In the list of things that most people want to do at the end of the year, “Develop a detailed marketing strategy for the coming year” usually isn’t in the top ten. Compared to things like “trimming the tree,” “spending time with family,” and “enjoying huge meals,” spending several days setting goals, strategizing content, and delivering your plan to your employees sounds an awful lot like the opposite of a festive holiday.
But unlike the strange gifts you get in the mail every year from that aunt who thinks you’re still six years old, an effective marketing strategy is a practical, thoughtful gift that you can give yourself and your company. Plus, it will keep giving back all year by allowing for easier decision-making, more effective marketing, more efficient use of your resources, and a solid connection between your vision and your team’s traction:
- A vision without traction will spin your tires and keep you in your current place.
- Traction without vision will move you, but it’ll be in the wrong direction.
So, how do you properly connect your vision and traction and start inching closer to your long-term goals? Through your marketing. Attracting high-value customers in your target market requires effective, intentional, and thoughtful marketing decisions. And keeping those decisions in line and every effort working towards the same goal requires a strategy.
We believe a company’s marketing plan and strategy is one of the key components to connecting your vision and traction. In this article, we’ll dive into what comprises a marketing strategy, the reasons a marketing strategy is vital to a successful year, and five steps that will take you through researching, planning, and executing a successful strategy in the coming year.
Table of Contents
What Is a Marketing Strategy?
Before highlighting a marketing plan’s advantages, let’s quickly define what it is.
A marketing strategy is a long-term approach that allows for sustainability while providing a competitive advantage.
That’s a lot of information packed into one sentence. Let’s break it down because each aspect is essential.
A marketing strategy’s ultimate focus is on the future. It considers past and present data to plan for future success. By using the information you have already collected, you will be better equipped to determine what’s working and what’s failing. Creating your marketing strategy based on facts will push you toward your goals.
Your marketing strategy should concentrate on long-term goals, as a short-term plan will only produce short-term results. This part is the exciting aspect of creating a marketing strategy. You get to dream about what you want your company to look like in 1, 5, 10, or even 20 years. Don’t hesitate to dream big about your company goals! Azim Hashim Premji, a business tycoon, investor, engineer, and philanthropist, once said: “If people are not laughing at your goals, your goals are too small.”
The most important part of a marketing strategy is the bow on top – “… (it) allows for sustainability while providing a competitive advantage.” Your marketing strategy should be both sustainable and competitive. In the long run, your company will not survive if your actions beat the competition but cause you to go bankrupt. Likewise, you won’t find success if your products and services cannot compare to the competition.
What Goes Into a Marketing Strategy?
The core of an effective marketing strategy is a set of goals for your company. Everything else in the document is there to support those goals. An effective marketing strategy contains:
- A list of goals that you want your marketing efforts to achieve in the coming year
- A breakdown of what meeting each goal will entail:
- What marketing platforms will need to be leveraged?
- What audience(s) are we trying to reach?
- What message(s) will move the audience towards our desired action?
- What’s the timeline for meeting the goal?
- What’s the budget for this part of the marketing strategy?
- How will we measure progress toward the goal and define a successful completion?
- Who will be responsible for overseeing progress towards this goal?
It’s also important to understand what a marketing strategy isn’t:
- Your strategy shouldn’t contain the word-for-word text of every marketing message you plan to use during the year. Your strategy document should be detailed but remain at the strategic level.
- Your strategy isn’t a rigid, inflexible document. Time should be factored in to continually evaluate strategy performance and adjust if things aren’t working or market conditions change.
- Your marketing strategy isn’t an afterthought. It’s a primary guidance document that impacts almost every aspect of your operation and must be given deliberate thought and effort.
Why Do I Need a Marketing Strategy?
Because we said so.
That answer isn’t very helpful, is it? And it’s not very convincing, either.
But it’s a great illustration of why you need a marketing strategy. When planning for a significant expenditure – your marketing – wouldn’t you like to have something more than guesswork and anecdotal evidence to back up your decisions? When your team asks you, “Why are we marketing things this way?” will they respond better if you say, “Because I said so,” or if you say, “Because data indicate that this will improve our sales.”?
One of the main reasons for adopting a detailed marketing strategy is that it makes decision-making demonstrably easier. If you have a clear list of goals for the year, when you’re presented with a choice – whether it’s about your marketing or not – you’ll be able to go back to your marketing strategy and ask yourself, “Which of these choices will most improve our chances of meeting our marketing goals?”
If you’re like most people, making big decisions can be tiring and fraught with anxiety. The tendency for a lot of us is to put off the decision until it simply has to be made, and then making – at best – an educated guess as to the right move. In these situations, having a marketing plan in place will provide you with the guidance and the data to make an informed decision that you’ll feel confident in executing.
There are other great reasons for developing an effective marketing strategy:
Reason #1: It Maximizes Your Marketing Budget And ROI
If you’ve ever renovated your home or business, you understand the importance of a budget. A few years ago, we completed an extensive renovation of our downtown office, and we lived by our budget. It kept us grounded, helped us make educated decisions, created accountability between us and the contractor, and allowed us to evaluate the result more accurately.
