Please note that this article is intended for educational purposes only and should not be deemed to be or used as legal, employment, or health & safety advice. For guidance or advice specific to your business, consult with a qualified professional.
Once you’ve got a business up and running, it’s time to start thinking about your marketing plan. You might already have a business plan, but it’s important to dig deeper to understand your audience and target market. This way you can make sure you use the right messaging to reach them and get your product or service noticed. This is where a marketing strategy comes in.
Why you need a marketing strategy
While a business plan explains what your business is — who you are, what you do, current and future location planning, growth strategies, staffing, finances, and more, your marketing plan is much more in-depth regarding specific tactics, goals, and outcomes. Here’s why you need a marketing strategy:
Clear guidelines: Your marketing strategy gives you and your employees a clear understanding of your marketing and priorities, what you are focusing on, and what your tactics to achieve your goals are.
Deeper insights: With the right research, planning, and execution, you can glean powerful insights that help you better understand your customers.
Better budgeting: A marketing plan helps you prioritise your budget and allocate the right amount needed to execute your business, or have a better understanding of what you would need.
Competitive edge: Getting ahead with competitors is difficult, but having a well-thought-out marketing strategy helps you stay at the front of your customers’ minds. A competitor analysis can also support this and help you figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Quicker growth: Setting goals and outlining how you plan to achieve them is the best way to grow your business.
Before you get started
To create an actionable marketing strategy that will drive results for your business, you need to come prepared. Before you start drafting, gather the following information and materials to reference as you write:
Financial reports: Have your latest financial statements and reports nearby. This should include profit and loss reports, balance sheets, employee payroll, and any other major financial statements. You should look at the last three years (or all of your statements if you’ve been in business for less than that) to get an understanding of year-over-year (YoY) trends in your business.
A list of your product offerings and roadmap: Have a document that lists your inventory, product offerings, or services. If you have plans for expansion or adding new products, include them too, with a timeline for opening, launch, or release.
Your current understanding of your market and audience: This can be as simple as writing down who you think your target audience is and what your addressable market is. It’s meant to be a reference point for you to compare back to once you’ve done the research around both of these groups.
Customer feedback: Comb over feedback from customer surveys or feedback from receipts. Check Google and Trustpilot reviews, or any other local listings, in addition to social media channels where you can hear straight from your customer what they do and do not like about your business or offerings.
Examples of different types of marketing
- Email marketing
- Direct mail marketing
- Influencer marketing
- Social media/ channel marketing
- Paid advertising
- SEO optimisation
The first step of building out your marketing strategy is to do a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis helps you identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that your business faces. By examining all potential internal or external factors, you can create strategies that make the most of your advantages, while addressing any challenges.
This kind of analysis can give you a clear picture of where you are in relation to competitors in your industry, and the answers can help form the basis of a new strategy to maximize profits, boost sales, and understand your unique selling proposition (USP). It’s especially helpful prior to conducting market research to help you identify what areas you should focus your time and money on.
A SWOT matrix is an easy-to-use tool that can be downloaded or created to guide you (check out this free template from CIPD to get started). And remember, you don’t have to have all of the solutions already figured out (that comes later), but you’ll have a better understanding of where you stand and where you need to focus your attention when building out your marketing strategy.
Your strengths are the things that your business is already doing well when it comes to product offerings and your marketing strategy. Ask yourself questions like:
- What advantages do we have when it comes to marketing? For example, you might already have exceptional online reviews.
- How can we leverage our existing customer base? If you already have a strong following, you can focus on leaning into deepening those relationships.
- What tools do we currently have available? You might already have social channels or an email marketing service set up.
- What resources do we already have within our staff that can help us reach our goals? Maybe you have a social media expert who you can promote and leverage to help you tackle that side of your marketing strategy.
Weaknesses in a SWOT analysis refer to internal things that might be hindering your business, like a weak marketing plan or minimal online presence. To identify your weaknesses, ask yourself questions like:
- Where do we need to improve?
- What is not going well, or what areas do I not feel confident in?
- What resources or technology limitations does my business have that are holding me back?
- What areas take up the most time, resources, and money, but don’t yield results?
Opportunities are external factors that can provide an opportunity for you — look at your internal strengths and weaknesses for ideas. Here are some questions to ask when analysing opportunities:
- Are there opportunities in the market that competitors are not taking advantage of?
- What marketing tactics do my competitors not do well?
- What new trends can we capitalise on? How can we stay on top of trends in the future?
- Have there been recent changes in my target market that I can explore?
Threats in the SWOT analysis are external issues that can create weaknesses in your business — they can also be turned into opportunities. Here are some questions to ask when analysing threats:
- What are the roadblocks in our market that might prevent us from achieving our marketing goals?
- What are we doing that our competition is also doing?
- What is our competition doing better than us?
Doing a SWOT analysis before kicking off audience and market research will help you be prepared with an in-depth knowledge of where your business stands as it is and what areas you want to focus on building out in your marketing strategy.
Target market analysis
It might be tempting to try to market to everyone, but casting a wide net can work against you. You might end up annoying customers who aren’t interested, burning through your marketing budget, and likely end up missing the opportunity to attract high-quality return customers who value and trust your business. These are the best customers to grow your business.
You might feel like you know who your customer is, but it’s important to properly identify who they are based on an in-depth review of your products and services, the marketplace, your potential (or current) customers, and more.
Before diving into researching your market, start by creating buyer personas for your audience. A buyer persona is a fictional, general representation of who your ideal customer is. Depending on your company and product offering, you might have more than just one buyer persona.
