Imagine playing chess with someone who makes the same moves every time they sit down at the board. It wouldn’t take you long to figure out their strategy and beat them.

Savvy chess players – like savvy marketers – know that in order to win, they’ve got to keep their competition guessing. Yet every year, when it comes time to discuss next year’s game plan, many companies simply dust off last year’s marketing plan and call it good.  You may as well hand-deliver your playbook to your competitors.

Of course, things could be worse. You could be going into 2016 with no marketing plan. Then you may be faced with making a strategic decision now that could affect the future of your company, and you have to make that decision on the fly? Good luck.

Marketing strategy is more than a budget exercise; it’s an opportunity to take advantage of changes in the marketplace and the competitive environment. Companies that do so will find that they keep their competitors guessing.

It’s not too late to tweak your existing plan or begin writing a marketing strategy that will help you guide your company through the next year.

Here are some things to think about:

Are you constantly changing market strategies?
So many companies are guilty of strategy de jour, constantly changing direction based on fleeting trends or data. They never have the discipline to execute the strategies they have in place. This causes two profound problems: 1) enormous amounts of resources and money are wasted and, 2) there is no real accountability for results. Either of these problems could severely hinder performance or even kill the business. Having a sound strategic plan and executing it is the foundation for all well-run businesses.

Are you measuring your measurable business objectives?
I am constantly amazed by the fact the many companies don’t adequately measure their marketing activities. Instead they rely on anecdotes and gut instinct. Without measurement, there’s no way to revise plans or to enforce accountability.

Have you completed a rigorous competitive review?
How well do you really know your industry peers? Companies have a tendency to underestimate the strength of competitors and completely ignore the smaller ones. If that’s what’s happening in your company, you may be in for a real surprise. Sam Walton once said he didn’t look for what competitors were doing wrong but rather what they were doing right so he could steal the ideas.

Does your marketing budget stand a chance against your business objectives?
It’s not uncommon to see business objectives that are way out of line with marketing spend. This almost always leads to falling short in reaching your goals. You can’t save your way to growth. I remember a client once proudly telling us that they didn’t spend their whole marketing budget. This meant one of two things: either they incorrectly estimated their budget or they left growth opportunities on the table.

As you sit down and put the final touches on your business plans for next year, don’t treat your marketing plan like the renewal of your lease. By thinking about marketing in conjunction with your overall business goals, your competitors and budgets that truly reflect business goals, you will be on your way. Finally, measure, measure, measure. On-going marketing plan refinements based on real data is the linchpin to success.

This blog was originally published on Huffington Post Business.

LEVEL is a brand strategy and advertising firm based in Minneapolis, MN.  Our client relationships are predicated on mutual respect and trust.  Through this lens, we are able to produce innovative and creative solutions.  Ultimately, we have been successful at fulfilling our goal – developing revenue-generating communications for our clients.

LEVEL has extensive healthcare experience and a comprehensive understanding of the nuances of purchasing decisions, how those decisions are affected by transitions in the healthcare landscape, and the effect of regulation.  Our passion for the healthcare industry is as important as our experience.  That passion has resulted in opportunities to help companies effectively communicate with payers, providers and end-users.  Our experience extends globally including Asia, Europe and North America.