In the first section, you’ll get a high-level overview of each section that should be in your inbound marketing plan.
After that, we’ve provided a series of questions and checklists for you to work through. Each one is designed to tease out the critical and relevant information you and your client need to put together a meaningful plan. Finally, we’ve outlined some suggestions of campaigns, based on common marketing goals, that ramp up over the year.
Keep in mind, these question lists and campaign outline suggestions are just that -- suggestions. Revise and refine the questions during the plan’s investigation stage that make sense for each specific client based on their unique needs and goals. Use the sample campaign outlines to spark your own ideas for campaigns, content, and messages.
Planning really isn’t scary. And it makes moving forward much more fun than taking an ad-hoc approach, when campaigns never seem to connect or build off past efforts, leaving you to wonder whether you are really achieving your marketing goals and question what value you’re providing.
Your annual plan should usually have six sections:
1. Review of previous year’s performance
2. Assessment of competitive landscape
3. Re-assessment of internal assumptions
4. List of major business goals
5. List of major marketing goals
6. Outline of major marketing campaigns planned
Here’s a quick description of what’s in each section and why it matters.
Review of Past Year’s Performance
Last year’s performance provides your most basic benchmark. Taking a hard look backwards will identify what was working and what didn’t. You should have most of this reporting already done through your monthly and quarterly campaign performance reports.
If you are new to marketing planning, an assessment of last year’s performance is particularly valuable to clarify why this client went looking for a new agency. Besides what the metrics say, why did they feel dissatisfied enough to make a change?
Conducting a competitive analysis isn’t about copying what the other guys are doing.
Who knows if what they’re doing is working for them?
Even so, it’s instructive to look closely at they’re doing and what they’re not doing.
Indeed, this is where you might be able to uncover some opportunities to differentiate your client from their competitors.
Revisit Internal Assumptions
With so much to consider, it’s easy to let some marketing assumptions go unchallenged.
One of our mantras here at Debello is constantly testing, analyzing, and refining based on what’s learned. This includes challenging even the most fundamental assumptions of a marketing approach.
In this section, you and your client will talk to a variety of stakeholders to learn what’s happening on the ground outside of the marketing bubble.
Major Business Goals
Sometimes we get so in the weeds on whether a specific marketing campaign is inspiring likes or shares, we lose sight of the forest. Rest assured that the C-suite and sales department don’t lose sight of their goals -- and they aren’t retweets and impressions.
Sitting down with the key stakeholders of your company, outside of the marketing team, to document the broader business goals ensures you recommend campaigns designed to meet those business goals.
If the key business goal of the year was to increase the conversion percentage of free users to premium users, how impressed will the rest of the company be that you ran a successful marketing campaign that expanded the free user base, but resulted in no trickle-up of increased paid users?
Major Marketing Goals
So it should be clear now that the last three sections of your annual inbound marketing plan flow from each previous section. You can’t outline the major marketing goals without first having outlined the major business goals. Once you have a list of major marketing goals that align with the client’s business goals, then you can move to the practical stage of outlining the major marketing campaigns for the year intended to meet those goals.
Every marketing goal should tie directly back to a stated business goal. If it doesn’t, you and your client need to re-assess what the purpose of that marketing goal is and whether it will divert needed resources away from achieving business goals. (The answer is probably “yes.”)
Major Marketing Campaigns
Just as each marketing goal should have a clear line back to a documented business goal so should each marketing campaign have its own clear line back to a marketing goal. Taking this formal approach keeps everyone’s focus on achieving things that matter to the business.
In this section of the annual plan, you’ll create a matrix outlining each key campaign, the business and marketing goals it supports, what content is needed, and how you’re defining success for this campaign.
This is the section where you lay out the phases for each campaign to build on the work of the previous one. So the premium piece of content developed in the first quarter has its distribution tested by the second quarter and is ready to be configured into a variety of re purposed content to be distributed even more effectively in campaigns scheduled for later quarters.
This section is your year-long action plan with this client: a logical, business goal-oriented document arming your client in their battle with the C-suite for the appropriate marketing budget -- budget that will fund your agency’s work over the next year. Not bad having that sort of predictability to meet your agency’s own business goals.
We’ve created a questionnaire and/or checklist for each section of the inbound marketing plan. These are questions for you to ask yourself and for you to ask your own internal departments.
As noted earlier, these questionnaires are guidelines. Modify them as needed to make the most sense for any given client.
Step through this checklist to gather the information you want to analyze:
1. List all campaigns from the past year. If you have a high number of campaigns, you don’t need to add them all (though it’s great if you can). In this case, make sure you include:
• Your best performing campaigns
• Your worst performing campaigns
• Any campaigns where you tried something new
• Your “highest hope” campaigns -- the ones you really had high expectations for and consumed a large amount of budget
• If, after selecting your campaigns to include, you notice that there’s a persona not represented, select one campaign for the missing persona (and consider why none of those campaigns fit into any of the categories above)
2. Identify the key “hypothesis” points for each -- what were the intentions of the campaign? Were the goals met? If not, why not?
