This week we were wandering around the internet, as we tend to do, and stumbled upon this otherwise innocent looking Twitter Poll that asked marketers if they’ve started to plan for Black Friday & Cyber Monday:

If your brain immediately went to “we haven’t even hit Summer, why are you talking about the holiday shopping season?!?” then you’re in good company. Over 75% of the respondents agreed with you. We’re going to offer an alternative perspective and suggest that the 25% who are planning ahead are giving themselves a huge advantage, and we should all consider taking their lead.

In our experience, there are typically two major hurdles that get in marketers’ way when it comes to planning ahead:

  1. Everything changes so quickly that it seems pointless to try to predict the future
  2. We’re already working at 110% capacity on this month’s activities, there’s no time left to plan ahead

The brands that are building their plans several quarters — or even years — in advance, face the same challenges. We’ve been fortunate to work with some great ones, so we distilled how they overcome the hurdles, and what they do differently:

They start with what we can predict

We know that certain things are going to happen every year. Back-to-school, holidays, your Spring product release should never come as a surprise. Simply noting the fact that these major events are coming up plants the seed of planning and puts them on our radar.

They’re clear on their big picture goals & strategy

The overarching goals & strategy aren’t subject to fluctuations in technology, platforms, or trends. They set your North Star so that, when things do change along the way, we can always course-correct back to the direction that is most important to the organization as a whole.

They use a tiered planning system

We like to build them as briefs but they go by a lot of different names. The consistent structure is this: In just a couple of pages, we’re able to describe what we’re going to get up to this year – that’s their annual brief and it focuses on the big picture. Then, they take that same document and plan what they’re going to get up to each quarter. Once that system is in place, they’re free to get creative and be flexible month-to-month, so they build each month’s plan no more than 3 months in advance.

The monthly plans cover things like content planning, media buying, website content changes, and live events.

The result is that these marketers are always able to see, at a high level, what they’ll be working on next quarter, while focusing in detail only on what they need to get done this month.

Over the years, two things have become abundantly clear to us when it comes to marketing plans:

  1. No two organizations use exactly the same system
  2. Those who do plan ahead (without being rigid) are consistently more successful

If you’ve been struggling with getting ahead with your yearly planning, hit us up. We’ve worked with brands in retail, travel, hospitality and tech to help structure their operations, content and marketing planning, and we’d be love to chat about how we can help you out too: