Does your marketing strategy resemble less of a plan and more like random acts of marketing? The term “marketing plan” can often feel overwhelming to build, much less execute, so today I wanted to share 5 steps you can use to build an intentional marketing plan that brings all the pieces together. Using this blueprint will help you make decisions on your marketing channels, activities and give you a guide for what you need to do and how to adjust throughout the year.
What is a Marketing Plan?
When we talk about a marketing plan, it’s important to start with where this fits into your business strategy. Your marketing plan is not your business plan. It’s not your overall goals for your business. It’s not just strategy, or tactics or a content calendar or ad campaign. It’s a combination of pieces that come together.
To put in order, you start with your business goals, which define the marketing goals to achieve them, and then you build a strategy to achieve the marketing goals, and from that determine the tactics to fulfill the plan, who and what is needed to execute them, and lastly, how you'll measure success and learn. Writing it down is important -- it doesn’t need to be a complicated document, but putting it on paper goes a long way toward success.
5 Steps to Building Your Marketing Plan
You can break your marketing plan into 5 areas:
Your Big Ideas
Your Tactics Plan
and the Big Pay-Off
Where the “plan” part comes into this is understanding how these sections feed together and help you make decisions along the way.
Step 1: Your Story
Our brains are built to value stories above anything else, and once you know your story, you can incorporate that into everything you put out in the world. So figure out what your company’s story—it’s essence—is all about. Why does your company matter? You have to know what drives you, your motivations, your reasons for being in business.
As Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” So start with your why. Especially when you work in a service-based industry such as accounting, the essential products or services you provide are the same as the firm down the street. That’s what you do. And when you figure how you do it differently, that’s how you do it.
But it’s the why that really separates you from the rest. Here some sample questions to help determine your Why:
What’s your passion?
What’s unique about you?
What does your business stand for?
What do you do and your competitors do, but no one talks about?
Run a SWOT analysis, look at your competition and how they connect with your potential customers. Determine where you fit and how you’re different. Once you know all of that, you can determine exactly what kind of customers you want to work with.
Step 2: Their Story
That’s where your customer’s story comes in. Your why, your values and reasons for being will help attract like-minded people when you put that story out in the world. And the customer is the true hero of your story — what you do, you do to make their lives better. To help them reach their dreams. So you need to understand their lives, who they are and what they need and want. This way, you can be sure that you’re meeting them exactly where they need you and when.
Here you’ll build what is called a Customer Persona, a fancy marketing term for a list of things you know about your ideal customer. Ideal is important—remember, this is the customer you want to work with over and over again. Your list can include a variety of details, but be specific. Instead of “business owner in her 30s with kids), give her a name, a life. Think of them in terms that make your connection with them emotional.
What you want to know:
Who they are?
What do they need?
What is their biggest pain points?
What are their objections to solving them?
How they find answers - where do they shop? Where do they go for information?
Who do they trust for answers?
There are lots of options here, so find the ones that help tell the story you need to connect with. Then it’s time to learn where the stories meet.
Step 3: Your Big Ideas
That’s where your big ideas come in— your marketing goals, your messaging, and strategies. Your marketing goals should directly relate to your business goals. So let’s say a business goal is to go niche, one of your marketing goals this year could be to bring in 50% of new customers in that niche, while you work on transitioning out the old clients. Remember, your goals should be actionable and reasonable for this year. A year is not as long as it seems when it comes to marketing, so make sure you’re thinking through what it takes to accomplish them.
You also want to know where your stories meet:
How can you help your customer where no one else can?
What does your ideal journey look like together?
Where are the connection points between you?
This will help you define your messaging:
What sets you apart?
What is the right tone to use?
What is your brand personality that resonates with your customer?
What emotional words connect to your mission and your vision?
Where do your products fit in the customer’s perspective of value versus cost?
All of the above work will help you be ready to build your marketing strategies to achieve your goals and find your audience. When checking your potential strategies against your plan, I have a formula that might help you weigh the right considerations:
Needs of client (what do they need?)
+ their trigger point (at what point is this need really heightened?) + how they consume information (where do they go for info? What sources do they trust? How do they visit them? Ie mobile/computer, etc..) + your current readiness (are you set up to meet them with answers to their problems, on their chosen platform, when they go looking?) + your available resources (what time, money and staff do you have available to work through this plan?) + time to get it done. (how long will it take to implement?)
Step 4: Your Tactical Plan
I hear often that a tactical plan is the hardest for companies and business owners to build. If you’ve gone through the previous steps in detail and done the work, the tactical plan becomes easier. You’ve already identified what you need to do, you’ve built your goals, your needs - and now it’s time to break it down into getting things done.
Let’s say that you set a strategy of building a blog on your website to attract that niche audience. You’ll build your checklist of To Dos based on where you are now to where you need to be to meet that strategy.
Think of your tactics of before, during and after:
What needs to be done before this strategy launches?
What about during?
And how do we keep the conversation going after?
If your strategy is to build a blog, for example, a high level tactics list could be:
Update and ready the website for a blog ; make sure it’s mobile friendly
Create a content calendar targeted with answers to your ideal customer’s pain points and needs
Create the messaging for advertising your new posts on social channels
Building in the next steps for your potential customers once they’re reading the content (such as email capture forms and subscribe options).
From there, break it down into the steps it takes, who is responsible and how long you think it each step will take. I highly recommend building a calendar view, because that ‘at a glance” perspective can really tell you if you’re on track or need to budget in more time to get things done.
Step 5: The Big Pay Off
Once you’ve done all the work to get your strategies launched and meet your customers where they are, you need to know if it’s working, right? To make sure you’re tracking and measuring the right things, go back to your high level business and marketing goals. You’ll want to match the metrics with the goal.
For example, if your business goal is to focus on a niche, and your marketing goal was to bring in 50% more customers in that niche this next year, there are a variety of metrics you can look at to help you understand if your strategies and tactics are on track. Some examples:
What was the engagement on the niche focused content you wrote? How many blog page visits? Comments?
Did people share this content on social?
How many new leads did you bring in?
You can also put your metrics together to help you determine your next steps. For example, with our sample goals. Let’s say our blog pages have good traffic, people stay on the page a long time --which means they’re reading -- but the pages have a high bounce rate (people who visit one page and leave that page without venturing further into your site) -- that could mean that they’re getting content they like but they don’t know where to go and what to do after. So we need to do a better job of providing Calls to Action -- links to other posts, more value like e-books or white papers, or a simple link to the Contact Us form.
Marketing is about adjusting and changing, so know your plan is flexible. It’s a blueprint, but it’s not set in stone. You should review your progress, make decisions on what works and what doesn’t, and adjust from there. The more you revisit and refine, the more your efforts will produce the results you want.