Effective marketing can bring a whole host of benefits to your business. With that in mind, we take a look at everything you need to know about how to create a marketing strategy.
Whether you’re a small business owner or part of a larger marketing team, getting your products and/or services in front of customers can be an exciting challenge. It takes a wide variety of skills and knowledge to know how to appeal to your target market, and understanding how to create a marketing strategy can play a central role.
We take a closer look at exactly what a marketing strategy is, as well as why you need one. We also explore what you need to develop an effective strategy and the steps you need to take to do so. To help you on your way with creating your own, we’ve also included some links to useful and relevant courses.
What is a marketing strategy?
Let’s start by taking a look at what exactly we mean when we use the term marketing strategy. On the surface, it seems like a fairly straightforward one – a way of outlining your approach to your advertising and sales. But in reality, it’s a more complex concept.
On closer inspection, there are a few useful definitions floating out there. One of the most useful ones is from Investopedia, which defines a marketing strategy as, ‘a business’s overall game plan for reaching prospective consumers and turning them into customers of the products or services the business provides.’
So, it’s about strategic planning on how you’re going to get your company in front of the people who are going to buy from it. As we’ll see, there are many facets to this process, with a lot of analysis, preparation, and research.
Why do I need one?
There are several reasons why your business needs a marketing strategy. Ultimately, without taking the time to create a marketing strategy, you’re reducing how effective your promotional and sales activity will be. There are several reasons for this, many of which are crucial to growing your business:
It helps you reach your target audience
One of the main reasons to create a marketing strategy is to help you connect with the right people. As we explored in our series on how to start a business, understanding your target audience is vital to success. With a marketing strategy in place, you not only identify who your customers are and what they want from your company, but also gain insight on ways you can reach them.
It helps you spend your money in the right places
There are various marketing channels you can choose from when you’re trying to connect with your customers. As well as traditional methods such as print and TV advertising, there are also digital marketing options such as social media, content and email marketing. When you create a marketing strategy, you can better understand where to invest your marketing spend for maximum return.
It keeps your marketing consistent
When you’re trying to build your brand and reach new customers, consistency is key. Your brand messaging and visuals across each channel should be in line with the overall identity of your company. A marketing strategy helps to provide this alignment, making sure the message you deliver is clear and consistent.
It gives you a measurable outcome
Creating a strategy for your marketing also helps you set goals. Once these are in place, you can start measuring how effective your efforts are. Whether for metrics such as ROI, engagement, or conversion rate, having this insight can help you refine and improve your marketing.
It serves as a guide
When you have a marketing strategy in place, you have a clear outline for how you can engage with customers. You understand their buyer personas and pain points, as well as how to reach them effectively. This is useful for every team or individual at your company who wants to market your product or services, guiding them through the process.
Marketing plan vs marketing strategy
When you’re researching how to create a marketing strategy, you’ll likely also come across the term marketing plan. Often, these two terms are used interchangeably. However, despite being closely linked, they are different concepts that need to be treated separately. We’ve highlighted the main difference below to make things more straightforward:
A marketing strategy is essentially an extension of your overall business strategy. It’s the reasoning part that informs your future marketing decisions. As well as highlighting what your marketing goals are, it should also detail how you can achieve them through your marketing efforts. In essence, it’s the high-level framework that connects your brand to the overall company aims.
Your marketing strategy should be based on the current aims of your business while also taking into account your brand identity, mission, and messaging. Such a strategy should also account for your company’s unique selling point, and how you’re going to convey it.
A marketing strategy often includes sections such as:
- Executive summary
- Company vision/goals
- Market analysis
- Target audience details
- Competitor analysis
- Branding and messaging
- Relevant marketing channels
Your marketing campaign plan is the means through which you’ll execute your marketing strategy. It’s a plan of action that details how you’re going to implement your promotional activity. This includes accounting for things like how you’re going to promote, analyse, and measure your marketing campaigns.
With this roadmap, you can plan out how you’ll reach your customers. This includes things like the timelines for delivering your marketing activity, as well as the specifics of which channels you’ll target. In such a document, you’ll often include sections such as:
- Campaign goals
- Content plan
- Timeline for delivery
- Marketing activities
How to develop an effective marketing strategy
Clearly, when it comes to marketing, strategy and planning are closely linked. Developing a marketing strategy leads into creating a plan, and neither is complete or relevant without the other. For both, it’s necessary for a company to look both internally and externally. You need to know your brand and your customers and come up with ways to connect the two.
To help you get started, we’ve outlined some of the steps you can take when developing marketing strategies and plans. Although the exact steps often vary depending on the organisation, these can serve as a basis for when you’re working on your own.
1. Start with a goal
Your marketing strategy goals should align with your overall business goals. For example, if your main aim is to reach a particular level of revenue, your marketing strategy goal could be to increase website visitors and conversions by a certain amount.
You could also start by defining a mission statement. This is essentially a ‘what and how’ of your business – a description of what you want to achieve and how you’re going to get there. Although less measurable from an internal perspective, it can help you develop a central message for your marketing efforts.
2. Do your marketing analysis
Before you can start making a marketing plan, you need to understand the market that you’re going to operate in. Marketing analytics are central to every step of this process. However, initially, you want to get a feeling for the current conditions both internally and externally.
