Creating a marketing plan is not easy. But, building an effective strategic marketing plan is even harder. It’s common for many marketers to think of their quarterly or yearly plan as a mere collection of activities, most of which carry over from previous periods. Many fail to consider the important context needed and only focus on tactics - this is not a strategic approach and seldom leads to great results.
In a recent post called "Marketing Plans – 5 Steps to Better Planning and Execution," we suggested a strategic planning framework to help organize your thoughts. Here we will focus on mapping out some key essential inputs to use when developing a strategic marketing plan. Ideally, this background information forms the underlying guideposts that shape your strategy and directly link to selecting an optimal mix of activities and messaging.
What are Essential Inputs?
At a high level, the essential inputs are a collection of your historical marketing results, what you do, what makes you different, your market segmentation, the competition, and how you are positioned in the marketplace. Regardless of industry, these inputs are quite universal and will be broken down in more detail below. This is not an all-inclusive list, but covers the most important elements.
If you have been in business a while, you likely have most of the essential inputs figured out. However, it’s surprising how many companies don’t have them documented, readily available, and current. If creating a marketing plan for the first time, you really can’t begin without them. It’s a good idea to create a “Marketing Playbook” document, so the information is all in one place. Also, be sure to review and validate them before starting any plan in the future.
#1 Historical Results
- This first essential input is actually more of a process, and a critical one that is often ignored. Take time to analyze your previous marketing results and metrics to understand what they mean and how you can improve.
- The help point out gaps in your marketing program, weak messaging, or ineffective call-to-actions. The data may suggest you stop doing things that aren’t working and start doing more of the activities that are having an impact.
- Having a good handle on where you have been, should also help you think more creatively about marketing ideas you haven't tried that might work well.
#2 Product Definitions
- To build a strategic marketing plan, you should start with a fresh look at what you sell, which of course is why you’re in business in the first place. Revisit the products and services you want to focus on – are they clearly defined? Have they changed, or improved since your last plan?
- Make sure the product documents, collateral, and digital content you will use in your campaigns and selling efforts are up-to-date and clearly articulated.
- Ensure that anything describing your offering promotes positive outcomes and value – not just features. Keep it customer-focused.
#3 Value Proposition
- If you don’t have a formal Value Proposition or Unique Selling Proposition (USP) for your company, create one! If you have one already, pull it out and make sure it’s still relevant.
- A Value Proposition is basically a definition of what your company does, for whom, and how it’s different - preferably better than alternatives available in your respective markets.
- Your Value Proposition should always be on your mind when building the key themes and messaging you will use to communicate with your prospects and customers.
#4 Market Segmentation
- One of the most crucial and fundamental elements of any strategic marketing plan is having a clear understanding of your market as a whole and the well-defined sub-segments within it.
- Segmentation will vary depending on your industry but for most B2B companies, it makes sense to group target accounts by attributes such as industry, geographic location, company size, key buyers, the buying process, and the problems you help them solve. See our article "Market Segmentation: Starting Point of Effective B2B Marketing."
- With B2C and Direct-to-Consumer marketing, segmentation is more personal and typically based on geographic, demographic (i.e. age, gender, occupation) psychographic (i.e lifestyle, values, personality) and behavioral factors.
- When you tightly define your segments, the messages you create will be more relevant, which greatly increases your chances of getting noticed and generating leads.
#5 Competitive Landscape
- Besides macro factors such as the economy, regulatory constraints, or market saturation, the strongest external force working against you is the competition.
- You need to know who they are at all times within your segments. You also need to understand their strengths, weaknesses, and how to position against them to win.
- Make a point of regularly conducting win-loss analyses to learn how you can compete more effectively.
#6 Themes and Messaging
- With the information gathered and analyzed during the first four inputs, you are now ready to build the distinct themes and messages for the segments you want to pursue.
- Take time to be creative and get outside help if you need it. Your messaging needs to break through the clutter and be compelling enough to create interest and opportunities.
- If your company has core values that form important points of your differentiation, be sure to weave those in as well.
- Use your messaging clearly and consistently throughout your marketing communications.
A Strategic Marketing Plan is Worth the Effort!
If you think this exercise is a lot of work – you are absolutely right. But building a strategic marketing plan and executing it takes, time and energy and comes at a price. When you do your “homework” upfront and have a strong foundation to draw upon, you significantly improve your probability of success!
Please share any ideas or thoughts you may have on this topic and contact us if we can assist in any way. To get notified when new articles are published, please hit the button!
Randy Fougere, President, Think2Grow Marketing
With a passion for building brand awareness and lead generation, I started Think2Grow for B2B clients looking to accelerate growth through better marketing strategy and execution - something I have been doing for more than 30 years now.