7 steps that will make your strategic marketing plan drive real growth

Having a roadmap to plan and organise a marketing strategy is vital if brands are serious about competing with competitors and gaining market share. This article will aim to provide insight into what a strategic marketing plan is and what it should cover, alongside the 7 steps in developing one.

Without a strong strategic marketing plan in place, brands cannot increase their market position or create a positive image in the market. By the end of this blog, brands will have a good understanding of the channels, campaigns and tactics needed to create a great strategic marketing plan that improves performance and customer retention.

What is a Strategic Marketing Plan?

Strategic Marketing Planning is focused on creating a simple strategy that outlines your goals, objectives, and how you can achieve those goals in a manageable time frame. Many businesses struggle with how to make a good marketing plan and resort to paid ads without first analysing the current marketplace. With so many brands out there building their businesses digitally, there seems to be a focus on going live and executing marketing without building a strategic marketing plan.

The problem is that you might sell the product in the wrong way, to the wrong audience and giving an ineffective sales message.

When we help businesses with developing marketing strategies and plans, we try to make the process easier by helping them set goals and outlining marketing messages. A strategic marketing plan can save a huge amount of time, money and can make the difference between success and failure when launching a new product or business.

Developing marketing strategies and plans can be quite overwhelming if you have not identified the exact audience, what they want to buy, how they want to buy, and where they spend their time online. Planning marketing strategy effectively can mitigate this risk.

A strategic marketing plan is not just a marketing calendar–a strategic marketing plan is a way for a business to mitigate risk and focus its marketing effort so that it starts off in the right direction from day one. To get you started, we’ve provided 7 steps to a marketing plan, which offers insight into developing marketing strategies and plans. These can serve as a foundation for your marketing strategy plan.

What should your strategic marketing plan cover?

1. Market position–The first step in how to make a good marketing plan is defining your market position. Outlining what differentiates you against the competition will help you capture market share. Performing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and treats) analysis of the competition can be helpful here. Careful analysis of consumer trends, preferences, attitudes and outlook should also be factored in to ensure that you maximise the appeal of your product / service to the target market. 

The image shows what should be included in a SWOT analysis and how it can be used to improve strategic marketing plan
Source: Wordstream

2. Business Goals–One of the key steps in developing a marketing plan is outlining what the company is trying to achieve. This helps plan a strategic marketing plan that delivers on the business’s goals. In some complex categories (e.g. healthcare), the goal may be to educate customers on how the product can solve a problem that they have. In others, it could be as simple as driving awareness of the product (e.g. the chocolate industry, which is highly competitive and where brand switching is the norm). Other business goals may be to sell x number of units or to ‘become the market leader in category z’. Although this sounds simple, companies often miss this and risk running marketing programmes that don’t deliver on the targets. Without a business goal, you simply don’t have a strategic marketing plan.

3. Market Opportunities–Developing marketing strategies and plans are most effective when discussing Market Opportunities. These can come in many shapes and sizes. Perhaps the competition is overpriced and pricing your product lower is the market opportunity. Market regulation may change, which creates an additional need. Perhaps consumer tastes and preferences have changed (e.g. vegan food is a big market opportunity right now).Finding these opportunities and building the strategic marketing plan around the opportunities can speed up growth and keep marketing ROI high from day one.

4. Target Market Defined–Developing a marketing strategy plan also requires defining the target market to help develop marketing messages that speak to their needs and are more persuasive than generic marketing messages (baby boomers respond to different messages than millennials).

When you are planning marketing strategy, it is really important to target groups who have different needs and desires. Understanding those needs and desires can make the difference between success and failure. Where do they shop? What competing product are they using at the moment? Where do they live, what job do they have, and what are their aspirations in life? Getting into this level of granularity in your strategic marketing plan can really drive ROI in the final marketing plan.

5. Marketing Budget–Last, a strategic marketing plan is only complete with including a realistic marketing budget and a time-frame for implementing the strategic marketing plan by the team. Tough decisions have to be made at this point–not all marketing activities will be possible with the budget. It is also important to divide up duties and responsibilities across the team.

strategic marketing

The 7 steps to developing your strategic marketing plan

Step 1: Setting your marketing goals and objectives

How to make a good marketing plan requires brands to ask themselves the following question. What goal is the business trying to achieve? Planning Marketing Strategy is much easier if you have the goal defined. What specific objectives does marketing need to meet met in order to achieve those goals? What specific measure of success (KPI) will we have for each marketing aim? Here are a few examples:

Up-selling to existing customers: One of the first steps in developing a marketing plan comprises persuading customers to purchase higher-quality products. Company x wants to have its existing customers switch from their standard to their new premium shampoo. Here, the aim may be to drive customer sampling in store and online to customers purchasing online via the brand’s website. The KPIs for sampling should be a specific number, so success can be measured.

