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2022 Marketing plans? During a pandemic? Wtf? Instalment #1. Take off the mental handcuffs!

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

September is, for many businesses, C.E.O.s, and marketers, a time to start planning for 2022. Yes, the Halloween decorations are up. But I can't recall a time when this deliverable was required in a more interesting, challenging time and perplexing time.

So here are a few suggestions and thoughts to hopefully aid this process during these most interesting of times to help our clients and businesses in general.

1. Establish the right 2022 planning structure and team, culture, processes and deliverables.

IMHO, one of the most important prerequisites of a successful 2022 planning session is establishing the right team structure, culture, teams, and processes.

Organizations have staff at various levels of seniority. Many staff have been through this process before and many have not. Many will have an appetite to bring their "A game" and others will be just trying to fit in.

If you can establish the rules of engagement, and the culture before the planning begins, you can set the stage for success by disarming the many.

This can take the form of unique team structures. This can take the form of informing participants you expect deductive thinking, but you also look forward to abductive and creative thinking.

Set up, in advance, a culture, expectation and appetite for, pardon the hockey metaphor, people going into the corners to get the puck during the playoffs - what we all want the Leafs to do more of. In these corners are where new observations, discoveries, and insights can exist.

The process you establish can also be a safety net for team members by establishing the right check-ins. For example, Stage 1 is to review every team's Situational Analysis and the resulting strategic implications. Stage 2 could be to establish, for management approval, the right objectives, be they marketing, communications or other. Stage 3 could be defining for management the right strategies across a business or brand.

And of course these teams should be functionally diverse and ethnically diverse.

2. Never has the Macro-environment been a more important group of inputs.

Too often, companies "can't see the forest for the trees". Never has the macro-environment been more important to a business' planning than today.

Think of the changes in culture, changes in the economy, demographics, customer experience expectations, and technology. These all can affect an industry and a brand, but equally, they can provide opportunity. Build this into the frameworks and deliverables you outline in the process.

3. Pretend your company doesn't exist.

You don't have to look too far back into the business trade magazines and sites to realize that twenty years ago the top 20 businesses were dramatically different than today.

So let your teams do some creative thinking. Look into sensitivity analyses scenarios. Or include, what we call, mental excursions, which are questions or metaphoric lens to see your category or business e.g. If Howard Schultz, who scaled Starbucks, was running this business, what would be do? Because you've armed your teams with this permission, it does not mean it ends up in the 2022 plan. It means you've given them permission to dream really frickin big, and perhaps fed the innovation team with some things to explore. Go big and rope it in later.

4. Look for earnings outside your category and your country.

It's a big amazing world out there, and very likely, you are not the only offering in a market. But if you expand your appetite for learnings and best practices, there is just more knowledge, potential insights and ideas at your table.

Get your teams to look globally, or look at award shows and get them to bring their best, relevant case studies to the process and explain why they think it is relevant and something to consider.

This will not only make your employees better, but can make your company better.

5. Bring your existing and prospective customers into the conversation.

Yes, bring humans, not just data, and Powerpoint slides, into the process. Bring them into the office. Years ago, to the credit of some amazing Account Planners on Budweiser, here in Canada, we didn't do traditional focus groups - we brought in our segments of our target audience to meet our creative people, have a beer, some wings and hear about their lives, their aspirations, what they needed, wanted, what they thought of our ads, and what they missed from our ads.

Don't be afraid of your customers or your prospective customers.

6. Confront the Brutal Facts (Source: From Good to Great) and Optimize.

This is well-worn territory so I won't spend much time talking about this. But if something is awful, broken or f"&8ked up about any aspect of the business, it has to be tabled. And again, "go into the corners", table it and debate it.

Going Forward:

1. Create a culture of Perpetual Learning.

Every year doesn't have to be the beginning. Some strategies and tactics from the past may still have horsepower. Make sure the case studies have been written and are accessible to all staff all the time, and make sure all staff are encouraged to add to this knowledge asset database. At the very least, they are food for thought.

2. Have you embraced Agile Marketing practices? As you evolve out of the planning stage, into 2022, assess whether you are embracing the right required temporal aspects of marketing in the twenty first century and if your teams know it and know it is valued. Many resources to access here including the Agile Marketing Manifesto, Jim Ewel, and Scott Brinker.

3. Always be in the market for ideas.

Going forward, make sure this is in your DNA as a company because, let's face it, these annual planning sessions are only a portion of what it takes to deal with reality and succeed.

4. Have Contingency Plans in place.

And lastly, and though I've been a champion of these since working on Tylenol during the tampering, have a Contingency Plan in place. Define the team, the roles, the scenarios, because you never know when another SARS, or COVID-19 will show up.

5. And please have a strategy for your brand and marketing communications.

You can not believe how many times I'm approached by prospective clients saying we have a robust social media presence but there is no strategy.

Have a campaign idea; sometime to solidify all of your Brand Purpose thinking and bring it to life across the entirety of your business.

We hope some of these thoughts are additive and help you in your 2022 planning.

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