We all know how important it is to build a solid business plan. In fact, you’d (hopefully) never dream of charging into a new business without one. And yet, surprisingly, many of us aren’t putting in nearly the same effort when it comes to building a strong marketing strategy.
What’s the point of investing so much time and money into building and creating a new business, only to have no customers?
This isn’t Field of Dreams where you build it and they will come. (OK, so the line is actually, “If you build it, he will come,” but you know what I mean. The whole team showed up eventually. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s a classic, look it up.)
If you want customers, you’re going to need to actively get out there and find them, and then let them know you exist. The only way to do that is with a solid marketing strategy.
According to a study by Smart Insights, 46% of brands don’t have a defined digital marketing strategy yet, and 16% do have a strategy but haven’t put it into effect yet. That means that more than half of the businesses out there aren’t getting the exposure and customers they could be, simply because people don’t know even know they exist yet.
When you don’t have a marketing strategy, you run the risk of becoming directionless as a company, wasting money on channels that aren’t bringing you results, and losing out on potential customers to your competitors.
Thankfully, it’s not that hard to come up with your own marketing strategy. Here are the four steps you need in order to create a marketing plan that works for you.
How To Build A Marketing Strategy
Know Your Target Customer
The first step in building your marketing strategy is to know who it is you’re marketing to. Doing so ensures that your marketing efforts are focused, and as a result, you’ll be getting the return on investment that you’re after.
One common way to go about this is to create a buyer persona. By creating a buyer persona, you can be sure that you’re marketing to people who are actually interested in what you have to offer. Otherwise your marketing strategy is pretty much the equivalent of a man on a box yelling through a megaphone at random people on the street.
This is the wrong application of a blue ocean strategy.
Think about what you’d like your ideal customer to look like. Start getting granular and create a list of demographics that your customer falls into. Responsive Inbound Marketing recommends these major questions you should ask yourself about your target customer when outlining a buyer persona:
Location: Where do they live?
Excluding Location: Where do they not live?
Age: What is the age range?
Gender: What is their gender?
Interests: What are their interests?
Education Level: What is their education level?
Job Title: What fields of work do your customers work in, and what types of job titles do they carry?
Income Level: What is their income range?
Relationship Status: What is their relationship status?
Language: What languages do they speak?
Favorite Websites: Why types of websites do they frequent?
Buying Motivation: What are their reasons for buying your product?
Buying Concerns: What are their concerns when buying your product?
Building a buyer persona is more than just broadly listing out demographics of your target customer though. You need to know your target customer as if they were a close, personal friend, like you might go out to see them for drinks this very weekend.
As we know from interactions with our own friends, they can be full of surprises. So one of the biggest mistakes you can make when creating a buyer persona is to constantly make assumptions. Actually put these personas to the test, hit the pavement, and start interviewing people and get some real data. After all, there’s that saying about assumptions making a donkey out of you and me.
The easiest place you can look to define your buyer persona is to whatever current customers you might have. Ask them for 10 minutes of their time for an interview, or send out a simple survey. Interview people who aren’t even your customers yet, but people who fit the profile of your target customer.
Find a way to incentivize people to do interviews with you, by potentially offering them a discount or a free product from your store. Whatever solution you work out, your goal should be to find out what people are really thinking about when they see your store.
There will be a temptation to gloss over this part, thinking you’ve already got it down. But generally speaking, the more time you put into developing your buyer personas, the more effective your marketing strategy will be in the end.
Once you know what your target customer is all about, it’s time to move onto the next step of building your marketing strategy.
Research Your Competitors
No business exists in a vacuum, even if you are the only brand on the market in your own very specific niche. You can be guaranteed that sooner or later, you’re going to find yourself with some competition, and they’re going to have their own ideas about the best way to acquire customers.
This is why it’s important to spend some time doing research on the competition.
Before you get the wrong idea, though, the point of running a competitor analysis is to help you figure out what you can be doing better or different than the rest of the crowd. It’s not so you can replicate their every move, but rather, so you can:
• Find out what’s working for them and do it better;
• Or, find untapped opportunities.
