A marketing strategy is a business’s overall plan for reaching prospective customers. Usually, a marketing strategy describes a value proposition and key messages, and it has information about who the target market is - where they shop and what drives them to make a purchase.
A good marketing strategy is essential for any business that wants to succeed. Many books have been written on the subject but this short guide will aim to answer three key questions that often get lost in the detail:
Why do I need a marketing strategy?
How do I get the most value from my marketing strategy?
Quite simply, a good marketing strategy helps you to improve your sales in an organised, measurable way. It helps you to grow your business – hopefully gaining an advantage over your competitors.
At the same time, a good marketing strategy should help you to clarify who your ideal customers are: what they want, and how you can help them in ways that other businesses can’t. Certainly, the process of creating a marketing strategy may help you to reveal your business’s hidden USPs.
Your strategy should focus on meeting potential customers’ needs and developing long-term, profitable relationships with a loyal audience. Bold aspirations may guide short-term product development or the way you offer your services to current customers, but long-term growth and success depends on using insights based on hard facts. That means doing research and creating a marketing strategy. You may need to be flexible, but, by being organised about the way you’re marketing, you’ll also keep your spend to a minimum.
A great marketing strategy focuses your resources on activities that should help you to sell more products or services to people who could a) become your advocates, or b) return as repeat customers.
How do I get the most value from my marketing strategy?
Entire books have been written on the subject of marketing strategy. However, every plan can be broken down into five simple parts. Identifying potential customers, raising awareness of your products, making the most of your USPs, building relationships that improve loyalty, and taking action that could steer potential customers towards your ‘sales funnel’.
What makes a good marketing strategy great is the ability to plan ahead. Creating a business marketing strategy is actually a very good way to focus your efforts on what’s important and which resources you’ll need, if you’re to succeed. It means doing three simple things:
Understanding your income, outgoings, and overheads in detail
Recognising the need to involve people with appropriate experience
Being pragmatic about how much you need to sell, when, and how
How much do you want to sell?
The answer to this question depends a lot on the size of your business and the type of commerce you’re in. Many businesses have a relatively narrow product line, for example. And if you’re a sole trader or footfall-focused business, such as a financial adviser or an estate agent, then it may be more useful to raise awareness about the holistic benefits of working with your company – rather than focusing on one aspect of your work.
However, if you’re a manufacturer or supplier, then clearly you’ll be thinking about increasing the amount of sales you make – either more units, or higher-priced units, or units that cost less to produce. You can probably answer these simple questions instinctively:
Do you have long-term development goals for your product line, or are you running a business that makes repeat products and wants to increase per-unit revenue?
Can you see yourself appealing to a different set of customers, or does your experience tell you that current customers could buy more units from you?
Is your business seasonal, or does it follow economic and environmental trends? If so, do you need to focus on boosting sales right across your business – or in one specific area?
How much revenue do you need to create, and when?
When you are thinking about a strategy that will make marketing work hard for you, it’s important to make the connection to your business plan and to your overheads. Looking at your operating budgets should highlight any peaks or troughs in existing sales, which may influence your marketing plans.
What are your limitations?
There are three main limitations for most small business owners, all of which are easy to ignore if you’re passionate about your company and hungry for success. Ability, insights, and time.
Are you the best person for the job?
Whether you’re thinking about drafting the words for a brochure, coming up with a catchy new product name, or sketching the outline for an ad you’d like to run in the local newspaper – it pays dividends to hire a professional. You may be capable, and you may enjoy the creative process, but those marketing skill sets probably aren’t your forte.
Do you have the experience to qualify ‘good marketing’?
You know what you like. You probably have a gut feel for what may or may not appeal to your customers too, but you may not be the right person to make final decisions about some aspects of marketing. When it comes to choosing the right channels, or the right creative, trust your support team. If you’ve given them the right data about the potential audience, and they understand why your product should appeal to potential customers, then they’ll be well-equipped to advise you on activities that should deliver the best possible outcomes.
Is there time in your calendar for marketing?
Marketing doesn’t mean you have to be involved in making decisions every day. That said, even in a small team, it’s important to make sure marketing is always on your horizon. Are you feeding marketing insights into your leadership team? Is your business involving your marketers in product development and the business’s roadmap? Two-way communication is essential if you want to have a robust, sustainable and product marketing strategy.
What support do you need to market effectively?
