Do your research: How to start your annual marketing planSummer is by far my favorite time of year – both in my personal and professional life. A big reason that I enjoy summer at work is because it’s when we start looking ahead to what’s coming the next year and begin our annual strategic planning sessions with our clients.

I know, some of you may be wondering, why in the world is someone thinking about 2018 when it’s still mid-2017? You’re still knee-deep in implementing a 2017 marketing plan and probably don’t even have five minutes to plan for 2018. But, it’s important to take a break (or many breaks) from 2017 and look ahead.

When clients like ours start their annual strategic planning for the following year, it’s easy to jump straight to a brainstorm session about tactics. I don’t blame anyone who does this. That’s where the work gets done, and it’s exciting for agencies and clients to see the work come to fruition. But, let me ask a crucial question: What’s behind those tactics? What planning are you and/or your agency doing to make your tactics effective?

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Need for research
Research is at the core of effective strategic planning. Unfortunately, it’s one of the first steps to fall by the wayside as marketing departments evaluate budgets, especially if there are cuts. I think we fool ourselves into thinking we know everything there is to know about our target audiences. I don’t need to do research because I know my customers is a common misperception for companies and agencies.

There are many types of research, but let’s discuss primary and secondary research (flashbacks to PR research in college). For those of you who need a brief refresher:

Primary research is when you go out and collect new information to support your claim.
Secondary research is when you seek out research that already exists to support your claim.

Now, you may be surprised that you can do some secondary research without breaking your budget. If I may reference the four-step public relations process – outlined in a popular PR textbook, Cutlip and Center’s Effective Public Relations by Glen Broom, the first step or cornerstone to any successful planning process is defining the public relations problem. Without it, public relations practitioners, as well as marketing and advertising professionals, are simply relying on their own personal knowledge, attitudes, or opinions about a particular subject or audience. According to Broom, “Before the program begins, research is used to define the problem situation and formulate the program strategy.”

Research gives marketers the solid base they need as they set to build their annual strategic plan. Research should be done before, during, and after a plan is implemented, in order to determine if the plan is having a positive effect or if it needs to be tweaked.

Once a plan is completed, or if it’s a multi-year plan, research shows if the objective was met. The timeline in which this is done should be determine before the research begins. This is key when writing objectives –  think about your research and set objectives that are measurable.

As you start to think about 2018, challenge yourself to ask what research you’re going to conduct before setting goals and objectives for the following year. How will your research play a part in measuring the success of your plan?

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Keep an eye out for Part Two – coming in a few weeks – where I’ll give a crash course on the various types of research, advantages and disadvantages of research methods, and how to report survey results.

About Ryan Johnson

Ryan is a PR pro, with an earned accreditation in public relations. He’s a senior public relations supervisor who specializes in copywriting, media relations, and custom publishing. You can pick Ryan’s brain on custom content at