We kick off our Masterclass Series on "How to Build a Strategic Marketing Plan for Your Business" with host Eric Dickmann outlining the 15 steps to build an effective strategic marketing process. How do you pull all the critical pieces together that are needed for an effective strategic marketing plan? For many companies, plans are often little more than line items on a budget spreadsheet. This can lead to disconnected activities that are not focused on common messaging or desired outcomes. This dilutes the power of your marketing spend and fails the leverage the exponential power of a synchronized plan working towards a common goal.
While building an effective strategic marketing process takes time, once in place, it can make the yearly planning process more streamlined and straightforward. Instead of trying to work backwards and build a plan around a budget, you instead craft a plan focused on outcomes and then determine what it will cost to achieve those desired results.
The steps below are an introduction to what we more fully cover in the individual Masterclass episodes. We bring in industry experts and thought leaders to help explain the value in each step and how to maximize your plan's effectiveness. Each step coincides with a podcast episode and video interview available on our YouTube channel. And all are provided as free resources to help you build out an effective strategic marketing process within your organization.
Step 1: Create a Strategic Marketing Plan Process
In order to build out a strategic marketing plan, you need a process in place to gather the prerequisite data. This article will take you through a high level outline of those steps and as part of the Masterclass Series, we will dig deeper into each in subsequent articles.
A plan my sound simple but it's remarkable how many marketing teams don't have one. According to a recent study, only 40% of B2C and 37% of B2B companies had a documented plan in place for their content marketing which is a critical component of an overall strategic marketing plan. Think about that! Collateral, website, blogs, social media, video, etc...all of those are content marketing elements and the majority of companies don't have a written plan as to how to build content and synchronize tactics?
It's no wonder that the strategic marketing process inside many companies is either broken or non-existent. Without a written plan, keeping objectives clearly defined, articulating desired outcomes, and linking marketing activities together becomes significantly more challenging. When marketing dollars are already stretched and teams are being asked to do more with less, failing to create a documented plan can significantly hinder delivering the best possible results.
While many companies claim to have a plan but admit it is not documented, you have to question whether or not this is true. The easiest and most straight-forward way to make sure that your marking activities are aligned to your overall objectives is to create a documented strategic marketing plan. By way through the process steps listed below, you can define your audience, your messaging, and tactics to use to deliver the most value to potential customers through the channels most likely to reach them. It provides a tool your entire team can look to as they seek to align various activities to the overall goals and objectives. And, it sets timeframes for the delivery of various plan elements as well as sets expectations for the achievement of specific results. By following the strategic marketing process and identifying critical elements of the overall plan, companies can significantly increase the likelihood of building a successful plan.
What Will a Strategic Marketing Process Help You Define?
Who are your marketing efforts targeting to reach?
Do you understand the specific target marketing you are trying to reach and the personas of the buyers in that market? The more you can carve out a specific niche for your marketing activities, the more you can leverage you marketing dollars to go after this very specific audience.
What is the message you're trying to communicate?
There's often a temptation to talk about what a product or service does, rather than the value it provides. How is your product or service solving a problem or addressing a specific pain point? Think about building trust and establishing an emotional connection with your prospective buyer.
When will your plan start? When do you anticipate seeing results?
A good strategic marketing plan is a sequence of related activities tied together. A social media post references a blog post which contains a CTA leading to a landing page providing a piece of valuable content. The name is added to an email list and emails providing useful content to help move the prospect through the buyer's journey are sent. All of these steps are sequences and you need to make sure each element is ready at the appropriate time.
Where are you going to implement your tactics to reach your ideal customer?
As marketers, we have many channels to use to reach our target audience but some are better than others. Where are your buyers most easily found and most receptive to marketing messages? Rather than spending money on channels with poor conversion potential, map our where best to find your ideal customers.
Why would a potential customer be interested in your product or service?
When you reach your ideal customer, you want them to respond positively to your marketing messages. Make sure you answer the "so what?" question and understand why a potential customer would care about what you're communicating.
How are you going to implement and fund your plan?
