The Seven-Step Process for Strategic Marketing Planning

by Debra Andrews | February 27, 2020

A brilliant business plan does not a magnificent marketing plan make. Too often organizations leap from a solid idea of their product or service to doing marketing. This leads to tactical decisions made without a strategic marketing plan. Yet a strategic marketing planning process can take away many marketing fails and frustrations.

Most organizations jump too soon into marketing and promotion. Then they find, after some projects or some time has gone by, that they don’t know how that it is working for them, and they are frustrated by the lack of results.

Without strategic marketing planning to set the stage and guide the tactical plan, the business ends up doing a lot of stuff without a real idea of how those efforts might support growth. Many well-meaning viewpoints get thrown into the mix, and pursuing all the different ideas becomes the focus and keeps internal marketing busy. But there is no actual strategy aligning with goals and what the organization is trying to achieve.

Strategic marketing planning takes a different approach.

Step #1: Discover Yourself

No, we don’t need you to go out in the woods for a week and survive on berries alone. But, strategic marketing planning does begin with an evaluation of your company’s strengths and areas of weakness. A sensible strategy begins with an internal review of what marketing is in place, what assets (e.g., technology, people, creative) are available, and where the organization is right now.

In order to figure out where you are going to go, we have to figure out where you are. Having taken stock, you’ll be able to identify strengths you can leverage and decide how to address any weaknesses before making strategic plans you can’t meet.

Step #2: Do an External Review

At the same time, you can’t make strategic marketing planning decisions in a vacuum. You must also look at key drivers in the market. This could include asking questions like:

  • Where are things headed?
  • Who are the new players on the scene?
  • Who could become a larger force?
  • What could potentially change your organization’s direction?

This due diligence can help your organization to project growth, anticipate market decline, and forecast what the future holds. Nevertheless, this should be based in facts not what your people think might happen.

Then, you can use this information to develop a strategy with some flexibility. If things change, and you haven’t planned accordingly, you won’t be able to recalibrate in time. Things just move too fast.

This isn’t to say that you will have three or four full plans in the can. Rather, you have some ideas in advance how you will adapt your strategy if a variable changes. It’s the ability to adapt. For example, “Ok, if X,Y, or Z happens, we know we can pull back on this because we didn’t lock ourselves into a five-year agreement.”

Step #3: Investigate Markets, Customers

Along with looking for growth opportunities and identifying external threats, strategic marketing planning takes a deep dive to understand the ideal customer and target markets.

Market research provides data to make better, faster decisions. Marketri performs market segment analysis of current and potential target markets and maps them using a BCG Growth Share Matrix to position clients for long-term growth.

In this step, you’re looking to understand available opportunities by drilling down into segments, targets, and ideal customers and buyers. With a better understanding of who will buy the product or service and the buyers’ expectations, you can more efficiently identify how you meet those needs.

Step #4: Determine Brand Positioning

Up to this point, it’s been a lot of research — gathering data and information, doing surveys and interviews. Now strategic marketing planning moves into the analysis stage. This is where you establish the unique value proposition to drive the marketing.

What drives the positioning is looking at that intersection of where we are really good and where we are really different, based on attributes that customers care about.

Having done segmentation and targeting, the strategic marketing planner plants a flag in the ground saying, “We are going to position ourselves as this kind of brand that serves these types of players in these kinds of markets and delivers this types of value.”

Note: this is not just about having a sleek logo, a catchy tagline and a pretty website. A lot of people go there, thinking, “that’s what I need,” but brand positioning is much more detailed and layered.

Step #5: Build out Messaging

Once there is a brand position, the challenge is to stay disciplined and remain honed in on what matters to the customer. The messaging depends on the brand positioning. It can’t be shaped by what we think or what we think the market thinks. It needs to be based on what matters to the customer, determined through data, interviews, focus groups, surveys, etc.

Road test the messaging. You might think that that your message sounds great, different. But lo and behold the client could care less.

Organizational complexity challenges the lining up of messaging and positioning. A business typically doesn’t have a single product or service going out to one particular customer type. As a company grows, its messages need to evolve to reflect that.

Creating effective umbrella messaging that isn’t too watered down and works for diverse business units is hard work. But when the messaging reflects the company right now, and can be cascaded down to different units and individual products, it will do much more to support the brand and your growth objectives.

Step #6: Select Communication Channels

Strategic marketing plans should be custom tailored to fit the organization. The process so far has helped clarify the customers’ journey. Not just their buying journey, but starting with discovery all the way through to selection. Then, you’re choosing the channels based on how your clients get their information and make their decisions.

For example, you might determine that what really really works in your particular space is content marketing and thought leadership. Knowing that is going to help you identify what kinds of infrastructure or enablers are needed. A Fractional CMO, for instance, will at this point offer perspective on the technology, people, and creative assets you need for powerful implementation.

Determining investment across channels is going to consider the organization’s history — what have they done before and what has worked for them — as well as competitor practices and where things are headed. Then, you align the sales and marketing funnel around this understanding.

Step #7: Implement, Evaluate, and Iterate

Finally, we have reached the stage in the process where we too often see clients start. Here is where you actually create content, build ads, and get marketing out there to test, learn, optimize, and run again.

Usually we look at 90-day cycles. However the build-out phase can take longer depending on how sophisticated the organization was at the outset. If they don’t have a customer relationship management (CRM) tool or the website is nascent, it’s going to take longer to get started.

The strategic marketing plan will have identified specific goals, metrics. and targets for the client. Then, in the implement-test-learn phases, the marketer can compare the real-time results with the plan and begin level setting for predictable, repeatable, and scalable success.

This is different than throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall and saying, “We’ll see what sticks.” That thinking is why we see a lot of wasted dollars around marketing.

Strategic marketing planning is an educated approach. It’s using best practices and analysis and careful thinking to put a good plan in place that has a high likelihood of success.

As a strategic marketing consulting firm, Marketri can help move your company towards its growth objectives. Download our guide to strategic marketing plans to learn more about the power of marketing plans and our experience creating and implementing them for our clients!

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About the Author

As a strategic thinker and analytical problem solver, Sylvia Marten creates growth, marketing, and business development strategies for clients, enabling them to reach and engage their target audiences, differentiate their offerings, and gain critical market share. She is well versed in online and offline marketing channels, with extensive depth in digital and content marketing techniques – including high-performing websites, digital content, search/SEO, social, email and more – to drive awareness, traffic, leads, engagement, and new sales opportunities. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards for content excellence, user experience/design, and financial growth. She has nearly 20 years of marketing and business development experience and has held senior/executive roles in strategy, marketing and sales. Her industry work includes startups through category leaders in complex business environments such as digital health, medtech, SaaS, healthcare, digital media, publishing, professional services, energy and nonprofits. Sylvia holds a BA from Cornell University and an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.