You’ll also want to go deep than scanning your competitor’s social media accounts every now and then.
Unless you happen to have a really good relationship with someone else in your niche and you can find the time to get them on the phone and talk marketing strategy, chances are, you’re going to have to dust off that deerstalker hat and do a little sleuthing.
One way to get a good initial grasp of what marketing channels your competitors are using is to go directly to their customers and find out what they’re saying.
You can easily do that with Mention, a social media monitoring tool that allows you to quickly scan the web and find mentions of your competitors online and on social media. You can analyze online conversations that are happening about your competition and, most importantly, what online communities are forming around them.
Tap into those conversations and see if you can find out what products people are purchasing and how they found out about them, and whether their experiences have been positive or negative. Learn what promotions and deals they’re offering through social media.
Another great tool to use to monitor your competitor’s online marketing strategy would be Moz’s Open Site Explorer.
I like to use Open Site Explorer as a way to check out what my competitors are doing with their SEO. Moz allows you to find out what external links your competitors are getting. This can give you incredibly valuable insight as to what their content strategy is like, or if they even have one in the first place, and potentially where they’re advertising online.
You can find out what their top pages are and what their most popular content is, and use their successes to help find ideas and inspiration for what your link-building strategy might look like. For more on a successful link-building SEO strategy, check out this post.
The final method I’d recommend is to simply sign up to their email list and see what their email strategy is like. Not only will this give you invaluable insight as to what their email marketing efforts look like, but it’ll also give you an up close and personal view of their overall strategy.
For example, you can find out if they’re doing a product launch, and if so, how they go about it. Or if they’re hyping up interest for a similar product to yours. Get into the belly of the beast and find out what’s going on.
Of course, there are also dozens of others tools and methods you can use to do competitor research. But this should give you a good idea of where to start with your own.
Choose Your Channels
There is a wide variety of ways to get your marketing message in front of your prospects, more than ever, in fact. You can go the traditional advertising route and stick ads in newspapers and on billboards, or you can try more modern and ever-evolving tactics like SEO and content marketing. Whatever route you head down, you need to figure out what channels you’ll be using in order to turn your audience into prospects and then into customers.
While it might be tempting to try everything at once and go for a “scattergun” kind of approach, all you’ll be doing is wasting precious resources on channels that aren’t guaranteed to work.
In order to get the return on investment you want from your marketing strategy, it’s important to make deliberate, informed decisions about what channels provide the best ways to reach your target customers.
Remember, don’t invest effort into a particular channel just because you feel like you should be using it. It will take a little time and a bit of a feeling around in order to find the right marketing channel for you, so don’t stress if you don’t get it right from the get go.
The best approach to figuring out the right channels for your marketing strategy is to first break down all of your potential channels into three sections: owned, earned, and paid media.
It’s best to think of these three different types of media as three legs of a stool, with each type playing an important role in your digital marketing strategy, and all three needing to work together in order to cover all your marketing bases.
A good general rule of thumb is to follow the ratio of 2:1:1 when you’re starting off with your marketing strategy:
– 2 owned media channels
– 1 earned media channel
– 1 paid media channel
Owned media are the channels you have full control over, meaning your email list, your website, or your blog for example. In basic terms, any branded content that you produce yourself can be considered owned media.
The reason you want at least two channels of owned media in your marketing strategy is so you don’t ever need to rely on anyone else’s platform in order to promote your brand. Owned media should form the backbone of your digital marketing strategy.
This is why, at Foundr, we put a ton of effort into building our email list and growing our Instagram followers. These are channels we have complete control over, that reach our target audience, and generate us the majority of our leads and sales.
Figure out what two owned media channels you want to focus on building when it comes to your own marketing strategy.
Put simply, earned media refers to the exposure your content receives organically through outside sources. Think of things like guest posts on other sites, your SEO efforts, or any coverage you receive from the press.