A marketing plan does the same thing. If you approach the new year without a marketing plan, you do so without an accurate marketing budget. You may have a number on your spreadsheet, but how did you arrive at it? Setting a marketing budget involves more than calculating a percentage of your gross revenue.
You must complete your discovery and establish your plan to have an accurate budget. Maybe you have multiple markets, and some are costlier to reach than others. Or maybe you have a new service or product launching this year and need to allocate more financial resources to it. Or maybe your customer service is dipping, and you need to invest in marketing to your current clients. Each of these scenarios impacts your budget.
When your plan determines your budget, you will maximize your budget and produce a higher ROI. That’s what happens with a strategy. A strategy eliminates quick decisions that aren’t in line with your plan and keeps you on track. A plan also helps you measure your success because you know where your money went. If you’ve ever ended your year with no idea how your budget was used, you know how ineffective and frustrating this is.
Reason #2: It Creates Consistency
A marketing plan also increases the consistency of your branding and messaging. When we help clients plan for their marketing, the real priorities quickly surface. As we work through those areas and move into the planning phase, we create campaigns focused on these priorities that consistently utilize all the recommended marketing platforms.
When your messaging and graphics are consistent, they are more likely to resonate with and stick with clients. A great marketing plan will have a consistent message aligned with your branding, be laser-focused, and better reach your target.
Reason #3: Encourages Deeper Thought About Your Business And Marketing
The first step of discovery is a great exercise that forces you to think deeply about your business. Despite its value, it’s difficult for business owners to allocate the time to discuss and plan.
Focused evaluation creates a much deeper understanding of your business and pays enormous dividends. It also creates measurable goals that can be evaluated monthly or quarterly to ensure you stay on track.
If you don’t have a business partner to plan with, include some of your senior staff, a trusted colleague, or a business consultant.
Reason #4: It Unifies Your Team
If your company is anything like ours, you have a team of experts who are passionate about your business, clients, and industry. Your team also interacts with your leads and clients differently than you do as a business owner, especially if you’re effectively delegating tasks. Your staff has a wealth of information, and you should explore it.
Involving your team in the marketing plan improves your marketing and unifies your team. When they contribute, they also become invested in the plan and take ownership. As you evaluate your team, you’ll find clear areas of the marketing plan that they are best suited to monitor, carry out, and own.
This asset is often overlooked. Don’t make this mistake. Share your vision and plan with your team, seek their input, and engage them in its implementation. You should find that this adds significant value to your business and your culture.
Reason #5: It Improves Your Chances Of Accomplishing Your Marketing Goals
There is ample research about the value of writing your plans down. When you put something in writing, you immediately increase your chances of accomplishing it. One study revealed that you are 21% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down.
Here’s some excellent news – a marketing plan does more than simply catalog your goals. It maps out every detail of the plan – target, message, timeline, budget, and responsible party. When your marketing is set to this level of detail and is implemented by a knowledgeable team that meets regularly to discuss progress, you’ll be set up for a strong performance.
Now that we’ve explained some benefits of building an effective marketing strategy, let’s dive into the steps and get you started!
Realize You Need a Strategy, but Know You Don’t Have the Time? Let Us Help – Our Full-Service Marketing Agency Has Experience Crafting Effective Marketing Strategies: 478-621-4491
Step One: Evaluate Past Performance
The first step to building next year’s marketing strategy is to look at last year’s performance by taking a detailed, analytical, and honest assessment of how effective your previous year’s marketing strategy (or individual efforts if you didn’t have a plan) was. Your review can and should come from multiple sources:
Depending on how you marketed your company in the past year, this may be some of the most straightforward information to collect or may require more effort to pull together.
If your marketing efforts were primarily digital, and if you set up things like campaign-specific phone numbers and promotional codes, you may be able to log into your marketing platforms and download analytics reports. These automatically generated reports can provide incredibly detailed information about your campaigns’ effectiveness.
If you didn’t set up your marketing in a way that allows for easy assessment, you might need to rely more heavily on sales data, general call volumes, and other metrics to make estimates as to what marketing techniques were most effective.
Beware of “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc”
If you’re not up on your Latin (that’s okay, we’re not either – we looked this one up), that means “After it, therefore because of it.” It’s a logical fallacy that everyone on Earth is subject to – we all have a common tendency to assume that because event “A” happened before and is related to event “B,” that “A” caused “B.” It’s an understandable assumption, but it’s not always true.
If your evaluation of past performance involves extrapolating your marketing effectiveness from general data like sales numbers or overall call volumes, remember that data that looks like a cause-and-effect relationship might not be.
So, for instance, if your home improvement store launched a November advertising push promoting your line of space heaters, and you saw a 10% increase in space heater sales that month, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your ads were effective. Sales may have increased simply because it was getting cold, and people needed heaters.
Eliminating this potential fallacy is yet another reason to ensure that your marketing efforts are always set up to be measurable!
Your employees have an incredible amount of knowledge about what your customers have communicated to them during their interactions. They can provide insight into what customers say about your company and products.
If several customers have mentioned a particular billboard or digital video ad, you can use that information to decide what’s been working. If several customers have complained about a product, that may tell you to ease off on pushing that product until you can get to the bottom of the problem.
