Skip to content

How to Craft Your Annual Marketing Plan After the Most Unplanned Year Ever

Olivia Cseh

Olivia Cseh

The global COVID-19 pandemic forced shifts across all organizational functions – marketing and communications is no exception. For many of us, initial game-plans had to be completely tossed out. Adapting with agility, flexibility, and creativity proved key in the “new normal” that arose in 2020. And as we delve into the new year, planning means looking back at what was learned in the early months of the pandemic to be successful.

To gain insight into how different organizations are approaching marketing this year, a few Walker Sandsians attended a recent PR Club webinar featuring leading marketing professionals discussing: The “New Normal” Marketing Plan – There Isn’t OnePanelists included:

  • Moderator: Marian HughesManaging Partner at Tier One 
  • Sylvia LozaMarketing Communications Manager at Dialog Semiconductor
  • Molly McGee, Director of Marketing at Forcivity 
  • Ashley McManus, Director of Global Marketing at Affectiva

The biggest takeaway was clear and outlined in the title – there is no “new normal” for marketing plans, but the panelists did come to a consensus on three points to guide marketers into the future.

1. Use Technology to Your Advantage

In response to COVID-19, many of us had to get acquainted with new technology for working, communicating, and learning. Marketing teams have had to tap into different technology to help connect with their audience and team. HubSpot, Slack, and Zoom all emerged as favorites for day-to-day communication with teams, partners, and audiences.

All panelists agreed, webinars became more important, seeing tangible spikes in viewership and engagement. Ashley shared that Affectiva, found particular success with livestreams and that making them short, sweet, and lively garnered the best results.

Trade shows were a big loss for marketers last year, canceling what’s usually a great opportunity for organic relationship building. Molly noted Forcivity had no plans to attend any virtual conferences in the start of the 2021: “We tried some digital conferences, some sponsoring of virtual events, but it just wasn’t the same. We are thinking that next year there will be advancements in the technology for how we actually do those conferences to make it more valuable for the attendees and sponsors.”

2. Creativity and Flexibility

When COVID-19 came to a head in March, adapting to its obstacles was the only option. Marketing plans were thrown to the side and new ideas were quickly put into action. As we enter a new year, that still holds true.

The panelists agreed that open communication – throughout the team and with agency partners – was a vital way to keep things fluid by sharing new ideas in real time.

Absorbing as much media as possible was a recommended way to stay engaged and to make sure that you keep the wheels turning. Podcasts, participating in webinars on different topics, and looking at how other companies (beyond competitors) are approaching their marketing during the pandemic are just a few ways to seek innovative new ideas.

Specifically, Ashley stayed creative and engaged by having non-work meetings with co-workers; “I found that just talking through other stuff will shake ideas loose… talking to other people beyond your department can shed a different perspective.”

3. Content is #1

As we all navigated shaky ground last year, there was both extra need and time for refocusing. For example, with no in-person events, teams directed their time to content creation and closely analyzing what content was working – an area the panelist noted was not always first priority.

The ability to repurpose things, from webinars or a livestream of a virtual event has meant different engagement from audiences across platforms. Interacting more through posts and virtual communication has been an important highlight for all companies.

Sylvia shared that Dialog has been dedicating additional time to content creation. They are in the process of creating a tech series to mimic what you might have previously found by visiting a booth at a trade show. These videos can be used across the company, from social to sales, providing a more in-depth look at what they have to offer in a new way for Dialog.

As they create more content, they’re studying what puts their content in front of the right people and what resonates with audiences. Adopting more sophisticated technology for data analysis has risen to a top priority, with all interactions happening online with the pandemic.

As the year wound down for us at Walker Sands, we heard similar takeaways from our clients. During our 2021 planning, we have been able to take what we learned from the early months of the pandemic and develop adaptive new marketing plans, incorporating new technology and finding sparks of innovation through all we do.