It's that time of year again where we start planning marketing for the next year. Everyone gets all excited about the marketing plan, and by February, the plan is already in shambles.

Either the budget wasn't allocated properly to the plan, the right people aren't in place, or in many cases, the plan was just too far-fetched to begin with.

So, when building a marketing plan, I focus on one question: What single marketing activity will bring me the most value in the next year?

For many startups, traction is built off a single marketing activity, not a combination of them. Dropbox was built off a referral link to add more space to your hard drive, and Facebook was built by focusing on one college a time. It's these single marketing activities that drive the most value and if you do the same, you can see great results.

Here are four steps to help you with building a marketing plan that works in 2019.

Step 1: Assume you don't know what marketing campaigns will work and won't work

The hardest part about marketing is understanding that just because something worked before, it doesn't mean it will work now. Just because it worked for a competitor, doesn't mean it will work for you. There is a myriad of reasons why that is true, but I find it's true because every company is different and have different thoughts on how marketing should be executed.

So, go in with the expectations that your marketing plan might actually not work. And instead of marking it as a failure when it doesn't work, plan for it to not work, and move on to your next strategy quickly.

Step 2: Pick five marketing activities that you think will help you be the most effective in acquiring customers.

A sample list could include Facebook ads, webinars, physical events, billboards and cold email outreach.

The book Traction covers this topic really well and suggests to review the 19 channels to grow your business before narrowing down the list you will try. Long story short, you don't know what marketing channel is going to work, but you can make educated guesses.

I recommend starting with five and working from there. 

Step 3: Put together a simple excel spreadsheet with the following fields:

  1. Name of marketing activity - Facebook ads, etc.

  2. Start Date - The date you expect to start this marketing campaign

  3. End Date - The end date. I would plan for at least two to three months for each marketing activity

  4. # of acquired customers - How many customers did you acquire during this process?

  5. Total cost - How much money did you invest in this?

  6. The cost to acquire a customer - After all is said and done, how much did it cost to acquire the customer? This number is probably the most important number of them all. 

  7. Proceed / Don't Proceed - If you feel that you were able to acquire customers at a low or decent cost, then that means you should consider continuing on with this marketing channel and invest more into it. 

Step 4. Execute one or two marketing channels at a time maximum.

Where most marketers and companies go wrong is that they try to do all of the channels at once and thus can't spend their time executing their marketing campaigns. So, you get half-baked attempts at marketing and by February / March timeframe everyone is already not happy with the results.

The goal with this is to make sure you are actually investing the right time and resources into each marketing channel campaign. You need to have confidence that you actually gave it a good attempt.

Step 5. Go or no go. Decide if you want to continue investing in this marketing tactic.

In the excel spreadsheet, the proceed/don't proceed section is where you should mark if you should continue with the marketing channel or not.

This goes back to the original question: What single marketing activity will bring me the most value in the next year? If you found that Facebook ads simply doesn't work for your company, then you table it. It's gone. It's not a failure, but it's a learning process. You continue on to the next marketing channel until you find something that works for you.