As your plan takes shape, you need to get tactical and understand what resources will be required to make it successful. Do you need to bring in freelancers or content creators? How much will the plan cost? This is when your budget finally needs to start taking shape.
Step 2: Identify Your Target Market and Ideal Customer Profile
Given the current state of the economy, having a well-defined target market is more important than ever. No one can afford to target everyone. Small businesses can effectively compete with large companies by targeting a niche market.
Many businesses say they target "anyone interested in my services." Some say they target small-business owners, homeowners, or stay-at-home moms. All of these targets are too general.
Targeting a specific market does not mean that you are excluding people who do not fit your criteria. Rather, target marketing allows you to focus your marketing dollars and brand message on a specific market that is more likely to buy from you than other markets. This is a much more affordable, efficient, and effective way to reach potential clients and generate business.
Step 3: Understanding Product-Market Fit and Competitive Differentiation
Who is your customer? Is there a market need? Does your product offer something unique? How much will people pay for it? These are the questions you should start asking yourself when you begin launching your product or service. It is very rare for a business to launch an original concept because, at most times, it has already been launched in the market. The best you could do as a business owner is to give your product an edge that would outplay the other competitors in quality, customer service, or overall customer experience. Before you launch your concept, you must first ensure that there is a product-market fit. Your product or service may be useful in its function and excellent in efficiency, but it will not sell if it doesn't fit in the market.
Step 4: Building a Brand Story That Resonates with Your Ideal Customer
When you think of an iPhone, it’s likely you know it’s made by Apple. If you saw a Mustang, you most likely know it's a Ford. If you cut yourself, do you ask for a bandage or a Band-Aid? These companies were able to leave their mark on people because they incorporated an effective brand positioning strategy into their business model. Brand positioning is designing a company's image and offerings to occupy a unique place in its target market. This describes what sets a brand apart from other competitors and its impression in the minds of customers.
Step 5: Create Marketing Messaging That's Compelling
A marketing value proposition is a value the company promises to deliver to its customers. This phrase represents your organization's unique offerings and the quality of service that your brand represents. This message is generally addressed to target customers to help them understand what your brand stands for and how your product or service will fulfill a need or want. In short, a value proposition specifies what makes your offer attractive and conveys why customers should buy from you and not from your competitors.
According to Investopedia, a marketing value proposition stands out if it has a strong and clear headline that conveys a clear benefit to potential customers followed by clear and concise information rather than vague or lengthy messages. Keep your marketing value proposition short, clear, creative, informative, and most of all, realistic.
Attention spans are short and so your marketing messages need to stand out from the crowd. Be empathetic, show you understand your customer's world and their problems. Communicate that your company and its products and services are best positioned to solve your prospects pain points and add perceived value to their situation."
Step 6: Building Content with Digital Freelancers and Creators
Own your own business? Ready to take some of the workload off of you and start outsourcing? Hiring a digital marketing freelancer may be the solution for your social media, content, advertising, and SEO tasks.
The benefits to hiring a freelancer is not only freeing up your schedule to allow you to work on other tasks, but when you hire someone who specializes in a specific field they’re more than likely to produce results for your business.
There’s a freelancer available for just about any type of digital marketing task your business may need, but it’s an incredibly competitive field. Finding the right fit for your digital marketing needs can be time consuming and take an excessive amount of trail and error during the search to find the right candidate.
Step 7: Automate Campaigns with Marketing Automation Tools
Many businesses struggle dealing with the shift away from traditional marketing to digital marketing and sales. Automation tools can help but the marketplace is filled with so many choices, it can be difficult to know exactly what solution is right for your company. You also need the right team to manage this software and maximize these tools to their fullest potential. It can be difficult to adapt old processes to new tools and deal with these transitions in this fast-paced digital world. However, with automation correctly implemented, you can have a powerful tool to scale your marketing efforts and increase their effectiveness.
Step 8: Implement Customer Relationship Management and Analytical Tools
It doesn’t matter what your focus is, what kind of services you offer, or what kind of industry you represent: your customers should be of prime importance for you. They allow you to grow, provide you with feedback and inspire you to create new concepts. It goes without saying that your customers bring in the revenue.
