A much more agile approach is needed to marketing planning in a Covid world, plus it’s essential to have all digital basics in place

January 2021

I’m rather ashamed to admit that this is the first blog I’ve written in some 15 months. My somewhat inadequate excuses would include being massively busy (less so right now), plus ever-moving goal posts in our Covid world at times making me think that my advice might almost immediately become out of date. However and on that latter point and with 11 months of virus disruption to learn from, it’s now very clear to me how basic marketing planning must be carried out on a much more fluid basis. In addition, the requirement to have bases covered on all-things digital to ensure a marketing plan can be properly implemented is now essential – which I’ll cover later in this blog.

What hasn’t changed are the basic tenets of marketing planning, which although I’m not going to cover these in detail here, the headlines are:

  1. You always start with business objectives – so exactly what is it you need to achieve (which right now might simply be survival).
  2. How is marketing going to help achieve these objectives – these points then also becoming your measures of success (e.g. a business objective might be to increase revenues, with a resulting marketing objective being to increase market share).
  3. Next up would be market intelligence and customer insight – so pull together everything you know about your market and customers so it feeds into your strategy. And if you don’t know much then find out – more on that in my January 16 and March 19 blogs.
  4. Your strategy follows with ‘STP’ – segmentation, targeting and positioning – being central to it.  (See my August and September 2018 blogs for everything you need to know.)
  5. Now we move to tools and tactics to deliver the strategy (or could be strategies). And never ever start with a predefined list of tools and tactics first – that’s what the digital only specialists tell you to do (which I had a right rant about in my June 18 blog).
  6. Budget follows, with the figure not just being an arbitrary one which the head of finance comes up with, but rather a sum which represents a planned ROI.
  7. Then it’s you timeframe for the implementation of the activity, plus when you’re going to measure success.
  8. Finally, decide who does what – with contracting out nearly always the better option for specialist activity such as PPC (pay per click).

So what’s different in our Covid world? Well fair to say that in the decades before that world (which, it must be said, seems an awful long time ago) a marketing plan could be put in place at the start of the year and pretty-much kept to for the rest of it. But now such an approach could represent business suicide, because market conditions can change so quickly and dramatically – in particular when tight restrictions are put in place and specifically a lockdown. This of course means that the start point of a plan – the business objectives – will invariably change as a response to such a change in market conditions, and that being the case the seven following steps are likely to be different as well.

A further fundamental point to consider is that the pandemic has already changed consumer behaviour for good, and it’s already well understood that, as far as retail is concerned, the progressive switch to online has very much been accelerated. Of course some folk will return to their old shopping habits on the high street when the nightmare is over, but the fact is that many won’t – the change has happened and it’s here to stay. This is a point I’ve been making to a few retailers local to me (as much because I fear for their survival as wanting any more clients), one of which doesn’t even have a website and despite the product categories they sell (essentially hardware and outdoor clothing) being ideal.

This therefore means that, more than ever, it’s essential to have all the digital basics in place – i.e. a first class website which is optimised for search, Google my Business page (assuming your offer is B2C and you have a physical premises), review process (e.g. Trust Pilot) and active social media.

The main two outtakes here need to be:

  1. The principles of marketing planning still remain, with the change being that rather than it being an annual job, it now needs to take place every time there’s a significant change in market conditions (good or bad).
  2. The pandemic has changed consumer behaviour for good, with this meaning that a comprehensive and well executed online presence is essential as a foundation for delivering your marketing plan.

On the latter, this doesn’t just apply to businesses that can or already have an ecommerce offer, but for virtually any business – B2C or B2B. For example, I’m currently working with a client who has a relatively large engineering and fabrication business in the north of Scotland, with their specialist sector being energy and specifically nuclear. Pre-pandemic their clients would make the trip to visit to them and look at what they had to offer etc. but now they can’t – and probably will be less likely to in a post-Corvid world. This therefore means that their website and the content on it – e.g. a video which shows their facilities and capabilities – takes on an importance never previously considered.  

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