Ahh, fall. Crunchy leaves, cool, crisp air and, of course, pumpkin spice everything. For marketing and communications professionals, pumpkin spice latte in hand, it’s also time to look back, reflect and prepare for the year ahead. The new calendar year can bring fresh strategies, budgets and milestones, but often times, can also raise more questions than answers. We’ve been there. That’s why we developed the only guide you’ll need: How to Create a Communications Plan Your Boss Can’t Refuse. In fact, before you even finish reading this blog post, I urge you to download the guide. You’ll thank me later.

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Building a More Strategic Communications Plan with Data Analytics

The guide identifies and explores six must-have elements for a successful communications plan: real-world roots, a well-defined audience, stand-out positioning, measurable goals, a resource-conscious budget and built-in flexibility. Without real-world roots (a plan grounded in data, trends and experience) and measurable goals (objectives tied to tangible business outcomes), you’re likely to find yourself reviewing results this time next year without much insight into how they impacted the business’ larger goals and bottom line.

Avoid the Analytics Trap with Qualitative Data Pairing

Data analytics and the resulting insights can be an incredibly powerful tool for helping inform and make better business decisions, but only when paired with real-world insight into causation. For example, you might notice a big drop-off on your company’s shopping cart page, but analytics alone won’t tell you why users are leaving. Unfortunately, we can’t always directly associate or correlate quantitative analytics with user behavior. Qualitative data, used in conjunction with quantitative data, helps us understand the motivation behind the action(s), and should represent a critical component of your measurement framework.

Plan, Test, Measure, Repeat

Sorry to disappoint, but your communications plan isn’t done come January 1. Planning is a process, and just like any process, it’s likely to evolve over time. Planning should be thought of as cyclical rather than linear, an ever-adapting roadmap that allows you enough flexibility to test and iterate over time, but it starts by setting measurable goals. Here are 3 steps to help you get started:

  1. Gather context: First, determine whether you’re starting with a blank slate or if you have some historical data to fall back on. If you don’t have a company-specific starting point, benchmark data (industry averages/best practices) could be a good place to start. The great thing about digital marketing is how measurable it is, meaning there are tons of widely available studies, white papers and other online resources to better understand how others in your field/industry are performing. Set goals accordingly, but make sure to be realistic. Just because the industry-average conversion rate for a landing page is 30% doesn’t mean that’s a good target for your organization.

Assuming you’ve been tracking results in the past, begin by mining the data (Google Analytics, HubSpot, social media platforms, email marketing platforms, etc.) for benchmarks and averages, but also for insights that will help inform your plan. Data is most effective when used to answer specific questions. And one of the biggest challenges for marketers and PR professionals today is asking the right questions so that we get back good information.

Data analytics can be incredibly powerful, but only when paired with real-world insight.Click To Tweet
  1. Identify your KPIs: Key performance indicators (KPIs) should be your greatest resource in tracking your plan’s effectiveness. Based on your larger goals/objectives, consider ways to create milestones that will help you understand how much progress you’re making throughout the year (not just at the end of it). Emphasize action-oriented, output metrics (e.g., downloads, leads, revenue) over process metrics (e.g., email opens, clicks, likes, shares, visits) as they are typically better indicators of how well you’re performing overall. Process metrics can be used to further diagnose issues if/when they arise by reverse engineering the problem and making small adjustments until you see improvement (without having to scrap an entire campaign). For example, if leads are down, consider the process metrics attached to that number and further analyze clicks, visits and conversion rates.
  1. Execute a well-defined reporting structure: Start by setting pre-determined checkpoints for analyzing and reporting results regularly (quarterly, if not monthly, depending on your company’s needs and objectives). Collaborate with your team to develop a framework that allows you to track and report results consistently throughout the year, comparing current and past performance with industry-specific benchmark data (where possible) to identify areas of strength and improvement.

Developing and executing a measurement framework will allow you to more effectively implement your strategy and track results from your communications/marketing plan throughout the year. But don’t be afraid to make changes to your plan or adjust your targets (up or down) along the way as you gather data and feedback from employees, customers, prospects and others. Data analytics can be incredibly powerful, especially when leveraged appropriately in conjunction with a smart strategy. Happy planning!

For more communications planning insights and tips, read our guide, “How to Create a Communications Plan Your Boss Can’t Refuse.”

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Justin is responsible for leading overall direction on all digital programs and projects as well as overseeing and advancing the agency's digital competency and teams. He works alongside our senior management team to provide strategic and tactical client counsel; help set client expectations; and collaborate with account teams on project implementation and competency training. Justin holds a Masters in Business Administration with a dual concentration in Marketing and Management Information Systems, and a Bachelor of Arts in English, General Literature and Rhetoric from Binghamton University.