Working in a marketing department can be incredible because it can touch so many different things–from analysis to writing to design and just straight up talking with customers. That freedom to experiment is pretty awesome… but it can lead to panicked moments where you have absolutely no idea if you’re headed the right direction. Especially when you’re sitting down to make a plan for the new year.

As the calendar year comes to a close, we wanted to poke around a bit and see what other marketers are doing to plan for next year. We were curious if they planned meticulously, casually, or even if they felt they needed to come up with a plan at all.

As a holiday gift to you, I’ve distilled our six findings down for you so you and your team can ring in the new year with a solid plan and the confidence needed to tackle anything 2019 throws your way 💪.

Marketing isn’t one size fits all. Make sure you know where you’re going before you hit the ground running in 2019. Here are some things marketers are doing to plan for 2019:

Work Backwards

The #1 thing that I heard from marketers about their 2019 planning is that they started by thinking about their new year goals. They don’t start their planning with budget, campaigns, or channels. They start planning by asking, “what are my business goals for next year?” The types of marketing tasks you’ll be doing next year should depend entirely on the results you want. Do you want incremental revenue growth, expand into a new market, introduce a new product, or raise brand awareness? These aren’t mutually exclusive. Your brand can - and probably will - have more than one on its radar for 2019.

Once you know your goals, you can work backward to make a concrete plan for the year. Write down all of your goals, and use them as “buckets” to fill with pieces of your marketing mix. You’ll see an action plan come together before your eyes.

Key tips submitted by: Henry McIntosh, Director of 2112 Marketing and Dave Poulos, Director of Marketing for Pinnacle Advisory Group

Observe the Competition

Keeping tabs on your competitors is something you should be doing year-round. But when it comes time to plan for the new year, it’s a great idea to take an extra close look at your competition. Start by making a list of your competitors, then list where they’re beating you. That sort of self criticism can be hard, but it’s where the magic really happens. Identifying what your competitors are doing better than you gives you something to focus on.

It’s one thing for Lyft to say, “Uber is beating us,” but it’s a much more powerful statement for them to observe, “Uber is a more globally recognized brand than us and has become a household name and genericized trademark for on-demand rideshare.” Then Lyft could note that they need to spend more on brand marketing this year. Maybe investing more than last year in ads, influencers, and social media.

Write down some of these areas where you want to catch up to your competitors. Even if you’ll never be able to match these companies’ marketing resources, this exercise will give you clear targets on what you want to achieve this year.

Key tip submitted by: Airto Zamorano, Founder and CEO of Numana SEO

Writing Down their Budgets

As I interviewed marketers, one of the things that surprised me is how many marketers create a formal budget for the coming year. I guessed there would be a mix of those who had a formal budgeting process and those whose budget planning was simply a rough brainstorm.

But, almost every single person said they had a formal budgeting process (with the caveat that you should always build in wiggle room to change and move things around). Whether or not you’re a fan of spreadsheets, this is an important step in assuring you can financially achieve your goals as you put pen to paper with detailed plans.

How you ask? There isn’t really a one-size fits all method (I know, I know, I hate to be the bearer of bad news). At a high-level, marketing budgets tend to be between 5-15% of the company’s gross revenue, depending on profit margin. From there you can allocate that money into different pieces of your marketing mix.

But you’ll need to experiment with what planning method works best for your team. Here’s a helpful breakdown of 4 different ways to create a marketing budget. And, in the theme of this article, here’s some awesome research about how other marketers are creating their budgets.  

P.S. it seems like most new year planning is done from October - December, takes a week or so, and involves a few different stakeholders. Make sure you’re diligent about setting aside some time on your calendar for this planning at the end of the year!

Key tips submitted by: Steve Kurniawan, Content Specialist & Growth Strategist at Nine Peaks Media

Software Forward

A lot of marketers said they centered their 2019 planning around the software and tools they’d be using, which wasn’t something I had expected to hear.

But it makes a lot of sense. Software can often be one of your largest line items in terms of budget, and there’s likely a piece of software (or more) that correlates with nearly everything in your marketing mix. Chances are you’re already using a few services, and already have eyes on others you’d like to try out. Thinking about software early on serves as a pretty straightforward way of dipping your toes into marketing planning.

No idea where to start? Here is how 54 companies at the 2018 MarTech conference illustrated their marketing stacks. And here’s a breakdown of marketing spend for startups in 2018, if smaller companies are more your jam.

Key tip submitted by: Nate Masterson, Chief Marketing Officer of Maple Holistics


There’s no better time to reflect than when something is coming to an end. This is a short and simple tip. As 2018 closes, take some time to look back on what worked well and what needed improvement.

Host a 2018 wrap up meeting with key stakeholders towards the end of the year. Ask everyone what they thought the big wins were. Ask what they can improve on for next year. Jot down a list of everyone’s responses.

Make sure to re-invest in the things that resulted in success. For the things that didn’t take off, consider whether a different marketing approach could improve that result, or if it’s time to abandon the experiment and focus your resources on something else in the new year.

And lastly, think about what data would be helpful for this reflection exercise. If you have it, include those metrics as you decide what worked and what didn’t. If you don’t have it, set it up for next year. You’ll thank yourself in 365 days.

Key tip submitted by: Nate Masterson, Chief Marketing Officer of Maple Holistics

Ask for Help

Marketers wear many hats. You can try to do it all yourself, or you can outsource some of the work. If you value your sanity, you’ll want to bring someone else on board to help out. Social media managers, freelance designers, administrative assistants, consultants, you name it. The beginning of a new year is a perfect excuse to begin those conversations.

Think about some of items on your schedule that are a complete time drain. Or the tasks on your plate whose results don’t quite look or feel the way you want them to. You want to be efficient. What’s not efficient is spending all your time on tasks that take you 5 hours but others 1 hour. Instead, focus on tasks that take you 1 hour when it takes others 5 hours. Rock your strengths. Ask for help with weaknesses. That’s the secret to success.

It’s best to brainstorm these at the end of the year because once those new budgets are in place, it’ll be harder to get funding for these services.

Key tip submitted by Carla Williams Johnson, Media Marketing Specialist at Carli Communications

The fun doesn’t end here

I received so many great tips that I simply couldn’t squeeze them all into one article! Follow us on Twitter to learn more about how marketers are planning for 2019.