How to write a marketing strategy

Writing a marketing strategy can seem like a big task. It can be difficult to know where to start with so many channels available – especially in the digital sphere – but we’ve outlined the key things to consider when writing a marketing strategy to ensure it’s logical, effective, simple and accountable.

Marketing strategy at a glance

  • What’s the point? Define your objectives and what you want to happen.
  • Who do I want? Identify target buyer personas, what they’re like and how to reach them.
  • Define customer buying journeys: how do my targets make purchases?
  • Understanding your position against competitors: what do we have that they don’t?
  • Creating a need for your product: making it a must
  • Understanding and utilising seasonal trends: knowing what to do when
  • Choosing the right marketing messages and placements: identifying the right channels
  • Utilising data for educated product development: know who your targets are to know what they want
  • How to measure the success of your marketing strategy

First things first – what’s the point?

The first thing you should be thinking about before anything else is what the whole point is of whatever marketing activity you’re about to come up with. In proper terms: your objectives. This is vital information that’ll help you decide how to get the most out of this – different objectives are going to be better fulfilled with different channels.

For example, if my priority is to get more traffic to my website, thinking about SEO and PPC may a good place to start because those activities help to acquire visitors and through keywords targeted offer good qualification the prospect is interested in your products or services. Perhaps I want to get more local shoppers into my store, so I need a local SEO strategy that’ll help me appear in Google Map Packs. Or maybe I just really need people to know that my brand exists right now, so I prioritise a mix of activities and channels focussed on generated brand awareness such as social media and digital advertising. It could be more specific such as I want to grow income 35% within 12 months. Whatever your objective we recommend working back from your targets to define what amount of marketing activity you need perform in order to reach your target.

Once you’ve got the purpose of your marketing strategy sussed out, you can start creating it.

Who do I want? Identify your targets

If you don’t think carefully about who your ideal target customer is, you’re likely to run into two key problems. First, if you don’t know who you’re targeting, you can’t reach them. You need to know who they are and how to appeal to them, right? Secondly, you may end up with a load of unqualified website visitors and enquiries that waste your marketing budget and your time.

Depending on your product or service offering, you may like to think carefully about buyer personas as a key area within your marketing strategy. Your buyer personas should cover a range of qualities, interests and demographics about your ideal customer: their age, gender, motivation, location, the journey they make to purchase and any barriers. This works best if you’ve got lots of different business areas that appeal to different types of people (for example a range of products at different price points) but is a good idea whatever your business and even if you have just one type of customer it’s still worth going through this exercise to get to know them better.

Define your customer buying journeys

If you sold a magic hangover cure, first of all let us know, secondly, you could safely assume that Saturday and Sunday mornings would be an ideal time to promote your products. At the right price point and value proposition you could easily expect your hungover prospects to part with a small amount of money to stock up on your magic cure. This is the sort of product where the prospects’ need can quickly be developed; the decision process is short and there is little research to be performed (unless they are suspicious of magic cures, in which case they will probably never become a customer anyway).

If you were the owner of vacation rentals with a summer peak season, you would know the typical times of year in which you receive bookings, and you can easily imagine that a family booking a holiday may research and review many options before they go ahead. Using your website analytics, search volume forecasts (and a bit of insight into your competitors’ traffic behaviour) you can easily work back and define when people begin researching holidays like the ones you provide, when they review their options and when they make bookings. This is an example of a considered purchase; you want to be in the market for a prolonged period of time (not just weekend mornings) and your target customers may visit several times from several different sources before purchasing from you.

In doing this you’ll also understand what potential there is for repeat sales, up-selling and creating brand advocates.

If you understand your customers and their buying journeys, you can ensure you’re at the right place at the right time and deliver messages that resonate with their state of mind and desires at the stage of their research and purchase journey they are currently at.

Competitor analysis and knowing your strengths

Knowing what makes you different, better or more appealing is important when it comes to understanding the wider landscape of your industry and therefore where to focus your time, money and resources.

It’s no good boasting about the speediness of your app if all your competing apps are equally as whizzy. However, if you know this is a pain point for your target market, perhaps they’re time-poor, busy, or experiencing glitches in competitor applications, it might be worth mentioning. What makes you different? Perhaps you’ve got a booking system on your app, useful resources all in one place or compatibility with more devices. It’s about focusing on what sets you apart, not necessarily what you do.

Awareness of competitors is a key part of any effective marketing strategy, whether it be where your competitors rank on search engines in comparison to you, which keywords are triggering their Google Ads, how engaged their social media following is or whether they have a large PR drive.

Competitor research isn’t limited to understanding where you can stand out, it’s also where you can fit in. By fitting in we mean finding your place in the market and seeing how you can bypass your competitors to reach your targets in the most efficient and effective way. It could be understanding competitors who occupy the search engine ranks you want and analysing their domain, page authority and content so you know what to aspire to if you want to compete for those ranks, or it could be competitor advertising research on CPC and CPM advertising positions to understand the gaps your competitors have missed and where you can get amazing value (and significant impact) on your advertising spend. Remember, you’re not just competing on product, you’re also competing for attention and emotions in a noisy marketplace.

