Marketing Strategy: Plan Yours in 12 Steps [Template]
The Ultimate Guide
The Ultimate Guide

Marketing Strategy: How to Plan Yours in 12 Steps With a Template

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Every business needs a marketing strategy; however, creating one from scratch is easier said than done. That might explain why some companies cut corners on strategic planning and treat marketing like a cost center that eats investment to produce collateral, instead of a revenue driver that connects business with consumers and takes responsibility for growth.

This has some significant consequences for our work. Without understanding where your business fits in the market, who your target customers are, and how best to reach them before your competition does, you run the risk of spinning your wheels and failing to grow your business. When this happens, marketing budgets get cut — typically, as soon as times get tough.

Fortunately, you have the power to grow your organization, future-proof your career, and become a brilliant marketing strategist. You can know your customers better than they know themselves, understand exactly how to create content and launch campaigns they love, and get reliable results that power sales. In short, you can succeed at marketing strategy.

Everything you need to know is in this guide — based on the collective, personal experiences of the CoSchedule team. It’s an in-depth guide that not only covers why strategy matters for marketers, but how to actually put your plan into action in a way that’s easy to follow. Plus, you’ll get a full downloadable set of templates and resources to document and execute each step along the way, so you’re never left wondering what to do next.

An Actionable Marketing Strategy Template You Can Actually Use

You’re likely here because you know you need a strategy, and you know it needs to be documented. This will help you know what you’re doing (your tactics), why you’re doing it (your strategy), and who you’re doing it for (your customers).

This guide covers all of this and more, but in order to apply what you’ll learn, you’ll need some basic tools and templates. A key piece in documentation is, well, actual documents. One of the biggest inhibitors to documenting strategy — beyond the practical knowledge required — is a lack of time.

So, to make this work easier, this guide includes the following resources:

  • A holistic and overarching marketing strategy template: One Word doc to rule them all. This is where you can keep your entire strategy documented in one place. It’s visually bare-bones, but it can easily be styled to fit your branding.
  • A marketing strategy presentation template: This PowerPoint template is useful for presenting your strategy to key stakeholders.
  • Individual templates for executing each chapter: Each chapter in this guide features an additional template or other resource to help you apply the advice.
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What We Talk About When We Talk About Strategic Marketing

Let’s establish what we mean when we use the term “marketing strategy”. There are a number of different definitions that often get applied to this seemingly simple term, so it’d be best to clearly delineate how this guide defines the concept.

Marketing strategy describes the process of how businesses and organizations understand their markets and their methods for influencing profitable customer action.

That seems succinct enough, right? In other words and in the interest of keeping things simple, this is all about:

  1. Understanding who buys your products and services.
  2. Understanding how you’ll motivate them to take profitable action.
  3. Understanding your competitors who are trying to do the same thing.
  4. Understanding how you’ll measure marketing activities and refine your approach moving forward.

This, in turn, is essentially a rephrasing of the classic four P’s of marketing: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. According to MBA Skool, these principles collectively compile the “product mix”, which is a “crucial tool in determining a product’s offering to the customer.” As marketers, everything we do starts with understanding this concept.

Marketing Strategy vs. Marketing Tactics: What’s the Difference?

When most people think about marketing, they think about its visible execution they see in their everyday lives. That could include anything from social media ads to billboards to television commercials to blog posts from their favorite brands and more. This is what people commonly think equals strategy: the “stuff” that marketers create, rather than the planning behind it.

That’s fine for folks whose careers don’t hinge on them actually understanding how marketing works. For anyone reading this, knowing the difference between strategy vs. tactics is essential for success. If you want to rely on more than just luck and brute force, you’ll need to understand that your tactics are the execution of your strategy and not the strategy itself.

With that said, executing any type of marketing strategy will entail applying several types of tactics. For a full list of marketing tactics, check out chapter 9.

