Before we dive into how to create a marketing strategy, it’s useful to define what a marketing strategy is. A working definition of strategy is a plan to achieve long-term goals. Not to be confused with marketing tactics, which more specifically outline how a strategy will be fulfilled. In a business where a business objective is increased revenue, one of the marketing strategies might be to increase the number of qualified leads each month from an identified high-value segment. The tactics might then be to implement a lead scoring mechanism, and a detailed plan for 1 to 1 account-based marketing. Overall, it’s about determining how your business can gain a competitive advantage.
A strategy is also as much about deciding what you’re NOT going to do as much as it’s about formulating a plan for what you are going to do. Very few (if any) brands have the near-unlimited resources to enact every possible marketing initiative, whether that’s due to budget, team, logistics, or technology. This is where prioritisation and selection come in. Think about impact on your business, and suitability for your audience(s) when determining your marketing strategy and tactical activity. If you’re an ecommerce fashion brand for 16-25 year olds, then creating a suite of whitepapers is unlikely to move the needle in terms of sales.
There’s no one-size-fits-all template for strategy, even down to what format one should use, and what one looks like. Spreadsheets, word documents, or slides are popular delivery methods, or even less linear presentation formats. Similarly, strategy comes in levels; what is required and possible for a huge, long-established, multi-divisional mega-brand like Coca Cola differs massively from what a local florist would need to consider.
Data availability, both of data points and historical trends, play a factor here, along with suitability of application. Does the local florist need extensive market research studies to realise marginal gains? Probably not. But there are some commonalities in any marketing strategy, which we’ve explored in this piece.
What does the business want to achieve?
First, understand what the business objectives are for 2023 – what does your marketing strategy need to achieve for your business? Any marketing strategy should be derived from business objectives, and should seek to achieve them through marketing activity. Otherwise, the marketing team will be working at odds with the rest of the business.
Whilst ‘long term’ is almost always associated with strategy, ensure consideration of short-term tactical sales activation requirements alongside longer-term strategic marketing initiatives, some of which may progress beyond 12 months. It would be idealistic to think that marketers can spend months purely focusing on honing their brand positioning and carefully compiling a strategy; there will be expectations to balance planning for the future with delivering in the here and now.
The business objectives might be increasing profitability, launching a new product line, or improving customer retention. The great thing about marketing (and sometimes the most exhausting thing) is that it often plays a part in every conceivable objective a business might have. Depending on the structure of your organisation, and how much of a seat at the table your senior marketing leaders have, part of the marketing strategy may already have been outlined in high-level business plans.
Understanding the current state of play
Now carry out some situational analysis. This is the ‘diagnosis’ step that Mark Ritson frequently refers to. Take stock of where you are and what you have now. Conducting a gap analysis versus the ideal position may be useful – how far off achieving the business objective are we now? How aggressive might a marketing strategy need to be? Without understanding current challenges and opportunities, you can’t devise an onward trajectory. These gaps might include things like:
- Are you getting enough traffic to your website but not converting it?
- Do you need to drive more traffic to your website?
- Do people buy from you once and not return?
It’s worth noting at this point too that just because you’re working on a strategy for 2023, it doesn’t mean it has to be completely different from what you’ve done in 2022; consider what’s worked this year, what hasn’t, what you no longer want to pursue, and what can be iterated and improved.
Data is key here; can you achieve the objectives through existing channels and segments (market penetration, for the Ansoff fans), or do you need to consider new channel launches, or revisit your segmentation, targeting and positioning to find a new audience?
Marketing is far more than just campaigns; also consider the processes you do (or don’t…) have in place; do you need to make time for foundational work this year? For example, do you have a solid value proposition? Brand guidelines? If not, you may want to spend some time on these.
Similarly, consider resources – does your team or department have the necessary talent to fulfil your marketing aspirations? Are there tools or technology which might help do the job more easily? Part of the strategy you present to your Board might involve a business case to recruit a new team member to supplement a skill gap, or alternatively training budget to upskill existing staff.
