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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.
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:
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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:
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.
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.
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:
No matter which type of strategy you plan and execute, they all follow the same basic principles:
If you understand how strategy works on a fundamental level, you can apply that knowledge broadly — no matter how trends or platforms change.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
If we put these two statistics together, we can loosely draw a few different conclusions:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Those goals can be put into two buckets:
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:
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:
Those are some very basic examples, but you can find a lot more in this chapter.
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.
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.
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.
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.