What does "marketing strategy" mean? It's a simple question with a surprisingly complex answer. Google the term, and you'll find a lot of different answers from a “long-term plan to achieve an organization's goals” to “a way to sell products to prospective customers.”
All of these definitions, of course, are somewhat connected and ultimately lead to the same truth. But as you are looking for agency partners, it can still be immensely confusing. You know what you have in mind; how can you find a partner who helps you get there?
At Steel Croissant, we like to think of a marketing strategy as a road map. It includes plenty of planning and research to start the journey, and then it focuses on actionable steps that can connect that research with a tangible destination. It's a complex process, but one that can be broken down into linear steps.
When we develop marketing strategies for our clients, we follow that model. So we figured: why not share the model with others? This is your comprehensive guide to creating an actionable marketing roadmap for your business and brand.
Every marketing strategy is founded on truth. You cannot pretend to be something in your messaging that doesn't reflect the actuality of your business. That's why, before even beginning to take any strategic steps, it's vital to recall and specify exactly what your business is all about.
A few pieces can help you get there. Write down the answer to these questions:
Don't worry about knowing the exact answer to those last two questions yet. Part of the reason for this exercise is finding those. Still, having at least some idea about what the answer might be, based on your own experience, is an important baseline that your research and marketing strategy will either support or supplant.
When you work with a marketing partner, they'll need to know these answers as well. Anyone working on developing a marketing strategy for you will need to know the foundation on which that strategy can be built.
Every marketing strategy is only as good as the goals it's designed to achieve. Those goals, in turn, need to line up with overarching business priorities.
For example, if your business is just entering a new market, brand awareness is probably a top priority. But if you're well-established in the market already, competitive market share likely becomes more important. And if your audience pool is limited and already set in their decisions, retention becomes the most important piece.
The key here is not (yet) establishing SMART goals or KPIs. Instead, it's about defining what your marketing is designed to achieve in the broadest possible terms.
Consider this your second pre-step to building the marketing strategy. It allows every part of your effort to be focused on marketing-related activities that relate directly to business priorities. By the time you get through your research, you can begin to establish more specific goals and KPIs against which your execution can be measured.
The first two steps in creating your marketing roadmap are precursors to the main event. In the research phase, the real work begins. In the research phase, you'll need to learn everything you can about your audience, the way your business is perceived in the marketplace, and the competitive environment in which you operate.
Let's break each of these three elements down in more detail.
Your business only exists because of your customers. And of course, your marketing can only be possible if you know who you're speaking to. A comprehensive set of audience insights can help you understand both of these elements, allowing you to build a stronger marketing strategy.
That starts with an understanding of the basic demographics and geography your most successful customers share. But it goes far beyond that step, as well. Perhaps the most important takeaway you could have from your audience research consists of the pain points that motivate them when it comes to researching and choosing brands like yours.
Beyond that, you'll want to know about their interests, behaviors, and any 'hidden' characteristics. In a B2B environment, for example, it's vital to know whether your customers typically make decisions on their own or are part of a larger buying group.
Audience research can encompass anything from surveys to in-depth interviews with current and potential customers. From there, it's about building deliveries that summarize your takeaways. For example, marketing personas can help you better understand and humanize your research findings to build messaging that fosters engagement, addresses pain points, and communicates value.
Here's something most businesses might not realize: you cannot actually control your brand. That's because, in its strictest definition, your brand is the perception your audience holds when they think about your business and its services.
Those thoughts, in turn, determine whether or not your potential customers trust your business, find its messaging persuasive, and consider you over other alternatives to solve their pain points.
This piece includes both a data-based SWOT analysis of your business and additional research methods to evaluate your current brand positioning. An audit of your current website can also be invaluable to help you understand the current strengths and weaknesses of your message as evaluated by your audience.
Positioning research spills over into the final piece of insights you need: the larger environment in which your business operates.
No marketing occurs in isolation, and your audience will see messages from your competition as much as they'll see yours. A thorough competitor analysis allows you to understand what those around you are doing to attract the same audience with similar solutions as yours.
Website audits still matter here. So do analyses of your competition's social media channels. The more information you can glean about their marketing strategy, the more informed your own strategic roadmap will be within that context.
Everything you've done so far has prepared you for this step. Your marketing strategy is the meat of the roadmap. This step is complex. So we'll break it down into a few more digestible chunks, including KPI development, marketing channel evaluation, message building, and preparations for executing the strategy.
With your research in place, it's time to specify those priorities you've set earlier into specific goals and KPIs. Marketing goals should be SMART, meaning they need to be specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound.
For example, "increase website traffic" is not a SMART goal because it is lacking a time frame for completion. "Increase our web traffic by 30% in the next year" is a SMART goal.
Aim for three to five overarching goals that will define your marketing strategy. Base them on your target audience and competitive environment to ensure they remain realistic and achievable, as well as relevant to both your business and potential customers.
