Just because we're approaching February doesn't mean it's too late to plan your marketing for the year. Jay Levinson, my Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days co-author says there are two best times to develop a marketing plan: right now and whenever your business started. Since we can't go back in time, let's focus on right now.
Marketing is complicated. To make effective use of its many strategies and components, you have to first plan them out, then stay organized and consistent in implementing your plan. A marketing calendar is the best way to organize your marketing activity; the calendar also serves as a working document you can revise and update throughout the plan year.
A marketing calendar doesn't have to be fancy. I recommend a simple spreadsheet matrix. Across the top x-axis, I place column headings representing the months of the year. Down the y-axis, or the first left-hand column, I list each individual marketing initiative, event or activity I'll use during the plan year.
For instance, if I'm going to do a press release every other month starting in February, I would put an X in the February, April, June, August, October and December columns. If I were going to issue a print newsletter once a month, each monthly column would have an X in it for that item.
How do you know which activities to include in your calendar? Brainstorm all the marketing ideas that make sense for your plan year but keep in mind that you can't do everything. Balance your marketing workload with the other things you need to do for your business. Plan for what you can do completely, not halfway. Also plan what you feel comfortable with, emotionally and financially. Prioritize accordingly, then place your ideas in your matrix.
Using a marketing calendar allows you to do four things with your marketing:
- It organizes, categorizes and prioritizes your marketing initiatives and activities.
- It allows you to spot "bunches" in your marketing activity. Too many X's close together might indicate the need to spread out your activity. It's generally accepted, though, that there are natural bunches that occur as a result of seasonality in your business and your customers' buying habits. Many retail operations market heavily in the third quarter, for instance, and bunch up marketing activity in anticipation for the fourth-quarter holiday season.
- It offers a way for you to spot gaps in your marketing activity. Too much time in between the X's in your activities leaves customers and prospects untouched. Your goal with marketing is to achieve top-of-mind awareness. Consistency is key here, as is repetition. Don't have gaps in your marketing.
- It allows you to more easily evaluate your marketing. At the end of the year, the quarter or any other period of time you specify, grade the individual activity and initiative items. You can use a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 being spectacular, or you can use a simple A, B or C grading system. If your particular initiative worked, grade it high. If it was moderately successful, give it a midlevel grade, and if it didn't work, give it a low rating. Now here's the real value of this activity: When you plan the next period's marketing, repeat what worked or what you graded highly. Fix, modify or tweak the marketing that kind of worked or that was graded at a midlevel, and eliminate the marketing that didn't work at all.
That's all there really is to planning your marketing with a marketing calendar. Do what works for your business. Plan it quarterly if that's easier for you than doing it monthly. Once you establish your marketing plan, keep it up on a regular basis, just like paying your bills. Consistent marketing wins out. Planned consistent marketing with effective implementation wins out even more. And if you didn't start back when you launched your business, start now.
Al Lautenslager is the "Guerrilla Marketing" coach at Entrepreneur.com and is an award-winning marketing and PR consultant and direct-mail promotion specialist. He's also the principle of Market For Profits, a Chicago-based marketing consulting firm. His two latest books, Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days and The Ultimate Guide to Direct Marketing are available at www.entrepreneurpress.com.