10 Examples of Different Types of Marketing Strategies

We can get more granular and apply marketing strategies to different types of platforms and channels, if we’d like. Here are some examples of different areas where you might apply strategies to different methods of reaching customers:

  1. Social Media Marketing Strategy: This may encompass both organic and paid social strategies across platforms.
  2. Email Marketing Strategy: Email marketing can quickly become complex. Having a plan is essential.
  3. Inbound Marketing Strategy: This encompasses strategies that pull customers in — rather than using disruptive tactics, such as traditional advertising.
  4. Content Marketing Strategy: Closely associated with inbound marketing but more specifically focused on the creation of content that pulls audiences in.
  5. Editorial Strategy: For brand publishers, an editorial strategy, like what a news or media organization would have, may be essential.
  6. Marketing Communications Strategy: A strategy focused primarily on your brand messaging.
  7. Digital Marketing Strategy: Could encompass all digital marketing (e.g. PPC, SEO, paid and organic social media, email — all things digital).
  8. Internal Marketing Strategy: Large organizations may have internal marketing needs as well, like persuading internal stakeholders to support initiatives or just keeping staff informed and brought into the company’s mission.
  9. Public Relations Strategy: PR strategies can often be complex, and in addition to customers, must consider building relationships with publics and stakeholders, like the media, government decision-makers, and other influential entities and institutions.
  10. SEO Strategy: Organic search is one of the most important traffic drivers for any website or business on the Internet. Success requires, you guessed it, a strategy.

No matter which type of strategy you plan and execute, they all follow the same basic principles:

  • Who are you trying to reach? These are your target customers or audiences you need to buy a product, make a donation, persuade to support an idea, or take another action that supports your objectives.
  • Where will you try to reach them? These network and channel-specific strategies put an emphasis on this area.
  • How will you inspire them to take action and buy from you? Your branding, channels, and tactics come into play here.
  • Which ways will you measure success? If you can’t measure it, then it didn’t happen. You must prove your strategy drives results.

If you understand how strategy works on a fundamental level, you can apply that knowledge broadly — no matter how trends or platforms change.

Marketing Strategy in Real Life: 3 Examples From Brands You Know

Your favorite companies didn’t get where they are by accident (not usually, anyway). Even if they didn’t know exactly what they were doing at first, they typically would have had some understanding of what problems they were trying to solve, how they could do it differently than existing products and services on the market, and what it might take to capture people’s attention — ultimately, earning their business and making money.

In other words, they had a strategy. It might not have been perfect right away, but they were thoughtful about what they were doing, and the best brands never stop iterating on the initial vision that got them to where they are today.

Take a look at three different brands and how their approach drove their success — all of which understood their customer’s actual needs, their products’ place in the market, and how to meet those needs in ways their competition hadn’t considered.

Nike: Selling Ideas Before Products

If you want to sell a product, it has to match a need. If people have a need they didn’t know they had, then you have to sell them on ideas before you can sell them your products.

That’s what Nike did. After revolutionizing running shoes by putting one on a waffle iron to give it a gripping surface, they got more people into running by promoting jogging as a good way to get in shape. If people were then sold on the idea of jogging, then naturally they’d need to buy shoes.

Nike not only sold the shoes, they also provided the educational content they needed to get the most from their hobby — creating a self-powering cycle that drove incredible sales growth and built trust with their customers.

This is the underlying principle that makes content marketing work, and while they weren’t the first to do it (John Deere’s magazine, The Furrow, is typically cited as one of the first examples of what modern content marketing would look like, all the way back in 1895), but they remain one of the most powerful examples of what content marketing can achieve. In conjunction with world-class advertising, they grew into one of the world’s most visible brands.

Red Bull: Selling an Identity Before Selling a Product

Ever wonder how Red Bull, a globally-renowned energy drink brand, became synonymous with extreme sports? They had a plan for that, and while you may not have the resources to match it right away, anyone can start implementing the basic ideas that make it work.

