There’s always a lot of energy and motivation this time of year to put a new strategic plan in place, change direction, re-focus, or go after a new target audience. But, the reality is, if you do your strategic planning in January, you start the year behind your top competitors. Successful companies do their competition research and subsequent strategic planning in the third or early in the fourth quarter so they have the tactical elements in place and are ready to launch January 1st.

Why bring this up now? Because this is the time of year to harness your motivation and get your strategic planning scheduled for September of 2010. Put it on the calendar now and the precious jump on the competition won’t slip by you next year.

In the meantime, if you don’t have a strategic marketing communications plan in place, get started now. Your plan should take you out 3-5 years at least and include the following elements:

Key elements for an effective marketing communications plan:

Competition Research:
You don’t need to know everything about your competitors, you just need to know the following three things: are they doing anything unique? Do they have any new messages? Do they have any new products or service offerings?

Economic/industry trend research:
What are the most exciting trends in your industry and the economy for the next 3-5 years? And how will these trends impact your business.

Customer/Client Research:
You should know: do they have any needs that are not currently being met? What are their biggest challenges for the coming year, and how can your company tailor your product or service to better fit their needs?

Strengths/weaknesses research for your company:
We always do this type of research for clients anonymously, meaning you let you clients or customers fill out a survey without including their name.  You get better feedback that way.

Goals and Objectives for the coming year:
Write up your goals and make sure everyone in the company knows what they are everyday all year long.
Define your most profitable target audiences:  Focus the majority of your marketing resources on your most profitable target audiences.

Develop your Unique Selling Points and related Key Messages:
We worked with one client who had 27 unique selling points. As you can imagine they were neither unique nor real selling points.

Select Tactics:
Focus your marketing tactics on those that will generate the greatest return on your investment. Most companies spread their resources too thin to be effective.

Spend the rest of the year tweaking and executing your plan.

Put systems in place to monitor the effectiveness of your marketing tactics. This can be as simple as asking new clients “How did you hear about us?”