With earned media, what you’re doing is essentially tapping into word-of-mouth marketing. You’re promoting your content through other publications and using their influence to reach your target customer.
“Earned media is one of the most cost-effective ways to raise brand awareness and—if it’s done well—increase sales.” – Gini Dietrich
Whether it’s focusing on building partnerships with influencers, or looking to build your own level of influence with guest posts, identify at least one earned media channel you can use to reach your audience.
Unsurprisingly, paid media can be defined as any media that you pay for. Think of things like Google Adwords, Facebook ads, sponsored updates on Twitter or Instagram. Traditionally speaking, this would also include TV or radio commercials, or print advertising.
Paid media is how you generate more exposure for your owned media and win more earned media. While you have a certain amount of control with paid media, you want to make sure you don’t fall into the trap of continuously throwing money at it, if it’s not generating the results you want.
The best way to find the paid media channel that works for you is to set yourself a budget and try different platforms at once. After a couple weeks of testing, see what’s working best and double down on that particular channel.
Break Down Your Sales Funnel
A great way to help you flesh out the details of your marketing strategy and figure out what the right marketing tactics and channels are for you is to do a quick break down of your sales funnel.
At its most basic, every sales funnel follows the AIDA format of: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action.
Source: Smart Insights
At the top end you have your cold leads, people who are completely unaware of your brand’s existence, and you want to figure out how to grab their awareness and interest. Once you do, you’ll need to figure out a way to turn them into hot leads by generating a sense of desire. And finally, you’ll capitalize on that desire by asking them to perform a specific action, whether it’s subscribing to your email list or purchasing a product.
What you want to do is break down each channel you’ve chosen to focus on in your marketing strategy and map out your customer’s journey through your sales funnel.
By breaking down your customer’s journey, you can find out the weakest points of your sales funnel, and whether there is anything more you can be doing to ensure you’re moving enough leads through to the final action stage.
This exercise can be extremely helpful when you’re trying to figure out what marketing tactics you want to use and where to implement them.
Create SMART marketing goals
Now that you understand the bare bones of your marketing strategy, let’s figure out what success means to you.
It’s all well and good to say that you want more exposure, or that you want more customers, but you want to define your goals a little more narrowly than that. How can you tell that your marketing strategy is working if you don’t know, exactly, what success is in the first place?
Some examples of poorly defined goals :
– I want to rank number one in Google.
– I want a bigger email list.
– I want more awareness of my product launch.
These are no good. They have no workable timeline, they lack specificity and actionable steps, and worst of all, there’s no way to track or measure them.
To get over this pitfall, we always advocate creating SMART marketing goals. In other words, goals are that are specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and timely.
Source: Smart Insights
By having SMART goals in place you can make sure that your marketing goals align directly with your business goals. They’re easy to follow and something that your whole team can get behind and, most importantly, instead of relying on your gut you now have definitive metrics you can use to track the success of your marketing strategy.
This means creating marketing goals that look more like this:
– I want to grow my mailing list to 50,000 subscribers by the end of the year.
– I want to create rank number one for the keyword “entrepreneur” by 2018.
– I want to track and measure the number of downloads and sales I receive from a series of downloadable ebooks over a period of three months.
By creating goals like these, you’ll be able to work toward something and make sure that your marketing strategy is kept focused and on the right track at all times. It’ll also give you a clearer idea of whether or not your tactics are working and if you possibly need to change or adjust your strategy over time.
Ready To Build and Execute Your Marketing Plan?
There you have it, your whole process to building your own killer marketing strategy.
Building a solid marketing strategy is essential if you want your business to succeed. No matter how great your product or service is, if no one knows about it in the first place, you’re not making any sales. Customers don’t just magically turn up out of nowhere, you have to earn the right for their attention.
This might take you anywhere between one afternoon, to a whole month of doing nothing but constantly developing your strategy. But rest assured, once it’s done you’ll know exactly which direction to move forward and how to get there.
What does your marketing strategy look like? Do you have a sales funnel you’re particularly fond of? How did you determine your target customer? Let us know in the comments below!