Focus on your strengths and weaknesses as a business, as well as how the market has been performing recently. Look for emerging and established trends and consider how you could take advantage of these. Similarly, try and highlight any challenges that you and your competitors have faced and could potentially face.
3. Know your customers
Your customers should be at the heart of everything you do when you’re in the planning stages. When you create a marketing strategy, you need to anticipate what their needs are and how you can meet them more effectively than your competitors.
At this stage, you want to identify some of your target markets and take into account your customer personas. Whether you’re starting a new business or part of an established one, these are two of the main ways you can get to know and understand your customers.
By knowing the finer details of who you’re trying to appeal to, you can then start to think about how you can go about doing so. It helps to make your marketing more targeted and relevant, increasing its chances of success.
4. Know your product and resources
Whether you have an established product/service or you’re in the development stage, you need to have an understanding of what you’ll be offering your customers. Your goal here is to understand your position in the market/industry.
There is a fairly well-established technique you can use at this stage, known as the ‘4 Ps of the marketing mix’. These four points are:
- Product. Here, you want to examine what it is that you provide to customers and what makes it unique. Take into account how it meets the needs of your clients and whether there are any features you can add.
- Price. As you might expect, this refers to how much you charge for the product and how this compares to competitors. Also think about how you can increase your market share through promotions etc.
- Promotion. Where can you promote your product and what will appeal most to your audience? These are questions you’ll need to consider, alongside how such promotions tie into your brand identity.
- Place. Finally, you need to consider where your product/service will be sold. Is it online only? Or do you have physical stores to think about? How easy is it for customers to navigate these? And who will distribute your product?
The 4 Ps can give you a firmer understanding of the products and resources you have available when it comes to marketing.
5. Further define your objectives
You should already have some overall goals for your business, as outlined in step one. To achieve this goal, you’re going to have to get strategic. You need to think about some of the objectives you can achieve along the way to reaching your overall aim.
As with many of the points listed here, the exact objectives will depend a great deal on your specific business. However, examples include:
- Gaining new customers
- Increasing sales or conversion rates
- Increasing brand awareness and engagement
- Growing your emailing list
You’ll want to put measurable goals besides these. For example, one objective could be ‘adding 2,000 new subscribers to the email list by the end of the year’. Remember, these should be SMART goals – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely.
6. Outline techniques
Once you’ve outlined and defined your objectives, you’ll want to think about some of the marketing techniques and channels available that can help achieve them. Again, these will largely depend on your specific business and objectives, and there are a whole host of different methods and tools available that you can choose from.
Let’s take the email subscription goal above as an example. You might want to think about techniques such as increasing website traffic through social media marketing. Similarly, you might want to develop your content strategy to have more subscription calls to action. You can then use marketing analytics to highlight what’s currently driving your subscription rate.
7. Set a budget
It’s debatable whether this point should appear in your marketing strategy or marketing plan. However, wherever you include it, it’s an essential part of the process. You need to make sure that you have allocated enough money to achieve your goals, without being wasteful. Similarly, you want to ensure that you’re getting a sufficient return on your investment for the marketing activity to be worthwhile.
We’ve covered elements of budgeting in one of our articles on how to start a business. Here, we highlighted the importance of accurately costing your expenses and forecasting your return. The same points apply in this situation.
8. Create a marketing plan
This is a vital step when you’re trying to create a marketing strategy. We’ve covered the basic steps for this process further down, so won’t go into detail here.
9. Analyse performance
As with just about every element of running a business, having a detailed way of measuring performance is essential. When you’re developing marketing strategies, you need to take into account how you’re going to assess the success of your campaigns.
As well as things like web analytics, you can also gain insight into a variety of other factors related to your marketing. Ultimately, you’ll need to use this data to assess and improve your marketing strategy.
Steps to create a marketing plan
Now that you know how to create a marketing strategy, it’s time to put some of those tactics into action. Your marketing plan will have a more exact outline of how you’ll apply your strategy. Here are some of the steps you need to take when creating one:
1. Outline how you’ll reach customers
There are many different forms of marketing that you can choose from. In your strategy document, you’ll have outlined who your target customers are, as well as some customer personas. With this information, you need to decide how to reach prospective customers. Will you go with purely digital marketing or stick to more traditional meals? How can you use direct or event marketing to reach the right people? These factors all need consideration.
2. Define how you’ll create marketing materials
In this step, you’ll need to assign who is responsible for creating what content. Whether it’s videos, blog posts, print media, TV advertising, or other promotional material, there needs to be a clear plan in place. You’ll also need to make sure clear guidelines on branding and tone of voice are available, and that processes are in place to manage the various workflows.
3. Plan how you’ll share those materials
This is where you need to think about the various marketing channels available and how you’re going to utilise them. Are you going to have an email campaign? How will you use social media to support your messaging? Will you rely on organic search and SEO, or will you use pay-per-click advertising? All of these questions, and more, need a definitive answer and plan. This is where you’ll need to define your timelines and delivery dates.
4. Outline how you’ll analyse its success
What will a successful campaign look for? You’ll hopefully already have your objectives for your overall marketing strategy, so you then need to consider how to measure success with your specific marketing activity. There are all kinds of metrics you can use, but you need to outline these before you begin your activity.