Here’s how their strategy breaks down in three, extremely condensed bullet points:

  1. They create the kind of content their target audience enjoys: This does’t mean content about their drinks; it’s content that matches the publishers their audience consumes — where they can passively feature their branding and products.
  2. Putting the product second: By making their product an accessory to their customer’s lifestyle, they easily become part of their customer’s lives and routines.
  3. Consistency: Red Bull is recognizable everywhere. Not only do they earn your attention, but they keep your attention for the long haul.

Everything you see from Red Bull — from sponsorships to videos to their magazine — follows this strategy. It’s safe to say the results speak for themselves.

Starbucks: Selling a Lifestyle Before Selling a Product

With 60 million people around the world visiting their shops every week, odds are you might have a Starbucks coffee on your desk right now. You might even be sitting in a Starbucks right now. Although, this is being written in the midst of the pandemic, so… maybe not exactly right now.

Coffee is part of many working people’s routine, and the Seattle-based coffee chain understood long ago that people don’t just want coffee for its taste or functional benefits, but the coffee experience. People also like familiarity, and when people are traveling around the world on business, seeing the siren of the Starbucks logo is a welcoming sight.

By creating an experience that met their needs for meeting space, working space, a destination to hang out with friends, etc., that became part of their routine. They were able to not only sell coffee, but become part of their customers’ lifestyle and sell more coffee by extension.

Still Not Convinced You Should Care? Consider These Benefits.

You might be thinking your company isn’t a global powerhouse. You might not even aspire to achieve that kind of growth, and, realistically, most companies won’t or don’t need to join the Fortune 500 — though even the world’s biggest brands still need to pay attention to strategy, too.

That doesn’t mean focusing on strategy and making a real investment in it isn’t for you. If you have customers to serve, then you need to think strategically so your execution — you know, all the fun creative parts that attract so many of us to this work in the first place — actually moves the people it needs to and drives the results you need.

Here are two key statistics that help make this case.

Marketers Who Document Their Strategy Are More Likely to Reach Their Goals

“You need a documented strategy” is an old chestnut that has been repeated around the marketing industry for decades. It turns out that there’s a good reason for this, and it’s not just a commonly accepted best practice that we all do without actually knowing why.

In fact, research from CoSchedule in 2019 showed that marketers who document strategy are 313% more likely to say their work is effective.

Only 41% of Marketers Had a Documented Content Strategy in 2020

That’s according to research published by Ann Handly in conjunction with the folks at Content Marketing Institute. What does that mean for you? There’s tons of opportunity to do what your competition probably isn’t doing.

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Want to Stand Out? Strategize to Do What Others Won’t

If we put these two statistics together, we can loosely draw a few different conclusions:

  • Documenting strategy matters: It’s not a pointless exercise — especially if you do it effectively.
  • Most aren’t doing this though: Which means more opportunity for you.
  • Success requires follow-through: The door is wide open for those willing to walk through it.

You’ve got the what and the why behind strategy, now here’s what you’ll learn in this guide to actually get down to work and start making things happen.

Write it Right: Make Documenting Your Strategy Easy

Technically there isn’t just one “correct” way to plan and write a strategy, but what’s outlined in this guide is an effective and easy-to-follow method. Plus, with the templates included in this guide, you don’t have to spend much time creating files. Instead, you can focus on doing the job.

Chapter 1: Understanding the Competition With a SWOT Analysis

Before you can do successful marketing, you need to have an understanding of your market. That sounds obvious enough, right? Start by identifying the following four things:

  • Strengths: What does your product or service do best?
  • Weaknesses: Where is your product or service vulnerable to competition?
  • Opportunities: How can your company improve?
  • Threats: Are there any external factors that could negatively impact your success (e.g. shifting market trends, murky economic forecasts, increased competition, diminishing demand, etc.)?

Here is an example of what this might look like when plotted out on a matrix:

This is an age-old and time-tested framework that you can apply in two ways:

  • Your marketing strategy: Is there anything with the execution of your marketing right now that your competition is doing better or where you could improve?
  • Your business as a whole: Really, your marketing should reflect this. Start by understanding your business, then focus on doing your work.

