How to Develop a Marketing Strategy and Plan >
In these uncertain times, a good plan can mean the difference between survival and failure. President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is indispensable.” Marketing is often a leap into the unknown as it is part art and part science. With more than 25 years of experience developing marketing strategies and plans for manufacturers with dealers, home-services companies, SaaS companies, and consumer brands, we’ve learned that things don’t always work out exactly the way that you’d expect.
However, the process of planning helps you prepare for the unexpected that comes at any moment. A well thought out plan and disciplined marketing approach ensure that your business will not only survive but also thrive. Through the process of planning, you explore alternatives, gain insights into your prospective customers and what they are saying about your products or services. A great plan makes it easier to adapt to things that don’t always go as we imagined.
So, what are the Essential Elements of a Marketing Strategy and Plan?
Our Prospect2Promoter™ Marketing Communications Strategy is a proven process that consists of 9 essential elements or steps that ensures a winning strategy for small and medium sized businesses.
- Align Marketing Objectives to Your Business Objectives
- Align Executives Around Customer Perceptions & Beliefs
- Gain Insights into Customer Perceptions & Beliefs
- Visualize Customer Perceptions to Make Better Decisions
- Know Your Competitive Positioning
- Answer Your Prospective Customers’ Searches
- Clarify and Distinguish Your Message
- Identify “The Best Few” Initiatives
- Measure Your Progress
Step One: Align Marketing Objectives to Business Objectives
Marketing is an investment and produces a return. When we meet business owners, who are frustrated with their marketing efforts, they often have difficulty articulating what they were expecting to achieve. Aligning your marketing objectives to your business’ goals means looking at your sales targets and knowing how marketing will drive purchases.
At this stage of the game, it’s all about the numbers and making data-based decisions regarding what you can expect from marketing efforts. Predicting the future is hard, so during this step, you’re not looking for perfection but instead creating a target. You must measure progress and make adjustments as you gain insights into what is working best to produce results.
Step Two: Align Your Executive Team Around Customer Perceptions and Beliefs
Customer perceptions can be visualized in three dimensions, the attributes that motivate customer purchase (vertical axis), a customer’s knowledge and experience (horizontal axis), and your customer’s comfort and confidence (size of the circle) that your business can deliver motivating attributes.
Small business executives often explore customer perceptions implicitly, but they fail to explicitly formalize the data into actionable insights that can guide marketing decisions.
Underlying beliefs cause a customer to do one of three things.
- Choose your services or products.
- Choose a competitor’s services or products.
- Choose to do nothing.
Underlying beliefs might include, “product A is more effective than product B,” or “platform A delivers the outcomes our organization desires versus platform B.”
Exploring the underlying beliefs is an effective way to gain insight into how you will communicate your value proposition to your prospects.
Every team member will have a perspective about your customer perceptions and beliefs. Often they will be from different impression points. Alignment doesn’t mean 100% agreement or myopic thinking. Alignment means explicitly understanding that your customers are in control of information today. Your entire leadership team must have an explicit understanding of customer value perceptions and the underlying beliefs that drive purchase behavior. Then, you need to use those insights to improve perceptions across the organization and throughout the customer’s experience.
You can do this by putting yourself into your customer’s shoes. Ask your executive team the following questions.
- What underlying beliefs cause a prospective customer to choose us over our competitors?
- What underlying beliefs cause a prospective customer to choose a competitor over us?
- What underlying beliefs cause a prospective customer to do nothing?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you can think about how your marketing communications can change those beliefs. Identifying and inventorying your team’s perceptions and beliefs about what motivates your customers to purchase is a crucial exercise during this step in the process. Your approximation of customer perceptions and beliefs can serve as a benchmark for your customer’s perceptions and help you understand how their perceptions change due to your marketing efforts.
Step Three: Get Insight into Customer Perceptions & Beliefs
A simple premise serves as the foundation for the Prospect2Promoter™ Marketing Communication Strategy.
