You know the drill. Some Good Idea Fairy comes up with an inspired idea and expects marketing to Make. It. Happen. Never mind your budget, team capacity, or the actual likelihood of impact – this is THE IDEA!
Sometimes the Good Idea Fairy is trying to feed their ego:
“I’m doing a webinar and I need Facebook ads to drum up attendance.”
Sometimes the Good Idea Fairy is doing someone a favor:
“We need to run a full-page ad in this trade show program. I promised Bill we’d help him out.”
And sometimes the Good Idea Fairy is genuinely well-meaning.
They just haven’t thought through the resources, impact, and process.
It’s time to call interference!
You’re a marketer, not a task rabbit.
All these one-off ideas are draining your resources and hampering your ability to have a real impact. Because the Good Idea Fairies bring distraction. They bless you with random acts of marketing that waste resources, confuse your audience, and set you up to get ignored.
Fortunately, you can reduce visits from the Good Idea Fairy by getting serious about your strategic marketing plan. When you have measurement and analysis and a business rationale behind what you do, it’s a lot easier to say, “thanks but no thanks” when the Good Idea Fairy comes flitting by.
The “Kill ‘Em With Your Professionalism” Strategic Marketing Plan Template
Not sure where to get started? That’s normal. We walk you through the whole process step-by-step below. This is the foundational work that needs to happen to create a business-driven, data-driven plan that will reach your audience and influence their buying decisions.
Take a spin through our process. Then double back and hop over here for a strategic marketing plan template. A template makes your job easier and helps ensure you’re not missing any of the key elements. It provides structure for your strategic marketing plan and helps serve as a communication tool to share your plan and build buy-in. Use a template as a guide for evaluating your marketing, identifying opportunities, and creating a polished plan.
11 Steps to Develop a Stellar Strategic Marketing Plan
A strategic marketing plan is a roadmap to promote and grow your business. In the process of creating the plan, you'll learn more about your customers, your competitors, and your own team capabilities. Together that knowledge will inform your marketing decisions and help you create a shared consensus among your stakeholders.
In all, a strategic marketing plan is the who, what, when, and most importantly WHY behind your marketing campaigns and investments. It’s good business. It’s good marketing. And ultimately, it’s the bug zapper you need to put those Good Idea Fairies to rest. Scratch that. It’s the butterfly net you need to capture those good ideas and set them aside to reconsider when the time is right.
1. Link to the Big Picture
A sound marketing strategy aligns with your company’s overall strategic priorities and goals, whether that’s pioneering a new market, defending against competitors, or owning the customer experience.
Look at where your organization is going and how that will impact your marketing mandate. Ask yourself:
- What are your company’s growth plans?
- Is the company targeting specific markets?
- Are there certain objectives beyond revenue growth (i.e. recruiting job applicants, employee engagement) where marketing could play a role?
Then think about how you can set goals and objectives for marketing to match those plans.
2. Put Your Ear to the Ground and Listen
Get to know your customers and get a better understanding of your current position in the market. Explore your audience mindset and what key factors will get them to pay attention.
How do you go about doing this research? Ideally, it’s an ongoing process of discovery, but it could look a bit like this:
- Send a short customer survey to your existing email list (ask for a “favor, please” and/or offer an incentive for their input)
- Conduct focus groups or head out with a sales rep and talk to people
- Monitor online forums and listen to what your would-be customers are talking about
- Audit your competitors’ marketing channels and messages
- Set up user testing, popup surveys, or chatbots on your website
- Mine customer service emails for insight into what customers wanted out of your product/service
- Set up social listening to find out what people are saying about you online.
- This is time to talk to your team, too. Give your Good Idea Fairies a voice and let them know you value their insight into the customer experience
This kind of market listening should be regular and recurring. Periodic surveys, data mining, audits, and ongoing customer conversations enable your marketing team to discover what truly matters most to customers and shape your messages accordingly.