If you want to understand your customers better, you should first understand the advantages of CRM for your business. Implemented correct, they form the hub of your business and the data stored within them can open up powerful new ways to understand your business and increase marketing, sales, and service effectiveness.
Step 9: Use Social Media Marketing to Amplify Your Messaging
Brand messaging is one of the most underrated social media marketing practices. In the last five years, social media platforms have added at least a billion users in total. The increase in content produced and the need to curate better feed for users has driven social platforms to reduce organic reach.
According to this study, a Facebook page with over a million followers reaches only about 2.27% of that following on an average. Brands need to boost their content to reach their target audience. As marketers, you can’t bank on only organic reach to do the job.
Step 10: Create Ads and SEO Focused Content for Inbound Marketing
Online advertising is necessary for small and large businesses alike, but small business advertising is decidedly more difficult. Your staff is smaller, and your marketing budgets are smaller too. How do you compete with bigger businesses under the circumstances?
The good news is, with the right strategies in place, you can use online advertising to drive leads, sales, and ROI, no matter what size you are. In this guide, we'll share some strategies and tips to help you raise brand awareness and grow your business on a small budget.
Marketers have never had more powerful tools to target their messages to interested buyers, but this only works if you truly understand the persona of your ideal customer. Cast too wide a net and you'll spend money outside your sweet spot. Target too narrowly and you'll miss too many potential prospects. The more you understand about who buys your products and services and why, the better you'll be able to target others with the same needs."
Step 11: Building a PR and Communications Plan
Your business’s reputation is of utmost significance and can make or break you. Reputation is basically how your business is thought of by people “people” being those who may buy from you, invest in you or partner with you. If your business’s reputation is positive (e.g., trustworthy, high-quality, offering value for the money, caring and dependable), the odds are in your favor that your business will grow. But if public perception of your business is negative, then it’s less likely that people will buy from you, invest in you or partner with you, and your success is, therefore, unlikely. The job of PR is to build and protect that reputation.
Step 12: Build Lists and Create Email Campaigns
Email marketing helps you not only to build a relationship with your customers, but gives you a proven way to nurture leads and convert them into long lasting customers. No matter what type of business you operate, an email list is the most important element of a successful marketing strategy. With that list, you can share your story, promote your business, and showcase your products, all while turning subscribers into paying customers.
Step 13: Figure Out a Marketing Budget
Not having the appropriate marketing budget can do significant damage to your company’s potential. Like Henry Ford said, “The man who stops advertising to save money, is like the man who stops a clock to save time.” Cutting back your marketing and advertising costs is not the path to a prosperous business.
Knowing your numbers matter whether you’re trying to structure your marketing plan, justifying a round of new funding, or approaching your boss about a marketing budget increase for the next fiscal year.
Step 14: Create Video Content to Engage Your Target Audience
There’s no shying away from the fact that your written content is always going to be important. What’s equally essential is that you now incorporate inbound video into your marketing strategy if you want to take your effort to that all-important next level. Although video marketing isn’t anything new, the importance of inbound video within every marketing channel is something that should be given increasing focus. It's no longer just that video on your home page, video is now something you need to consider in nearly every marketing channel.
Step 15: Hire a Virtual CMO or Marketing Agency
When you think of a marketing executive, you think of Mad Men, corner offices and slim-fit suits. However, those images are changing fast as companies adopt a more virtual approach with their employees and managers. In recent years, there has been a trend for small and midsize companies to add a Virtual CMO to their marketing team.
At first thought, having a Virtual CMO might seem counter productive. How can a part-time employee who is often remote be right for your business? What companies are seeing, however, is that small change can have a huge impact on your bottom line. From developing your marketing strategy, to hiring outside talent to help execute campaigns, moving your CMO to a virtual role can save your company money in the execution of your marketing strategy.
For all of the steps listed above, our Masterclass Series on Building a Strategic Marketing Plan for Your Business is going to expand upon each and add valuable thought leadership from some of the industry's best marketing leaders. We hope that you'll utilize this great free resource and check back often as we'll continue to refresh the content as new speakers are added.