March 18, 2022 | Carla Howden

Is Annual Planning Dead?

It will come as no surprise to our readers, but doing business in today’s world is fogged with uncertainty. Dynamic, ever-changing technology, fluctuations in global market prices, and unstable supply chains have kept things interesting, to put it mildly.

And yet, even as we know that things rarely stay the same from one week (or even day!) to the next, marketing agencies and agrimarketing brands continue to cling to the tradition of creating fixed, inflexible plans once a year. Every detail is considered, and every penny is accounted for. 

In today’s world, though, annual planning may be obsolete. At WS, we’re striving to create a better way to plan, execute, measure, and optimize marketing for our client partners. Our outcome marketing approach demands that the plans we make are flexible and responsive to the needs and goals of the businesses we serve. 

3 Reasons Why Traditional Annual Planning Doesn’t Work

Annual planning fosters a “set it and forget it” mentality. Gone are the days when it took months to get feedback on the success of your marketing tactics. With most results data available within hours, if not in real time, there’s no reason to wait until Q4 to decide if a plan was successful. In fact, waiting may lead to wasted budgets and lost opportunities.

Annual planning can’t respond to trends. A rigid, inflexible marketing plan likely won’t even show that a trend exists, let alone capitalize on popular trends that can boost your brand’s visibility to your customers. Of course, it’s not always a good idea to hop onto the next bandwagon, but in an annual planning format, you might not even realize there’s a decision to be made. 

Annual planning is at the mercy of digital giants. What works on digital platforms on January 1 may disappear completely on August 12, sometimes with limited warning. If your plan can’t be adapted quickly, entire sections of your marketing plan may fail to deliver your desired results – results that won’t be recouped until next year’s plan.

A Path to Better Planning

To be clear: we aren’t advocating for not planning at all, and in fact, we do engage our partners in annual planning exercises. 

Annual plans should be living documents, agile and flexible. However, it’s important to consider the frequency with which items in your marketing plan should be evaluated. For example:

Annually – Review and revise brand blueprints, key messages, customer personas, business goals and marketing objectives. 

Quarterly – Review insights and projections for the desired outcomes of your marketing plan. Based on the current numbers, will your tactics meet the goals you’ve set in the time that remains? Do you need to shift your budget to a higher-performing tactic? 

Monthly/Bi-Weekly/Weekly – Shorter-term executions, for example a limited-time promotion or event activation, should be reviewed more frequently. Digital tactics also often benefit from more frequent evaluation. 

However often you review the components of your marketing plan, remember that changes made at the tactical level may ladder up and affect your desired outcomes. You may need to re-engage with your leadership team to discuss adjustments to KPIs and the potential impact on business goals. 

Build Your Future Vision With Multi-Year Planning

According to a report by McKinsey, companies with a long-term view outperformed other companies in revenue growth by 47% over 14 years. Making continuous decisions with an eye on long-term goals enables brands to mitigate unexpected challenges.

When we work with clients to build multi-year plans, clear benefits to this approach take shape:

Higher Profitability – Multi-year plans ensure resources are allocated wisely, leading to more efficient execution and the ability to phase larger projects out over multiple budget years, building on a foundation rather than reinventing the wheel every year.  

Smarter Innovation – Research and development takes time, as does bringing new products to market. Multi-year plans can help all the teams invested in your success make decisions that set the stage for the success of future launches. It can also help them plan adequately to support customers through changes such as discontinued products or updated technologies.

Improved Collaboration – When we all know where we’re headed, it’s much easier for every team to help make the map. Every department, as well as stakeholders, and external partners like your marketing team, are empowered with information that helps them bring their ideas and plans to the table with consideration given to the bigger picture. Bye-bye, silos.

How We Help Build Successful Strategies 

Our outcome marketing approach hinges on a key understanding: that marketing must ladder up to your business goals, and it must do that in a measurable way. Well-crafted plans can give insight to executives that they may not have previously had – or even knew they wanted. 

During our planning process, our Business Intelligence team helps your leadership and marketing teams make better decisions by: 

  • Diving deeper into company goals to ensure alignment between marketing plans and business goals, as well as quantifying the way in which certain marketing objectives will support the achievement of the goal. 
  • Informing decisions with data, so that we’re never making plans based on guesswork or gut feelings. Competitive analysis, market research, customer surveys, and more provide us with the insights we need to build truly differentiated brands. 
  • Guiding a collaborative effort between our team and our client’s team. WS doesn’t use billable time as a budgeting metric, so we don’t worry about whether there are too many big billable hours in the room. We bring together the subject matter experts we need to build a comprehensive, responsive plan – and welcome the stakeholders, experts and executives on your team as well. 

Want to learn about how agility and optimization can help you reach your business goals? Get in touch with us today.

Carla Howden

Carla's mix of client-side and agency experience has given her a holistic understanding of strategic marketing challenges. But most will say her ability to mentally track multiple elements on dozens of projects in real-time is her true superpower. When she’s not busy planning her next tropical vacation, Carla wonders what really makes people tick.