ThinkstockPhotos-180520474-436290-edited.jpgWhen it comes to marketing, the most successful companies view it as an investment, not an expense. Why? Because when marketing is implemented efficiently (with a plan, driven by goals and with quantifiable metrics established), profound ROI isn’t just possible, it’s almost a given.

If you’re a business owner or marketing professional, you know that achieving a positive return on investment is a must. These 3 not-so-little letters may haunt your dreams if you’re not doing a great job creating it, or, may be the reason your company is enjoying tremendous growth and the perks associated with it. But it takes money to make money and the thought of spending without a guaranteed outcome can make even the most confident people skeptical.

Successful companies are able see the forest through the trees and devote a budget to marketing and advertising. It’s that simple. Have there been successful companies who forged the path to success totally grassroots guerilla style? Perhaps yes, however the majority of companies you likely admire (B2B, B2C, local, national or global) have actual, dedicated and growing marketing budgets.

So for marketing success in 2016, you first must commit to making an actual marketing investment. That means money, but if you’re not working with a marketing agency, it also means time. Once you’ve made the commitment, and the subsequent investment, it’s even more critical to not waste a penny of that budget or a moment of your time. A marketing plan prevents both.

Here are 10 marketing plan must-haves and must-dos to maximize your opportunity for marketing ROI:

1) Analyze your audience

Yes it’s Marketing 101…but are you doing it? Many businesses overlook that an authentic focus on who is actual buying from you is the key to success. Do you have buyer personas? How well do you know your target market’s pain points and habits? Knowing your audience is critical to establishing a mutually beneficial relationship between you and them, and relationships are what get your prospects to become happy, returning customers.

You should have detailed profiles for your key customer types, and know things like their challenges, pains, favorite information resources, and needs. And remember – personas shouldn’t be based on a few guesses, but instead historical interactions and research. Three words: Don’t just guess.

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2) Revise your SEO keywords and phrases

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has changed over the years, and has become an increasingly complex tactic that requires research and constant testing. While SEO may not be as keyword-focused as it once was, keywords are still a tremendously important component of a successful SEO strategy.

Your keyword strategy should incorporate short-tail (generalized) terminology backed by an extensive list of long-tail (targeted) phrases. Keep in mind, the keywords and phrases your prospects are using may not be the keywords your business is using internally; if you’re not optimizing your content for the customers’ language or incorporating their common questions, concerns, and challenges (in their own words), your SEO will fail.

3) Create an editorial calendar for your blogs

People like consistency, and an inconsistent blog can be mind boggling, not to mention annoying. After all, if you can’t consistently write and post blogs, what does that say about your ability to consistently deliver as a business?

Your editorial calendar should include blog topics that address your prospects’ and customers’ pain points, and revolve around your SEO keywords and phrases (see step 2 above). And just a heads up – your editorial calendar may not be annual. Consider quarterly updates to ensure your blogs have plenty of time to be developed, but are still relevant.

4) Align your sales and marketing strategies

Are you producing content that is actually in line with the needs of your sales team? Your sales team has a pulse on what prospects and customers are actually saying and they’re often the best channel for identifying and translating the needs and desires of your audience.

They can provide you with the exact questions and pain points that need to be addressed – aka content gold. If you’re going to be blogging (see step 3) and creating content (which has to be a component of any successful modern marketing plan), doesn’t it just make sense to develop content that helps your sales team close more business?

5) Perform a monthly review of your metrics and KPIs

Do you know what your metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are? If not, you’ll want to define these ASAP. If you can’t measure the success of your marketing initiatives, your plan won’t be very successful (or maybe it will be the best plan ever, but you’ll have no way of knowing for sure). At the minimum, you’ll want to know how your website is behaving and performing: traffic by source, conversion rates by offer, and bounce rates.

Your KPIs, on the other hand, are the metrics directly related to your business goals. Have an ecommerce site, and want to sell more? Your KPIs may include average order size (or value) and customer retention rate. If you really want to get sophisticated, you can begin measuring your customer lifetime value, and start predicting future success.

6) Update your website

Website revisions shouldn’t occur only during a full site redesign or when your address changes. Your site should be constantly reviewed and updated to ensure it’s relevant and optimized. Focus areas should include SEO, images, layout, conversion points, forms, videos, interactivity, UX features and of course, your actual content.

7) Incorporate Call-to-Actions

Every page on your website should include a call-to-action (CTA), and every CTA should be monitored and optimized to improve the conversion rate. This process should be done regularly – as in every day – so start scheduling time to review your CTAs. Don’t forget – conversion points that resonate for visitors in any stage of the buyer’s journey are necessary on your website so this step goes beyond options to Contact Us, Schedule a Consultation or Request Pricing.

8) Complete a comprehensive SEO evaluation of your website

We realize SEO was already discussed but with a topic this critical for marketing success, we’ve given it ample focus. If your SEO strategy is based on the SEO rules of 10, 5, or even 1 year ago, this step is especially important.

The best SEO advice we can give you is to follow best practices. Make sure your content and metadata relate, keywords are implemented, site structure is highly usable by a human as well as easily crawlable and indexable by a search engine, and that you’re producing quality content to name a very few. SEO can be a beast to tackle, and requires the expertise to improve rankings without violating best practices (which may result in a severe drop in search rankings).

9) Document your sales process

Is the current process repeatable and scalable (you do plan on growing right?)? Is the process uniform across every member of the sales team? If not, why? As discussed in Step 4, marketing and sales alignment should be a marketing plan priority and a disorganized, undocumented sales process works against not towards that goal.

10) Complete your marketing calendar for the year

You didn’t think we’d only recommend a calendar for your blogs, did you? Build out your holistic marketing calendar for the year. This calendar will help you prepare and stay focused on activities like trade shows you’ll be attending, webinars you’ll be conducting, digital campaigns you’ll be launching, and print ads that need distributing – and (as detailed more in our full 2016 planning checklist) how you’ll quantify them.

Whether you’re implementing a digital marketing strategy, a more traditionally-based one or, our recommended approach of a fully integrated marketing strategy, ROI is best produced when multiple channels are leveraged. Trying to plan and keep track of all these channels and the activities for each one without a calendar is like trying to win the Super Bowl without a playbook, team practice and post-game footage reviews. Bad, bad, bad idea.

Tying it all together

You can walk away from this blog right now with a 10-point action plan for marketing success and ROI this year. Get excited!  But don’t forget to also download our complete 2016 Marketing Plan Checklist for 10 additional priorities your full marketing plan should consider. If you do just these 10 things you’re headed down the right path, but actioning all 20 tips is the stuff ROI dreams are made of. So go ahead…we double dog dare you!

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