How to create a successful marketing strategy in 5 simple steps
A simple process is exactly what you need to deliver a successful marketing strategy. Get our step-by-step guide with methods, examples and templates.
Reading Time: 9 mins
It’s easy to spend countless hours on your marketing strategy. All the while, wondering if it is going to work. This is pretty common in your early days or when you are making a big change.
You will always get more value in testing your strategy than writing it. Seleqtive Digital have compiled a guide with methods, examples and templates.
Use it to establish the direction you need. Then get out there to test, evaluate and adapt. The starting point for your strategy process is at least one business goal. You want all parts of your business to be aligned in all their efforts and a goal provides this anchor.
This is a step by step guide that will walk you through the process of developing a successful marketing strategy. These steps are:
- Set the Platform
- Understand Your Environment
- Establish Marketing Objectives
- Create Initiatives
- Implement, Evaluate and Adapt
Step 1. Set the Platform
This is a good time to talk about how you record your analysis and document your plan. Good old Microsoft Office is usually the starting point for most of us. However, there are plenty of great options out there these days.
Feel free to check them out in a new tab, but don’t get distracted from the real business of making strategy!
- The Google Suite: Docs (with Slides, Sheets & Forms), Drive and Hangouts. We love to support small business out there. But one cannot go past the ease, functionality and integration of the Google applications suite. It’s like the old IBM, you don’t get sacked if you go Google.
- Collaboration: We have not sent an internal email in the company since we started using Slack – there is a reason it is so popular. Skype has a long history in the freelance and small business world. Yammeris a pretty decent enterprise solution for those that have a Microsoft bent.
- Visual: Conceptboard, Mindmeister or Creately. Visual collaboration is becoming increasing popular for planning. All these options have different strengths. If it allows you to collect ideas, review them and make decisions, then use it!
- Project / Task Management: Trello is simple, easy to use and integrates easily with other apps. Jira and Confluence from the Atlassian suite work well together. Asana and Podio offer more powerful platforms than say Trello. As a small business you have to love the affordability and integration of Zoho apps. Basecamp is an old time favourite for many businesses out there.
What marketing tools do we recommend for you? The ones that let you get on with the business of developing and implementing your strategy.
I’ve seen businesses pontificate over the architecture of their planning tools. But then never get around to using them for the real purpose of making decisions.
If the tool meets your requirements, is easy to operate and the right price, use it. When you test your strategy, you can re-evaluate your tools. They should help, not hinder your business progress.
Step 2. Understand your Environment
When we start with a client, we usually ask two questions:
- How much can you influence the market?
- How much can you influence your own business?
The answers are intuitive to discovery not only about the market but also the self-awareness of the business. There is no right or wrong answer. But you are as only as good as the understanding of yourself and your environment.
A solid analysis of your environment will usually consider:
- Internal environment (your marketing capabilities)
- External environment (of the target market)
One method that is super easy and been used by businesses for decades now is the SWOT analysis (or matrix). There are two dimensions to it:
- Strengths – what gives the business its advantages?
- Weaknesses – what leaves the business at a disadvantage?
- Opportunity – what can the business exploit to gain advantage?
- Threats – what should the business protect against?
The analysis is important for the next step in defining marketing objectives. As it helps inform you on how achievable an objective is for the business. Conceptdraw provides some cool templates and examples of different ways to build a SWOT matrix.
SWOT or TOWS?
TOWS as you can guess is SWOT but done in a different order. The external environment is viewed first, before considering internal capabilities.
Michael Watkins of the Harvard Business Review suggests this is more intuitive for developing strategy. He has provided a useful diagram to present this process:
So do we recommend using SWOT or TOWS? Our answer is it depends on what type of strategy you are applying. If you think in terms of Porter’s models on competition and positioning to the rest of your industry, then TOWS is a great place to start.
Alternatively, if you are internally focused then SWOT may be more useful.
In the end, the outcomes may well be the same. The key is to use a process that works for you and your business.
SWOT or TOWS are both going to be heavily influenced by your use of inputs such as: financials, business performance, competition, customer wants and the market. It is important to mix hard and soft data to establish the environment you are operating in.
A single example is a nice guide, but you can get real context from multiple views of the same problem. So here are a couple of different SWOT views on the world famous Starbucks from:
PESTLE / PESTEL
PESTLE or PESTEL analysis is also a super popular method for conducting a scan of your business environment. PESTLE stands for:
Using PESTLE basically provides a method for categorising (and prompting on) all the different factors relevant to your environment. You can even establish dependency through a visual PESTLE diagram.
Just as we listed SWOT examples, here are some different PESTLE views of Starbucks from:
So far we have covered Marketing Tools and Understanding Your Environment. We are not even at establishing marketing objectives! Just as reading this post has taken time, it will take you time to get set up and do your analysis. But don’t take all your time setting the platform.
Planning takes as long as you have. So assign enough time to give you the understanding you need and then get into the meat of setting objectives and making decisions.
Step 3. Establish Marketing Objectives
Have a business goal? Great, let’s set some marketing objectives that will contribute to achieving that goal. There is no specific formula for what marketing objectives you should define. It will depend on your:
- Product or service
- Target segments
- Purchasing funnel
- Marketing capability
Whilst there is no formula for what objectives you create, the SMART method can help you with the ‘how’ you define them. The SMART criteria are:
- Specific – targeting an exact outcome
- Measurable – success that is defined by a metric
- Attainable – is within your capability, given the environment
- Relevant – contributes to your goal or another marketing objective
- Time-bound – achievement is scheduled on a timeline
It is important that you make all the criteria work together. If you are having problems with one of them, then you can make adjustments to another. For example:
- If it is hard to find a metric, maybe the objective is not specific enough.
