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The new year is here and with it a new quarter. With a fresh budget and a new calendar of holidays and events, the first quarter of the year is a time to set new goals, refocus your efforts, and get the year off to a great start.

The quarter has already begun, but it’s not too late to plan your Q1 marketing strategy. Let’s kick this year off right!

First, a Look Back

A successful Q1 marketing strategy begins with a look back at last year. Did you meet the goals you set at the beginning of 2017? Where did you fall short? An honest look at your failures and missteps will help you set better goals, create better plans, and find more success throughout the year.

One important step in your look back is a content analysis–the process of taking stock of all the content assets you currently have. From web pages and blogs to social media posts, videos, emails, and more, the idea is to think about who you’re trying to reach and see what content you already have to meet their needs. Try this step-by-step approach:

  1. Inventory. Collect all your content assets and sort them by type and target audience.
  2. Assess. As you’re sorting your content, feel free to toss old and irrelevant items that are no longer part of your current messaging. Make a list of those that can be salvaged with an update or by otherwise reworking the piece.
  3. Question. As you review what you’d like to keep, ask yourself what information the content is delivering, who it is intended for, whether it address their needs, and if the information is of high enough quality.
  4. Reuse and Recycle. While it’s important not to simply duplicate content and toss it back out there, there’s also no need to reinvent the wheel if a topic is worth revisiting. Can you turn an email into a blog or in-depth whitepaper? Combine social media updates into an infographic? Rewrite outdated posts with fresh stats and trends?
  5. Check Technical Specs. SEO best practices are continually being updated, so make sure older pieces are making the best use of keywords, headings, links, images, and meta descriptions.

Finally, before digging into a new strategy, January is also the best time to look far down the road so you can incorporate seasonal content, holiday celebrations, and other important events in the year. Were there any big events that you were scrambling to include in 2017? Let’s not do that again this year!

Your Marketing Resolution

Your Q1 marketing strategy is going to take a bit of extra effort as you not only set out for a successful quarter, but also for a prosperous 2018. If you’re not using a content calendar now, make that your New Year’s Resolution for this year.

Start your strategy session by creating a basic calendar of events broken down by quarter. Will you have holiday promotions? Seasonal products to rotate? Content related to the time of year? You don’t have to get too specific at this point, but you’ll be prepared for the detailed work as each quarter comes.

Now, Set Some Goals

Now that you’ve got your content calendar started and important events down, it’s time to decide how high you’re going to reach. What do you want to accomplish by the end of the year? How will you break that down by quarter? What marks do you want to hit with each quarter or season?

Remember, you want your goals to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Realistic, and Time Based so you have the best chance at success.

Now would also be a good time for a competitive marketing analysis. Think of this step like your content analysis, but instead of combing through your own assets, research what the current demands for content are and take stock of what your strongest competitors are doing to meet them. Use this information to inform your own goals. Here are a few steps to get you started:

  1. Make a Topic List. Gather up all the resources you have from your sales team, support staff, customer feedback, and current metrics to get a basic list of topics that your audience wants to learn about.
  2. See What’s Out There. From basic Google searches to in-depth insight from tools like Google Trends and Adwords, take the time to understand further what people are searching for and how others are meeting those needs.
  3. Analyze What You Find. This step might take a bit of time, but it’s worth the effort. Identify what type of content is already hitting the top of the search results and read or watch them all. Are they blogs? Videos? Branded pieces? Short text? Long-form content?
  4. Link to Your Buyer’s Journey. Rather than trying to replicate what you’re finding, see how the current winning pieces fit into your buyer’s journey. How can you incorporate what you know to be working for the competition into what you know your buyers want?

Finally, Fill in Your Marketing Strategy

If you’ve gotten this far and you’re still with us, congratulations! You’re getting ready to crush it in 2018. All that’s left now is to fill in your Q1 marketing strategy, and start to flesh out the rest of the year.

At this point, it probably doesn’t seem so overwhelming because you’re flush with information on what the competition is doing and you’ve got a good stash of your own assets ready to redeploy. Here are the steps you need to finalize your winning strategy.

  1. Define Your Current Situation. What are your current strengths and weaknesses? What are your best opportunities and potential threats? What is your competitive advantage?
  2. Gather Your Resources. Before you can create a plan, you must know what you’re working with. What is your budget for the year? How did the budget hold up last year–should you be working harder to stretch it further? Did you leave money on the table? How strong is your marketing team? Are there any gaps to cover? Strengths to capitalize on?
  3. Describe Your Target. After all the work you’ve done so far, you probably have this info handy. Who are you trying to reach? What do they want? What do they hate? What are their struggles? What are their buying habits? Try to be as specific as possible while still being brief and to-the-point.
  4. List Your Goals. Grab your SMART goals from the step above and drop them in right here. Be sure to include how you will measure your progress and which metrics are the most important for each goal.
  5. The Nuts and Bolts. This step is where you finally lay out your plan to achieve your goals. Are you going to use social media to bring in more leads? Which channels will you use? Will you use email to nurture leads? Where in the buyer’s journey will your email pick up? What messaging will you use for which parts?
  6. Map it Out. Create a quarter-by-quarter map of your strategy for achieving your goals. (Hint: this is where the detailed work on your content calendar comes in!) Be sure to include who will be accountable for which steps and tie in budget and resource allocations.
  7. Get Everyone on Board. From the executive suite to sales and support teams, you want your whole organization to be on board with your goals, your strategy, and your plans for execution. Encourage feedback as this will be a great opportunity to fill in gaps and correct potential errors.

The final step, of course, is to put your plan in motion. Remember that your strategy is a road map meant to guide you throughout the year; it’s not set in stone. Check in on your goals frequently and make adjustments along the way. Don’t be afraid to scrap plans that have totally tanked, and ramp up unexpected successes.

Picture Your Success

Planning for the year is a major project! However, if you create a big picture plan for the year, you’ll be prepared to adapt throughout the year. The key to success is often the ability to be agile and pivot when necessary and your marketing strategy is the framework you need to make smart decisions down the road.

Need help developing your plan? Download your free strategic planning kit. This kit has everything you need to create a strategy based on your business and goals – a strategy that will get results.

Strategic planning kit