What to Consider When Building a Marketing Strategy for 2020

by Michelle Hunter

Planning for marketing success in the new year

New Marketing Strategy

The new year often brings feelings of hope and optimism. We believe we can do just about anything – lose those holiday pounds, finally simplify our home, read the books that seem to perpetually live on our list. I’m not big on resolutions… but I do love reflecting on my actions and creating a plan to make positive change. This is especially true for my business and marketing strategy. 

Whether you killed it in 2019 – achieving amazing revenue growth, inspiring your audience, building your market – or struggled through difficult moments of transition, you will benefit from an intentional plan for marketing in 2020. 

If your company is small or you are a freelancer or solo-preneur, your strategy might be as simple as a set of marketing intentions and action steps to make those intentions work. Bigger organizations will likely need something more complex, including metrics to watch and defined projects to help the metrics move in favorable ways. Either way, the process of building a marketing strategy is vital for clarifying your future actions and moving your business forward. So, this topic applies to you…

Every good marketing strategy – regardless of size – begins with reflection.  You need to understand your current situation and your desired future in order to create a plan that moves you from the first to the second. That’s what we’re talking about here. 

Got goals? Let’s talk plainly about money for a moment. 

While it might not sound fashionable, business is ultimately about money. Even if you’re passionate about what you do. Even if your organization is a non-profit or a charitable cause. Even if you would work with people or make your things for free. Money is required to do the good work, pay the people on your team, purchase the raw materials, and keep the wolves from the door.  So, let’s talk about it. 

  • How much money do you NEED to make in order to keep doing what you’re doing? I’m talking about gross revenue – the money your customers and clients pay you in exchange for your goods and services.  This is your baseline. 
  • How much revenue did you generate in 2019? This is a simple snapshot of how your business did in terms of sales in the last fiscal period. (If you prefer to think of things in terms of months or quarters, go ahead.  It’s okay with me.)
  • What is your profit margin? Meaning – how much of that gross revenue do you get to keep after you pay the bills and the taxes? Usually this number is expressed in a percentage such as 5% or 10%. Service businesses typically have higher margins while makers and manufacturers balance lower margins due to higher costs. 
  • How much profit do you want to create in 2020? Think about the amount of money you’d like to earn through operating your business. Not revenue, but money left over at the end of the fiscal year that you can reinvest in the business, save, or payout to yourself and any business partners. 

These basic numbers are an essential component of financial goal setting, in my opinion. Selecting revenue goals arbitrarily – something I see leaders do often – feels like a wasted exercise to me. I prefer creating revenue goals by plugging this data into a formula. 

Desired Profit / Profit Margin = Revenue Goal

Here’s an example – -> Let’s say (to keep the numbers simple) I want to make $10,000 in profit during this year. My profit margin is 10%. Plugging this into the formula above, my revenue goal is $100,000. 

10,000 / 10% = 100,000 <- – I told you I was keeping the numbers simple. 

Truthfully, there are other factors to consider when setting a revenue goal such as opportunity for growth, projected sales market share, and product/service mix. But, this basic formula will give you a place to begin. 

Also – to clarify for my freelance and small business friends – there’s nothing magical about hitting a 100k revenue number or “breaking into 6 figures” in your business. This is simply a vanity goal you can mention to give your business increased credibility.  You can run a 6 figure business at a loss. You can also run a significantly smaller business (in terms of revenue) at a healthy and sustainable profit that builds wealth. 

Evaluate results & celebrate your achievements.  

Business is about money, but it’s not only about money. Your work is meaningful, your customer relationships are important, and your team (even if your team is just YOU) is working hard to make things happen. 

Perhaps during the past year you: 

  • Shifted your business model, launched a new product or service, or expanded into a new market or geographic area. 
  • Expanded your team, began building a team, or opened a new location.
  • Updated your website, added  software to your operations, or got new equipment.
  • Solved tough problems. streamlined  processes, or improved operations. 
  • Built a marketing system, improved your sales team, or created content.

These changes impacted your business. They required focused attention and effort. Take time to pause, reflect, and celebrate. Notice what you learned and how you grew as a leader or as a team. These experiences are priceless… don’t discount them by failing to reflect. 

Consider the changes & shifts in your business. 