3. Identify Your Buyer Personas
Understand who your company’s most valuable prospects are and how they move through the sales cycle to become customers. Many marketers use “personas” or fictionalized profiles to help them picture their ideal customer. Personas help you understand your buyers, their challenges, and their motivations.
Remember, B2B personas will be different from B2C personas. Your B2B buyer may actually be more of an influencer – someone who has to convince a larger team, or authorized decision-maker, that their recommendation is the right one. (If you’re in manufacturing, check out our full post on buyer personas in a manufacturing B2B environment.)
4. Stake Your Claim
Ask business leaders what sets their company apart, and you’ll probably hear things like “customer service,” “product quality,” or “our people.” But what does any of that really mean? And does it even matter if everyone else is saying the same thing?
The real magic is to find a unique, “stake your claim” reason customers choose your company over any other. What makes you stand out from the crowd? The answers should come from the market research you conducted in step two.
Once you know your point of differentiation, you have solid gold marketing fodder you can hang your hat on. Make sure your customers know what makes you special. It makes it easier to get noticed and answer the all-important question of why someone should buy from you.
5. Do a SWOT and a “So What?”
At this stage of the strategic marketing planning process you know what your company wants, what your customers want, and where your organization shines in the marketplace. You’ve analyzed the game. Now it’s time to look at your team.
A SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, threats, opportunities) is a valuable exercise for planning and decision-making. You may be used to thinking about SWOT as an overall business analysis, but it can be an eye-opening tool when used at the department level.
Conduct a SWOT of your existing marketing efforts, to pinpoint inefficiencies and highlight your strengths. Think in terms of team capabilities, target audiences, messaging, marketing channels, etc.
Where are your efforts already well positioned to advance company goals? Where are you struggling?
Questions to ask as part of your marketing SWOT analysis:
- What does our team do best?
- What’s been our greatest marketing achievement to date?
- Where is our team the weakest?
- What causes us heartburn as a marketing team?
- What kind of speed bumps or barriers are we up against?
- Where are we using outside resources and how strong/effective are those relationships?
- Where are we missing real opportunities to connect?
Okay, so what?
A marketing SWOT is a useful part of early planning because, in part, it helps identify which strategies your team can execute well on its own and where reliable outside resources will be needed. It also helps to be realistic about barriers (e.g. executive buy-in, resource demands) so you can plan effectively for the roadblocks you’re most likely to encounter.
6. Set Marketing Goals
Now that you have the whole picture in front of you, it’s time to set some goals. Your goals should be specific, measurable, and achievable. Beware of vague goals like “improve brand awareness” or “increase customer engagement.” At this stage in the game, you’re setting goals that you can actually track and quantify.
You need to be realistic, too. Consider your existing analytics and your SWOT analysis to set meaningful goals that are reasonably attainable. While it’s always important to stretch to be your best, unrealistic goals can set you back by damaging morale or weakening your credibility with other company departments.
These are some examples of measurable marketing goals:
- Increase ROI on marketing ads by 30%
- Launch a new product line with X product inquiries, X online reviews, and X new sales within X months.
- Grow SEO traffic and leads by 20%
- Cross-sell and expand sales to existing customers with a 10% uptick
- Increase website conversions (leads/sales) by 5% each month
- Increase word-of-mouth referrals by 15%
- Double your contacts/lead nurturing list
Remember, the key is to make sure your goals tie back to your business strategy. You probably have a long list of ideas and aspirations. Be as intentional as you can by setting specific goals and try to prioritize the ones that will have the most meaningful impact on the business.
When setting goals, mine your own analytics as well as industry benchmarks. For example, if your best blog posts are generating two minutes of dwell time (i.e., time on page), you might try to increase the number of posts that hit or exceed that benchmark.
Track what feels meaningful to you and work to improve your results. If you can find marketing benchmarks for your industry (which is admittedly harder to do), take that data into account, too.7. Plan What You’re Going to Do…and How You’re Going to Pay for It
Congratulations. At this point, you have solidly put the “strategic” in your strategic marketing plan. Now you can finally start talking about the specific tactics you’ll use to get there (aka all the fun stuff).