Key characteristics that make up a buyer persona are:
- Job title
- Family size
- Their priorities and challenges
This persona should be a guideline when you start doing research to help you effectively reach members of your audience.
Market analysis is the process of gathering information about your business’s buyer personas, target audience, and current customers to understand how your product or service fits the current market, how viable it will be, and if it will be successful. A market analysis tells you:
- Where and how your target audience and customers find new products and services.
- Who is in your market and what challenges they face.
- Which of your competitors are winning your customers, and how.
- What products, tools, and services are trending in your industry.
- What the key factors are that are influencing purchases and conversions in your target market.
There are two types of market research: primary and secondary. Both help your business gather actionable information, but one may suit your specific needs more than the other.
Primary market research
Primary market research is research that you conduct yourself or with the help of someone you hire - you can also bring on a dedicated team of staff to conduct the research. Whichever option you choose, primary research typically involves going straight to your source. This includes anecdotal information gathered through:
- Competitor scouting visits
- Focus groups
Through primary market research, you’re aiming to gather two types of information which are complementary to each other:
Exploratory: This type of information is open-ended and general. It’s typically gathered through long interviews with a small group of people or one individual at a time.
Specific: This type of information is very pointed and precise. You reference this information to solve a problem or issue presented from your exploratory research. This utilises more formal interviews to gather.
Primary research can take much longer and cost a lot more than secondary research, but it often yields more actionable and conclusive results.
Secondary market research
Secondary research is easier to come by. It has often already been compiled, analysed, and published by someone else. Secondary research can include, but is not limited to:
- Reports and studies from government agencies (including census data and labour stats from the Office of National Statistics), research agencies, trade associations, education institutions, or other businesses in your industry.
- Published content from publications, trade journals, industry publications, competitor content, and more.
Secondary research is much more accessible and cost effective than primary research. It’s a better option if you have a limited budget or already have a good idea of what your target market is.
Once you understand your target customer and market, you should make this the foundation of your marketing strategy. You can use this information to develop attainable marketing goals and objectives, and fine-tune your product messaging so that it resonates with your customers.
Marketing goals and objectives
A plan means nothing if you aren’t working toward a goal. Your marketing goals are your North Star of what you want to achieve with your marketing strategy. But, your plan for how to achieve them is just as important as the goals themselves. This is where your marketing objectives come in. These objectives identify specific actions that you are going to take to achieve your goals. Objectives should include measurement that allows you to evaluate the success of your marketing strategy quarterly and yearly. And remember to reference your market research and SWOT analysis for what goals and objectives to prioritise.
Outlining SMART goals and objectives
Believe it or not, the way you approach and draft your goals and objectives can have an impact on the success of your strategy. The SMART goal method is helpful in writing out actionable and attainable goals that will help your business grow.
Specific: Be as clear as possible when writing goals. The objectives should be clearly outlined and defined for any team member to understand.
Measurable: Include KPIs and other qualitative benchmarks to track the progress of your goals.
Achievable: You should have big dreams, but be realistic about what you can achieve within your limitations. You should set a high bar for your business, but don’t set yourself up for failure.
Relevant: Your goals should utilise the market research you’ve performed to ensure they are specific to your business and the direction you want to go in.
Time-bound: Each objective should have a determined timeline tied to it.
Examples of goals and objectives
Goal: Target new customers
Objective: Allocate 15% of marketing budget per quarter to social media ads to increase reach and acquire new customers.
Goal: Launch a newsletter
Objective: Send a monthly newsletter with a 10% increase in new subscribers month-over-month.
For some goals, you might have more than one objective. For example:
Goal: Grow Instagram presence.
- Objective 1: Have a positive week-over-week follower count.
- Objective 2: Have positive engagement growth week-over-week.
- Objective 3: Post on Instagram feed two to three times a week.
- Objective 4: Post on Instagram stories two times a day.
Through your market research you might learn that you are reaching different buyer personas through different channels, so avoid creating the same objectives for growing each marketing channel.
Determine KPIs for precise measurement
Outlining your goals and objectives is one thing, but knowing the right way to measure them is just as important. As we mentioned, setting relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) and benchmarks on your goals is instrumental in achieving them. Examples of KPIs are:
Net New Customers: Increase in customers over a period of time, percentage increase in customers over a period of time and compared to other time frames, acquisition cost per customer.
Website Metrics: Number of visits to your website, time spent on each page of your website, number of visits per customer, percentage of customers who leave without purchasing.
Social Media Engagement: Increase in followers over a time period, percentage increase over a time period, number of times content was shared, number of leads generated through social media, traffic in between your website and social media channels.
Customer Spend: Average spend per customer per visit, common ticket sizes.
Lead Generation: Number of new leads brought in, percentage increase over specific time frames, cost-per-lead, percentage of web traffic that converts to a lead and then to a customer.
Sales Growth: Like increase in revenue, number of units sold, etc. Pay attention to changes over specific timeframes and around product launches or marketing campaigns.
By assigning the right KPIs to your goals and objectives, you’ll be able to gather valuable insights into your customers’ browsing and shopping habits, which will help you fine-tune your marketing strategy over time and grow your business even more.
Building off of your strategy
The work doesn’t end once your strategy is completed — in fact, it’s just getting started. As you start reaching goals and hitting key objectives, it’s important to keep thinking about ways to expand your marketing strategy. As your company grows and your product offering advances, think about developing omnichannel marketing strategies and continue to expand your knowledge on how to market your business.