Nobody operates in a vacuum
All businesses are subject to external influence, whether that’s from new market entrants and competitors, or difficulties in exporting goods. In the digital world, technological advances such as the increased focus from advertising platforms on automation will change the way brands interact with digital advertising. What external factors might you need to consider in 2023? Will rising costs squeezing consumer spending power affect your target segments? Macro economic factors are likely to be an important consideration for many industries in 2023; even if you’re a B2B brand, will your clients’ customers be affected? It may be that your marketing strategy should have more of an overture on in-life customer satisfaction over new customer acquisition.
Although some of the factors above seem negative and insurmountable, this is as much an exercise in opportunity identification as risk mitigation. A new piece of legislation, or a pivot to more online shopping habits might mean a natural increase in demand for your product or service. Seek external enablers – sometimes they might just make your work life a little easier!
Now for competitor research and monitoring. If it’s been a while since you checked on what your competitors are doing, reviewing their activity forms an essential part of devising a strategy for the year ahead. Which channels do they operate on? What is their key messaging? How does their product or service proposition compare to yours?
All of us (whether we’re technically a b2b or b2c customer for a brand) operate within a world of choice; even if you firmly believe your brand offers the best value for a customer, there will likely be a you in every one of your competitors’ marketing teams. Understanding the landscape in which your brand sits is crucial, and as above, can act as a way to identify opportunities you hadn’t previously considered.
Don’t confuse this, however, with racing to imitate everything your competitors do; the eternal cry of marketers of just because they’re doing it doesn’t mean it’s working! is definitely true. The best competitor research pieces take inspiration from a range of competitors and synthesise them into something that resonates with your own brand and audience.
Arriving at your strategy
Through a combination of the above research, knowing what your business needs you to achieve, and defining your segmentation, targeting and positioning, you can determine your 2023 marketing strategy. Through research, you might have found that you have a revenue opportunity in your customer base from customers only purchasing from you once. Therefore, a strategy to increase the lifetime value of a customer would be an appropriate focus. Alternatively, you might not be attracting customers from a particular desired demographic, such as Gen Z. Your product or positioning might need some tweaking to better appeal to this segment.
If you find yourself overrun with ideas for strategies, it might be useful to employ a decision making matrix such as Suitability, Feasibility and Acceptability to whittle them down to the most effective set of strategies. Is the strategy Suitable, i.e does it meet the objective and business requirement? Is it Feasible – does your business have the resources to deploy the strategy? And finally is it Acceptable to all stakeholders within the decision making group?
Now you can set your marketing objectives. Ideally, set SMART objectives to provide maximum clarity for all stakeholders:
SPECIFIC – a vague objective such as ‘grow the business’ is unhelpful and open to interpretation. Be precise.
MEASURABLE – determine how you’ll monitor whether an objective is on track – a quantifiable objective such as an increase in organic website traffic is useful.
ACHIEVABLE – don’t set yourself or your teams up to fail by overreaching. For example, if you’re a start-up in an established industry, it likely won’t be achievable to expect to reach 15% market share in a year. And (as is often the case) if you aren’t setting your own objectives, managing stakeholder expectations now will be far easier than 6 months down the road.
REALISTIC – especially when combined with any other objectives for the year, can you and your team deliver? Consider the resources at your disposal; for example, launching a new campaign every week, with a team of three, may not be a realistic goal when coupled with other role responsibilities.
TIME-BOUND – put a time horizon on your objective. Should it be achieved within the first half of the year? The whole year?
As a rule of thumb, determine three to five marketing objectives. Any more, and you might find yourself spread too thinly to make real progress with any of them.
Once these elements have been determined, you can establish a channel plan and media mix. This process should then be repeated at the channel level, to identify and agree channel-level objectives. Whether these are then fulfilled by a marketing agency, or in-house is an additional factor to consider.
Finally, we live in an ever-changing world, where unforeseen internal and external factors can put paid to even the most meticulously planned-out strategies (let’s not dwell on the constant unprecedented times experienced over the last few years). An agreed direction of travel through a strategy, coupled with intelligent and regular environmental scanning, should support the team in weathering some storms, but keep in mind the need for agility. Identifying when a strategy isn’t working, and being able to adapt accordingly, is an essential component of successful marketing management.