How to develop a marketing strategy for your business?
MARKETING IS A PROCESS
Everything your business does can be considered a form of marketing for it will influence customers’ decisions whether or not to buy your products and services. Marketing is the way you communicate with customers, the values your business promotes, its visual identity such as logo or packaging, product quality, advertising campaigns, and much more. It’s a never-ending process which, in order to produce the desired results, must be data driven and built around your customers.
The key to success in marketing is planning and consistency. This is achieved by developing a marketing strategy, which refers to your overall plan for attracting and keeping customers. As soon as you start creating your products and services, you must start planning how to sell them.
The best marketing strategies combine paid and unpaid forms of marketing such as website, content and email marketing, social media, public relations, paid advertisements, printed materials, partnerships, events, etc. It helps you plan and harmonise different marketing activities, and avoid contradictions in messages sent to customers.
Businesses who only rely on ad hoc marketing activities may occasionally achieve some success but can rarely repeat it. The goal of this guide is to give you a clear process to follow and develop a marketing strategy that delivers a consistent stream of sales and enables your business to grow.
HOW TO DEVELOP A MARKETING STRATEGY?
Marketing strategy development process starts with determining your marketing goals and researching target customers and competitors. The information collected about your customers and competitors is then used to develop a winning value proposition, which is at the centre of your marketing strategy. This is followed by breaking down the customer acquisition process and brainstorming possible marketing tactics for each stage. After you´ve developed your marketing strategy, you can start implementing it by creating a marketing plan for the coming period. We recommend using this guide with our marketing strategy template.
STEP 1: Determine your long-term goals
Write down your company´s vision, mission, core values and long-term goals, and decide what brand image you want to create for your business. These are the goals you´ll be working towards as long as your business exists, or at least until you rebrand it or change its strategic mission. Their purpose is to give your business a direction in which to develop, help you harmonise and coordinate all short-term plans and ensure your employees work towards the same goals.
Set ambitious long-term goals, even if they seem unattainable now. The higher your goals, the more you´ll achieve in the long run. It´s a good practice to have the mission on a wall in your office or the common areas where all employees can see them.
The following three steps are market research. If you´ve already conducted market research using our free guide How to conduct market research for your business?, go straight to step 5 and start working on your value proposition.
STEP 2: Assess your current situation
Conduct a SWOT analysis to identify your company´s strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities and threats that exist in the external environment. The purpose of this analysis is to help you understand what you do well, where you must improve, and how you could capitalise on the opportunities and avoid the threats. Some of the best data sources for researching your external business environment are:
- Industry and market reports published by consulting firms such as KPMG, Deloitte, PWC and Ernst & Young. They are free and can be downloaded from their websites.
- Libraries often subscribe to a number of market research services and databases, which members can access for free. Some of the best UK libraries offering business resources are City Business Library, British Library and LSE Library.
- Industry associations. Joining the industry association is a great way to keep up to date with the latest developments in your industry. You can subscribe to their magazine or newsletter, attend the events and trade shows they organise, etc.
- International organisations and databases such as World Bank, International Monetary Fund, United Nations, Eurostat, etc.
To help you get started, there are a few examples of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in our marketing strategy template, “swot” tab. If you have employees, get them involved in this process as well.
After you`ve researched your internal and external environment, identify the areas with potentially high gains or losses. These areas should be your priorities, to seize the opportunities or take action to protect your business from losses.
STEP 3: Research your customers
Your target customers should be people who are experiencing the problem your product or service can solve, and who are ready and able to buy it. Depending on the products and services you sell, create one or more customer profiles (also known as buyer personas) that include information such as their location, age, income, occupation, basic needs, challenges, interests, hobbies, media they consume, places they visit, etc.
Use our market research template, “customers” tab, to create your customer profiles. When creating customer profiles, never rely on personal assumptions because they often prove to be wrong. Instead, research your target customers using both primary and secondary research techniques.
Secondary research includes the data sources mentioned in the previous step, consumer research companies such as Nielsen, Kantar, Ipsos and GfK, newspaper articles, online forums, Facebook groups, other social media conversations related to your industry, your competitors’ customer reviews, etc.
Primary research techniques are based on collecting information directly from customers through surveys, interviews, feedback forms, service provision, product prototype testing, free samples, etc. This is the best way to get to know your target customers, find out how they use the products you sell, learn about their needs, challenges, etc.
If your new business or new product within the existing business requires a large financial investment, primary research is a must or you risk developing products no one will want to buy. This is not really necessary for the services businesses that require very little investment for they can easily adapt their offering to the customers` needs as they go.
At the end of this step you should know who your customers are, what products and services they need, and the best marketing channels to reach them. You need this information to calculate the market size (and decide if it´s worth investing in) and plan your marketing activities.