Chapter 2: Getting to Know Your Audience and Customer Base

Businesses exist to fulfill the needs of customers. Again, this seems simple, but it’s important not to overlook audience and customer research. Everything you do as a marketer should be in service to the people who pay you money.

Understanding your customer base isn’t a one-and-done task. It should be treated like an evolving process of gaining increasingly more useful insight over time, so you can best position what you’re selling as the solution they need — instead of choosing a competitor. The better you can do this, the easier the rest of your job will be.

You can get started in two phases:

  • Doing your research: This could include running customer surveys, talking to your customer support team, and analyzing website data to understand the interests of your visitors.
  • Building buyer personas: These are essentially character descriptions of either an average or ideal customer.

Each of these phases can get complex — especially in large organizations or businesses with a massive customer base. — but getting started can be simple. This chapter will show you how.

Chapter 3: Know Who You’re Up Against With a Competitive Analysis

When your competition zigs, it’s time for you to zag. Wonder what that means exactly? If others are doing one thing, it’s an opportunity for you to stand out by doing something different.

You can understand what that difference should look like by better understanding your competition’s approach to marketing. Fortunately, there are tons of ways to gather that data without needing a massive budget or resorting to corporate espionage. Please do not do this.

Using a few simple tactics, you can:

  • Know who you’re up against: Identify competitors in your market.
  • Learn their strengths and weaknesses: What are they doing better than you right now, where can you improve, and which weaknesses can you capitalize on?
  • Better plan and execute your marketing strategy: When you understand your competitive landscape, you can more easily identify what naturally makes you different and communicate that message to your potential customers.

Chapter 4: Getting Your Finances in Order With a Marketing Budget

Since you have to spend money to make money, executing your marketing strategy will prove difficult if you don’t have your budget in order. You need to know how much money you have available to spend and how much money is getting spent where in order to both A) make things happen and B) know how much return you’re getting on each marketing dollar spent.

Otherwise, you might be looking forward to a very difficult conversation at the end of the year with your boss or clients when they ask where all that cash is going. Even if you’re not a math whiz, managing a marketing budget doesn’t have to be difficult. This chapter breaks down several simple methods you can use.

Chapter 5: All About Branding, Voice, and Tone

Every brand has a voice, and it impacts how everything you do is perceived by potential customers. You need to have a distinct identity and tone to cut through the noise and actually reach the people whose problems your products can solve.

Documenting the parameters of your brand voice includes determining everything from what types of emotional sentiment your marketing collateral and content should express to which types of verbiage you use and more. A written brand voice guide makes following those guidelines easy, so you can hand a document to any content creator on your team and ensure your voice remains consistent across everything you ship and publish.

Chapter 6: Become an Expert on the Marketing Funnel

The marketing funnel is a simple concept, but it’s an important one to understand. Even if you think you understand it, it’s likely worth getting a refresher. Essentially, it illustrates the different stages customers go through when making a purchase — from identifying a problem in need of a solution, all the way down to actually making a transaction.

Here is a basic illustration:

Each of these stages could alternately be labelled:

  • Top of funnel (TOFU): These customers are just gaining awareness of different products in a market.
  • Middle of funnel (MOFU): These customers are beginning to seriously research different options.
  • Bottom of funnel (BOFU): These customers are ready to make a purchase — whether they buy from you or someone else.

Some funnel models use slightly different terminology or may add more stages — usually no more than seven. Your marketing strategy needs to ensure you have messaging and content ready to meet the needs of customers at each stage; maybe even after they’ve made a purchase to help foster brand loyalty. Get the lowdown in this chapter.

Chapter 7: Setting Marketing Goals

Success must be measured relative to what you want to achieve. That’s why everything with marketing starts with goals. Without them, you have nothing to show your organization that proves you’re meaningfully moving the needle in a way that drives actual business growth.

These goals should follow the SMART framework, which you’ve likely heard about before because it works.

