What is a marketing strategy, and why does your company need one?
If you have a product you’re planning to sell, you’ll need to promote it — to tell your would-be buyers it exists, to show them what it is, and to convince them it’s worth spending money on. That’s marketing. But without a strategy to guide you, you’ll quite likely fail to do some or all of those things.
A good strategy will help you understand your customers, their budgets and motivations. It will describe how your offering solves a problem or alleviates a pain point for them. A marketing strategy will also help you explain to the higher-ups at your company (if there are any) why particular marketing tactics are the right way to go and why they should invest company resources in the process.
Additionally, a marketing strategy will help you pinpoint weaknesses in your capabilities or approach and describe how to improve in those areas. In this way, it should save you money in the long term.
Marketing strategy vs. marketing plan: Aren’t they the same thing?
Once you have your strategy locked down, you need a plan for carrying it out. Remember, you should think of your strategy as the overall vision. This big-picture stuff helps you and your creative team center themselves. The marketing plan lists tools, deadlines, and resources you need to implement this strategy successfully.
To put it in carpentry terms, which I always find helpful, think about building a cabinet. Your strategy contains your vision for the type of cabinet you want to build, what it will look like and how it will function. Your plan lists all the tools and materials you’ll need, and provides a detailed timeline for building it, starting by hiring a carpenter.
What to include in your marketing strategy
1. An executive summary
Give an overview of your strategy that hits the highlights. Write it as if nobody will read any further (in many cases, they won’t): what are the 3-4 things you want them to takeaway? Your overall vision and goals probably, your competitive positioning maybe.
2. The context
This is not background on your company. Everybody who’ll read it knows that stuff already. Instead, it should be devoted to your company’s current goals, how your marketing goals relate to those goals, and the challenges you’ll face in achieving them.
3. A market analysis
This section should outline the size of the market you’re targeting, how it breaks down in terms of its consumer base, and what opportunities you see. It’ll also contain a list of external forces that could create problems for you; say, a global pandemic, for example.
4. An analysis of your target audience
Your strategy should contain an in-depth analysis of the market segment you plan to target. Essentially, think about your product and who it is best suited for. Who is that person? Think about things like their demographics, budgets, buying habits, and geography. What do they do for a living? What problem are you solving for them? Use that to create a buyer persona.
Don’t forget to look at your competitors and their marketing to your target buyer. Look for ways you could offer them something different or better, or both.
4. A competitive analysis
This is a deeper dive into your competiton’s strengths and weaknesses, along with the barriers to entry they create for companies like yours. Be sure to catalog their messages, selling propositions, prices, and communication styles.
Your message is how you plan to communicate to your audience that you’ve got something they need or value. Your selling proposition is how you get your message to your target customer and ensure it matches their buying habits. Communication is how you plan to promote your product, including on social media. Don’t forget your price (we assume you know what that is).
Types of marketing plans
When creating a plan, it's important to know that there's no "one size fits all" approach. There are several types you can design based on your company's business goals.
1. Quarterly/annual marketing plans
Pretty much exactly what they say they are. Quarterly and annual plans can include information on date-specific campaigns you’ll be launching, new products you’ll be dropping, or new social media strategies you’ll be putting into place.
2. Product launch marketing plan
Again, the name gives it away. These plans can include everything from graphic design and packaging to social media outreach, paid advertising, and influencer outreach.
3. Content marketing plan
Content marketing is how you plan to promote your business and its products through content, including blog posts, videos, and social media copy. It can also include information on how you'll distribute this content across different platforms.
4. Social media marketing plan
A social media marketing plan maps out how you will use social channels to promote your business. It can be part of a content-marketing plan, or a plan unto itself.
5. Paid marketing plan
You can also draft a paid marketing plan. Specifically, you can figure out a timeline for paid social media posts, advertising campaigns, and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.
What to include in a marketing plan
It all depends on the plan. Here's a quick rundown of some elements that you’ll want in just about any plan.
- Target market – define it, describe it
- Buyer personas
- A situational analysis. List the strengths and weaknesses of your company as they relate to your target audience
- A budget. How much do you have to spend on marketing?
- KPIs. How you'll measure success. The kind of KPI you use will depend on the type of marketing you're planning. Could be lead-to-client ratio, website-traffic-to-lead ratio, landing page conversion rates, sales revenue, or organic traffic growth. Or something else entirely. But you need distinct, measurable KPIs.
- A content strategy. Describe the content you’ll create, and how you think it will drive sales.
- Channels. You need to figure out which websites and social media outlets you plan to use to reach your audience. The ones you pick will be dependent on the ones your audience uses themselves.
- A timeline. The deadlines you need to meet to implement specific parts of your plan.
To wrap up, you’ll also want to list the people who will be contributing to your marketing department, along with their responsibilities in implementing the plan. For more marketing tips and tricks, especially related to independent creators, check out Descript’s blog.