Marketing has one job—to generate value through attracting qualified leads that sales can convert into customers. There are about a million different things surrounding that one goal, but at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

Too often we get so bogged down in the tactics that we forget to create a framework to allow for smart decision-making and swift implementation once the strategy is defined. So how does a marketing professional or business owner go about putting together a marketing strategy?

Well, the first and most important thing you absolutely have to have locked down is your brand. If you haven’t already done this, you need to examine and lock in all the parts of your brand: especially your “why” and beyond that, your core values that you live by. If that isn’t solid and supported, even the best strategy won’t get you to where you want to go.

But once you’re certain you have that all sorted out, you’re ready to start getting into the strategy that will guide your marketing team through the coming year. Consider beginning by answering these eight questions.

1. What business objectives does the marketing strategy need to support?

It seems simple enough, but it’s often overlooked. Define the end game. Marketing moves businesses towards a different place than it sits today. To a larger market, to serve more customers, selling more products, delivering additional services. If the business has not defined what they’re trying to sell and to whom, the marketing strategy has no chance of being successful.

Begin by clearly defining your business objectives in a quantifiable manner.

Here are some examples:

  • Increase revenue from $100M to $150M
  • Maintain profit margin of 12%
  • Complete 200 new installations of our software

2. What metrics determine success/ failure?

Before you begin, ask yourself (or your department): how are we going to determine if what we’ve done (or will be doing) has been successful? And then make sure you have the tools in place to actually report on that information.

For example, if success is defined as the number of new customers generated from our email marketing program, and yet there is no CRM, no process for documenting the origin of a lead, and no appetite for segmenting lists and creating content…then you are never going to be able to answer this question.

Before executing, determine the scorecard. It’s very difficult to measure progress if you haven’t set up the system ahead of time to include measurement. There are so many tools available to marketers today where measurement is possible at nearly every turn. The old adage of “50% of my marketing works, and 50% doesn’t—I just can’t tell one from the other” doesn’t apply anymore.

Invest in your measurement tools so you can be smart about your marketing strategy as you begin to implement it.

3. How much should I spend?

We’ve been asked this question a million times. Business owners and marketers alike get too paralyzed about finding the perfect number—and end up spending nothing at all. Or, worse yet, they spend randomly and nothing is integrated enough to have any real impact.

The short answer is: spend what makes sense for your business. How do you figure that out?

  • 10-15% of your overall budget should be spent on planning and measurement tools
  • Include the cost of utilizing internal resources for things like content creation, list segmentation, and customer feedback—and budget for it accordingly.
  • Figure out how much of your company’s current profits you can comfortably invest back in the business to support future growth. It makes no sense to go out of business trying to fund your marketing effort.

4. What marketing strategies and tactics have been used in the past?

Before you make any decisions about what you’re going to do next, it’s a good idea to take a look at what you’ve already done. If you have the time and the ability to do a full creative audit, that’s your best possible option. It will give you total visibility into everything that your business has done to date, showing you the big picture in terms of your marketing.

If you have performance data—for example, if you’re equipped with in-depth reporting dashboards—add that to the stew as well. You’ll be able to see not only what you’ve done, but what worked for you and what didn’t. Learn from your mistakes, and try to replicate your successes as best you can. The more information you can synthesize before you start making new decisions, the better informed you’ll be and the smarter your decisions will be.

5. What does your competitive landscape look like?

We just got done saying that knowing what works and what doesn’t is an important piece of the puzzle when you’re building a new marketing strategy. It seems like common sense to say that if you’re going to devote time to examining your own past marketing work, you should do the same with the businesses you’re competing with for sales and attention.

Take some time to identify your competitors in the space you’re selling in. This will include local and national businesses, depending on your industry. But you need to know how the others who do what you do are representing themselves in your space.

Not only that, but you’re probably competing against businesses—and other factors—that might not occur to you without doing a little research. One way to put it is that you’re competing against more than simply your competitors. You’re competing against the ever-shorter attention span of your audience. You’re competing against businesses that exist at the fringes of your space, the ones that aren’t offering quite what you are but might have something that does the same job or makes your offering obsolete. Heck, in the digital space you’re even competing with businesses and products that have the same name as yours, whether they’re in your industry or not.

Once you know who your competition is, you’ll need to audit their marketing the same way you did with your own. Look at what they’re doing and how it compares with what you’ve done, and when possible also take a look at online engagement metrics for your competitors’ websites and digital content. See what’s working for them and what isn’t, just like you did with your own content.

6. What positioning and messaging will work for your audience?

Before you start producing content, you need to know who you’ll be talking to and how you should talk to them. That doesn’t mean guesswork or assumptions—it means doing the research legwork to identify your audience and determine what messaging and positioning will be most effective for them.

One way to do this is to examine the data you are hopefully already collecting from your website. You can learn a lot about who you’re selling to based on looking at who’s searching for you and visiting your website, and by examining what they’re doing once they arrive. Build customer personas based on that and any other market research you have access to or have done yourself.

Once you have that information, it should be pretty clear what needs to be said and to whom. It is critical, though, that however you curate your content in order to appeal to your audience, it’s still you. It needs to match your brand and your organization’s voice, and it needs to be true to who you are. If you’re struggling at that, maybe you should evaluate how healthy your brand really is—or even re-examine who you and your organization really are.

7. What resources (people) are available to assist in implementing?

Take an inventory of people inside and outside your organization who can assist with implementing your plan. Allow your resource availability to guide your strategic marketing plan. There is no sense in creating a strategy you don’t have the financial or human capital to execute on.

Get creative. Outside of company staff, think about bringing in the expertise of industry thought leaders, key partners, vendors, clients, and interns. How can you leverage all of these individual contributions to support mutual goals?

The primary reason great ideas and strategic plans go unexecuted is because no one thought through who was going to do the work. Seems simple enough, right?

8. Who is going to make the decisions once we begin implementation?

Marketing is as much about momentum as it is about consistent execution. If there is not a clear decision-making process set up in advance of the “creating stuff” part of marketing, your best work and greatest ideas will get caught up in an internal mess of non-responsiveness and/or “I have an idea/ opinion.” Make one person who is trusted centrally responsible for approving all creative and content. The more complex this process is, the smaller the chances are that you will have a successful strategic marketing effort.

Build your foundation for the next year

Tactics alone won’t take you where you want to go. Creating your overall marketing strategy is one of the most important jobs you’ll do in preparation for the coming year—and if you don’t tackle these eight tasks before getting started, your foundation is likely to be faulty.

Happy planning.

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Tiffany Sauder

Coming from a family whose father never worked for another person his whole life, entrepreneurship ran high in Tiffany Sauder’s household. When the opportunity to take over a small Indianapolis marketing firm was presented to her, she leaped at the chance and has been expanding it ever since. For Tiffany, business is built to grow people – not the other way around – and Element Three exists to fulfill that vision. And as clients and employees grow, so does Element Three itself.