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Quarterly Marketing Plans vs. Annual Marketing Plans: 4 Crucial Comparisons

Quarterly Marketing Plans vs. Annual Marketing Plans: 4 Crucial Comparisons Blog Feature

Jen Barrell

Content Trainer, 10+ Years of Content & Digital Marketing Strategy

June 12th, 2018 min read

What were you doing on March 14?

While it feels like a short time ago, since then I’ve started a new job (here at IMPACT), visited six states, attended five high school band concerts, and started learning French.

Did you know, according to the US Foreign Service Institute, it takes about 90 days to learn a new language?

This and a lot of other things can happen in 90 days, but if you aren’t extremely specific about how that time is used, it can go by in a flash.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in creating marketing plans.

There’s a natural urge to create a marketing strategy that will last the year long when resolutions mix with bitter cold in January.

There’s nothing wrong with building a frame you can hang your plans on for the next 12 months. In fact, we at IMPACT encourage annual planning.

An annual plan can help you identify and track the big picture goals you want to meet.

It forces you to take a huge step back from the day-to-day and get creative with what you want to achieve over this large block of time.

For instance, you can plan for any campaigns that are time-sensitive or are linked to marquis events, like a product launch or a conference. Plus, annual planning also helps you see how your team’s activities may tie in with those of other departments.

So, why the need for quarterly planning if creating an annual strategy is so effective?

Here are five strong reasons to hunker down in the summer sun and plan quarter-to-quarter as well.

1. A 90-day Inbound Marketing Plan is Agile

We’ve all been there. You’ve set up the next six campaigns based on your company’s annual objectives and, if all goes exactly according to plan, you’ll hit your goals for the year.

Then you find out the objectives have changed. So have your marketing goals, and now half your campaigns, while brilliantly planned, are going to miss the mark.

Perhaps the campaign you created six months ago is now as dated as granite countertops or Pokemon Go, and while you can expend energy pulling it into the present, you’re likely going to miss out on the next big thing.

Even with the best-laid plans, something will inevitably happen that will cause you to pivot. (And, let’s be honest, isn’t that half the fun of marketing anyway?)

Quarterly planning gives you the freedom to respond to this changing environment.

Whether it’s new technology or a new idea from the CEO, every three months, you’ll have the flexibility to test, analyze, and tweak your plans to keep your department moving forward.

This is why you’ll find teams that have implemented Agile Marketing adhere to a 90-day planning cycle.

With so much change happening in the marketing world—and so many cool toys to try—annual plans will inevitably become old news (probably before Q1 is over).

Agile Marketing teams are built to absorb—and embrace—a changing environment. For these departments, testing new tools and tactics is part of what makes their efforts successful.

Fun Fact:  IMPACT team moved to Agile Marketing nearly two years ago and it’s completely changed the way we do business.

2. A 90-day Plan is Short Enough to Track KPIs and Respond Accordingly

Not only does quarterly planning allow you to react to external changes, but it gives you control over how you respond to your own data.

By breaking up your planning into manageable chunks throughout the year, you can better measure the success or failure of what you’ve executed on—and then adjust your plans from there.

The mantra “If you aren’t measuring, you aren’t marketing” becomes much more digestible in a shorter planning cycle.

However you define your success metrics, whether via sales revenue, cost per lead, inbound marketing ROI, or any number of other valuable departmental KPIs, your ability to stay better informed will allow you to create better campaigns going forward.

Did you know? We track data and KPIs (for ourselves and our clients) via Databox.

Annual planning may also track metrics, but because the strategies are set months in advance, real-time data does not have a direct effect on those executed.

Long-term planning like this is usually best for campaigns that operate on completely predictable data.

In other words, if you know what the exact outcome will be, then there’s no reason to test and analyze.

3. Quarterly Planning Keeps Your Priorities Straight

One great element of a 90-day planning cycle is that it’s long enough to get something critical done, while still being short enough to keep moving quickly.

Quarterly cycles don’t allow for procrastination.

Because that big goal is only 12 weeks off, you’re less likely to wait to get started. Instead, you’ll have to set smaller milestones and be in constant motion to achieve them—and you’ll have some smaller celebrations along the way!

With so many moving parts and pieces, you’ll need to be hyper-aware of what gets prioritized and what can wait.

Tracking every activity to a bigger strategic goal better defines the purpose of those smaller tasks and keeps team members both motivated and all rowing in the same direction.

Contrast this with an annual plan, where big objectives might go unchecked until it’s too late to fully execute.

While the smaller milestones of the 90-day plan have been building on one another for several months — staying fresh in the team’s mind along the way — the goals of an annual plan can tend to pop up all at once.

4. Quarterly Planning Lets You Get More Granular

Don’t get me wrong—annual strategic objectives aren’t the bad guy here. In fact, they’re critical in the process.

When done correctly, your 90-day plan will feed directly into the big picture goal that’s been set for the year, but with a more granular plan. With a more specific plan, you’ll be able to more easily see immediate progress (or lack thereof) and respond to it.

With each week, you and your team will witness that annual goal becoming more concrete and start to develop ideas for what the next 90 days will bring.

These concepts should all be discussed and critiqued in the planning meeting, ensuring that the next set of milestones build into making that big strategic objective a reality.

The Good News…

There’s a fresh 90 days around the corner.

With quarterly planning, you don’t have to wait until January to set a plan for your inbound marketing success.

If the plans you have today aren’t working — or just need some tweaking — step back, reevaluate, break out the beach chair and set up yourself and your team for better days.

The quarterly marketing plans vs. annual marketing plans battle doesn’t have to be one at all.

Annual and quarterly planning shouldn’t have to compete with one another, nor should they live in a vacuum. As planning cycles go, you’ll need to see both the forest and the trees.

Need help getting started?

Download the 2018 Inbound Marketing Sample Strategy + Template to set your big picture goals and start planning in 90-day cycles.

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