3. Collect the post-mortem metrics -- only include the most relevant result metrics in your worksheet based on the stated purpose of the campaign
4. Determine your takeaways for the future
A past performance worksheet may look something like this:
After you’ve completed the worksheet, review it as an entire body of work.
• What trends or commonalities can you identify?
• What types of campaign or content are routinely generating success or not?
• If so, what major contributing factors can you pull out?
A review of the competitive landscape includes looking at what your competitors are and are not doing, as well as larger trends within your industry. When reviewing your competitors, you’ll want to look at them strategically and tactically.
• Who are they targeting? Can you reverse engineer any of their personas? How do they differ from yours?
• What are their key messages? What needs, pains, or aspirations are they hitting? Which ones are they ignoring that may be on your list? Are they clearly prioritizing one key message (or its related persona) above their others?
• Did they make any sudden shifts in their marketing recently? An entirely new message or creative treatment unlike their previous?
• What campaigns did they end? Was it a long-running campaign or was it new and short-lived?
• Have they begun or ended any new partnerships -- either in terms of marketing or business? Is the partner predictable or does it indicate a new direction?
• What changes did they make to their product or services mix? What about pricing? How about distribution channels?
• How much content, and what kinds, are they producing? Anything new from their more typical offerings? For example, have they just started offering webinars and reduced the number of ebooks they produce?
• What topics are they talking about? Which are gaining traction? On which platforms?
• What is the quality of their content? What level of engagement is it inspiring? These answers may differ for different types of content.
• How much of their content is their own? Or are they reprinting or otherwise piggybacking on someone else’s content?
• Where do they rank, especially in comparison to your client, in search results for different keywords?
• What social media profiles do they have? What’s the size of their communities on the different channels? What’s the level of their engagement? What are they talking about?
Again, pay attention to how these answers differ for different social media profiles, even within the same site. For example, do they have some key employee Twitter accounts that have better traction than the company Twitter account? Why?
• Did they join or drop out of any new social media channels in the past year?
• What is the blogging frequency? Do they run more than one blog? If so, how have they segmented their blogs?
• Have they introduced any new tactics in the distribution of their content? For example, have they increased or decreased how much content is gated? Have they started running PPC ads for their content, where before they only ran them for their product or brand?
• How sophisticated are they in marketing technology? What marketing tools are they using?
How to Gather This Information.
This is a lot of information to process, especially if you’re in a highly competitive market.
First, pick the competitors to review deliberately. Who are the clear leaders? Who’s struggling (they may be cautionary tales)? Who does your client consider to be their most direct competitors? Are there any new players or outliers in terms of taking an approach outside the established market?
Some of these questions can only be answered by good ol’ legwork (or eye work), such as assessing the quality of their content or identifying changes in activity. Fear not, there is also a strong array of tools you can use to help you gather competitive intelligence. Debello can help you get info on as many competitors as you feel are relevant, and we can monitor the most important online KPI for you. Use other site tools to determine keywords, topics, content types, and publishing frequency for competitors’ websites (e.g. SEOMoz, WordTracker, SEMRush, Buzzsumo, etc.)
There are also social media monitoring and listening tools you can use to quantify the size and engagement level of their content and communities, as well as their “buzz” factor. (Mention, Talkwalker, Meltwater, Followerwonk, Tailwind, Buzzsumo, and Moz are all great tools.)
Insider tip: With inbound marketing, you’re competing for attention. Take a closer look at who else is getting your personas’ attention and how, even if they’re not your competitor, in terms of what you’re selling. This may spark some creativity in finding a less trafficked path to your target market’s notice.
When you’ve completed your competitive review, have a brainstorm session with to make some joint conclusions about what this analysis reveals and what lessons should be incorporated into next year’s marketing efforts. [Of course, our agency team at Debello will already have had an internal meeting on this same topic, and developed your own conclusions, before we meet with you.]
Revisiting Internal Assumptions.
There are three separate aspects to revisiting marketing assumptions:
• Talking to the market
• Talking to sales
• Revising buyer personas
Talking to the Market
The best way to know what a target market is thinking is to ask them. Survey current and past customers and active and stale prospects. There are numerous survey tools available to use that make it easy. Here are some survey best practices to follow:
• Create a separate survey for each group. They are each in very different places.
• Keep surveys short to improve participation.