Further, your employees can share information about overall customer satisfaction. Are people excited when they come into the store? Are they enjoying their shopping experience? Are their purchases made happily or reluctantly? All this information can help you determine what your branding and marketing efforts are accomplishing and where they may fall short.
Another great source of information about your past year’s efforts is your customers. Your marketing strategy will always benefit from having input from your customers added to the conversation.
Customer information can come from quick, short surveys or in-depth focus groups. In the survey or focus group, you’ll want to ask how well your marketing connected with your audience.
- “What marketing message from the past year do you most remember?”
- “What value propositions led you to choose our products?”
- “Where do you remember seeing/hearing ads for our company?”
- “How did you find out about the product you purchased?”
Beware of Survivorship Bias
Fortunately, this one isn’t in Latin. As you’re collecting your external information, remember that in surveying your customers, you’re necessarily leaving out an important voice: the people who ended up not buying from you. When collecting customer data, it’s easy to forget about the people who purchased from another company.
Whenever possible, try to survey some leads who didn’t convert as well as those who did. Yes, your response rate will be considerably lower, but the few individuals who respond will give you invaluable information about what didn’t work in your previous year’s marketing.
Working Through Your Past Performance
To help guide your data collection and performance assessment, here are some questions you can ask yourself and your team. Answers to these questions will provide both general framing and specific goal guidance for the next step of the planning process.
What Part of Your Strategy Worked?
If you had specific goals set for the last year, which marketing efforts were effective in helping you reach those goals?
If you didn’t set specific goals, what do your sales data and anecdotal evidence from your employees and customers tell you about which marketing efforts were most effective?
Remember that success can be defined in lots of different ways. Just because a particular marketing project didn’t lead to an immediate increase in sales doesn’t mean it was a failure. If it helped build brand awareness, brought in more leads (even if they didn’t necessarily convert), or improved customer engagement, those are also important accomplishments.
Say, for instance, that you launched a summer ad campaign designed to increase sales of a particular product. The sales increase never materialized, but your customers can’t stop raving about the great video you used in your campaign. Now you know that the video in question wasn’t great for selling products but was great for building engagement. Your upcoming year’s strategy can take that into account and redirect your video efforts to an engagement-focused goal instead of a sales-focused one.
What Were Your Most Significant Accomplishments?
During the year, what were you and your team most proud of? Did you reach a significant sales milestone? Did you finally close a customer you worked on for several months? Did you reach a certain online review average?
As you look back over the year, identify your big wins. Remember, those can be externally dependent wins that depend on customer and audience behavior (increasing sales, improving brand recognition, earning better engagement on social media) or internally dependent wins that can be accomplished with or without specific customer actions (launching a new website, creating a new logo, writing a series of blog articles).
Your list of significant accomplishments for the year will inform your new strategy in a few different ways:
- Any marketing that supported the items on the list may be some of your most effective marketing of the year.
- Significant accomplishments may open new marketing opportunities in the coming year. Closing with a particular high-visibility client may open the door to a different clientele than you’ve targeted in the past, for example.
- Your list can also provide good models and benchmarks for next year’s goals. If, for instance, your Summer Blowout Sale dramatically exceeded sales expectations, you can set even more ambitious goals for the coming year’s event.
What Parts of Your Strategy Didn’t Work?
This part can be one of the hardest parts of the annual performance evaluation because it involves being honest about failure. Looking back on successes is fun, invigorating, and reminds us why we do what we do. Looking back on things that weren’t successful may not be as fun, but it’s a lot more illuminating.
As you look back on the year, be brutally honest with yourself. Marketing messages that didn’t connect with your audience, sales or promotions that underperformed, and campaigns that didn’t move the needle need to be acknowledged.
If a particular effort didn’t help you reach benchmarks, note it. As you build your strategy for the coming year, this list will show you where to shift tactics or improve.
As you’re putting this list together, pay attention to any patterns you start to notice. If your ineffective marketing tactics were design-centric, like social media ads and graphics-heavy email blasts, your design efforts may need rethinking. If your visual content was killer, but anything with a lot of written content suffered, your content strategy may need work overall.
What Could Help Improve These Failed Efforts?
After you’ve put together your list of less effective efforts, look back through them, and for each one, ask yourself what could have made that effort better.
Sometimes, the answer lies in your overall marketing effectiveness data. If your digital ad is reaching the wrong customers, for example, you’ll see a dismal clickthrough rate, indicating you need to perform better market research for the coming year. If your ad has a great clickthrough rate, but nobody’s converting once they hit the landing page, then your landing page needs to be improved.
When you answer this question, what you’re really doing is answering, “How can I avoid the landmines I stepped on last year?” Again, be brutally honest with yourself as you answer this question. Own your mistakes, and don’t be ashamed of them. Even a misstep is still a step, and as some famous TV experimenters were fond of saying on their program, “A negative result is still a result.”
To lean into another cliché, a mistake is only a mistake if you don’t learn from it.
What Does the Data Say About Your Marketing Performance?
With this last question, you’ll combine all your answers to provide a single, overarching evaluation. Again, this is a place to be honest. If the data say your marketing performance was low, accept that answer and strive to do better next year. If they say that your performance was excellent, accept that answer – and still strive to do better next year.
