How to Build A Strategic Marketing Plan. Part 1: Building the Foundation
If someone told you they were building their home over a swamp or sinkhole, would you stop them? I hope so. It’s too shaky a foundation for long-term success. However, it’s not uncommon for marketers to start executing marketing tactics without a strategic marketing plan. This two-part blog on building a strategic marketing plan first explores how to lay a strong foundation for success.
The strategic marketing plan is essential to marketing and communications efforts, as researching and analyzing internal and external factors are critical to underpin what we should do as marketers. If you’re “doing marketing” without a strategy, some tactics may happen to work well, but overall you’ll have a hodgepodge of creative, tactics, and elements that don’t fit together or work toward a common goal.
This often leads to gaps in your marketing funnel, missed opportunities to convert customers, and ineffective communications. It can also lead to companies undervaluing the marketing department because it can’t quite seem to prove itself.
A strategic marketing plan isn’t as daunting as it sounds. It begins with research and reflection through questions like:
- Who are our competitors?
- What differentiates us in the marketplace?
- Where are our customers?
- Why would customers care about my brand?
Then it digs into analysis and planning stages. The strategic marketing plan provides a solid foundation and long-term direction for marketing efforts. Let’s get started.
Building the Strategic Marketing Plan
Beginning with Goals.
Strategic marketing always begins with goals, as they give you something to measure your success against and help set priorities of your plan. I’m sure every marketer would agree that there is always more we could do – more campaigns, new ideas, other tactics. Doing everything is not typically feasible or efficient. Goals will serve to keep your company honest and on track.
First, to establish goals, consider where your brand is now and what you want to accomplish with marketing in the next three to five years. This will help you choose goals that are realistic and drive toward an ideal future. Of course, objectives will vary from company to company. A new business, or a brand with a new product, might need to increase brand awareness and engagement on owned channels before they can optimize their funnel. Meanwhile, a more established firm might focus more on growth and turning the marketing function into a profit center.
Second, consider the company’s overall strategic direction. You can come up with the greatest strategy in the world, but it won’t matter if you’re headed in the opposite direction as the company.
The SMART framework is a great way to define goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound). It’s a common format that focuses actions through specifics in a way everyone can understand. Before moving into setting up the strategy, it’s important to reach consensus within the company on what you’re trying to accomplish.
Defining an Audience
Once the goals are settled, you need to start researching and gathering all the facts to make a strategic decision. That leads us to another foundational element of developing a marketing strategy: taking time to understand the target audience and/or buyer personas.
Notice those are two different items. A target audience is usually a pretty generic definition of a group, for example “married women, 35-45, with kids and pets.” Buyer personas dig deeper into the essence of your purchaser and examine the softer side of things such as pain points, beliefs, expectations, and more. Often, they are presented as people with alliterative names, such as “Holistic Hal.” who drinks almond milk, does yoga and wants fair trade, organic food for his family.
Buyer personas also help humanize their audience. Marketers referring to a persona reinforces that their ads, emails, social posts are meant to connect with a particular type of person. By better understanding the needs and desires of that person, they can craft better, more relevant messaging.
External and Internal Analysis to Support Strategy
Next up is the competitor analysis and SWOT analysis. These can often be done in tandem. Together, they give you an external and internal view of your brand and its competitive position.
The goal of a competitive analysis is to tease out what makes you different. It looks at items like services offered, product features, client base, price point, size, location, etc. From a marketing perspective, one of the key things to look is how other brands are positioning themselves and what they’re saying.
Each competitive analysis may look different. Remember the elements you want to compare are those that can help you differentiate. For example, maybe you’re a consulting firm, and you’ve identified another consulting firm as your competitor because you have the same services. If you don’t serve the same types of clients or industries, then they might not influence your analysis as much as a firm that competes more directly with you for clients. In that instance, every point of differentiation is critical, but especially those that would compel your target persona to select your firm over the competition.
It’s important to recognize everyone has competitors. (Yes, you too!) Even if you’re creating a new product category, you’ll have some indirect solutions, alternatives and substitutes to consider, or even competition for attention spans. Winning that customer starts with determining what makes you stand out against the other options that are likely to be on the buyer’s radar.
That’s the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) Analysis. This is another way to identify points of differentiation and proof points for messaging (especially for service-related companies). S&W are more internally focused, while O&T have you looking externally again, but from a broader market and industry perspective.
A good way to go about this is to survey your employees. They see these elements day-to-day within the company and outside of it. They are your best resource for identifying these trends.
Goals, target audience and buyer personas, competitive, and SWOT analyses all taken together position the marketer for the next step. With this foundational research done, the brand’s marketing team is now ready to start hashing out the strategy.
Read my next blog to learn more about how that planning actually works. Or reach out to any of Marketri’s experts to find out how we can help your brand get to this point in its marketing adventure.
Want to learn more about the ins and outs of creating a marketing plan for growth? Then get your free copy of 5 Benefits of Creating a Strategic Marketing Plan.