  • Specific: Goals should be tied to hard numbers.
  • Measurable: They should be possible to track and quantify with data.
  • Achievable: They should also be within reach.
  • Relevant: While being meaningful to your business.
  • Time-Bound: They should have a deadline.

Those goals can be put into two buckets:

  • Business goals: What the organization, as a whole, wants to achieve.
  • Marketing goals: Objectives that marketing can influence and drive those organizational objectives.

Chapter 8: Selecting the Best Marketing Channels to Meet Your Customers Where They Are

Potential customers need to see the right messages, in the right places, and at the right times as they work their way through their purchasing decisions. Part of executing this effectively starts with ensuring you’re doing marketing on the right channels.

With so many new platforms emerging all the time, this can be a challenge, and one that requires ongoing testing and research. For most companies, here are the most important channels for businesses executing a modern marketing strategy:

  1. Your website and blog: This is your brand’s home on the Internet. It’s where sales happen and what your other digital tactics will likely revolve around.
  2. SEO: 3.5 billion searches get made on Google per day. This is a crucial and highly competitive means of driving commercial web traffic.
  3. Email marketing: Email drives an ROI somewhere between 3,800% and 4,440% — depending on which source you’re reading, but when numbers are in that range, it’s good enough just to know that its ROI is extremely high.
  4. Organic and paid social media marketing: Even if changing algorithms and ongoing controversies with social networks, they remain important marketing platforms.
  5. YouTube: It’s considered the world’s second-largest search engine, and it’s responsible for more than a third of all the web’s traffic.
  6. PPC: While organic search traffic is important, paid search traffic on Google is 50% more likely to convert.

Chapter 9: Getting Your Hands Dirty With the Most Effective Marketing Tactics

Tactics represent the execution of strategy. They’re the actual projects you ship that will help you achieve your marketing goals, grow your business, and be the best marketer you know you can be.

There will always be more things you could do than what you actually have the time and resources to create, so you’ll need a process for determining which tactics might be best for your business to make the most potential impact in your specific situation.

Here are some examples of effective marketing tactics:

  • Publishing keyword-optimized landing pages
  • Promoting new products with YouTube videos
  • Reaching out to Instagram influencers to feature your products
  • Creating an email newsletter that promotes your newest content
  • Building an online community with a LinkedIn group
  • Launching a television ad
  • Running a PPC campaign

Those are some very basic examples, but you can find a lot more in this chapter.

Chapter 10: Selecting Your Metrics and KPIs

You have goals your team needs to meet, you know the channels where your brand will be active, and you know the tactics you’ll execute. Now, you need to know which metrics you’ll monitor to track the performance of your tactics across channels as you progress toward your goal.

The metrics and KPIs (key performance indicators) — your absolute most important metrics that are the closest to driving revenue on a given channel — you select will depend on your channels and tactics. This chapter will give you some examples and the process to follow to make those determinations.

Chapter 11: Visualizing and Organizing Your Strategy With a Marketing Calendar

In order to keep your marketing strategy organized and execute it effectively, you’ll need a marketing calendar and some type of marketing work management software. CoSchedule offers this functionality with our Marketing Suite.

Even if you don’t use purpose-built software for managing a calendar, workflows, and deadlines, this chapter will show you how to get these tasks done and ensure the planning and execution of your strategy is successful.

Chapter 12: Developing Processes for Marketing Execution

The best marketing teams have a way to get things done. When you have repeatable processes and workflows in place for executing projects, you can increase the quality, consistency, and efficiency of your output. That means your marketing strategy will be more effective and all the hard work you’ve put in up to this point will not be a waste.

Now, It’s Time to Get Down to Work

When you’re ready to dive deep into each area of planning your strategy, move on through the rest of the chapters in this guide. There is a lot to take in and implementing each piece may take some time. That’s okay. Strategy should be treated like an on-going process of planning and refinement, rather than a one-off task that is quickly forgotten.

Best of luck on your marketing journey. You’ve got this.

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