Your answer to this question should be broad, looking at your entire year’s marketing performance holistically. You’re not looking at whether a single campaign or one billboard was effective; you’re looking at all of your marketing efforts for the year as a whole.
This answer will help steer the overall direction of your strategy for the coming year. If your assessment indicates that your marketing is effective at lead generation but ineffective at closing deals, that should be a focus for next year’s strategy.
Step One: Homework
Download the Past Performance Worksheet and print it out. Go through each question with your business partner, a trusted associate, or a collection of team members and discuss the answers. Write your answers, or at least good summaries, on the worksheet.
Step Two: Establish the Coming Year’s Goals
(Before you ask, yes, we will discuss SMART goals in this section.)
Now that you’ve completed your homework for step one of the marketing strategy creation process, you can move to step two and begin establishing goals for the coming year. Get a few members of your team together and start working up ideas.
Brainstorming Your Goals
Start with a good group – your leadership team, your marketing team, and any other team members who could be valuable in the planning process. Be sure not to make your group too large – a small committee is almost always more effective than a large one.
As you talk through potential goals for the coming year, keep two main things in mind:
Understand Your Target Audience
A marketing strategy that targets the wrong customers is like a ship without water – it won’t fulfill its purpose. You could have the most well-thought-out and professional marketing strategy created, but if you don’t know who your target audience is, your company will struggle indefinitely or fail altogether. To accurately identify your target audience, you need to create a buyer persona.
A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your very real target audience. It tells you who to target with your marketing. Targeting is vital because if you’re speaking to everyone, you’re speaking to no one. (Read more about what a buyer persona is in this intriguing blog.)
Don’t rush this process! Creating your buyer persona will allow you to correctly identify your target audience – the same target audience that will be the focus of your marketing strategy.
Focus On Customers, Not Just Making Money
Marketing has changed drastically in the previous decade. What used to be a product-focused market is now a consumer-focused market. It’s about more than who has the best product or service. It’s about who can reach their target audience the best.
When you start focusing on making money instead of on your customers, you will make decisions based solely on numbers, and numbers won’t buy your product or request your service. Keep focusing on your customers and adjust your marketing strategy based on their needs.
Questions to Get Started
As you start your brainstorming, the following questions can help you guide your group’s efforts and have the above two overriding concerns baked in:
How Has Our Target Audience Changed?
Over time, your audience will change. If nothing else, your customers from last year will be a year older – as they age, will your marketing efforts still speak to them?
How have your products and services changed? Do your new offerings suggest any new audiences? Adding more tech-heavy options may skew your audience younger or more affluent; launching a new product line with a solid, traditionalist feel may skew your audience older.
You should also integrate information from step one into answering this question. Your sales and marketing data, customer feedback, and employee input can all help you identify shifts in your audience. Customers commenting that a product seems outdated or employees remarking on how foot traffic is getting older tell you how your audience may be changing.
If your audience is changing, your goals should reflect that change. If you’re targeting an older audience, that will make for a very different-looking strategy from one targeting exclusively younger folks.
In What Ways Can We Better Serve Our Target Audience?
Your marketing goals should take into consideration everything you learned in step one, capitalizing on last year’s successes and addressing the shortcomings highlighted by last year’s failures. Apply those lessons to what you’ve learned about your changing audience, and see what ideas emerge.
If customer feedback suggests that your audience wants more insight into how your company operates, some of your goals should focus on building engagement through efforts that “pull back the curtain.” If your employees have spent the last year trying to explain detailed value propositions to customers on your sales floor, one goal could be increasing customer awareness of value props through in-store print pieces.
In answering this question, you’re creating a base of information that won’t just be useful in creating marketing goals – this is helpful research that can inform decisions about new products or services, opening or closing store locations, and other operation-focused areas.
How Many New Clients Do You Want to Gain?
This one’s easy, right? A lot. You want to gain a lot of new clients!
That’s an admirable goal, but it’s not SMART (see below). As you answer this question, look at your overall operating budget, costs of sales, etc. Determine how many new clients will be needed to meet your overall business goals for the year and set that goal accordingly. While it doesn’t need to be a hard-and-fast number (we will gain 231 new clients), it should give you a measurable guideline for determining success (we will increase our client base by at least 5%).
The other side is what kind of clients you want to gain. Whatever products you sell or services you provide, some potential customers are more lucrative than others. What do the high-value customers have in common, and how much more is a high-value lead worth than a lower-value lead?
Another way to answer this question builds in the difference between high- and low-value leads. To do so, set this goal based on customer spending instead of total number of customers: “We will increase new-customer spending by 10%.”
What Are Your Revenue Goals?
This area is another where goals will often fall short of the SMART mark (again, see below) by being set unattainably high or irrelevantly low:
- We will triple our revenue (No, you won’t, and your team will feel the effects of being given such an impossible goal. This goal could actually decrease productivity and contaminate the rest of your goals for the year.)
- We will increase revenue by 1% (Sure, you probably will. But that increase won’t cover even your contingency budget for the coming year, so why bother?)
This time is another when you have to be brutally honest with yourself. Look at your actual production capacity, costs of doing business, and a realistic contingency budget, and make an informed decision on where to set revenue goals for the coming year. If your projected goals outstrip your company’s ability to generate that revenue, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
What Services or Products Do You Want to Expand?
