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Turn Your Data Into 'Lessons Learned' to Guide Your Marketing Plan "Lessons Learned" is a simplified approach to analyzing past year performance, program by program, to assess what's worked and what has not worked.

By Jim Joseph

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Small-business owners don't typically have a lot of time for "planning," so my attempt here is to make it simple, easy, and doable -- while you're running the day-to-day aspects of your organization.

There is one part of the marketing plan that few marketers ever do, but it is of the most important pieces to gathering your thoughts for the year ahead. If you do it right, it'll save you immense amounts of time and energy, and it will provide a level of focus for your plan that perhaps you've never had before.

Lessons Learned

No it's not the latest in marketing jargon and it's not a business model from the "90s either.

Related: Why Smart Online Marketing Is About Help, Not Hype

"Lessons Learned" is a simplified approach to analyzing past year performance, program by program, to assess what's worked and what has not worked. In essence, there is data analytics at its core but with an important spin that will help any entrepreneur make better decisions for their marketing plan.

"Lessons Learned" draws conclusions!

It's relatively easy to gather data, and although it can be time consuming, it's also relatively easy to analyze the data and to pump it into a dashboard.

Dashboards are all the rage, but they too only go so far. Data analysts have gotten very good at organizing and presenting data -- a la a dashboard -- but someone has to draw conclusions from the data.

That's where the annual marketing plan kicks in, and makes all the difference in the world.

Good marketing planners draw conclusions from their data, and they compile a list of Lessons Learned that should influence future plans.

Here's an example: Imagine that you have a small chain of restaurants with three locations around your city. Last year you ran a special menu promotion that offered a free appetizer to share with the purchase of any two entrees. The coupon ran in the local papers, you featured it as a download on your website, and you included it on all of your social media accounts.

Now you're trying to figure out if you should repeat it in this year's marketing plan.

Related: How to Tame the Big Data Beast

Your data consultant served up a beautiful dashboard that highlights coupon redemption by channel and by restaurant location, including what appetizers were the most frequently ordered. You feel good because it's really the first time you've ever been so organized about your data. The dashboard fits nicely onto one page, so you plan to include it in your marketing plan.

But what did you learn from the data? What conclusions can you draw that will affect this year's program? What are your Lessons Learned?

When you dig into the data with the single-minded focus to determine Lessons Learned, a new picture is likely to emerge that is far more actionable for your plan. Don't just look at the numbers, look for patterns that will make this year's plan more effective.

For example, coupon redemption was the lowest from the link on the website. Was the coupon mobile enabled? Perhaps you could improve participation if your customers could simple scan the coupon from their mobile device instead of having to download, print and carry it with them to the restaurant. In fact, maybe all of that extra work annoyed them and they avoided your restaurant as a result. Maybe that's why you got a much lower sales lift from the restaurant located in a much younger neighborhood.

Perhaps your lesson learned is that if you want to appeal to a younger target market, particularly in the neighborhoods where they dominate, then any promotion has to be mobile enabled.

That's a Lesson Learned!

That's taking a data point, such as coupon redemption, and turning it into a conclusion that can guide your new marketing plan. That's taking a program and making it better the next time because of something you learned.

That's doing a marketing plan correctly, with Lessons Learned guiding your thinking.

Lessons Learned are even more important for an entrepreneur because you have limited time and resources. You don't have the luxury of pouring through reams of data. You have to analyze, conclude and move fast. Lessons Learned will help you to do just that.

Related: How to Use Music as a Marketing Tool

Jim Joseph

Marketing Master - Author - Blogger - Dad

Jim Joseph is a commentator on the marketing industry. He is Global President of the marketing communications agency BCW, author of The Experience Effect series and an adjunct instructor at New York University.

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