If you´re not sure how to calculated TAM (total addressable market), SAM (serviceable addressable market) and SOM (share of market) for your business, see our free guide How to conduct market research for your business?
STEP 4: Research your competitors
To successfully position your business in the market, you must know who your competitors are, what they offer to customers and their strengths and weaknesses. The goal is to identify your competitors’ weak points and what they are not doing well, their common struggles, marketing strategies, current trends among the competition, etc.
This information will help you create a value proposition that will differentiate your business from the competition and show to customers how your products and services are different and provide a better value.
If you have many competitors, you can group them by product or location and create profiles for the groups rather than individual companies. Use our marketing strategy template, “competitors“ tab, to analyse your competitor data.
STEP 5: Create a value proposition
A value proposition is at the heart of your marketing strategy. It´s how you present the benefits of your products and services to attract customers. The best value propositions are:
- Easy to understand,
- Focused on solving customers´ problem.
A strong value proposition increase conversion rates and sales. To create a unique value proposition for your business, follow these steps:
- Analyse your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to identify market segment(s) with potentially high gains where you´re the most likely to succeed
- Describe the customers´ problem your product or service solves
- Describe the value that product or service provides to customers (e.g., money savings)
- List the main features and benefits of your product or service
- List the main features and benefits of the competitors´ products or services.
- Differentiate your product or service from the competition (make it unique and better)
- Write your value proposition so it links the customers´ problem, value your product creates for customer, main benefits of your product and key differentiators.
For example, Skype´s value proposition for their in-browser service is: “Meet now on Skype. Host a video meeting in one click. No sign ups. No downloads required.”
In the market strategy template, “value proposition” tab, you´ll find more tips for writing a unique value proposition for your business.
STEP 6: Understand the customer acquisition process
Marketing is a process of acquiring and retaining target customers using your value proposition. To be able to successfully manage that process, you first have to understand it. Here is a generic example of a customer acquisition process that you can use as a starting point to create your own:
- Brand awareness – Contact cold prospects who have never heard of your brand before. Your goal could be to get them click on your ad, visit your website, enter your store/cafe, etc.
- Interest – Talk to warm prospects, e.g., those who clicked on your ad, accepted a flyer, entered your store, etc. Most of them won´t make a purchase at that point but instead of losing them forever, offer something that will keep them close to or remind them of your brand (e.g., ask them to follow you on Facebook, sign up to your newsletter to receive special offers or vouchers, offer your product catalogue, invite them to enter a competition, give them a free gift, etc.).
- Engagement – Maintain contact with prospects who accepted your invitation to connect with your business and keep them engaged until they´re ready to buy from you. (e.g., engage them in a conversation with your brand and other followers, organise giveaways, provide interesting and useful content in social media or website, etc.)
- Sale – Have a great value proposition and create urgency (e.g., offer discounts, make products/services available for a limited time only, use visual effects to create a desire to have the product/service now, etc.)
- Repeat purchase or referral – Have a customer retention plan (e.g., keep improving product/service quality, develop new products, create loyalty programmes, offer incentives for referrals, etc.)
A good marketing strategy targets prospects at all stages of the customer acquisition process. For example, you can use paid advertising, flyers or an A-board for reaching cold prospects, email marketing to stay in touch with warm prospects, and initiate face-to-face contact with the hottest prospects by organising exclusive events. Use your market research data, be creative and experiment with different marketing channels until you develop a process that works for your business and delivers consistent results.
STEP 7: Develop a marketing plan
The marketing strategy is implemented through a series of marketing plans. A marketing plan outlines your marketing goals for the coming period (3, 6 or 12 months) and typically includes these elements:
- marketing goals for the coming period
- planed marketing activities with budgets
- key performance indicators to be tracked
- the targets to be achieved.
When setting your short-term marketing goals, make sure they´re aligned with your long-term goals and the brand image you want to create for your business. In our marketing strategy template, you´ll find an example of a simple marketing plan.
The most important elements of your marketing plan are the key performance indicators (KPIs). Their purpose is to measure the results of your marketing activities (e.g., number of likes, shares, product orders, subscribers, etc.). Analyse the results monthly and use them to improve your marketing process (repeat what worked, avoid the same mistakes, etc.). Avoid investing in marketing activities which effectiveness you can´t measure.
Your value proposition and the customer acquisition process are the most important elements of your marketing strategy and you should never stop improving them. Keep up to date with the latest market developments and experiment with different marketing techniques to ensure your value proposition and the customer acquisition process stay attractive to the target customers.
As for the marketing budget, established businesses typically have it set at 5-10% of monthly sales revenue but this approach often doesn´t work for startups. Instead of allocating a fixed amount or percentage of revenue, set your marketing budget based on the available funds and avoid expensive forms of marketing until you´re able to afford them.
We hope this guide helps you develop an effective marketing strategy for your business. In case you need further assistance, visit our marketing strategy services page or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.