Every successful company needs a well-thought-out business plan to outline its course of action. A marketing strategy is one key part of that plan: It spells out critical information, including how a business will distinguish itself from competitors and what the team will aim to achieve.
While marketing plans don’t always produce immediate results, they are still a crucial aspect of a business plan and should be given a considerate amount of attention. A complete and effective marketing strategy can reveal opportunities through new audience segments, changes in pricing strategy or by differentiating the brand from the competition.
Here’s how to create an effective marketing plan for your business.
A focused marketing plan sets two goals. The first is to maintain engagement and customer loyalty, and the second is to capture market share within a specific audience segment of your target audience.
Your marketing plan outlines the strategies you’ll use to achieve both goals and the specific actions your marketing team will employ, such as the specific outreach campaigns, over which channels they will occur, the required marketing budget and data-driven projections of their success.
Marketing is a science-driven commitment that typically requires months of data to refine campaigns, and an interconnected marketing plan keeps your business committed to its long-term goals.
All marketing guidelines will circle back to the four P’s: product, price, place and promotion. The following tips are starting points that will ingrain the habit of continually returning to these four P’s.
Marketing campaigns should not be considered individual functions. Marketing is the story of your brand as told to customers; like any narrative, its tone and characters should remain consistent. An executive summary details your marketing goals for the next year and helps tie each campaign together.
When establishing your marketing goals, they should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound – or SMART. These goals should work together to achieve both internal and external harmony, telling a consistent story that informs customers of your exact message while building on its previous chapters.
For example, you may set a SMART goal to increase your company’s social media traffic by 15% in a 90-day time frame, and plan to achieve this by creating four relevant, informative and high-quality posts per week on each platform, using your company’s brand kit.
Before you write a marketing plan, you need to find and understand your niche. Ask yourself who the specific demographic is that you’re targeting. For example, if your business sells 30-minute meals, then those who work traditional 9-to-5 jobs are likely in your market. Study that group of individuals to understand their struggles and learn how your business can solve the problem.
Inbound marketing utilizes internal tools – such as content marketing, social media activity and search engine optimization (SEO) – to attract a customer’s attention primarily through online communication. Content marketing can include informative blog posts, interviews, podcasts with relevant industry figures or supplementary guides on how to best use your product. For example, if you sell cooking supplies, consider posting several fun recipes around the holidays that your tools can help prepare.
Each of these strategies empowers the others in a loop to achieve greater customer attention. A strong content offering can improve your search engine ranking, which brings more people to your website and social pages. You can then share those developed content pieces to that wider audience, who will again improve your search engine rankings. All of this can be done without the expense of a famous endorser or commercial advertising campaign.
No matter how original your product or service may be, there is always competition for your target customer’s dollar. Small business personnel seldom take the time to study their competitors in depth or pinpoint companies outside their industry that are just as capable of luring customers away. Knowing who your competitors are, their core competitive advantages, and how they might respond to your offerings – like price cuts or increased communication – helps you devise strategies to combat such losses.
By seeking out these competitors, you can develop ways to differentiate your business by providing consumers with the things they may be lacking from your competition. Observe how your competitors operate to find ways in which you can stand out and steer your target audience toward your business.
According to SmallBizGenius, 19% of small businesses fail because of their competitors.
Ultimately, your brand – and what it symbolizes for customers – is your strongest advantage. You should be able to write a simple declarative sentence of how you will meet customer needs and beat the competition. The best positioning statements focus on solving a problem for the customer in a way that promotes the best value.
When implementing a strategy, consider the marketing budget you will allot. Marketing requires money for various reasons, including paid promotions, marketing software, events and outsourced costs. Consider your budget when creating the plan so that there is money available to spend on marketing tactics to achieve your goals.
While drafting the plan and evaluating your course of action, note the estimated cost, assets, and time required to achieve the stated goals; this will help when it comes time to set the actual calculated budget. Any goals that you create should be realistically achievable within the budget you have set.
When developing your marketing plan, you should know why a customer would use your product, differentiate your brand from competitors, and audit your product offering and message to ensure consistency.
Once you know the elements of your plan, the next step is to develop the blueprint of how you will reach your target customers. Aside from traditional print and broadcast media, here are three digital marketing channels that many business owners utilize.
Social media is an essential part of businesses’ marketing plans, because every type of customer is on some type of platform – such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. You may feel overwhelmed at the possibilities, but focus on the sites that can benefit your business the most.
Brett Farmiloe, founder of internet marketing company Markitors, advised companies starting out in social media to get to know their customers and the platforms they use.
“Figure out where your customers are spending their time, and set up shop on those platforms,” he told Business News Daily. “Develop a content strategy that can be executed internally, [and then] execute your strategy by posting branded content on your selected platforms.”
Though email marketing is not as new as social media marketing, it is an effective and popular choice for small business owners. Companies can implement email marketing techniques in many ways, including newsletters, promotional campaigns and transactional emails. For instance, Mailchimp and Constant Contact help companies manage their email drip campaigns.
Farmiloe added to set your email marketing efforts apart from the others by segmenting your markets.
“Not all subscribers want to receive the same blast,” he said. “Smart email marketers take the time to segment subscribers at the outset, and then continue to segment based on subscriber activity. Through segmentation, companies reduce the amount of unsubscribes, increase open rates and, most importantly, increase the amount of actions taken from an email send.”
The popularity of smartphones and tablets has changed how companies target consumers. Since people have these devices with them nearly all the time, companies are looking to implement strategies that reach customers on their gadgets.
“Mobile marketing is interruptive,” Farmiloe said. “It’s because of this power that a marketer has to let the consumer determine how and when to receive marketing material. That’s why almost every app comes with the option to turn notifications on or off. The consumer has to hold the power with mobile marketing.”
Use digital marketing channels – such as social media, email and mobile – to reach customers, but only after researching each channel in depth and developing a strategy to capture consumers’ interest.
Well-defined budgets, goals and action items – with appropriate personnel assigned to each – can make your marketing plan a reality. Think about how much you’re willing to spend, the outcomes you expect and the necessary tasks to achieve those outcomes.
Analytical tools that track customer behavior and engagement rates can serve as a helpful guide for your marketing strategy. Unlike billboards or commercials, digital channels allow you to assess each step of the customer journey and gain insights on the individual patterns and intent of prospects. Intention can soon develop into prediction, empowering your marketing team to develop campaigns that consistently reach target audiences at the right time.
You can find more tips for measuring your marketing ROI here.
Jordan Beier and Adryan Corcione contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.