• Don’t overemphasize quantitative questions. Asking open-ended qualitative questions will elicit commentary and feedback you can’t yet imagine, which is exactly the goal here! You’ll also gain more insight on the way people talk about their challenges and your solutions, which you should use in content crafting.
• These aren’t customer satisfaction surveys. The purpose is to get them to reveal how, when, and why they’re making the decision to buy or not.
Debello can also use our lead intelligence tool to see what kinds of content current contacts in your database are engaging with and where.
Talking to Sales
Hopefully, your internal Marketing team has an active, open communication relationship with Sales. But not always, we know... So preparing the annual marketing plan is good a time to reconnect with Sales. Some of
the questions you want to ask them are:
• What are the changes in the types of questions they’re hearing from prospects? New issues or concerns coming up? Certain other issues or concerns no longer as common?
• What content topics or formats (e.g., tool, intro webinar, or readiness calculator) are they missing that would help move the sales process forward? These could be for external or internal use.
• What information would be useful to have about a prospect that they don’t already get from marketing?
• How well informed are prospects about the client’s product/service when they get passed to Sales? Are there common misperceptions or gaps that Sales has to work hard to correct?
Insider tip: Ask a lot of these questions of your customer support team as well. They’re an often-overlooked goldmine of current and past customer intelligence.
Revising Buyer Personas
Using all these stakeholder feedback, you and your client re-assess whether your current buyer personas are still accurate. Pull in what you’ve learned from your past performance
review and competitor landscape analysis.
• Have there been changes in what your market identifies as their main pain points or obstacles?
• Are they talking about their needs or interests differently than in the past?
• How has their buyer journey or decision-making criteria changed?
• Have their content consumption habits changed? Has a new social media platform become popular? Has one declined in its reach?
• Is your current primary persona still accurate, or has a new persona taken over the primary spot? Have any new sub-markets appeared that deserve their own persona?
Major Business Goals.
Management sets the big picture goals, so it’s critical to know their priority. Is it most important to them to increase ...
• Brand awareness
• Quality leads
• Lead conversion (nurturing)
• New customers
• Customer retention
Keep in the mind the priority may be different for sub-brands or products/services. You should also have a list of key business initiatives planned for the year. This can include:
• Rollouts of new product or service (or major revision or expansion)
• Entering a new market or prioritizing a market segment
Sales Team Goals
We cheated a bit adding “revenue” to the priority list -- as if increasing revenue isn’t a perennial priority. Your client’s sales team will certainly be judged on this metric. So get Sales to share their pipeline goals as well.
• How many sales qualified leads (SQLs) do they need each month to meet their revenue goals? How many marketing qualified leads (MQLs) are needed to generate them?
• Do they have the resources in place to quickly engage these leads?
• Is lowering the cost of acquisition a priority? Do they want to shorten the sales cycle?
• Are they happy with the quality of the leads getting passed to them or do they think there needs to be a review of how marketing is lead scoring?
Marketing and Sales enjoy the greatest mutual success when they establish a service level agreement (SLA) that address these issues (plus many more). If one exists at your client, use it as your starting point and to see where it might need adjustment. Check out this article on creating an effective SLA to guide this discussion, or even encourage your client to create an SLA if they’re not using one.
Insider’s tip: Be sure, at minimum, that you’ve got agreement between Sales and Marketing on the definition of an SQL verus an MQL.
Major Marketing Goals.
Now that you know the key business and sales goals, you can list marketing goals that support these objectives. Specifically, what marketing metrics indicate success for a stated business goal?
This handy chart lists some of the most relevant marketing metrics that relate back to different business goals.
Using Metrics Well
Identifying what metrics define success for a business goal is only the first step of listing marketing goals. You also need to define what numbers on those metrics qualify as a success. To do this:
• Identify your baseline for the metric. You can’t measure improvement and effect of a campaign unless you know what the state was before the campaign rolled out.
• Use the SMART goal framework: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.
• Set expected and stretch targets: Your expected targets are just that -- the numbers you expect to hit. If these numbers aren’t met, the campaign has failed. Your stretch targets are those that are realistic, but challenging. The value in tracking both expected and stretch targets is to push the evolution of stretch targets into the “expected” category.
As you move through each phase of the annual marketing plan, you should use the lessons learned to push up expectations on what each subsequent campaign can achieve.
List of Major Marketing Campaigns.
You don’t need to plan each detail of every campaign for the year as part of this process, but you do want to brainstorm and commit to the big picture. If circumstances and experience require a change down the road, that’s fine. You’ll have the framework set so changes can be smartly implemented.
We’ve created two worksheets that will ensure you get the most the critical points into your
• Marketing Campaigns by Business Goals
• Marketing Campaigns by Quarter
Marketing Campaigns by Business Goals
Use this worksheet to document your marketing SMART goals for every campaign aligned with an identified business goal. You may have more than one market goal for a business goal, especially for the higher priority business goals and/or business goals that apply to multiple personas.