- If you can’t define a workable timeline, assess how achievable it is.
- If you can’t fit in all your objectives, prioritise which ones are more relevant than others.
Don’t forget objectives are meant to be aspirational. They are meant to drive you and your team towards growth and improvement. Overly-aspirational objectives can leave a negative feeling if they don’t get achieved. But easy objectives, are not much better than having no objectives. You set objectives to realise potential, so why settle for less?
Common Marketing Objectives
Google says there are three types of marketing objectives:
- Build awareness
- Influence consideration
- Drive action
This is all about reach and understanding with your target market through different channels. It can be the hardest type to measure with awareness being a subjective concept that requires both quantitative and qualitative assessment.
Some common objectives can include increases in:
- Impressions – number of times your marketing is exposed to the audience.
- Reach – number of unique impressions.
- Frequency – number of times a person is exposed to your marketing.
- Mentions – how often your brand is mentioned.
- Engagement – how long a person engages with your marketing.
- Return visitors – how often the same person engages with your marketing.
- Recognition and Lift – how well a person recognises your brand and the perception of it.
- Share of Voice (SOV) – proportion of your brand awareness to the rest of the industry.
Awareness is particularly relevant to a new business, growth into new areas and introducing customers to new products or services. You will see we have used terms that are strongly associated with marketing metrics. This is specifically aligned to the M in SMART objectives.
The transfer from awareness to consideration is often referred to as middle of the sales funnel. Influencing consideration directly relates to a change in purchaser intent from searching for information to considering options.
Common objectives can include increases in:
- Leads generated – number of leads obtained from your traffic.
- Traffic to Lead ratio – number of leads obtained as a percentage of your traffic.
- Participation – a demonstrated change in intent by the frequency and method by which a person interacted with your campaign.
Conversion! The actual objective depends on what your business or campaign goal is. This is really the key outcome in the sales funnel.
Common objectives are:
- Subscription or donation.
- Specific campaign outcome.
The objectives we’ve just listed are very sales funnel focused. Other objectives to consider can have a long term growth perspective such as: market research, R & D or partnership development.
Also we have really talked about achievement focused objectives, but don’t forget the value of “efficiency”. In addition to driving for growth, you can look at: “cost per…” This is both for a specific conversion as well as the E2E process.
Step 4. Create Initiatives
So we have objectives. Now it is time to develop plans to achieve them.
The simple process is to:
- Review available tactics and develop new tactics that can support the strategy.
- Bundle these tactics together to come up a course of action – it normal to have a number of different courses of action to achieve your objectives.
- Evaluate these courses of action for best fit to the business – including capability, risk and ability to achieve the desired objective.
- Select a course of action and develop it to be an initiative that can be implemented – this includes tasks, schedule, resources, finances, communications, review and additional metrics.
The success of any initiative is going to come down to:
Step 5. Implement, Evaluate and Adapt
Effective planning will give you a better than even chance of success. If done properly, you will have a strategy that is a good chance of meeting the intended objective(s) and a good fit for your business.
Implementation is driven by communication. Implementing marketing strategy is invariably going to be a change to your current business, so you have to implement change management that involves communicating to all the stakeholders what you are aiming for and how you are going to get there. Each task should define the: who, what, when, where and how.
Evaluation is then critical to assess:
- Is the initiative being implemented correctly?
- Is the initiative achieving the intended effect?
- Is the initiative reaching its full potential?
Great evaluation relies on being able to have both a sky view of the business to see how all the parts of the business are working together; as well as zero in on areas that are not performing as intended.
The balanced scorecard is a common method for evaluating the performance of strategy. Alternatively you can build your own dashboard by aligning the metrics of your different objectives to the business goal you are wanting to achieve. BSC Designer provide a really good range of scorecard templates.
After evaluation, then adjust your strategy to obtain better results. As time progresses, you will always be better informed than you were when you first started planning. Therefore you can always make improvement.
Examples of improvements are:
- Team not performing as expected:
- Self-reflection – adjusting how the strategy and expectations are communicated and collaborated. Improvement starts at the top!
- Internal alignment – re-aligning staff incentives to support business performance.
- Internal improvement – adjusting roles and training to generate the desired capability and performance.
- External improvement – bringing in additional capability to cover gaps.
- Objectives not being met:
- Suitability – assessing for suitability and achievability of objectives and adjusting to match how the strategy has progressed.
- Market – modifying initiatives to match changes in the market from what your strategy originally expected.
- Opportunities – revisiting your market analysis and based on updates modifying your initiatives to better respond to available opportunities.
Just as with A/B Testing for improvements to your website, it is important that the changes you make can be assessed. The more radical the change the more difficult it is to attribute the change in performance.
Building strategy is all about making the best decision for your business based on the information available at the time. There are tools to help you do this, but don’t let them get in the way of you making a clear decision that can be communicated to your stakeholders.
- Set yourself up to do some planning.
- Conduct a solid analysis of your environment.
- Set objectives that blend aspiration with realism.
- Have great implementation.
- Then improve (repeat).
We’ve all seen the movie where the good guys spend most of the plot preparing the grand plan, only for it to go wrong at the critical moment. Don’t put yourself in the crisis situation making radical fixes because you are out of time. That is opening yourself up to brand damage and alienating your team.
This is how we approach our planning with our adaptive growth cycle. Check it out and good luck with your planning!