Actually, that’s only part of the question. More accurately, you should ask, “What services or products do we and our customers want to see expanded?”
That’s not to say that your wishes don’t play into it. But those internal desires must be tempered with external expectations and a realistic assessment of your target audience.
For instance, you may be champing at the bit to make a big marketing push for a new line of Georgia Bulldogs licensed merchandise. You’ve gotten the production numbers, you can afford the manufacturing expenses and licensing fees, and products like yours are flying off store shelves nationwide. There’s only one problem: your store is in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of Bulldog rivals, the Crimson Tide.
In this case, you may want to expand your UGA product line, but your customers probably don’t want you to.
While that’s an extreme and somewhat absurd example (UGA merchandise should be sold everywhere), it gives you the idea: before embarking on an expansion, make sure it will be a welcome expansion.
Generally speaking, you’ll want to expand the most profitable products and services, and your sales data and marketing research will help identify those opportunities.
What Is Most Important to Focus On?
By now, you probably have lots of ideas. Your group is excited about setting new goals for the coming year, and the conversation has been incredibly productive. You have plans to address your changing audience, expand your product lines, increase brand awareness, and improve sales figures in several product or service lines.
But where do you start? By identifying one goal as your primary goal for the year, you will be better able to prioritize your marketing efforts. You’ll also be better positioned to ensure that other goals are all working to benefit the primary goal.
Go through the ideas from your brainstorming and identify one that will have the most positive impact on your business if you meet it. That’s your primary goal for the year, and it will take center stage in your efforts all year long.
Keeping Your Goals SMART
Regardless of what your marketing goals for the year are, they must be SMART:
- Specific: Goals should be specific, not general. If a general goal is “to increase sales,” a specific goal might be “to increase sales by 10%.”
- Measurable: You can’t assess your efforts without some metric to measure performance. An increasing sales goal is measurable in and of itself (if your sales increase by the set percentage or dollar value, you’ve succeeded). Other goals may need a definition of how they’re going to be measured (“…we will increase engagement by 20% as measured by average post engagement on our social media platforms…”)
- Attainable: Long-reach goals are good. They convey confidence in your team and your products, encourage growth and a growth mindset, and challenge you and your team to try new strategies and tactics. Unattainable goals do none of that – they discourage your team, set you up for failure, and encourage a defeatist mindset that is difficult to overcome.
- Relevant: Your marketing goals must be relevant to your overall business goals. If some part of your marketing strategy works counter to any part of your overall strategy, you’re almost certainly inviting failure on a big scale. Keep your marketing efforts moving in sync with the other aspects of operating your company.
- Timely: You should always set an end date for a marketing goal. Without a target date, you have no way of determining whether something has been successful or not. Even an arbitrary deadline will give you a set stop date on which you will assess how things have worked so far and whether you need to stay the course or change tactics as you proceed.
So, one of your marketing strategy goals could be something like:
“As part of our overall brand recognition strategy (relevant), we will improve audience engagement by 15% (specific, attainable) through a series of social posts that give users some insight into our internal operations. Engagement will be measured by the total percentage increase of the average post engagement on all social media platforms (measurable) between January 1 and March 31 (timely).”
After completing your goal brainstorming, look back through the goals you’ve developed and make sure each is SMART. If any aren’t SMART, do whatever you need to make them so. Add deadlines and metrics, explain relevance, and ensure you have specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely goals for the coming year.
Step Two: Homework
Download the Goals Worksheet and print it out. Go through each question with your dedicated goal-setting group and discuss the answers. Write your answers, or at least good summaries, on the worksheet.
Now, move to a new document, scratch pad, or whiteboard and start building goals based on the answers on your sheet. For each goal, make sure it meets the SMART standard. For the list, ensure that all goals make sense and that no two goals work at cross purposes. Define a primary goal and keep it in front of mind as you continue the planning process.
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Step Three: Create a Detailed Strategy
Now that you know where your marketing will take you in the next 12 months, you can start defining how it will get you there.
You May Want Some Help With This Part
In this step, most companies begin to see the benefit of partnering with a full-service marketing firm that can provide expert guidance on achieving your goals from a marketing standpoint. The professionals at M&R Marketing, for example, have experience in identifying and targeting audiences, identifying influential trends in given markets, and allocating a market budget for the best possible impact.
Beyond that, part of a marketing firm’s job is staying on top of changes and advances in the marketing field. The perfect marketing tool may be sitting there, waiting to grow your business, but it’s not doing you much good if you don’t know about it. When you connect with a full-service marketing team to help with your marketing strategy, you’ll never worry about missing out on new opportunities.
Questions For Getting Started
In this step, you’ll take apart each goal and decide how to achieve it. To build those goals, you’ll incorporate data from every previous step of the process. You’ll also need to answer some other questions that will drive many of the practical considerations of your marketing strategy:
What Is My Marketing Budget?
If you’re responsible for setting the marketing strategy for a major multinational corporation with an advertising budget in the tens of millions of dollars, then you can probably do pretty much whatever you want with your marketing throughout the year. Super Bowl ads, celebrity endorsements, naming rights for a major sports team’s arena, you name it.
