platforms (voice, smartwatches, AR), mass adoption of anything radically different has not yet happened.

So, it’s a good bet that the marketing which worked this year will continue working in 2019.

The benefits

  • Easy to plan
  • Saves time and effort
  • No-nonsense budget approval process (they approved it last year, right?)

The downsides

Well, first off, doing what you did last year makes you and your team’s jobs a bit dull. Doing the same thing every year is safe and easy, but it also stifles personal and career growth.

Also, you’re probably not maximizing your brand’s potential. Surely, there is some untapped market you could try to win over. Why not try to get the budget for a new growth initiative?

And finally, being safe can be a risky approach. Should the 2018 approach not work so well in 2019, you may end up looking like you took your ‘eye off the ball’.

Verdict:

Not the best option

2) Copy the competition

‘No one ever got fired for buying IBM’, the old saying goes – and for good reason. There is wisdom in the crowds and safety in numbers, after all.

This holds for marketing, too. If you’re not sure what to do in 2019, just do what other brands in your category are doing. No one will judge you for doing so and the approach is easy to justify to the business.

The benefits

  • Easy to plan
  • Straightforward to execute
  • The higher-ups will understand (“If it’s good enough for …, it’s good enough for us”).

The downside

The main problem with this approach is that your competition may not know what they are doing either. And while it’s comforting to think that they do, your marketing performance may be suffering because of someone else’s incompetence.

Additionally, this approach has the same problem as the first one. Should numbers head southward, any reasonably close look at your ‘strategy’ will reveal that it was based on someone else’s ideas, not yours.

And finally, going where your competition is may be expensive. You will be competing for the same audience on the same channels which raises the costs for both of you.

Verdict:

OK, but very in-the-box

Google images search for ‘water advertising’
Google images search for ‘water advertising’

3) Optimize it!

A third approach is to do what you did last year, like option 1, but do it better.

That is, keep the same marketing mix in 2019, but measure, test, learn and optimize across all platforms and campaigns. You and your team will become experts in data ‘munging’, develop intricate Excel spreadsheets and talk about probability distributions over lunch.

And, whatever the results, you will be 95% certain that your optimizations are better than what would have happened otherwise.

The benefits

  • Challenging and interesting
  • You and your team will learn a lot about data analytics
  • You will become an expert in how to bamboozle with statistics

The downside

Because there is so much low-hanging fruit in marketing, there is probably very little downside to focusing your efforts on optimization. You will undoubtedly find countless ways to boost clicks and conversions.

But one issue with having optimization as your only approach to marketing is that it is hard to use it to make a material, long-lasting difference for the business. Marketers tend to be too conservative with their experiments to genuinely change their brand’s digital customer journey. So, while optimizers often get a short-term boost, performance figures often revert to the previous ones.

Also, even when optimization works, it may not produce the ‘optimal’ results. Relying on statistical analysis can lead marketers to what is known as a ‘local maxima’. That is, you may improve an existing tactic to be its very best, but another, radically different approach can improve things even more, and reached a ‘global maxima’.

Verdict:

Good approach for a year or so, but optimization has its limits.

optimization journey to global maxima

4) Rip it up and start over

The final, and most challenging, approach is to ring out the old, and ring in the new.

It’s awfully tempting to think that the best way forward is to continue on as before, but sometimes real progress is only made by taking an entirely different approach. A man was not put on the moon by flying airplanes higher, after all.

So, instead of using 2018 as a template, take a step back and look at marketing from first principles. Ask yourself questions like: Who is your customer? How do they buy from you? How can you make that process easier? How can you find more people like them?

Such questions are not easy to answer and may involve doing difficult and expensive things like surveys, focus groups and qualitative analytics. But once the hard work is done and you have well-researched answers, you can take a blank sheet of paper and rewrite your marketing approach from scratch. Do you really need that Facebook page? Are Google Ads delivering profitable clients? Should you focus more on traditional media? And so on.

(This, by the way, is the approach we work on during our upcoming Strategic Marketing Planning course on November 26th in Singapore.)

The benefits

  • Interesting, new, and different
  • May produce game-changing results
  • Highly-motivating for the whole marketing team
  • Excellent for advancing in your career

The downside

The hardest part of this approach will be getting buy-in. Most organizations expect marketers to somehow know everything about a brand’s customers and their buying habits already, despite never having done first-hand research.

Yet with a plan and sharp elbows, it is possible to convince management to budget for some research and experiments. Then, it can be argued, that any new income should be reinvested in more research and experiments.

And, in time, who knows, you may no longer be anxious about budgeting time, but actually look forward to new opportunities each year!

Verdict:

Thumbs up

strategic marketing planning training ad