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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. Get Instagram live, get Facebook live, get the website live.
The problem is that you might be selling the product in the wrong way, to the wrong audience and giving an ineffective sales message.
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.
By knowing the exact audience, what they want to buy, how they want to buy and where they spend their time online, you are able to mitigate 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 to start off in the right direction from day one.
What should a strategic marketing plan cover?
1. Market position – Your strategic marketing plan should define 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.
2. Business Goals – Outlining what the company is trying to achieve will help formulate a strategic marketing plan that delivers on the business’s goals. In some complex categories (eg 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 (eg chocolate which is highly competitive and 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 like a bit of a no brainer, companies often miss this and risk running marketing programmes that don’t deliver on the targets (and waste budget) very quickly. Without a business goal you simply don’t have a strategic marketing plan.
3. Market Opportunities – Market opportunities can come in many shapes and sizes. Perhaps the competition is overpriced and pricing your product lower is the market opportunity. Market regulation may be changing which creates a new need. Perhaps consumer tastes and preferences have changed (eg vegan food is a big market opportunity right now).Finding these opportunities and building the strategic marketing plan around the opportunities can accelerate growth and keep marketing ROI high from day one.
4. Target Market Defined – Defining the target market can help develop marketing messages that speaks to their needs and are more persuasive than generic marketing messages (baby boomers respond to different messages than millennials!). There may be several 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 and most importantly, a strategic marketing plan is only complete with the inclusion of a realistic marketing budget and a time-frame for the implementation of the strategic marketing plan by the team. Tough decisions have to be made at this point – not all marketing activities will be possible to do with the available budget. It is also important to divide up duties and responsibilities across the team.
7 steps to developing your strategic marketing plan
How to optimise your marketing strategy from day one
Step 1: Goals, objectives and key performance indicators (KPIS)
What goal is the business trying to achieve? Once the goal has been 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 objective? Here are a few examples:
Up-selling to existing customers: For company x to have its existing customers switch from their standard to their new premium shampoo. Here, the objective 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: For company x to maximise market awareness of its new vegan food product to vegan food enthusiasts with a low marketing budget. Here, the objective might be to work with Instagram influencers who have large market reach on the topic of 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 marketing budget contributes towards the business’s overall goal. Having a marketer who can translate business goals into marketing objectives is critical here.
Measuring each marketing objective 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: Analyse your situation
In order to achieve those company goals, it’s important to contextualise the current situation that the company faces in order to then 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 great sources of customer insight are secondary research reports. Management consulting practices, ad agencies and research houses frequently publish this research free. Another great 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 be able to put together your customer persona which outlines (on one page) what your typical customer looks like. This is who you will be marketing to.
B. Competitor – Identifying the opportunities, weaknesses and strengths that the competition pose 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 be used to reverse engineer the competition’s SEO, PPC and digital marketing tactics as well. Lastly, you can try 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 – Knowing the movements across the overall industry are important in order to circumnavigate any issues and to capitalise on emergent trends. Good places to look here are industry associations, government consultations and innovations. Not knowing who Uber were when deciding to launch a taxi business would have been quite the show-stopper!
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 are 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 successfully make the customer fall in love with you and beat the competition.
Step 3: Define your key marketing messages
Based on all of 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, clearly and succinctly.
Your mission statement
Explain what it is that you do and how do you do it better than the competition. What are you trying to achieve in the world?
Functional reasons to believe
Define why customers should choose you. What are the functional benefits? What will they gain? what pain will your product solve?
Emotional reasons to believe
What emotional benefits does the product or company offer to the customer? How will you make them feel?
Step 4: Outline your 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?
What is reasonably within the ballpark budget for you to do? Hard choices need to be made to keep activities within the budget range.
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: Finalise the budget
Allocating a marketing budget can be risky business but there are ways of ensuring that you are making the right choices. If you have historical marketing performance data, allocating 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 making decisions 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 does vary significantly from industry to industry so it’s very risky using generic benchmarks. Example digital benchmark numbers which are readily available are:
● Email: Open rates, click through rates and conversion rates.
● Website: Visitor to conversion rates, visitor to email signup rates.
● PPC: Click through rates and cost per click.
● Social media: Cost per lead, likes per post, cost per impression and cost per click.
● Price comparison sites: cost per click.
Step 6: Build the timeline
The marketing schedule will help you orchestrate marketing activities and ensure that you have a coordinated approach that maximises impact. You may want to start 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 the following:
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.
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.
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 is 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.
There are usually quite a few dependencies in a marketing plan. Paid media can’t launch without the creative assets! 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: Build the project plan for the marketing team to work together
Planning roles, responsibilities and allocating resources is 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.
● 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.
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 on an ongoing basis.
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 on a regular basis.
Revisiting the strategic marketing plan on a quarterly and annual basis will ensure that you are optimising your marketing mix to keep pace with changes within the business, the customer and the wider marketing landscape.