Campaign planning is one of the foundations of marketing effectiveness as it enhances the marketing team’s efficiency and at the same time increases the impact of its activities. The campaign planning process is also a critical tool for prioritization and coordinating cross-functional alignment and collaboration. In this post, we provide a high-level overview of what campaign planning is, who should be involved in the process, and how it benefits marketing departments as well as stakeholders across an organization.
What Is a Campaign?
Marketing campaigns promote products, messages, and content through diverse types of channels and approaches. While a campaign can technically be comprised of a single marketing tactic and channel (e.g., a one-off email), most campaigns encompass of a set of cohesive and integrated marketing activities spanning multiple channels and oriented towards a common (ideally measurable) goal. For example, an organization looking to attract authors for a special issue might send out a two-part email series along with five social media posts and three paid media ads linking to a post-click conversion landing page. All these components make up one campaign.
Campaign strategies typically include the following elements:
- Intent & Goal: A hallmark of a campaign is that it is in service of a goal (i.e., it is designed to achieve a key business objective). As a result, campaigns must have a clear, singular intent (usually represented as a call to action) and be measurable.
- Campaign Budget: It is important to track all campaign costs. This includes the costs of producing and executing the campaign and the allocated costs for marketing staff time.
- Campaign Metrics: We recommend developing target metrics as part of the campaign strategy so marketers can compare targets against actual performance. While it is important to measure impressions (reach) and engagement (e.g., email opens and clicks) for each campaign tactic, the goal is to measure successful conversions through to return on investment for the entire campaign. Even when it is not possible to accurately measure key performance metrics, such as cost of customer or author acquisition, it is critical to build indicative measurement frameworks so teams can effectively learn from campaign performance and prioritize accordingly.
- Target Audience: This is the audience who receives the campaign. Targets can be broad or highly segmented (and everywhere in between). Audiences can include current customers and audiences as well as prospects.
- Core Messages: Messaging is the language used in a campaign. Good messaging builds awareness, engages, or persuades the target audience. It encapsulates the key values and value propositions of the product, service, or brand being promoted, the content being featured, and/or the offer being presented. Often, organizations pull from message libraries such as our Capsule Messaging Collection™ to match core messaging to campaign goals.
- Funnel Stage(s): What funnel stages (awareness, interest/consideration, decision, post purchase loyalty) is the campaign advancing?
- Assets: Creative or content marketing assets that are designed to effectively convey core campaign messages (ads, videos, infographics, landing pages, etc.).
- Channels: The mediums via which campaign outreach is disseminated (email, social media, web, paid media, public relations, etc.).
- Tactics: The various activities conducted in support of each campaign channel (for example, on social media –organic posts, paid ads, and influencer or partner marketing).
- Testing and Optimization: Through testing, marketers create experiments to test hypotheses (e.g., will segment A respond more to a discount message or a value message) and adjust tactics accordingly.
What is Campaign Planning?
“Campaign planning” refers to the systems and processes that bring together marketing teams to plan, classify, and prioritize all campaigns that will be conducted within a particular time period (called a “campaign season”). Campaign planning is strategic preparation, where marketers assess and analyze all campaigns collectively before building and executing specific campaigns.
Campaign Planning Intake
It is considered a best practice for marketing teams to institute campaign planning processes and systems both annually and for defined campaign seasons (e.g., Spring 2024). We recommend conducting four planning cycles per year, with one being an annual as well as quarterly view.
For each campaign season, Marketing conducts intake, collecting all necessary information for each desired campaign, so that it can classify and prioritize campaigns. This requires bringing together priorities, goals, and corresponding campaign ideas from across various teams. The exact makeup of the campaign planning group will vary based on each organization’s structure and needs.
While it the seasonal view is intended to be a comprehensive inventory of the period, there will always be unforeseen opportunities and needs requiring off-season intake. We recommend the seasonal campaign planning process aim to capture at least 85% of all campaigns in the defined campaign season. One-off campaign requests outside of the intake process can be handled via a special campaign intake and evaluation processes.
What Is In and Out of Scope
Organizations should set parameters on what is in and out of scope for campaign planning. For example, with regard to content planning for owned channels (e.g., blogs, social media, podcasts), the use of these content channels in a campaign (e.g., a campaign including a blog post and three organic social posts) should be part of campaign planning whereas the full content calendar (which is likely to include content not yet developed) may not. This is because the full content calendar will include not only content that is part of a campaign, but also content created to meet broader editorial aims and audience engagement strategies. This full content view is best achieved through a content strategy and content planning framework.