Remember to identify the persona targeted for each campaign. In our example row below, we could easily add another lead generation campaign for a second persona.
Last, when setting the timelines for your SMART goals, be sure to consider how long your ramp up period to meet those goals should be and what period of time is part of the calculation.
Marketing Campaigns by Quarter
On this worksheet, take every campaign listed on your “Marketing Campaigns by Business Goals” worksheet and add the relevant execution details for each phase of the campaign.
You’ll notice in our sample campaign, we’re ramping up the sophistication of the campaign each quarter.
So what campaigns should you run for your client in the upcoming year? Great question. We tackle that in the next section.
We’ve broken down this section by these business goals:
• Brand awareness
• Lead generation
• Lead nurturing
In each section, you’ll find a campaign plan structured to ramp up activity (and results!) over time. Consider these skeleton campaign outlines to create your own custom campaigns based on your client’s individual needs.
For any campaign, you need to identify:
• The business goal it supports.
• The targeted persona.
• What marketing metrics will be tracked and what SMART goals define success.
• The content required to execute the campaign, including the format (ebook, landing page, PPC ad, etc.) and topic.
BUSINESS GOAL: Brand Awareness
Campaign: Drive Traffic to Website and/or Blog
• Keyword research, analysis, & audit including long tail keywords
• Create working list of targeted keywords and blog topic editorial calendar
• Refresh some current content with targeted keywords
• Regularly deliver new blog content scheduled on editorial calendar
• Social media platform audit & analysis: Identify key platforms and develop standard blog post promotion plan
• Roll out social media promotion plan for each blog post
• Continue to execute on editorial calendar
• Promote blog posts per social media promotion plan. Use social media promotion plan to refresh old website/blog content
• Revise keyword and topic list based on analysis of post performance. Extend editorial calendar
• Continue to execute on editorial calendar w/ social media promotion
• Run social media PPC campaign promoting blog
• Develop PPC ad content with A/B test options
• Identify list of potential guest bloggers and social media influencers. Develop influencer outreach plan.
BUSINESS GOAL: Lead Generation
Campaign: Premium Content Offer
• Produce content:
• Offer content (ebook, report or white paper)
• Landing page
• Thank you page
• PPC ads
• Promote offer:
• A/B test landing page
• Publish related blog posts with download CTA
• Rollout social media content pointing to landing page
• Promote offer:
• A/B test PPC ads
• Continue social media promotion
• Repurpose content:
• Excerpt image-centric content
• Excerpt article
• Continue PPC campaign pointing to landing page
• Roll out social media ad campaign
• Promote repurposed content:
• Social media campaign on image-oriented sites
• Place article excerpts on third party site
BUSINESS GOAL: Lead Nurturing
Campaign: Educational Webinar
• Determine webinar topic and CTA at end of webinar
• Produce content:
• 5 email promotional series + 3 email post-webinar promotional series
• Sign-up page
• Post-webinar CTA content
• Run pre-webinar email series
• Run post-webinar email series to registrants who didn’t attend
• Produce content:
• Record audio and video of webinar for repurposing
• Repurpose content:
• Create short video clip
• Article excerpt
• Promote repurposed content in newsletter and/or email with same post-webinar CTA
• Modify webinar promotional email series to send to stale prospects as a lead refresh campaign
Campaign: Upsell Current Customers
• Analyze current customer base for upsell opportunities or to identify targeted segment for service/ product business had already identified as sales priority
• Produce content:
• Email series
• Run email series to segment of target group pointing to microsite
• Analyze email series results and refine to run email series to rest of targeted customer group
• Create PPC ad campaign to retarget visitors to microsite Q4 Activities
• Run PPC retargeting campaign
• Analyze and refine PPC ad content
We’ve provided both the framework and a lot of detail for an annual inbound marketing plan. Not every point will be relevant for each of your clients. Use it as a starting point to customize each plan to your needs.
Your plan should be as extensive or as simple as suits their current level of marketing resources and sophistication.
Also remember -- once you create a client’s first plan, creating the plan for subsequent years will be much simpler and take far less time. Last year’s plan serves as your guide for building the next one. You’ll also have your own in-house tools developed for conducting the research needed to put an annual plan together.
Planning takes effort. No question. But you’ll find the return on the time invested, both literally and figuratively, can be immense.
When you partner with Debello as we plan your marketing efforts together we can help solidify your efforts with our go-to experts who will help you to achieve your business goals.
Being an active participant in the planning process is a weighty responsibility. The more transparent you are with Debello, the more transparent we can be with you. That transparency leads to trust on both sides. And once that trust is achieved, we nurture it -- because that’s when great things happen.