Leveraging Asana for Marketing Communications Planning

In the Biotech Marketing Network survey we published early this year, we were surprised to find that only a small percentage of life science marketers use project management software to manage their communications. Instead, many use shared spreadsheets, a method which many marketers would deem antiquated and not easily connected to other applications. For this month’s focus on marketing communications management, we thought it fitting to cover the Asana application, which is a great way to develop a “living” marketing plan. Omni channel marketing, which is the current buzz word describing reaching customers with a consistent message throughout their purchasing journey, requires more sophistication than spreadsheets and shared files.

Asana is a web-based application, which organizes projects with teams, projects, tasks, related files, and a calendar. Asana also has a “conversations” feature, but I have not seen organizations use it effectively, they usually resort to email or an application such as Slack (will cover this application soon). It’s a shame that conversations aren’t used, as Asana could really be the “killer app” for organizations.

Here are some of the benefits of using Asana:

  1. Traceability. If you’re wondering who’s working on which tasks, what deadlines are approaching, who is assigned to which task, and how long tasks are taking to complete, Asana will help you out, however it needs to be set up with the proper structure and fields to be able to use it for this task.
  2. Reproducibility. You can easily search for, and see the history for every task, which resources/files were used, who was involved, and potentially outside contacts. This really helps your marketing program to seamlessly progress even when staff, or consultants/vendors turn over.
  3. Project management. See an overview of activities, set priorities, review progress, find bottlenecks, see dependencies, timelines, and even Gantt charts.
  4. Resource management. How long DID that piece of content take to finish, and could we have done it with more coordination and affordability?
  5. Teamwork. Assigning multiple users to a task helps them see the progress, and the team can help each other find resources, etc.
  6. Organization. Spreadsheets and file structures can only go so far. Here, you’ll be able to organize all tasks into teams, projects, tasks, and subtasks, creating an organized, dynamic tactical marketing plan. No more digging through emails or files to find what you need.
  7. Backwards compatibility. If your manager STILL wants to see spreadsheets, or you have applications that need them, you can output any project as a spreadsheet, complete with all of the custom fields (see below).
  8. Integration. Asana integrates with many apps such as Mailchimp, Salesforce, and Dropbox, see the full list here.
  9. Task management. Assign and manage tasks—does your spreadsheet do that?
  10. Repurposing. Team visibility of all tasks, and their content, will help to determine which content items can be repurposed. The application can also be set up for repurposing by adding custom fields which can be used for repurposing—for example, short blurbs for social media or e-marketing can be added to all content pieces, allowing for any team member to share the content.
  11. Accessibility. With Asana’s web based format, and even it’s mobile app, you can access tasks and files from anywhere.

Below, I’ve summarized the major elements of Asana, and how they can be used to manage marketing communications.

Teams

  • Teams are the major sections of Asana, a great way to keep your organization seeing only what they “need” to see, or to work with outside consultants
  • At this level, note that you have a “Team Calendar” which will show events for all projects.
  • Conversations: Not used often, but you can have discussions here.

Projects

  • Here you can do most of your strategic organizing of your tasks. To organize marketing communications, consider logical groups of tasks, which would benefit from their own calendar, file area, and custom fields, such as:
    • Strategic Marketing
    • Tactical Marketing
    • Events
    • Email Marketing
    • Content
    • Social Media
  • Custom Fields: add items specific to the project’s tasks. For example, in a task for an event, you could add the following custom fields: Event Dates, URL, Cost to Exhibit, etc. These items are likely already columns in your spreadsheets, it’s easy to convert. Another example is for content, where some of the fields could be objective, length, source, due date. If you, or your boss, are “nervous” about converting to Asana, don’t worry, you can export all of these items into a spreadsheet friendly file!
  • Calendar: Each project will have its own calendar, with the due date for the task as the date. One irritating aspect is that you can’t put a range of dates into the calendar, for events.
  • Email tasks: You can email a task directly to the project, see this guide for more details.
  • Conversations: Again, I haven’t seen these used extensively, but I see power in using them.
  • Files: I only use this rarely, when I can’t find a resource, but all uploaded files are here, and you can also open the related task. You can’t upload files to a project, they must come from a task.

Tasks

  • Individual items which can be assigned to a user, and “followed” by any user in the Team (they’ll get updates). Tasks can be simple one off’s, or many-step item. For example, a conference exhibition could be listed as a task, and subtasks can be added for each step.
  • Files: You can attach files to each task, or a link to a shared document. There are benefits and drawbacks for each method For uploaded files, they will show up searchable as files in the project, but they’re not able to be co-edited. So, users must re-upload edited files, which can result in confusion. Shared documents (Google, Box, Dropbox) can be shared via integration with Asana, or a simple link, but they are not as easily found outside the task. You’ll want to think carefully about what types of files you want to use for tasks that require many review cycles, such as brochures.
  • It’s really easy to email a task to your task list in Asana, see this guide. You can always log in later and categorize the task to a project, if you can’t remember the email address for the project.

Sections

  • A perhaps underutilized feature of Asana, is to create sections for tasks, to organize them. A section heading is any task which ends with a “:”, Asana will bold it. You can treat the section heading as a task as well, adding text or files and assigning to someone.
  • Sections can be seen as a way to organize tasks in a more obvious manner than by using Subtasks (people don’t have to drill down into a task to see the subtasks), but beware that using sections may result in more confusion with complex projects. Other users may, for example, move the tasks erroneously between sections, or complete the section task, taking it out of view and the organizational structure (conversely, completed subtasks stay greyed out in the task, making them still visible).

Subtasks

  • As described above, subtasks are a nice way to show all the steps needed for a complex task, yet they can sometimes have less visibility as the parent task needs to be opened to see. Subtasks can also be put in multiple projects (see “Creative Ways to Use Asana”), which can help with their visibility.

Creative Ways to Use Asana

  • Dependencies. Every task can have a dependency on another task, making it easier for everyone to visualize what each task is waiting on. Visualization can be via Asana’s timeline, which is available for every project, or by using an application that creates an (exportable) Gantt chart.
  • Put tasks in more than one project. Let’s say you want to write a blog post as part of a campaign, so you’d put it in two projects, the project for the campaign, and as an entry into the content area. What’s cool, is that the custom fields for each project will be additive to the task—in other words, the task will have all the fields for the campaign, as well as for content.
  • Integrate forms into Asana tasks. We talked about custom fields for each project, such as for content. You can integrate Asana with a form application such as Wufoo and create forms so that your stakeholders can request content in an organized way, an online creative brief.

This article originally appeared on the Biotech Marketing Network.