Driving awareness to a niche audience with a low budget: Company x wants to maximise market awareness of its new vegan food product to vegan food enthusiasts with a low marketing budget. Here, the aim might be to work with Instagram influencers who have large market reach on vegan food and can share their experience of the product with their followers. Here, the KPIs should be impressions that the influencer campaign has delivered to their online followers, along with inbound traffic to the site from Instagram.

Translating business objectives into specific marketing goals is something that sometimes gets overlooked, but if it’s done thoroughly, it can ensure that every penny of the marketing budget contributes towards the business’s overall goal.

Strategic marketing planning can be simplified by measuring each marketing aim against a KPI keeps marketing teams focused on optimising their marketing activities. KPIS should ideally be specific, measurable, aspirational, realistic, and time bound.

Step 2: Analysing your marketplace and competitors

Another important step in developing a marketing plan is analysing the current marketplace. In order to achieve those company goals, it’s important to contextualise the current situation that the company faces in order to build a robust strategic marketing plan that navigates through the complexity.

A. Customer–To really get to know your customer, you can do an online survey asking your target customers what they are looking for from a product like yours. Other significant sources of customer insight are secondary research reports.

Management consulting practices, ad agencies and research houses frequently publish this research for free. Another significant source are customer insight tools, of which there are many. Some examples include Google Trends and Facebook IQ. After all of this research is done, you will put together your customer persona, which outlines (on one page) what your typical customer looks like. This is who you will market to.

B. Competitor–Identifying the opportunities, weaknesses and strengths that the competition poses can empower you to market your business more effectively. A few ways you can do this are to analyse the social media chatter of the competition’s brands to identify what customers are saying about them (what do they like and dislike about the competition’s product?).

In a customer survey, you can also ask the customer what their views are of the competition. There is a universe of tools out there which can reverse engineer the competition’s SEO, PPC and digital marketing tactics as well. Last, you can try a qualitative analysis of the competitor’s website in order to map out their brand position, tone of voice, price point, values, and their key sales messages.

C. Category –A marketing strategy plan requires knowing the movements across the overall industry in order to circumnavigate any issues and to capitalise on emergent trends. Good places to look here are industry associations, government consultations and innovations.

D. Channels – Where do your target customers spend their time online? What content do they specifically engage with and where do they get their product recommendations from? Knowing this will take you closer to being able to plan your marketing into the right channels. Looking only at the competition and the channels they are using may lead to you just copying their strategy (and being in direct competition for attention). You can get some great audience insights from Facebook IQ, Alexa.com and there is a raft of other tools out there which can tell you the channels that will give the highest ROI. In an ideal world, you want to find marketing channels and opportunities that look like they will drive marketing performance that the competition has overlooked.

E. Company – Analyse the company’s previous successes and be honest about past failures. What is the company good at? What do customers expect from it? Taking these into account is another important element to consider. 

Use this analysis to map a path to make the customer fall in love with you and beat the competition.

Step 3: Defining your key marketing messages

Another one of the important steps in developing a marketing plan is focused on how brands use their messaging. Based on all the deep insight that has been built, it should be easy to outline the key marketing messages in a way that resonates deeply with your target customer. Key marketing messages should all integrate and play off each other–to make the company sound ‘joined up’ and easy to understand. Customers have a limited attention span, so keeping it concise is vital:

Core brand proposition

This should explain why you exist, and how you make the lives of your customers better. 

Your mission statement

Explain what you do, and how do you do it better than the competition.

Functional reasons to believe

Define why customers should choose you. Identify the functional benefits, what they will gain and the pain points your product will solve.

Emotional reasons to believe

What emotional benefits does the product or company offer to the customer? How will you make them feel?

source: selflearn-en

Step 4: Outlining your marketing tactics

Another one of our recommended steps to a marketing plan is understanding the market. Strategic Marketing Planning is sometimes a challenge for businesses that have never considered their marketing tactics. The answer to your strategic marketing plan may not just be Facebook and Google. It might be partnerships with industry associations, sponsoring events, public speaking or referral marketing. Knowing the customer and the market opportunities should naturally reveal where marketing will be most effective. The key factors to consider are:

1. Target demographic

Where do they spend time and what do they give attention to?

2. Budget

What is reasonably within the ballpark budget for you to do? Hard choices need to be made to keep activities within the budget range.