Generate the need for your products

Some advertisers and marketers will say there are two types of prospect: those that already know they need your product and those that don’t know they need it, but can be convinced.

Many of our daily purchases from a new sofa, a takeaway meal or a taxi ride are motivated by a need to get a problem solved as much as a desire. Emotions such as desire or fear can easily be turned into a compelling need for a brand’s product and if you want success from your marketing campaigns it’s worth defining why your clients need your products and which emotions you are going to harness to develop the need.

The need for a new sofa doesn’t originate from a basic need for survival, it’s an emotion exasperated into a need which feels as important as a need for survival to the holder of that emotion. That emotion could be desire. It could be a desire to replace the old tatty looking sofa because its age makes it appear dirty. You fear this reflects upon you and could make your guests think you and your family are dirty, if you are perceived as dirty it may lead to your friends avoiding visiting your house, perhaps talking about you behind your back, perhaps even breaking friendships or telling their children to avoid your children at school. At some point you’re going to pass desire and move into need. When you pass the need threshold, you’ll do more than think about a new sofa, you’ll be shopping for a new sofa and probably arguing with your partner about it. It’ a need for survival, that must be why some people take out shockingly unfair credit arrangements to fulfil the new sofa need.

How do sofa manufacturers maintain this fear? They change their models, they change trends, they design sofas with a product lifetime, and they sit back like drug dealers and wait a few year’s until you need your next fix.

Manufacturers may achieve it with product lifetimes and changing trends, but there are plenty of examples of brands that use this approach to generate short terms sales from new contacts. Most CPD training companies specialising in soft skills will tell you the minority of their trainees come to them because they decided they need a training course and found a provider. Don’t get us wrong, this type of customer exists (perhaps their boss asked them to find a training course) but the majority of trainees for soft skills come from marketing and advertising campaigns that generate a need. The need isn’t generated by the training course or its contents, it’s generated by the consequences of attending (or not attending): improve your career prospects, future proof your skills, 90% of trainees earned more within 12 months, most employers for your role now look for this type of training, avoid costly mistakes that could get you fired or damage your company’s reputation, rated #1 by those in your profession.

There are people all over the world who woke up this morning feeling fine, received an unsolicited email offering training and from nowhere developed a compelling need to spend money to fix ‘shortcomings’ that they weren’t aware of until that email arrived.

Seasonal highs, lows and market trends

Many products, services and businesses have seasonality. Knowing what to promote when is vital – most simply, if you’re a toy store, you’re going to want to get busy before Christmas. But you also need to know when your customers are going to begin their research.

If there’s a long path to purchase or it requires a considered decision from your customers, how long does that take? At what point do they begin looking? Are there any seasonal trends which create more or less of a need for your product?

This isn’t just limited to seasons though. Highs and lows can apply to times of day, days of week, weather and key social, cultural and news events. It’s not just umbrellas that sell best when it’s raining, rain has an effect on consumer behaviour, moods and emotions (among many factors there’s more time indoors to shop online) just as any other type of weather does. It’s why Google introduced weather based campaign management.

We recommend considering the seasonal highs and lows for your brand as well as external events that could have an impact on your market’s behaviour. If you don’t already have campaign data at your disposal a bit of client research and an educated guess is a good start, and from that guess you analyse your data to determine the best times of year, month, week and day to advertise as well as the impacts external events could have on your market. Over time you will refine your campaigns and in doing so reduce your cost per sale.

Choosing the right marketing messages and placements

The channels and advertising placements that make most sense for your business will ultimately depend on what comes out in your buyer personas and customer buying journeys. Once you’ve anticipated the journey a customer may go on to purchase from your brand, you can begin to think about where they may spend their time online and offline, their typical behaviour and how this should shape your marketing plan. Use this data to define your touchpoints at various stages of their journey from research to purchase, so you are frequently bringing new contacts into your funnel and nurturing them through the process using well-targeted marketing.

For example, you may target a young audience on Instagram, Twitter or TikTok, and target an older audience on Facebook. Or if you’re providing a B2B service you might think it makes more sense to utilise LinkedIn and prioritise organic search, but if you’re targeting B2B in Germany, Xing would be more suitable just as you won’t get far in Russia without VK or China without Weibo. Understanding the demographics and psychographics of your market is key to choosing the best ways to communicate with them. Makes sense, right?

Where are they likely to begin their research? Are you providing a service which is actively sought (for example, a new car) or is it a product that people may not be aware of, but can spark interest if it pops up on their feed (think beauty products, items of clothing or that magic hangover cure). Here you can identify when and where people are likely to begin their journey with you.

Are they likely to start their research with Google? ‘Best cars for parents’, ‘cars with boot space’, ‘best cars this year’, ‘fuel efficient cars’, ‘benefits of electric cars’ at work or outside of work, on weekends or will it peak on public holidays? – the list goes on. Prospects are usually looking for information in their research stage, so an SEO content marketing strategy with a focus on generating inbound enquiries is the best approach to stand out in this scenario. Remember not to think solely about sales content, think about everything your customer is going to consider. If you sell electric cars, write blogs about the pros and cons of electric cars, or why they’re much better for the environment. ‘10 cars with boot space’, ‘How to find a fuel-efficient car’, ’10 of the most fuel-efficient cars’ etc. Be helpful – and make sure you rank for it.