Before you set a marketing budget, it makes sense to get views about it from your team. Ideally, they’ll have been feeding into the process. More likely, a presentation on prospective marketing plans can be a catalyst – introducing new ideas and considerations. Whether it’s an informal discussion with your family or a formal meeting with members of a senior team, collect the feedback. Use it to help you decide which approach to marketing makes the most sense for your business.
Create an internal team
You may decide that having an in-house team works most effectively for you, either financially or operationally. Much depends on how much expertise you need, and the level of marketing you’ll be trying to deliver. Local, low-key plans may need a few regular hours a week from a part-time member of staff; a national marketing strategy needs much more involvement from experienced professionals.
Bring in an external team
Be confident. If you have identified major opportunities, but realise that your operation won’t support you or you don’t have the experience to deliver the level of marketing plans you need, then it’s worth bringing in external help. Either via a marketing agency, perhaps on a project by project basis, or through a marketing consultant, working full or part time for your business.
Work with combined expertise
Many small businesses benefit from surfacing insights internally – staying hands-on with your product development, feedback, and the views of your current customers – but involving an external team in the creative processes of focused marketing campaigns.
Get to know your customers
The first step in building an effective marketing strategy is to take a step back from your products and think about who’ll be buying them.
Get to know your ideal customer. It’s all about getting a clearer picture of your target audience, which should ensure your marketing activity stays focused on responses that can deliver a solid return on investment. The easiest way to do this is to create a ‘buyer persona’ or a description of those people: what their lives are like and the problems they’re trying to overcome. When you can articulate what those customers look like, in detail, you can start building an action plan that highlights all the ways in which your products or services meet their needs – that’s the basis of a sound marketing strategy.
Don’t worry, identifying ideal customers doesn’t mean ignoring other buyers or stopping other people from making purchases. It simply means you can tailor your activity and appeal to the customers who might bring you higher profit margins.
Think about marketing your business as well as your products
Many businesses don’t achieve their targets because they focus on marketing ‘the ultimate product’, or ‘the best product we make’, rather than building credibility in their company first.
In simple terms, this means advertising. With a more nuanced approach, it means making details about your business proposition available to the right people at the right time in the right way. Some of the more traditional ways to boost awareness of your business include:
Word of mouth referrals and recommendations
Traffic that visits your website – or your premises
Presence at a trade show, conference, or exhibition
‘Point of sale’ materials such as brochures or samples
Direct marketing with mailshots or targeted email campaigns
And social media – again, tapping into recommendations
However you do it, benchmark your awareness activity. Ask customers how they heard about your business, capture interactions and measure responses to awareness campaigns. This could play an important part in helping you to understand how they feel about your products in more detailed marketing plans.
What can I leave out of a marketing strategy?
For many small businesses, the devil is in the detail. Especially if you become excited at what marketing can do for you and if your plans are structured well and executed carefully.
The temptation is to invest time, effort, and money in surfacing far too much detail – either in terms of demographic data that could inform your team, or in terms of marketing options. How you market, where you might market, and the creative directions you might take.
When you’re developing your first round of marketing strategy, stay focused on the high level outcomes first. Be firm about whose opinion matters when it comes to creative direction. Try not to engage in decision-making by committee. Make a choice about your absolute target audience and focus on selling well to those potential customers first. Expand your potential for sales later.
A good marketing strategy should help you to improve your sales in an organised, measurable way. This should grow your business and give you an advantage over your competitors. A clear marketing strategy can help you to clarify who your ideal customers are: what they want, and how you can help them in ways that other businesses can’t. It’s a strong foundation for a business that has ambitions to grow in capability and scale.
Make sure you start by having a clear view of your resources and operating budgets. This should help you to make the right amount of marketing budget available.
Focus on who you’re selling to first, what they’re looking for and how your products meet their needs. These details are the foundations of a robust marketing strategy.
Define the resources that should support your marketing activity – internal or external. It may be useful to get independent support from people with specialist creative skills.
Involve your team in marketing plans and be sure to make it a two-way conversation, but steer clear of making decisions by committee. Everyone likes to have an opinion.
Review your marketing strategy regularly, measure your return on investment in activity and build those figures into your long-term business plans.
Don’t underestimate the value of asking your customers what they think about your marketing strategy – an open conversation can reveal opportunities that even hard data keeps in the dark.
Please note that these guides are provided for information purposes only and not as advice or recommendations. Before deciding to undertake any course of action you may wish to seek independent professional advice.