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The Quintessential Annual Plan

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It’s the first month of the financial year and given that it’s another new year it automatically calls for a new ‘annual’ plan. If I’m not wrong most of you would have spent the better part of March running around thinking hard, planning, ideating and laying out month on month or quarter on quarter details in a ‘strategic’ looking powerpoint. For those of you working in agencies, this exercise would have repeated itself manifold across all the clients you handle and involved those dreaded ‘annual review + way forward’ meetings.

On the surface of it, there’s nothing wrong with this situation – yes as brand custodians, we must all strive to have a vision for the brand which extends over a year. We do need to take stock of how we performed last year and how would we like to fare in the coming year. Nope, nothing wrong with striving for improvement. There are innumerable articles and blogs posted online, to help people with the annual planning exercise. Lots of models and ideologies exist which enable the thinking and the ideation of how a brand’s annual roadmap should be, indirectly and subconsciously emphasizing and magnifying the essentiality of a 12 month plan. However, has anyone of us ever stopped to pop this question – Is the Annual Plan really needed?

I posed this question to almost 40 people – ranging from marketers and agency professionals and there were strong trends that emerged through all the conversations I had. More than 50% of the annual plans do not get executed in the manner they were intended to due to various reasons, yet there is an insistence to define them for the entire 12 month period. More often than not they are based on last year’s campaign reviews and how can next year’s campaigns be better. Funnily given the circumstantial coincidence of the performance appraisal with the annual plan presentation, this particular plan ends up being the benchmark and embodiment of creativity, performance and excellence for both – the agency and the client POC.

With digital increasingly emerging as a strong medium for brands, annual digital plans are not given due consideration. Or maybe they are given due consideration but that is restricted to purely a campaign to campaign point of view.

Of course brands would argue that they do walk and talk digital and it is something they’d like to weave into the very fabric of their organisation. Unfortunately this claim does not verify itself against all and definitely not where the annual planning exercise is concerned. There are definitely exceptions to the rule and some brilliant ones at that, but these are few.

So is there a need for an annual plan? I think it is time we redefine the notion of an annual plan.  Currently most brands seek to define executional annual plans. However, what they fail to see is that when things change as fast as the current digital scenario, the first thing to change is ‘execution’. As such, the need of the hour is to define ‘strategic’ annual roadmaps rather than ‘idea centric’ annual calendars. Here are my suggestions to approach strategic thinking for a brand:

  • Consider a three year horizon and define the why, the what and the how of your brand’s existence and then define the ‘where’ accordingly. It is important that annual digital strategies talk to brand plans in a manner where the ‘why’ is kept in focus and is the sounding board to therefore define the ‘what’ in the context of the medium
  • Take trends (political, social, cultural, technological) into account and also the behaviour of your audience in context of your brand
  • Idea-centric or rather executional (the how) plans can then be accordingly defined along with measurable milestones. The tenure of the plan can hence naturally fall in place rather than it being fixed into a pre-decided time frame
  • Additionally, consider a symbiotic approach towards planning wherein all media – traditional and new-age talk to each other to help achieve brand objectives in a cohesive manner. After all when we talk of integrated marketing, then digital cannot simply be restricted to act as an extension to a mainline campaign

This would help brands and their partners then have a more relevant and more actionable digital plan that is truly a roadmap –  fluid and flexible and not dependent on ‘mere ideas’ alone.

In my opinion, the quintessential annual plan for digital cannot exist as it does currently. We need to relook at this important roadmap and treat it as such. The world is moving faster than we can blink and in these supersonic times, I think it’s best we evolve towards defining a clear field of vision and staying agile.

Sabiha Khan – AVP, Business Development and Strategy, WATConsult


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Sabiha Khan

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