Most of us aren’t that lucky. We have to set a marketing budget that reflects the realities of our financial situation and then stick to it.
As you convert your goals into action plans, you must keep your overall marketing budget in mind to ensure that you’re not overspending or missing opportunities.
What Are the Marketing Trends in My Industry?
It may be that you’re “marketing conservative” and are most comfortable staying with tactics that have been proven effective by other companies in your vertical. It may be that you’re a rebel who wants to do the opposite of everyone else to stand out from your more cautious competitors.
Either way, you will need to know what the trends are in your industry. You’ll use this information to build a roadmap of certain practices you want to adopt or use it as a list of strategies to steer clear of.
To find out what trends are currently working in your industry, look at your competitors or other operations in different locations serving similar audiences. What do their ads look like? What does their website look like? Is the branding fun and casual or serious and stolid? Are they putting more effort into digital or traditional media? Social ads or search ads?
What Are the Benchmarks I Can Realistically Measure?
This question (and the three that follow) should have already been answered to a certain extent when you set your goals. If your goals are SMART, you’ll already know your metrics for measuring the overall goal’s success.
In this step, though, you’ll need to ensure that you’ve determined metrics for measuring the success of each piece of marketing that builds towards that goal. How will you know whether your engagement-building posts are more effective on Facebook or Instagram? How will you measure whether your promotional campaign’s Google Display Network ads are more or less effective than the campaign’s TV ads?
Your goals should already be SMART – now you need to ensure that your steps towards meeting those goals are also SMART.
What Should My ROI Goals Be?
Simply put, how much are you willing to invest in marketing, and how much do you expect to get out of it? Again, determining your overall return on investment for a particular goal should have happened during step two, but you will also need to look at the ROI for each aspect of a specific marketing campaign.
Here’s where knowledge of industry benchmarks can come into play. Do some research to find the average ROI for a particular type of campaign, and then evaluate that through the lens of your marketing budget. If the typical ROI for search ads in your industry is 3:1, and you want to spend $2,000 on search ads, you can expect an average campaign to generate $6,000 in revenue – is that enough to make the campaign worthwhile?
Setting realistic ROI goals for each aspect of your marketing efforts will provide oversight and guide decision-making throughout the year. If a campaign is dramatically outperforming your ROI goals, you’ve landed on a winner. If one is substantially underperforming, it’s time to reassess and regroup.
Which Team Members Should Be Involved in This Strategy?
If there’s one thing we’ve learned at M&R Marketing, it’s that having the right mix of team members makes all the difference in the world. As you’re looking through your goals and marketing plans, ask yourself which team members will be best suited to helping you reach those goals.
Don’t limit yourself to your leadership team or marketing team, either. As you explore options like social media campaigns to boost engagement, you might be surprised to find that you have some micro-influencers on staff who can help you shape an effective social posting strategy.
For each goal, identify the members of your team who are best positioned to carry out and monitor that aspect of the marketing strategy and empower them to be responsible for it. This step makes delegating easier and clears up future confusion about who’s responsible for what.
What Does Our Timeline Need to Look Like?
Again, you should already have a stop date for your SMART goals. Work backward from that to determine when each part of the campaign to meet that goal should happen. Be realistic about timelines in this step. If something will take your team three weeks to accomplish, give them three weeks. If you know from experience and data that a promotional campaign takes 2-3 weeks to get traction in your audience, make sure to allow enough soak time at the start of the campaign.
By the time you’ve done this for every goal in your marketing strategy, you should have a relatively complete calendar of what the year’s messaging will look like.
Step Three: Homework
Download the Strategy Planning Worksheet and print it out. Go through each question with your group and discuss the answers. Write your answers, or at least good summaries, on the worksheet.
Begin Writing Strategy Sections
Now, you’ll take your answers from the above questions, combine them with your goals and performance data, and begin writing out your strategic plan for the year’s marketing.
For each of your goals, you should end up with a list of things that you’ll do to achieve the goal, how progress and success will be defined, and other pertinent details:
- A definition of the audience that will help you get there
- The primary call to action, or what you want that audience to do
- The platforms and media in which you’ll place your marketing efforts
- The overall messaging for this particular campaign
- Note: Again, this doesn’t have to be a word-for-word transcript of every ad you plan for the year. Your messaging at this stage can be as simple as “communicate the financial benefits of our new auto detailing service” or even a suggested tagline. It should give enough information to be a helpful guide for content creation but not so much as to limit creativity throughout the year.
- Your budget for the campaign, including staff time and other non-cash resources.
- The team that will be responsible for this part of the marketing strategy.
- The timeline for the campaign, including launch dates, duration, and end dates.
An example section from your strategy document might look like this:
To cement our place as a fashion-forward shoe company, we will increase sales of our fashion sneaker line by 10% during Q1 of next year.
The target audience for this shoe line is young adults aged 18-24 who have more affinity for fashion brands than athletic brands.
Call to Action:
Calls to action for this campaign should be focused entirely on driving sales of this shoe line. Whenever possible, ads and posts should link directly to an eCommerce page where users can order shoes directly from us.