Your best customers, those that recommend you, are a great source of information to grow the organization. If you can attract more customers like your best customers, you can increase the speed at which you grow.
Qualitative in-depth-interviews are a great way to uncover the perceptions and beliefs that drive customer behavior. They are directionally correct and can shape and refine your marketing position and the specific initiatives you’ll deploy in your marketing plan.
As we mentioned earlier in step two, we typically work with executive teams or business owners and key leaders to identify and inventory their thoughts about the perceptions and beliefs that motivate customers to purchase. Research allows us to see where actual customer perceptions and beliefs differ from your management team’s ideas. Together, step two and step three of your marketing strategy and plan lay a strong foundation for clarifying your message in step seven.
Step Four: Visualize Customer Perceptions to Make Better Decisions
Many small business owners are not aware of the data they can use to make better decisions to propel their growth. Often marketing teams look at leading indicators such as organic search results to the website, the number of website sessions, and social media engagement. These leading indicators are good to look at, but more importantly, you need to look at lead and lag indicators to get a clear picture of what is working in your marketing strategy and plan.
A former mentor, Wayne Bartel, said, “customer perceptions are the currency of the customer-centric organization.” Steps two and three of the Prospect2Promoter Marketing Communication Strategy involve identifying and inventorying the perceptions that motivate purchase. As we mentioned previously in step two, you can visualize customer perceptions in three dimensions.
The graphic below shows the value perceptions of a husband and wife deciding whether to purchase an SUV or Minivan. The yellow circles represent the attributes, which are the characteristics that motivate the decision to purchase.
Here the vertical axis shows that miles per gallon (MPG) is relatively more important than a leather interior or resale value. The higher an attribute is on the vertical axis, the more motivating (first dimension) it is in your customers’ minds.
The horizontal axis represents the customer journey or how your customers get knowledge and experience (second dimension). Typically as a customer moves from consideration to evaluation and selection, different attributes become more important at each stage of their journey.
Knowledge and experience lead to comfort and confidence (third dimension). As your customers get close to purchasing, they gain comfort and confidence that your products or services can meet their needs. The yellow circle’s size illustrates that our prospective customers of the Minivan or SUV are very comfortable. Each offers WIFI, towing capacity, color, seating for up to eight people, and safety.
Resale value, miles per gallon, and leather interior are the deciding attributes at this stage of the buyer journey. Sensitive and thorough knowledge of how customer perceptions change through their journey leads to marketing initiatives specifically tailored to alter or reinforce those attributes at just the right time.
When it comes down to it, marketing is about telling great stories. Crafting great stories that move people to action starts with knowing how customer perceptions and beliefs change through time. Visualizing customer insights in this manner leads to more effective storytelling and a better customer experience.
Step 5: Know Your Competitive Positioning
A SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) is a great way to conduct competitive research. However, typically it does not encompass looking at how your competitors are communicating to prospective customers. Your competitors are trying to own a position in the mind of your customers. They emphasize specific attributes and sharing to get customers to believe that their product or service is the best choice.
In our experience working with home service companies such as HVAC, Restoration, Construction, Landscaping, Pool Cover Maintenance/Repair, and Painting we’ve identified five common attributes that motivate customers to choose one company over another.
Often your customers fail to choose the best service and instead choose the one that is easy to understand. A competitive audit that focuses on the position your competitors are trying to own in the mind of your customers is much more effective than a SWOT analysis. Both can be the one-two punch to distinguishing your brand.
Step 6: Answer Your Prospective Customers’ Searches
Your customers are searching on Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go, and other search engines to find answers to their questions. Search engine optimization is a critical aspect of all marketing strategies and plans. It all starts with keyword research and involves technical elements such as schema markup to ensure that the search engines understand the questions you’re trying to answer with your website content and then align it to your prospective customers’ searches. Simplifying the issue, you need to make sure your content flows like a natural conversation, answering the questions your customers are asking based on the keywords they include in their search.
