Is it already time to start planning your marketing strategy and programs for next year? Yes, it is. You’ll want to start 2012 in a strong competitive position, with plans in place and budgets approved — not scrambling to make decisions and feeling behind from the beginning.

Our annual two-part article series will help you evaluate your current marketing efforts, focus on your objectives for 2012, and choose the right programs to achieve your goals.

Start by analyzing the past
There’s a saying that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. While you may be executing a successful marketing plan in 2011, you probably wish you had a few do-overs as well. Your first step in planning for next year is to evaluate this year. For each marketing program you implemented, perform the following analysis:

• How much did you invest? Think in terms of both program costs and labor resources.
• How targeted was the audience you reached? Did you connect with real prospects?
• For lead generation programs: How many qualified leads did you generate?
• For brand awareness programs: How many impressions did you make with your target audience?
• What was your return on investment? The answer to this question may be found in data, such as cost per qualified lead, or the answer could be in terms of meeting your objective, such as establishing relationships in new markets.

Some traditional marketing programs don’t lend themselves well to the above measurements. However, if you have been implementing online marketing programs, measurement metrics such as impressions, clicks, and conversions should be easy to come by.

Also, you may have implemented some programs this year simply because you’ve always used them in the past. Be wary of making marketing decisions based on habit or routine. The industrial market landscape has changed dramatically over the past few years and your customers and prospects have largely migrated online to search for components, products, suppliers, and services. You need a broad online presence to connect with them.

Engage your sales team
When planning for the next year, always engage your sales team and ask for their thoughts and ideas about your marketing efforts. At a time when virtually all companies know that sales and marketing efforts must be integrated, it’s surprising sometimes how little communication takes place between the two groups.

Here are some questions to ask your sales team:
• Are there particular marketing programs they believed delivered the best leads?
• Which marketing messages/offers resonate best with potential customers?
• What tools can marketing provide for them next year to help move prospects through their buy cycle?
• What objectives are they hearing about in the marketplace?

Get input from your sales team early and often, and if you rely on them to help identify lead sources or provide other data for marketing, they will be more apt to help you out.

Study industry trends
If you know industry trends, you can stay one step ahead when making marketing decisions. For example, according to the GlobalSpec Marketing Trends Survey, 49% of industrial marketers are spending at least one-third of their marketing budget online in 2011 and the majority of marketers are increasing the amount they invest in online marketing programs. In addition, for the first time, the majority of companies (57%) are using social media applications in 2011. If you want to connect with your audience in 2012, you should be increasing your presence online.

In addition, the GlobalSpec Industrial Indicator Survey shows that 52% of industrial companies report they are focused on improving quality, 47% on improving production efficiencies, and 46% on expanding into new markets. You may want to incorporate these trends into your marketing plans. For instance, plan to position your products to show how they can help customers improve quality or production efficiencies. Or plan to reach out to new markets in 2012.

Understand your company’s business plan
Your company is likely planning new initiatives for 2012, such as:

• New product launches or product updates
• Product retirements
• New partnerships or mergers
• Expansion into new geographic markets
• Expansion into new customer segments

Take note of these important business initiatives and put them on your marketing calendar. When allocating 2012 marketing investments, be sure to ramp up marketing around the timing of these initiatives.

Make a wish list
Forget budgets for a few minutes (it feels good, right?) and make a list of every marketing program you wish you could implement if you had no budgetary constraints. Write down the reasons why you’d want each program and how it would help you achieve your objectives. Then, rank every program on your list from the must-haves to the nice-to-haves. It’s also a good idea to make a list of marketing programs that didn’t achieve the level of success you’d expected.

This exercise will give you a broad view of all your marketing options. Then, when it comes time to put numbers against the programs, you’ll have a good tool for measuring each program’s value as it relates to your objectives, helping you determine whether you should fund it or not.

Next month, we’ll cover specific marketing programs and how they can support various objectives you are trying to meet in 2012.

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