- Display video marketing
- Search ads targeting keywords relevant to our audience’s interests
- Over-the-top ads on streaming programs that are popular with our audience
- Geofencing campaigns around trendy nightclubs, parks, restaurants, and other gathering places popular with our audience.
- We will allocate $10,000 for digital and social ads
- We will allocate $15,000 for over-the-top ads
- One team member will spend 2-3 hours a week making posts promoting the fashion sneaker line and finding/sharing other users’ posts about the product.
- Our Director of Marketing will oversee the overall campaign and manage paid media.
- The product lead will keep product descriptions, photography, etc., current and fresh.
- One member of the sales team will be responsible for non-paid social posts.
- All marketing collateral must be ready to launch by January 1
- Digital and social ads will launch on the morning of January 1
- Over-the-top ads will launch in mid-January
- Initial sales reports will be evaluated during the first week of February, and any campaign adjustments will be made by the end of the 2nd week of February.
- Geofencing ads will launch in early February
- The final assessment of goal progress will be made at the end of March.
Once you have a section like the above (don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be formatted precisely like that) for all your marketing goals, you have a marketing strategy! Congratulations!
We’d love to tell you that you’re done and can let your strategy carry you through the year without any additional effort, but that’s… just… not even remotely true.
Step Four: Present Your Plan
You’re excited about your new plan. You’re ready to get started and determine how effective your strategies are at connecting to your audience. You can’t wait to hit the ground running and begin watching the profits roll in.
Did you forget something? How about all those other people who keep showing up to your workplace every day?
You can only accomplish your goals if everyone on the team works towards them together. In all your excitement, remember to make sure your team is informed and on board.
In this step, you will share your research results, goals, and strategy with your team. Meet with them in small groups so that they have time and opportunity to ask questions and give feedback. Go department by department or location by location to meet with team members.
In each conversation, make sure that you’re effectively communicating all of the following:
A Positive Tone
When you present your strategy, make sure you’re showing it in positive terms:
- Be confident but not unattainably optimistic
- Focus on past successes and lessons learned from past failures, not the failures themselves.
- Use declarative statements (“We will increase sales by…”) and not possibility statements (“We could increase…” or “We should try to increase…”)
- Discuss positive outcomes that will follow from meeting the company’s goals. If any potential adverse effects would follow from not meeting goals, you can touch on them but don’t feel the need to hit your employees over the head with them. Teams work better when motivated by a positive outcome than when they’re fearful of a bad outcome.
How Tasks Are Being Delegated
As you discuss each goal, make sure that every member of every team in your organization knows their responsibilities and how the chains of command and information flow are set up. If there’s any confusion about where specific responsibilities lie, clear those up now and save yourself considerable headaches down the road.
Timelines and Deadlines
Did you know that you’re doing your team a favor when you set deadlines? People are almost universally more effective when they know they must meet specific benchmarks by a certain time.
Giving your team unequivocal timelines and deadlines empowers them to pace and schedule their work for maximum effect. Without a deadline, the team members inclined to procrastinate will never get anything done, and the go-getters who live to be two steps ahead will burn themselves out trying to do too much too soon.
By the time you get to the end of the marketing strategy, your team should have a good idea of what’s happening when, and who will be doing it. To know that your team has a good grasp on the strategy for the coming year, make sure that every individual is aware of:
- The marketing goals for the year
- The overall strategy for reaching each goal
- Their specific roles and responsibilities in meeting the goal
- The details of how progress will be measured and success determined
- Overall budget constraints for the efforts they’re involved with
- Timelines and deadlines for each project in the strategy
Once you’ve discussed the strategy and what it entails with everyone on your team, you’re ready to put your new marketing strategy into action!
Step Four: Homework
Download the Presentation Worksheet and print it out. Label the top of each section with the name of a department or an individual in your company responsible for executing one or more parts of the strategy. Below that, list the responsibilities or areas of responsibility the department or person will manage. Finally, list how often you will meet with each person or team to check their progress toward their goals. You may need multiple copies of this worksheet.
Step Five: Implement, Evaluate, and Adapt
If everything has gone smoothly, you may have completed steps one through four in just a few weeks. Now, you’ll start the final step, which will take just a little longer.
And by “a little bit longer,” we mean “the rest of the year.”
Implementing a marketing strategy isn’t like buying a new TV – you can’t just get it, hang it on the wall, and call it a day. It’s more like adopting a new pet – it’s something you’ll spend time with every day, care for, keep an eye on, and make corrections as needed.
Implementing Your Marketing Strategy
What this step looks like will vary greatly depending on whether you’re trying to handle your marketing efforts yourself or have partnered with a dedicated marketing firm. If you’re entrusting your marketing to a full-service firm like M&R, much of the implementation work will be handled on their end, as will some of the evaluation of your campaigns’ progress.
If you’ve opted to manage your marketing yourself, implementation will be one of the most complicated steps in this process. You will require a reliable, skilled team that knows their roles and responsibilities. Delegation is your friend; trying to manage every facet of multiple multi-platform campaigns is a lot for one person to take on while also trying to manage their company’s operations.