Perhaps your persona is somebody who is driven by status, and chooses a car based on its appearance, brand and perception, and less so about practicality. Maybe they don’t really need a new car, but they really like the look of the new sports model. There are still considerations about features, but more than any other personas they are interested in emotions as much as solutions to problems: How it makes them feel: the look of it, the look of them in it, what it can do. This person is less likely to research practical features and perhaps more likely to be swayed by a clever and attractive ad. The ways in which you target both of these individuals will be very different, so you need to know what you’re dealing with.

This approach doesn’t only apply to large purchases like cars. Even basics like bread and milk have become complex markets with a range of subjective purchase influencing factors, such as an interest well-being and even status. Combine those with a more complex than ever range of USPs such as shelf life, ingredients or the crustiness of bread and you can see that as markets have become more complex, the marketer’s role has too. It’s factors like these that introduced the £7 loaf, yes, we know it’s artisanal and its texture is excellent but when we grew up a loaf was a loaf, £7 was a lot and bread was considered worth more if it lasted longer.

Be aware of where your customers go for information or advice: forums, review websites, social media, peer advice, magazines, top lists and make yourself present in the places they are looking. Every market will be different but with research you’ll define where your market goes to find information and shape its decision making.

Bringing marketing into product development

We’re all guilty of thinking marketing is similar to sales and exists to facilitate sales and grow the income of a company. Marketing activity also has a wealth of insight into the way your market behaves, the language they use, the things they care about and the reasons they use your products, your competitors or similar alternatives.

Marketing activity offers one of the best, continuous data streams to get an insight into your market’s behaviour, your different products and identify weaknesses and opportunities. This could be conversion data telling you certain word usage or naming of your products converts much better which can be applied across the entire business, or it could be data that indicates a competitor is taking your market share before your sales have been affected.

Before you produce your marketing strategy, we recommend considering what data will be available to you and how this can shape product development and future marketing decisions.

Measurement of success

Ensuring that you have clear benchmarks is important in enabling you to measure the success of your activity. The simplest starting point is ultimately whether you’ve met your objectives or not – if you’ve managed to get more website traffic or local shoppers to visit your store, that’s a good indicator that your marketing strategy is working.

That isn’t all though – yes, increasing rankings is great (and don’t I know it), but if it’s not resulting in more qualified traffic, then something isn’t right. If your PPC campaign is delivering visitors with a low cost-per-click (CPC) that’s marvellous – but only if they’re converting. Your social media advertising campaigns may be bringing in the clicks but why aren’t they doing anything on site?

Remember to focus on what matters and try not to get caught up in the data – don’t get me wrong, a page one rank is very satisfying – but continually tweak, update and grow. If you can see that your rankings have improved with no gains in traffic, enquiries, or purchases, take a look at your metadata. If you’re getting search impressions but few clicks, this shows that there’s something missing somewhere that isn’t encouraging search engine users to click. Look into how your customers spend time on your website – they come in from social media advertising (great) but bounce rate from these visitors is high. Perhaps they aren’t quite getting what they were expecting when they reach your website – consider a landing page, optimise your existing one, or think more carefully about the messaging of your social campaign to improve qualification.

Remember to think about how you’re tracking your customer journeys: if you sell a product or service with longer purchase consideration you may want to consider tracking your goals using a linear attribution model (so each acquisition to your website in the journey is credited for achieving the goal) and if your product or service is the kind that people will buy instantly you may want to consider last click attribution (the source of that visit gets all the credit, even if they’ve visited you before).

Working it all out

  1. So you know your objective(s), who you want to reach, where you want to reach them, what you’re going to say, why they are likely to buy your products and how you’re going to track performance but before you make your plans come to life, it’s a good idea to work it all out. By that we mean work out your campaigns and work out your target cost per sale and how much activity you need to perform to achieve your growth target (and how much promotions and advertising budget you will need):
  2. What is your target average cost per sale?
  3. What is the maximum you are willing to pay for an individual sale?
  4. What is the role of each marketing activity, what impact to we expect to have and how will it be tracked?
  5. Where will money be spent, on which channels, placements and at which stage of the customer journey?
  6. What impact do you expect, what campaign KPIs are you going to use to offer insight into the performance at the micro-campaign level?
  7. How much marketing and advertising activity do you need to perform to reach your target number of prospective customers?
  8. How much advertising budget do you need to spend to reach your target number of customers?
  9. What will you monitor to ensure your cost per sale doesn’t go above target and identify issues before they happen?
  10. What contingencies are in place if you are struggling to hit your campaign KPIs or maintain your target cost of sale?

If you can answer those questions you have a road map to your future, a set of regular tests (the marketing KPIs) to tell you if you’re veering off and a contingency plan at hand to put you back on track in the event of not hitting your targets. It’s having answers to these questions that helps all of us at Patch sleep so well at night.

If you need help creating a marketing strategy, or perhaps you’ve got one and need help with the execution, get in touch and we’ll tell you more about our approach to developing and delivering winning strategies.  

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