By now we’ve all read a million articles talking about important learnings from 2009, tips for a better 2010 and hot predictions for the year ahead, all of which offer really useful information and insight. So, perhaps you’re now at the stage of tweaking your marketing plan, bedding down new strategies and firming up budgets… a very invigorating (and daunting) time for marketers.

While deciding what the new marketing plan looks like, most of us will work with our teams to identify new strategies to try and successful tactics to hold fast to, in a bid to improve on our 2009 marketing efforts. There’s plenty of advice out there to leverage but what I think seems to be missing is a critical reminder to analyse what you achieved last year in light of where you want to take your business in 2010.

I think we’ll see improvement in the way marketers track results and draw conclusions that inform investment decisions this year but there’s still a long way to go before we see the majority of businesses benchmarking themselves against their peers and setting goals within such a context. We still tend to analyse our results such as website hits and email open rates in isolation, comparing figures from one month to the next. We set goals for the new year based on past improvement figures and still frequently use our ‘gut instinct’ when coming up with segmentation campaigns to engage different audiences in our mailing list. While these are all fairly good attempts at providing yourself with data on which to base your plan and budget, there’s a lot more you could be doing.

Find your yardstick

It’s critical nowadays for us to widen our view of the world. If we are to truly understand where we are and what we need to achieve with our plans we need to grasp how our figures and stats compare to our peers. For example, a steady increase of website hits is not enough if our figures are comparatively low with our competitors. Just because you’ve seen an average monthly improvement of 11% in website visitors throughout 2009 doesn’t mean you’re doing a great job of generating traffic, especially when your business attracts 10,000 less visitors per month than your nearest competitor.

Alternatively, you could be generating 5,000 more hits per month than your industry peers which is also extremely valuable insight, especially when it comes to conducting informed conversations with your work colleagues come budget time.

Although it can seem daunting at first, finding your yardstick is extremely valuable.

A better understanding of what’s what

In a typical month marketers might have a range of tactics and strategies on the go, from banner ads and emails to trade show booths. All of these are playing an important role in generating awareness and pushing people through your sales cycle.

But how are you attributing value to each of these tools? I’d say most of us are counting the click-throughs from the banner ads, the open rates to the emails and counting sales from the trade show. We then analyse the number of sales closed as a result of each tactic and draw conclusions about future investment. The problem with this is, when you scratch the surface of these statistics there’s a good possibility you’ll come up with a very different picture to what you originally thought.

Think about it, the average sale isn’t attributable to any one tactic and yet the above mentioned data collation strategy gives all the credit to the tactic that eventually closed the sale. The problem with this is that you miss out on the full marketing picture. Here you are thinking that the banner ads are driving most of your sales in March when really it was the combination of your email campaign and banner ads cleverly timed with your trade show participation that secured all the month’s sales.

When it comes to understanding exactly what’s working for your business you need a comprehensive overview of how your tactics come together to get customers over the line. It’s only once you have this level of insight that you can rest assured that your analysis, planning and goal setting for the year ahead is realistic and has the best chance possible at improving sales conversion.

To wrap up, I’d like to say that it’s never too late to embark on more sophisticated marketing measurement and even if 2010 is your first year of hard and fast data gathering, it will put you in good stead for 2011… which will be here before we know it.