In this article, we won’t get into the nuts and bolts of how to execute every single type of marketing effort. However, depending on what channels and platforms you’re choosing for your campaigns, there is a wealth of information in M&R’s blog and the other articles in our Definitive Guides series:
- A Definitive Guide to Search Engine Marketing
- A Definitive Guide to Social Media Marketing
- A Definitive Guide to Local SEO
- A Definitive Guide to Geofencing & Location-Based Marketing
- A Definitive Guide to eCommerce Site Design & Promotion
- A Definitive Guide to Email Marketing
- And more articles will be coming throughout 2024!
Use these resources and others to determine how best to execute the marketing efforts you’ve outlined in your strategy.
Evaluating Your Marketing Strategy
In the olden days (read: forty years ago), marketing research required significant effort, loads of research and statistical skill, and – on occasion – a crystal ball. Without polling customers at the point of sale, there was almost no way to reliably track customer buying journeys, accurately assess how many people engaged with advertisements, or how many of a day’s sales were attributable to a particular marketing effort.
Oh, how the times have changed. Now, even a modestly priced series of digital ads comes with a suite of analytics that allow incredibly granular analysis of every ad’s performance.
These tools allow you to evaluate the performance of your campaign as a whole or any specific part of it quickly, easily, and in almost real-time. In general, you should be looking at things like:
- Clickthrough rate, impressions, and cost-per-click for search, display, and video ads
- Overall website traffic data, especially referral/acquisition data, and bounce rates
- Contact form submissions from your website or landing page(s)
- Call tracking information, especially when using dedicated tracking numbers for each campaign/ad
- Social media likes, ad performance, and engagement rates
- Email delivery, open, engagement, and clickthrough rates
If your goals and strategy are SMART, you’ll have already identified some of these metrics as your determiners for the progress and success of your marketing efforts. If you have data from previous years, you can also use that as a basis for comparison to see how well this year’s efforts are measuring up against last year’s. Or, if you’re more interested in tracking your performance against others in your industry, you can always compare your performance to benchmarks.
Understanding Benchmarks & Their Importance
Benchmarks are an industry-established statistic on performance. These statistics are virtually unchanging, creating a solid foundation for evaluating your performance.
For example, the industry standard for a company’s Facebook engagement rate is 1%. An engagement rate measures post likes, link clicks, “view more” clicks, shares, and photo views. If a post engages anyone enough to draw their attention, it’s reflected in the engagement rate.
So, if your company’s engagement rate is higher than 1%, you can be confident that what you’re posting about, how often you post, and the images or videos you use exceed industry standards. But, if your engagement rate is below 1%, this is a sign that your social media tactics need to change.
Analyzing benchmarks allows you to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of your current marketing strategy. Remember, your marketing strategy (and your tactics) should be fluid. It’s healthy to adjust your strategy as the data tells you to so you can optimize your marketing and run laps around your competition. When you don’t know how well the industry is doing, you won’t truly know how well your company is performing.
Another very valuable and unique-to-you benchmark is tracking mechanisms. You can gain better insight into the overall results of your campaign through call-tracking numbers, landing pages, and specially tagged contact forms. Once you calculate your conversions based on the lifetime value of a client, you’ll easily be able to evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing spend. When each of these metrics is tracked per campaign, you can pivot your spending toward the more profitable ad platforms.
Step Five: Homework
Download the Evaluation Worksheet and print it out. Go through your marketing strategy and identify what metrics you will be using to evaluate each component of the strategy and the frequency with which you’ll check those metrics to determine your progress. You may need multiple copies of this worksheet.
Adjusting Your Marketing Strategy
Remember way back, almost 8,000 words ago, when we said something about a solid marketing strategy being more flexible than having no plan at all? This is where that flexibility comes into play.
Unless you have an actual crystal ball, your marketing strategy won’t be perfect. It almost literally can’t be. During the year, things will change: competitors will launch new products or services unexpectedly, companies enter or leave the market, audience preferences will sometimes shift at random, and thousands of other things can take a perfectly sound strategy and render it outdated.
Other times, even with the best marketing research and tools available, a marketing project will not work right. For whatever reason, the design isn’t quite right, the tagline doesn’t resonate, or the copy misses making that connection to your audience.
In both cases, it’s time to adjust.
If you have a marketing strategy, making that adjustment is much easier than without. Remember, the core of your marketing strategy isn’t a list of specific marketing messages or platforms you’ll be using – the core of your marketing strategy is your marketing goals.
If your ongoing performance evaluation shows that one or more elements of your marketing aren’t working, you don’t have to go back to square one. You only have to go back to the original goal. Unless something has changed that affects your core business (a component of one of your flagship products has been discontinued, requiring a complete redesign of your product line, for instance), your goals will stay the same.
Now, instead of starting at the beginning, you’re starting at step three. And, guess what – you’re doing it with even more data in your pocket: you know one more thing that doesn’t work, so your adjustment is more data-driven than the initial idea!
Marketing Strategy Wrap-Up
If you’ve established SMART goals, developed effective strategies for meeting them, monitored your progress closely, and made adjustments as needed, then at this time next year, you should be looking at a page full of checkmarks, each one marking a specific goal you’ve met during the year. If you don’t have checkmarks next to each goal, you have some lessons to carry into the following year. Either way, you’ll have the data and experience to go into the next year with another plan, one that’s even more successful than the year before.