How to Make Your Annual Marketing Strategy Session Interactive
Around this time last year, my team and I began working with our clients on their 2019 marketing strategies. This is something we do every year. But this time, we decided to think about it a little differently: We took an interactive approach to planning each strategy session.
We’ve learned from countless discovery sessions, creative kickoffs, and branding workshops that it’s easier to follow through on plans when every stakeholder is invested from the beginning. So why not apply that same logic to our annual strategy sessions? Why hold closed-door meetings with a small handful of marketers, when our plans would surely benefit from the diverse perspectives of the whole team? Not only that, but why not get the entire marketing team bought in at every level — especially those who are ultimately going to execute the strategy?
We knew we could facilitate these sessions in a way that delivered on the expectations of those at the top, while ensuring that everyone’s voice was heard in the process. So that’s what we set out to do. And guess what? It’s proven to be our most successful year of strategizing yet, both in terms of the feedback we got from clients immediately afterward and in the results our campaigns have already achieved this year. Here’s how we accomplished it.
Each client’s strategy session was tailored to their needs, but they all had a few things in common:
- They were designed to be collaborative and built around a series of interactive activities engineered to get people sharing ideas across teams and functions.
- We began by defining the common language that the group would use to talk about 2019 goals, objectives, and marketing activities.
- The result was a cohesive strategy, comprehensive budget, and tactical roadmap around which the whole team was aligned, minimizing the risk of rogue campaigns or fragmented messaging throughout the year.
Some sessions took only a few hours, while others stretched across weeks, as large teams came together over multiple meetings.
The Key Components of an Interactive Strategy Session
As an example, here’s how we divided the planning into components for one of our larger clients.
- We facilitated a half-day pre-planning session focused on the client’s 2019 company goals. We helped the marketing team dissect these goals and determine marketing activities that could contribute to achieving them.
- We conducted a content audit of the client’s current market research, marketing assets, messaging, and campaigns to determine what might be relevant for future campaigns. We completed additional market research to supplement what the client had provided us and to lend additional insight.
- We interviewed key stakeholders one-on-one in order to understand their workflows, dependencies, challenges or sticking points, ideas for improvements, and wish lists.
Deliverable: Aggregated findings, presented during the planning workshop.
- We led a series of collaborative, interactive activities designed to dig further into the ideas, concerns, and questions uncovered during the stakeholder interviews and content audit.
- We helped the group document its user stories — the narratives of the people who are impacted by its marketing activities.
- Through hands-on group work, we worked backward from the company goals to shape a strategy that aligned the tactical activities of the various marketing groups represented. We used “games” like Start, Stop, Continue, in which the team lists every current marketing initiative on Post-it Notes and then works together to organize them into things they should start, things they should stop, and things they should continue.
- We introduced fun and games throughout the day to relieve any stress that might have resulted from the planning process and to help the team bond.
- We conducted further research required by additional questions that were raised during the workshop.
- We met with our key stakeholders and presented the outcomes of the workshop and our recommendations going forward, to both contribute our expertise as an agency and to ensure that the strategy we’d created collaboratively had approval, at every level.
- We consolidated the results of the workshop and our accepted recommendations into one document that included the client’s 2019 marketing strategy, timeline, and budget. Everyone on the team has access to the strategy; it’s meant to be a living document that marketers can use throughout the year to stay on track and aligned.
Deliverable: “2019 Marketing Strategy” document.
Whether you’re in charge of running your team’s annual planning this year or you, like me, are with an agency with clients who rely on you as a strategic partner, I highly recommend this interactive approach. The benefits that our clients saw from bringing us in as a third-party facilitator to objectively guide them through the planning process were huge, and I can confidently say we won’t ever be going back to old-school planning methods.
Sarah Mannone is the Executive Vice President of Trekk, a tech-driven creative services agency. She works with Trekk clients to develop strategic marketing plans and craft measurable programs that that span print, web, social, and mobile. As part of the Trekk management team, Sarah is involved in the decisions and strategy around adopting new technologies and applications to meet the current and future needs of Trekk clients. Sarah is a member of the Forbes Agency Council and a frequent speaker at marketing industry events.