There’s a significant river near my home. Over the past hundreds of years, this river has slowly shifted course multiple times. Most of these shifts happened incrementally and I would guess many weren’t even noticeable to the people who lived near the river at the time. Yet, for ten or so miles on either side of the current river there are depressions, gullies, bayous, and minor creeks. Each of these represents a shift in the flow of the river over time. 

Your business is like a river. It shifts and changes with the market, responding to client needs and the changes in our economy, your skills, and your team. Most of these changes are gradual and minor when considered alone, but over time compound to create major bends and twists. Your job – as a leader – is to recognize the subtle changes in your business and either correct them or capitalize on them. 

Over the past 18 months, for example, my business shifted from a growing consultancy to an agency that offers a combination of consulting services, content strategy, and an expanded set of copywriting services. This shift was gradual at first… a reflection of my response to client needs and opportunities I saw in the market. But, once I realized the shift was in progress, I was able to embrace it and shift my marketing strategy and operational structure accordingly.  This allows me to continue a profitable course instead of floundering due to unrecognized change. 

Things have changed in your business too. Take time to reflect on the path of your business and identify any needed course corrections or new opportunities you need to account for inside your marketing strategy. 

Analyze your audience & your market. 

While your business was shifting and changing, your audience and market was doing the same. Are you up to date on the needs and values of your customers? Do you have a handle on changing demographics, new competitors, and the ways social changes and technology impact your audience? Things have changed, my friend… and you need to take time to analyze the impact those changes have on your business. 

You may need to shift your marketing message to make it relevant to a younger audience or an older one. You might need to strengthen a few existing client relationships because key people inside those businesses have moved to other roles. A new competitor might pose a significant threat to one or more of your marketing channels OR a former competitor may have left your market or moved to focus on something other than the areas where you compete. 

It’s easy – in the rush of the status quo – to miss these changes. We can get lost in the rhythm of our never-ending task lists and meetings and miss the threats and opportunities around us. The wise leader takes intentional breaks periodically to survey the marketplace and identify needed action. 

If you’ve followed my writing for a while, you know that I believe marketing – at its core – is simply a conversation that begins at our potential client’s point of felt need and progresses naturally to the point of purchase. As the perceived needs of your potential clients shift and change, the starting point of your conversation moves as well. Adjusting your conversation accordingly will keep your sales strong and consistent. 

Focus on the future & identify opportunities. 

Once you’ve gathered information through reflection as I’ve outlined above, I recommend you spend some time making predictions about the future. This step might feel a bit like gazing into a crystal ball, but it’s actually grounded in the intuition and wisdom created through experience. 

Our brains gather millions of points of data that are stored away for future use. Most of these go straight into our mental filing cabinet without stopping off in our conscious mind. Your brain sees patterns and trends in your customers and your market that you have yet to recognize or truly consider. This is normal… your challenge is drawing these observations to the foreground where you can consider them. 

Find a method of brainstorming that works for you – a way to turn off your internal judge and allow your brain to serve up thoughts freely. I’m a writer, so I naturally turn to journaling for this type of brainstorming. I make lists and gather sentence fragments. I think about each of my major lines of business and record anything that seems interesting to me. Some of it is relevant… some of it is completely irrelevant. I don’t filter, I just record. I analyze my thoughts later and make connections I can use to identify opportunities. I find this to be incredibly powerful. 

Some of my clients use a mindmap as a tool for this exercise. Others capture thoughts on sticky notes and then organize them on a wall to find patterns. I even know a few leaders who sketch and doodle to draw out this information. The method doesn’t matter… the practice is where the value lies. 

The opportunities you identify in this way can lead to significant goals or new initiatives. They could spark ideas for new products or services. Or, they may simply point the way to refinements you can make to your marketing, sales, or operational systems to improve them.  In my experience, this exercise always yields at least one significant action item that has a positive impact on my business.   

Reflection is a step you can’t afford to skip. 

Clearly, this entire article is centered around reflection.  In my opinion, a lack of reflection is at the root of the majority of missteps I see in business.  Entrepreneurs are often quick to take action and innovate without truly considering the effects these actions have on their results. We make plans based on what “feels right” without sitting with the data all around us. Let’s change that in 2020, okay? We’ll all be better for it. 

Wondering how to take all this reflection and use it to create a marketing strategy that gets you more clients, increased revenue, and better brand recognition? I’d love to talk to you.