An effective marketing program will include many different tactics, both on- and offline. Your goals and audience should drive which tactics you choose.
- For example, if your target audience is a design engineer who makes recommendations for large ticket industrial purchases, your marketing plan will be based on a long, research-heavy decision process.
- But if you’re trying to reach MRO managers who make many small purchases, you might focus on ways to stay top of mind with existing customers, predictive purchasing tools, or a killer website that makes it easy to buy.
Reach out to your Good Idea Fairies again in this stage. Find out what they think works and how they'd like to reach customers. While random acts of marketing are not good, collecting all those ideas into one spot as a reference or to supply a cohesive plan is great. You never want to have to start from scratch when it's time to consider tactics, so having a list of potential strategies is critical.
Of course, cost and capabilities will also influence the tactical part of your plan. Think about what you can do in house and where you’ll need expert consultants and freelance support.
One rule of thumb suggests established companies should allocate between 6 – 12% of their gross revenue on a marketing budget. If your company is currently on the lower end of that range, know this: The better you’re able to demonstrate a solid plan with quantifiable results, the easier it will be to secure more money.
8. Define What You’re Leaving Out
Marketing teams can all too easily find themselves in reactionary mode, responding to spur of the moment requests from other business functions – requests that don’t always fit with marketing priorities. One way to defend against dated ideas and marketing-misfits is to define what kind of messages and tactics fall outside your plan.
If you no longer want to spend your budget on full-page trade ads… If customizing sell sheets for every sub-submarket your sales team wants to target is sucking up your writing and graphic design resources…. Or if launching a panicked paid search campaign in the final few weeks of the quarter has proven ineffective yet again…establish your parameters.
Talk with sales about what’s working and what isn’t. Plan some temporary compromises, if necessary, as part of change management. And get buy-in from leadership who will help you defend your new, smarter marketing plan.
9. Make It Happen: Execution Matters...More Than You May Realize!
Time and action, folks. Time and action. In the end, you need to execute.The real trick behind getting things done is defining what specifically needs to be done, by whom, and when. If you're not already using a project management platform, here's a selection of Word and Excel action plan templates that might work for your team.
10. Talk It Up
When it comes to any long-ranging marketing plan, you need buy-in, regular communication, and consistent reviews to make it a success. Regular checkpoints are essential.
Once you’ve defined your goals (and exclusions), touch base with your stakeholders. Get agreement that the plan aligns with company goals and is the best use of marketing dollars. Get stakeholder buy-in at the outset, and hopefully you’ll have vocal advocates down the road when the Good Idea Fairy wants to co-opt your time and budget.
Think about your internal communication strategy too. Consider who you need to keep plugged into the process and how often you’ll share updates.
11. Make It Real
Ultimately, your employees are your brand.
All your marketing is for naught if the one-on-one customer experience fails to deliver on the promises in your marketing materials. Make employee outreach part of your ongoing marketing plan. Employees should understand the brand promise and their role in delivering on it.
When you share customer insights company-wide, you help create a consistent customer experience at every point of contact. Outreach to the employee team is how you, the marketing team, helps deliver a world-class customer experience, how you increase customer lifetime value, and how you help generate customer referrals.
Get Ready to Own the Strategic Marketing Conversation
Strategic marketing—it’s one of the hallmarks of a high-growth business. These companies make a commitment to planning, listening, measuring, and then continually redefining their marketing plans.
The alternative, and one that often leads to struggle and obscurity, is to let the Good Idea Fairies have their way. These companies throw up a blog post when they have time, try a few LinkedIn ads, and generally jump around from one idea to the next—abandoning each tactic in turn when it doesn’t yield results.
If you want to be a strategic marketer and OWN the conversation about marketing in your organization, it’s time to start planning. Marketing takes more than good ideas. It takes a commitment to the customer and a willingness to follow the data.
You can do this! If you’d like some help at any stage in the process, just reach out. Whether you need some coaching on your Good Idea Fairy’s latest “gift,” help building leadership buy-in, or support to execute the plan: we’re here.