For some organizations, the process to define “always on” or evergreen promotions that are triggered based on journey stage, scores, or predictive models (e.g., recommended content or abandoned cart) are treated separately from the planning of time-bound campaigns (e.g., a call for a collection with a defined start end date). We recommend connecting the two processes to have a fuller view of planned and “live” campaigns.
The Campaign Planning Model
To allow for campaign synthesis and alignment, the campaign intake format needs to be consistent. While this can be achieved by using a standardized template or spreadsheet, we recommend a more sophisticated relational model that allows for refined data tagging, sorting, and viewing on multiple dimensions that go far beyond what a spreadsheet or project management tracker can do. We call this the campaign planning model. Metadata classification and “smart linking” in the campaign model is critical. A well-designed campaign planning model is intended to make planning, scoring, and prioritizing marketing campaigns easier. The model should also be designed with an eye towards the organization’s reporting needs. What are the lenses by which the business will want to view the campaigns (e.g., product, goal, or channel)?
Campaign Decisions & Prioritization
Post-intake, the marketing team (or a designated role) decides the status of each campaign. Campaigns are given a status of approved, combined, or candidate for deprecation based on a prioritization methodology – including criteria such as:
- Alignment with top organizational priorities including the priority of the products and goals being advanced in the campaign
- Audience / list considerations
- Expected campaign impact (e.g., revenue, leads, engagement metrics, etc.)
- Performance of similar past campaigns
- Budget and level of effort to deliver the campaign
Once campaigns have been prioritized and combined, Marketing needs to apply a “do-ability lens.” This looks at the costs and resources required for execution. A good campaign model will calculate the level of effort for all campaigns to inform not only campaign ROI but also resource allocation for the campaign season (e.g., 1.3 FTEs are required to implement the approved seasonal campaigns).
There may be campaigns the Marketing team has classified as candidates for advancement based on the above prioritization methodology but lack the budget or resources to execute effectively. This resource lens highlights these gaps so that Marketing can raise them to leadership and propose solutions (e.g. additional budget, freelancers, technology, etc.)
Approved campaigns for which resources are in place are scheduled, positioned in a queue to be developed, and sent to project management or marketing automation platforms for execution workflows.
The Key Benefits of Campaign Planning
Campaign planning is essential for effective preparation, execution, and evaluation of marketing activities, and for ensuring those activities are aligned to strategic priorities. It offers a variety of important benefits to marketing teams and stakeholders across an organization, including:
Campaign planning helps organizations move beyond one-off (potentially low impact) tactics to robust multichannel campaigns.
Campaign Visibility & Alignment
Campaign planning brings together marketing teams across an organization – whether they are centralized or decentralized – around common priorities. By convening regularly for campaign intake to discuss goals and intentions, they can work to foster greater alignment around strategic focus; collaborate to enhance, reduce, or combine outreach; and initiate collaborations that extend through the season.
Campaign planning provides a global view across teams as to what campaigns are in the queue. Often, teams outside of Marketing are not aware of what Marketing is (and is not) working on. A shared campaign calendar closes this gap in information flow, ensuring all stakeholders understand current marketing priorities, strategies, and activities, and have visibility into the campaign pipeline. Further, having a fixed schema (metadata) to report on campaigns based on various filters (goal, product, channel, etc.) provides marketing teams and organizational leaders with roll-up views of marketing efforts.
Preparedness & Prioritization
The campaign planning process helps to ensure that only the best (i.e., most strategically aligned, most cohesive and coordinated, most valuable) campaigns move forward – instilling a culture of goal setting, planning, and preparation. It forces hard but important conversations around an organization’s priorities. The reality is that it is impossible to treat all organizational goals and products equally. Campaign planning brings to the forefront an organization’s agreed-upon strategic priorities. Without a planning and prioritization framework in place, marketers may lack the standing to say “no” when appropriate – or fail to see where there are opportunities to synthesize new needs with existing outreach.
While there will always be unforeseen opportunities and needs, campaign planning dramatically reduces the number of one-off requests and reactive campaigns – shifting the focus towards more deliberate and strategic planning. With a full and prioritized view of all expected campaigns, campaign workflow can be assigned and effectively project managed. Because campaign planning should include cost, personnel, and level of effort calculations, it helps with resource and budget planning.
