In the evolving marketing world, the “something shiny” effect is constant. New trends, algorithms, platforms, and best practices are surfacing daily. It’s part of our job to keep ahead of the curve, and that’s what makes it fun.
But I’ve seen it time and time again: When you start creating content based on assumptions or the latest marketing trend, you end up wasting money without seeing results. Because without developing a marketing strategy from the start, any new approach — no matter how promising — is fated for disaster.
Developing a marketing strategy starts with three questions:
- What do your customers want?
- What message answers that demand?
- How will you deliver that message and get your audience to engage?
What Do Your Customers Want?
Before you can plan what content formats and messages to use, you need to get inside the minds of your most valuable customers. You’ve got to target the right people and reach them in the way and with the message they’re most likely to respond to.
But you can’t follow around every customer to see what they like and what they’re doing — that’s impractical. So how do you learn about them?
- Use your experts. Stakeholder interviews are critical for gaining an accurate and well-rounded perspective of your customers. Talk to leadership, sales, and customer-service teams — both those who work with clients directly and those who see the bigger picture of how the customer experience should be.
- Get graphic. If you’re a B2C company, look at demographics — age, income, children, education. There are countless variables you can use to get a clearer idea of who your customers are. You also want to uncover how they behave — what products have they purchased, when, and in what sequence? For B2B companies, firmographics will uncover quite a bit — revenue, number of employees, industry, titles of decision-makers.
- Break them up. Look for distinct segments in your target audience that will allow you to get more specific with your content by developing buyer personas. Groups of people with different needs and attitudes will navigate the purchase cycle differently and need a customer experience that matches their demands.
- Walk a mile. Walk through the journey your customers take as they go through the purchase cycle, considering each touch point. By viewing the current experience from their perspective, you can improve it and achieve the outcomes you’ve aligned in your up-front strategy.
- Create audience personas. Take some time to research and analyze your audience, and use your findings to develop fictional personas that you can gear your messaging to. There’s no magic number when it comes to your amount of personas — some companies are better off with two or three, while others require more than a dozen. By taking the time to understand your audience on this level, you’re better enabling your company to create targeted, personalized content for each type of person your content affects.
What Message Answers That Demand?
This answer has to go way beyond your mission statement and boilerplate copy. Without understanding your place in the industry and what sets you apart, your messaging will be disjointed at best and deterring at worst.
To get started:
- Perform reviews of your competition. How do your marketing efforts stack up against others in your industry? What is their message? How can you differentiate yourself? What are they doing better than you? It won’t do any good to copy them. Find areas where you stand out and places where you need to improve.
- Audit your online presence and content. Go over your website, social media, and SEO, as well as your content across all channels. Does it represent your brand and tell a consistent story?
- Examine the scope and performance of current marketing efforts and infrastructure. What marketing do you already have in place? Can you take any of those learnings into your new strategy?
- Put together planning workshops. Building consensus across departments and team members is essential to a successful up-front marketing strategy. By discussing priorities and aligning expectations, you can create a strategy that has support across the board.
How Will You Deliver That Message and Get Your Audience to Engage?
When developing your marketing strategy, set measurable goals. How many email addresses do you want your site to capture per month? How about target pageviews? Return visits? Create benchmarks based on what makes sense for your industry.
These goals not only guide your efforts but also help you measure whether you are successful. You’ll be glad you thought these points through when your boss asks you for a status update.
In developing your marketing strategy, be sure to:
- Ask yourself what your company hopes to get for your marketing investment.
- Set a target.
- Determine where you are today in reaching those goals.
- Come up with a plan to regularly measure your progress.
Be specific and realistic. You may have been given a high-level objective, like increasing revenue, but what does that mean specifically? More repeat customers? Reaching new customers? Figure out what you’re really working toward; then you can work backward to determine what up-front marketing strategy will help you achieve your outcomes.
And don’t forget to bring other departments into these conversations. Without alignment throughout the company, your carefully planned up-front marketing strategy may turn out to be a dud. Departments and decision-makers outside of marketing will have new insights that may show that your plan won’t work from an operational standpoint.
Use It or Lose It
After you’ve developed specific goals, reviewed your current marketing efforts, and created a multidimensional portrait of your audience, you can get started on designing a campaign and then move on to execution.
Developing a marketing strategy early in the game lets you embrace continuous improvement, because you always have the bigger picture in mind. Use it as a baseline to compare your content and results against, and even as the details of your marketing plan shift, you won’t worry about shooting yourself in the foot with aimless marketing.