One of the best quotes about planning ahead comes from that iconic Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” This is particularly apt in the world digital marketing, where a lack of specific strategies to achieving clear goals will sink any business, big or small. For that reason, we’ve listed five features every marketer needs to look for when selecting an effective marketing-planning software solution.
Now that we’ve established the importance of pre-planning, the first feature that’s going to be necessary to execute a plan is an effective calendar. Many cloud software solutions will include calendars with their own features, but some important ones to search for include as follows:
- Campaign, content, email and event scheduler
- Ability to track projects by channels, segments, etc.
- Short-term and long-term views of campaigns
- Online calendar-sharing between sales/marketing in either Google Calendar or Outlook to ensure adoption
Some calendars come with other handy features, like color-coded listings, drag-and-drop functionality for easy campaign management, and more. Ultimately, though, an effective calendar is going to serve one single purpose: to align your marketing plan with your marketing strategy and your marketing goals.
One other thing: behind every successful marketing plan is a revenue model that will allow for effective forecasting. Among other things, this is going to reveal adaptive insights to identify data trends faster, drive more effective decision-making, and look at various “what if” scenarios and determine which stand the best chances of boosting conversion rates.
Budget and expense management
To properly track your marketing investments means being able to see where every dollar is going. A good planner will have a budget-management feature that allows you to do this. It will offer total visibility into every line item in your budget, and it will track these investments according to a wide variety of factors, including product line, business unit and geography.
A tool like this will offer a real-time, up-to-date overview of how your organization is spending. Beyond the points mentioned above, this will give you a clearer picture of how well you’re meeting your objectives and targets. Just as importantly, being able to identify areas of under- or over-spending in your marketing initiatives will allow you to reallocate funds accordingly.
The most important thing to realize is that spreadsheets are not the answer to crafting an effective marketing budget. The framework of a spreadsheet is such that it doesn’t have the functionality to bridge the gap between finance budgets and the campaign framework of marketing plans. A budgeting feature with the capacity to map marketing plans and finance budgets is the one true solution. Marketers who do utilize an expense manager of this sort often see time-savings of up to 40% and a reduction in the time it takes to implement budget processes from days to mere hours.
Tracking attribution at inflection points
Businesses that employed data-driven marketing techniques saw five to eight times the ROI on marketing spend. But this goes beyond the mere tracking of common KPIs on the customer journey. It involves looking at data beyond the immediate touchpoint analytics and studying the customer journey 10, 20 or even 30 transactions into the future.
This type of protracted monitoring is an invaluable exercise that will allow marketers to better identify the critical inflection points on the buyer journey and recognize additional analytics accordingly.
This all goes back to the goal of customer journey analysis: to identify pain points in channel interactions in each stage of the sales funnel. Most crucially, it means increasing the conversion rates at each of these stages or, at the very least, increasing velocity and momentum to more effortlessly move the customer down the funnel.
A solid attribution feature is key to this. It will help you to determine how each of your marketing actions, channels and touchpoints are contributing to your overall success and effectiveness. A feature like this will take into account a number of things:
- Content. Identifying where your content initiatives succeed and fail is crucial. Perhaps your blog posts aren’t reaching your target audience, yet you’re having success with webinars, white papers and eBooks. A solid attribution feature will tell you which delivery methods are most effective for various forms of content, and you can adjust your strategy accordingly.
- Social media attribution. This will provide an overview of the ultimate value of your content marketing, as well as the reach and effectiveness of your social media posts. It’s also wise to invest in a solid CMS tool to better manage and control the content within your site, as well as your social media strategies.
- Competitive intelligence, which allows you to track your performance compared with your competitors. This also involves news reporting, which measures the performance of your press coverage and also compares it with your competitors.
- Visitor and conversion tracking to analyze the behavior of website visitors, as well as to track the behavior of customers' interactions with your advertisements.
The best features of this sort are also going to make good use of AI/machine learning in order to more effectively analyze huge data sets and touchpoint analytics.
If you’re able to organize your projects efficiently, properly manage your budget, measure analytics, and accurately attribute success and failure, then the only thing left is maximizing your productivity.
A good marketing planning solution will have a productivity feature that improves workflow. It will allow you to organize the seemingly never-ending stream of emails, notifications, daily tasks and spreadsheets into a visual collaboration tool that, through offering shared perspectives, boosts productivity rather than hinders it. Just as crucially, it must integrate and synchronize with your MarTech stack Why? To eliminate redundancy. A properly integrated solution will eliminate not just duplicate efforts but their attendant data entry errors.
Above all else, an ideal marketing-planning solution is going to allow for that most vital of considerations: adaptability. Even with a comprehensive forecasting and revenue modeling strategy, unforeseen circumstances will present themselves, and you’ll need to roll with the punches. A good planning solution will adjust predictions according to new realities, stack-rank campaign programs, adjust tactics on the fly and be able to divert resources from one program to another while still meeting overall goals.