Campaign planning forces organizations to rise above internal structures and a product mindset, instead thinking about campaigns through a customer and audience lens. This might mean combining campaigns from different business units or making deliberate scheduling decisions or planning frequency and waterfall rules to reduce list fatigue. By convening teams that may be conducting customer outreach in silos, campaign planning helps everyone work towards a common strategy and positive customer experience.
Campaign Performance Intelligence
The metadata schema applied during campaign intake provides a foundation for analyzing campaign performance. When tied to robust mechanisms for tracking, measurement, and post-campaign performance analysis, campaign planning allows marketers to compare performance trends based on campaign type, product area, and other dimensions – gaining insight into which types of campaigns are and are not working. This insight is foundational to boosting successful campaigns, discontinuing ineffective and low-ROI campaigns, and improving campaign performance over time.
How Can Campaign Planning Help Publishers, Associations, and Education Service Providers?
While we work with clients across many sectors, many of C&E’s clients are Publishers, Associations, and/or Educational Organizations. Campaign planning has been a critical enabler for marketing success in these domains. Here are some of the issues we commonly see campaign planning help solve:
- Marketing Fragmentation: Some associations have separate marketing and communications teams (e.g., publishing, membership, and events) all marketing to the same audience. This not only results in inefficiencies, but is bad for customer (including author) experience. Campaign planning centers marketing strategy around the customer, ensuring that all marketers, regardless of team or focus area, are collaborating and planning centrally.
- Editorial and Marketing Collaboration in an OA World: In today’s Open Access world, the focus for publishing organizations is on the author and the author’s experience. Marketing and editorial teams have shared goals of increasing author submission and building community. Campaign planning provides an effective way for these two teams to collaborate and gain full visibility into the campaign pipeline.
- Marketing Investment and Prioritization: Most publishers and associations have historically under-invested in marketing. This is especially true for publishers shifting from B2B marketing to B2C marketing and associations embracing more sophisticated audience strategies. We often see tension as organizations recognize that these market shifts mean they need more marketing, while at the same time having an overly optimistic view that the current marketing team has the bandwidth to meet new organizational needs. Campaign planning provides a clear view into which campaigns are most important and whether the marketing team is adequately resourced to execute them. This visibility can help make the case for more investment and force hard prioritization decisions. It may also highlight how marketing technology can add automation and always-on capability that increases team capacity and modernizes the organization’s marketing approach.
- New MarTech Capability: As organizations add new marketing technology, they add new capabilities such as delivering personalized messaging or hyper-segmented offers. While these new capabilities are game changing, they can also be overwhelming. After deciding to add new MarTech, savvy marketing leaders spend time focusing on core questions, such as:
- How do we define campaign success?
- How do we avoid overwhelming our audience?
- What is the right cadence and sequence for messaging?
- How do we prioritize when staff (inside and outside of marketing) are brimming with enthusiasm and ideas?
- How does new capability affect traditional campaigns?
- Do we focus more on rolling out new campaigns or testing and optimizing current ones?
Campaign planning sits alongside MarTech roadmapping and KPI planning. It focuses the marketing team on prioritization and cross-team visibility, which is critical when rolling out new marketing technology capabilities.
- Global vs. Local Alignment: Some organizations – especially educational providers – have both local and global marketing teams. Campaign planning gives local teams visibility into global campaigns so they can determine what can be localized for their market.
- Centralizing Marketing: We are seeing a trend in organizations moving to centralize their marketing and customer experience teams. For these newly formed marketing teams, campaign planning can be a terrific way to advance collaboration and alignment.
A Structure for Synthesis and Success
While the campaign planning process helps with managing project lead times and resourcing, it’s important that the focus is not primarily operational – it should be on strategy and improving marketing performance and efficacy. The real beauty of campaign planning is in gaining a full picture of objectives and campaigns across teams, a central view that urges a fresh look at the approach the entire organization is taking in outreach to its various audiences.
For organizations looking to improve marketing performance, campaign planning is the first step. At C&E, we have a proprietary framework that we call Campaign Nexus: A Strategic Framework to Campaign Planning™. Through our process and framework, we help you move from siloed planning that may be taking place in disparate spreadsheets to a unified campaign planning model that provides you with unprecedented visibility and alignment across your organization.
Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how we can help you take your campaign planning to the next level.