Once goals are in place, it's time to select specific key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure your progress. They allow you to set specific milestones and benchmarks to ensure that your marketing strategy remains on track to deliver on its purpose and promise.
Next, it's time to determine exactly what marketing channels you plan to use in order to effectively reach your audience and achieve your marketing goals. Options include:
The possibilities here are endless, but it's crucial to limit your focus. That way, you can focus your attention and resources on only those channels most likely to reach and convince your audience.
With a solid channel strategy in place, it's time to think through the messaging you most want and need to get in front of your audience. Start channel-agnostic, with a unique selling proposition (USP) and a positioning statement that establishes exactly who you are and why your audience should care.
Next, build out your message from the general to the specific. Align your USP and positioning statement with the channels on which you're focusing and audience preferences to think through how you want to get your points across.
That might mean videos or a strategy heavy on hearing from other customers. It might be clever and pithy, or serious and business-like. Animation may take preference over real-life environments and vice versa. Create the framework for messaging you'll use throughout your marketing efforts across channels.
Of course, marketing is about far more than just getting attention. You need to get leads and you need to make sure that those leads eventually turn into customers. For your marketing strategy, that means building a strategic sales pipeline development effort.
Begin with establishing exactly how you will look to generate leads. From there, go through the steps that happen (and need to happen) once new leads enter your database. Outbound marketing becomes an important consideration here and so does sales enablement to align your marketing and sales efforts.
Especially in B2B marketing, strategic alliances have significant success potential. Partnering with another brand looking to reach the same audience but who is not a direct competitor allows you to share resources and channels without limiting your marketing effectiveness.
You can build partnerships with other companies in your industry, sales and trade associations, or other members of your supply chain. Evaluate any partnerships according to their benefits and drawbacks for your business, unearthing opportunities that you can pursue in the execution step below.
Modern digital marketing is impossible without the tools and platforms needed to create, distribute, and evaluate your individual tactics. At the same time, it's easy to jump on so many tools that maintaining an accurate overview becomes impossible.
That's why the final step of your strategy should be building your marketing tech stack. Evaluate potential options for the channels and messaging strategy you've chosen based on their features and ability to integrate with each other. That puts the foundation in place for you to begin executing your strategy.
With the strategy fully in place and shared across the organization, the time for its execution has begun. That means taking the next step on all of the channels shared above, prioritizing initiatives that will drive the most value and revenue for your business.
In this execution phase, some of the most common initiatives we work on with clients include:
The key here, as expected, is launching everything in testing phases first before going all-out. That way, you can gain crucial learnings that will allow you to improve your execution over time.
A crucial part of the execution of your marketing plan will be a continuous evaluation of its success. Here, the goals and KPIs you've set as part of the strategy in Step 4 will be invaluable to help you understand what has worked, what hasn't, and where improvements still need to be made.
This is also the place to implement a standardized reporting structure. Every set interval, whether it's weekly, monthly, or quarterly, should report on the same numbers using the same criteria. That allows you to clearly and quickly understand important trends and insights without having to change your mindset about the context in which the information is presented.
These reports, of course, should also be presented in a way that allows non-marketers to read and understand the core takeaways. Chances are that as long as marketing is a strategic effort, plenty of others in the business will have a stake in its funding and success. Their understanding of your metrics and progress toward larger business goals can go a long way toward creating a marketing embrace within your organization.
If you develop and execute your marketing strategy alongside an agency partner, this step will require a strong ongoing partnership with all stakeholders. Continuous collaboration, including regular reporting reviews and meetings, can help everyone stay on the same page about the performance of individual channels and the larger effort.
Metrics, of course, only matter in the degree to which they can lead to improvements. That's why the optimization and iteration stage is the final piece of the puzzle in your marketing roadmap.
Reports should naturally lead to learnings, through actionable insights designed to generate improvements. For example, you might find that one of your marketing channels consistently generates more leads and customers than those around them. Testing a heavier investment in that channel can help you understand whether it really is a driving force or just the natural last step before the conversion.
Finally, these iterations can also have cross-channel implications. Learning from your inbound marketing strategy may be just as valuable to implement in your outbound efforts. Understanding more about the performance of video vs static images on social media can have significant implications for your website as well. Over time, these learnings will lead to improvements to your entire strategy, driving your business toward consistent and sustainable marketing success.
Yes, building your marketing roadmap is complex, but every step matters, both in how it informs the core steps and through what happens after that step has been put in place.
You can go through that process on your own, or you can work with a reliable agency partner who has built this roadmap, from research to execution and iteration, successfully for other clients like you!
And that's where Steel Croissant comes in. Our experience in strategic marketing is extensive, and we're here to explain the steps that can help you kickstart your marketing efforts from the ground up or refine existing strategies. Ready to start that conversation? Contact us today!
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