Combines are in the fields, leaves are falling and cool, crisp mornings remind us we’re well into the final quarter of 2018. For marketing folks this means one thing: the planning season is here.

The benefits of carefully planning the new marketing year are many. Having a plan enables your team to make informed, objective decisions. It promotes more efficient use of marketing dollars with better negotiating power. And it encourages a proactive, well-thought-out approach (besides, it’s more fun to play offense than defense). The advice to “plan the work and work the plan” has never been more appropriate.

Nine Steps to Planning for the New Marketing Year

The following steps will go a long way toward helping you look ahead to 2019 with a well-informed marketing plan.

1. Evaluate Your Results

Ask yourself some basic questions about your marketing efforts during the past year. What worked? What didn’t? Why? Any surprises or overlooked opportunities? How did market conditions—weather, ag economy, other factors—impact sales and growth? Most importantly, dig into your analytics from the past year.

Surprisingly, many marketers don’t make use of their marketing and sales analytics. While accurate attribution of offline and online marketing is a challenge, it is essential to assess goals and KPIs and to adjust future marketing efforts based on the data.

If you’re unsure about interpreting this data, consult with a marketing expert (i.e. Paulsen) who can help you identify key trends and make recommendations for improvement.

2. What’s New for 2019?

Looking toward 2019, what’s new? New products? Expanded geography/distribution? New people? What’s the outlook for your segment of agriculture or rural lifestyle? What issues will create challenges or opportunities?

3. Competitive Analysis

Which of your competitors are strong marketers? What do they do well? What are their weaknesses? Who in your industry seems to be moving ahead? Slipping behind? What is your company’s greatest competitive strength?

4. Do Some Research

Are there answers to questions about products, perceptions, awareness and attitudes that will help you build a more effective plan for 2019? Today’s online surveys can be done quickly, accurately and affordably. Market research doesn’t need to be complicated; sometimes it’s as simple as calling dealers, sales reps and customers to ask them about their opinions and experiences. Better yet, go visit them.

5. Establish a Budget

Working from an approved marketing budget provides proper controls and enables you to make accurate projections that finance or management will inevitably need. The budget should show the year at a glance on a month-by-month basis. It’s probably not a good idea to commit 100 percent of the budget in your plan. A contingency of 10 to 15 percent allows you to respond to special opportunities that will arise during the new year.

6. Develop Your Media Plan

This is the year to break away from doing what you’ve always done. It starts by taking a hard, objective look at all media options. Review last year’s plan and determine what worked and what didn’t. What media buys could be measured? Any feedback from dealers and sales reps? Are there new options you should try this year? There is no hard and fast rule of what the percentage breakdown should be for print, broadcast, digital, direct mail, outdoor or other.

One very noticeable trend we’ve seen is the growth in share of digital media, certainly because of the measurability. However, keep your objectives in mind—if building brand awareness is your goal, print and/or broadcast options may serve you better.

If generating response and cultivating inquiries/leads is most important, don’t forget direct mail. In reaching farmers, direct mail has always performed. Challenge your media reps for their best recommendations based on your objectives and criteria. Then negotiate your best deal based on reach, frequency, quality of audience and value-added components.

7. Repeat or Refine Your Messaging

What was your compelling message for farmers to consider your company’s products or services last year? Was it effective? Did it communicate as intended? Should you repeat last year’s campaign, or is it time for something new? Put yourself in the farmers’ position. What messages will they respond to under current market conditions?

Your analytics can confirm the effectiveness of your messaging, and focus groups with farmers and dealers or one-on-one interviews can also be helpful in confirming your marketing message is on track. Also, there’s no substitute for being keenly aware of key issues, trends, obstacles and opportunities in your industry segment. Being timely and relevant in your messaging has never been more important than right now.

8. Implement the Plan, Adapt as Needed

After spending much of the fourth quarter in evaluating and developing your marketing plan for 2019, it will be time for implementation, which should be the easy part after all of your careful thought and preparation. However, no annual marketing plan should be cast in stone. Monitor your progress during the early months of the new year. Be willing to revise and adapt as needed.

9. An Objective Point of View Can Help

Sometimes having a third party’s point of view can be very helpful in the planning process. Here at Paulsen, we have experienced and knowledgeable team members who have helped numerous companies through the marketing planning process. They will ask the right questions and offer suggestions based on your situation.

If you find the planning process daunting, or if time and internal staff resources are spread too thin, give us a call. We’ll help you develop a marketing plan for 2019 that will put the odds of marketing success in your favor.