We’ve optimized the content you’re reading now to focus on the keywords “marketing strategy and plan,” and it’s structured in a way that ensures it gets noticed by search engines. You want your answers to customers’ questions to show up on page one of search results. A page one search result can significantly increase traffic to your website, which gives you more opportunities to move customers from awareness to engagement with your brand.
We take a holistic approach to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Our team utilizes resources like SEO Yoast, SEM Rush, Wordstream, and others to stay up to date on everything SEO as it’s in a constant state of change.
A holistic approach to SEO incorporates some digital marketing best practices that include:
- Keyword research – identify the words and queries used by your prospects.
- Good technical SEO – links that work and fast loading pages.
- User experience – giving the user access to the information that will move the user along the buying journey based on what they value most.
- Quality and original content – answers questions our prospects and customers are asking.
- A solid social media strategy – helps to drive traffic to your site.
- Mobile optimization – google puts this ahead of desktop optimization in their algorithm; even if your audience is searching more on desktop, mobile optimization is key to improving search engine page rankings.
- Secure with HTTPS – this shows customers that your site is safe for them to use.
Step Seven: Clarify & Distinguish Your Message
In this step of your marketing strategy and plan, you will synthesize your findings from steps two through six. It is a balance of art and science. At this point, you’ll have some factual science-based findings from your perception study, and you will have a clear view of your customer value perceptions and underlying beliefs. You’ll also have identified your competitor’s positioning and see opportunities where you can distinguish your brand. And finally, you’ll have a thorough understanding of the keywords that your customers are searching to find your brand, products, and services.
A brand is a combination of emotional and rational elements. It’s important to remember that all purchase decisions are emotional. That is why fortune 500 and 100 companies spend significant dollars telling stories that make us laugh, tug at our heartstrings and compel us to take action.
Your brand’s core consists of a distinguished and clarifying message. It is the essence of why you do what you do. Think of your brand’s position, which exists in your customers’ minds, as the soul or essence of why you do what you do.
A strong messaging or positioning statement answers the following questions.
- What do you do?
- Who do you do it for?
- What does your customer get?
- How does it change your customer’s status?
The last two questions require a deeper dive that moves beyond features and benefits, focusing on your customer’s outcomes.
Step Eight: Identify “The Best Few” Initiatives
As business owners and executives, we all know that resources are limited. Most of us do more with less these days, and that is where you have to make hard choices.
Narrowing down your “best few” initiatives is not as easy as choosing the great over the mediocre. It typically means prioritizing great initiatives against one another and deciding to launch one while delaying the other.
You’re not always going to get it right. As we stated earlier, the circumstances we find ourselves in and how things actually work versus how we think they will work are very different. Proper planning makes it easier to choose the right initiatives that are most likely to yield results. This also helps you adapt and respond quickly to address issues as they arise.
We plan three to six months of initiatives and cover many impression points (video, written content, downloadable content, social media, website updates, paid advertising, and many more) based on a prospective customer’s media preferences. Typically we’re making quarterly adjustments to the plan as we get insights into what is and isn’t working.
Step Nine: Measure Your Progress
There’s an adage to inspect what you expect. Believe it or not, many small business owners have a hard time knowing what marketing initiatives are working. Leading indicators such as website traffic, likes, and engagement are essential. However, you have to dive deeper and understand what lead sources are converting.
Don’t do it by asking your customers how they got to your website. Do it by implementing a marketing technology stack that allows you to see how your customers are behaving. It may sound expensive, but knowing what is working and how to do more of it is the fastest path to growth.
This final step takes us back to where we started—aligning marketing objectives to business objectives. If you know where you’re trying to go, you can easily see the right path forward.
Following these nine steps in developing your marketing strategy and plan is a proven path to eliminating waste in your business and focusing on the things that drive growth.