3. Brand

What’s a good fit for your brand?

4. Price point

How much does the product cost? If it’s a luxury price point, you may want a marketing mix that targets higher end consumers (they are more expensive to reach).

5. B2C channels

Social media, SEO, PPC, influencer marketing and broadcast media (TV, radio etc) are worth evaluating.

6. B2B considerations

Twitter, email, LinkedIn, SEO, PPC and PR work well.

Step 5: Finalising your marketing budget

Another one of our recommended steps to a marketing plan is allocating a marketing budget. It can be a risky business, but there are ways of ensuring that you are making the right choices. If you have historical marketing performance data, allocating the budget based on this insight is the best possible way forward.

If you don’t have historic marketing performance data or you are looking for ways of deciding on budgeting in new marketing channels, I’d recommend finding the performance benchmarks for your intended marketing mix. This will help you get a sense of the effectiveness that the budget will have and how much budget will be required to hit your business goal.

Benchmark statistics are usually available on an industry level (Travel, financial, retail, auto etc).

Benchmark performance varies significantly from industry to industry, so it’s risky using generic benchmarks. Example digital benchmark numbers which are readily available are:

1) Email: Open rates, click-through rates and conversion rates.

2) Website: Visitor to conversion rates, visitor to email sign-up rates.

3) PPC: Click-through rates and cost per click.

4) Social media: Cost per lead, likes per post, cost per impression and cost per click.

5) Price comparison sites: cost per click.

Step 6: Building the strategic marketing plan

The marketing schedule will help you orchestrate marketing activities and ensure that you have a coordinated approach that maximises impact. Strategic Marketing Planning Is sometimes a challenge for smaller businesses. We recommend starting with some smaller activities to test out the marketing messages before launching some of the bigger budget items, for example. A good timeline should outline:

Phasing

What phases will your campaign have? Will you start by driving market awareness or perhaps you need to educate people first? You may then want to have a phase where you drive product sampling. Phasing your marketing campaign will ensure that you choose the right marketing mix throughout the marketing programme.

Channel planning

 When will different channels go live? Some channels are more affordable than others (TV versus Facebook ads) so planning when each channel will be used throughout the campaign phases will help maximise the marketing mix based on budgetary constraints.

Live dates

What can you afford for a campaign run time? One thing to consider here is to not put all of your eggs in one basket–if only one or two marketing channels or activities are being used, you are betting heavily on a specific channel working and might be disappointed. If you have done it before and it works, that’s no problem. But if you don’t have any robust historical performance data, it is recommended that you diversify the mix in order to mitigate risk.

Marketing assets

There are usually quite a few dependencies in a marketing plan. Paid media can’t launch without the creative assets, for example.

What marketing assets will you need in order to launch? Planning these assets into the timeline is vital in order to ensure that you have everything fully prepared for a seamless marketing launch.

Step 7: Building the marketing project plan to launch

Going through the steps to a marketing plan can be made easier when you have identified planning roles, responsibilities, and allocated resources. It is the key to driving the marketing plan forward. What resources are available? What resources need to be found? How much of their time will be allocated to the marketing push?

Team structure–outline the roles and responsibilities of all team members and work together based on the timeline that has been produced.

Source: Slack
Slack is a great tool for collaboration which allows brands to manage teams efficiently.

Dependencies–many marketing activities will have dependencies. Banners can’t go live without the creative. PR can’t go live without a press release. Plan for these dependencies and ensure that stakeholders are aware of these dependencies.

Strategic marketing planning: Final thoughts

Remember, a solid Marketing Strategy Plan should include key competitor analysis and a strong understanding of customer needs. Strategic marketing planning can help you reach your goals by identifying your target market and customers, understanding how to reach and engage with them, and turning them into potential customers.

Marketing should be an ongoing initiative in order to maintain market traction and enable sales.

Measuring marketing performance against the marketing KPIS and business goals will give a strong sense of how to optimise marketing initiatives going forward.

Optimising marketing should also be an ongoing initiative–progressively refining, improving and optimising the marketing mix until a smooth set of marketing activities is in place that gives predictable, repeatable results.

Marketing doesn’t stand still–new platforms, channels and techniques are emerging all the time.

Business goals and the market landscape also change regularly.

Strategic marketing planning is essential in outlining your current market position, your target market, your marketing mix, and how you’ll measure its success. This plan is essential in helping your business achieve its marketing goals.

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About James

James is an award winning digital strategist with over 20 years experience helping challenger brands and market leaders (Unilever, Diageo, MasterCard, HSBC) launch and scale their data-driven sales and marketing. Connect on Linkedin

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