Writing a Marketing Strategy
Your marketing strategy is how you plan to sell your products or services, both now, and in the longer term. It is therefore an important part of business success, because if you do not sell enough of your products to enough customers, you will not make enough money to survive.
It is, of course, not essential to write down your marketing strategy. Many entrepreneurs do not do so, especially in the early days of a start-up. However, writing a marketing strategy can be a helpful way to identify any gaps in your thinking—especially if you use a defined process and tools for doing so.
This page explains one such process, and the aspects you should consider in the process of developing your marketing strategy.
Developing a Marketing Strategy
The first step is to consider what to include in your marketing strategy (see box).
What to Include in Your Marketing Strategy
Broadly speaking, your marketing strategy needs to cover:
- Your business, setting out and describing all your products and services, and your business goals;
- Your market, including how your products and services fit within that market. This has two main elements:
- Your customers, including who they are, and what they need from your products or services;
- Your competition: who else is trying to sell to the same customers, and what they are trying to sell;
- Your resources, or the people and funding that will be used for marketing;
- Your unique selling proposition, or what makes you stand out from the crowd; and
- Your marketing tactics, or how you will reach your customers, and get their attention.
1. Review your business goals
Start by looking back at your business plan. Consider the business goals, because these will drive your marketing. Your marketing strategy needs to be consistent with your overall business strategy.
For example, if your business goal is to expand sales overseas, your marketing strategy needs to explain how you will do this. It is not going to be very useful if your marketing strategy focuses solely on your local market. On the other hand, if you have decided to focus on building your local market first, your marketing strategy should not be all about international reach.
Be clear about your business goals, and set some tentative marketing goals at this stage. However, these may need to be revisited as you develop your marketing strategy.
2. Understand your products and services
Once you have reviewed your broad business goals for the next few years, you can start to think about your products and services.
You need to understand what you are selling. This means knowing what products or services you offer—but also how your customers use those products or services, because this defines your market.
Drills or holes?
Suppose you are a company that makes drills. You therefore obviously also sell drills.
However, do you really sell drills?
Ask yourself: do your customers buy your products because they really want a drill?
Most customers will probably be buying a drill because they want the capacity to make holes.
Some people want that capacity in the longer term, and know that a drill is the best tool for the job. However, others may want it for a one-off situation.
Your market is therefore considerably bigger than simply ‘other manufacturers of drills’. You are also competing against other people who offer the ability to make holes in a one-off situation, such as handyman services.
Think carefully about what your customers are really buying when they buy your product or services. Make sure you have documented this for each product or service.
You may find it helpful to use tools such as the Boston or Ansoff Matrices to explore your product portfolio in more detail.
These tools will also help you to understand possible strategies, and may lead you to revise your tentative marketing goals.
3. Understand your market
The two main elements of your market are your customers and your competition.
Your customers are the people who buy your product, or who might buy your product in future.
You need a very good understanding of your customers, including the different groups or segments who may buy your products. This may require some analysis, and there is more about this in our page on Customer Segmentation.
Your competition are the people and businesses who are competing for your customers’ attention and money.
These may include firms selling similar products or services. You will probably know about these firms, simply because you will be familiar with their products. However, as above, your competition is not just other firms selling similar products. You also need to consider other firms selling similar outcomes for customers.
This means what your customers get from using your products (holes vs. drills, for example).
There are several tools that you can use to help you explore your market. These include PESTLE analysis and Porter’s Five Forces.
Garbage in = garbage out
In any process of strategic planning, you will get better results if you take time to gather good information. Making assumptions, and not checking them carefully against real life, is likely to lead to business failure.
The process of understanding your customers and market is NOT a quick one. It takes time to do this properly.
You may find it helpful to read our page about Gathering Information for Competitive Intelligence.
4. Know your resources
It is essential to understand what resources you will be able to use for marketing. This includes both funding (for example, to pay for advertising, websites, shops or displays), and people. People may be employees of your company, or those outside, such as influencers, agencies and consultants.
Make sure that you have an accurate assessment of resources. Do not make assumptions about this, because it has a huge effect on what you can do.
5. Identify your unique selling proposition (USP)
At this point, you should be able to articulate your unique selling proposition: who you serve, what you provide, and why you are the best option for that.
This will give you a clear focus in terms of your key products or services, your main target customers, and your market. This will allow you to finalise your marketing goals.
6. Decide on your marketing mix
The final step is to decide how you are going to sell to your customers within your intended market.
Many companies use the 7 Ps of the Marketing Mix as a useful framework for this thinking. It is worth testing your ideas with customers and potential customers at this stage, to be certain that they will work.
This part of your marketing strategy sets out your tactics, and gives you the ‘how’ of the strategy. This will become your marketing plan, although this plan may go into more detail.
Outcomes: What Comes Next
The main outcome of your marketing strategy will be a marketing plan, which sets out how you will deliver on your marketing goals.
You should also have a good idea of how you are going to measure the success of your marketing strategy. Your marketing goals will tell you how you are defining success. You can then consider what metrics you will use, and how often you will need to collect data.
Finally, you also need to review your marketing strategy periodically. You should update it to reflect changes in your market, products and resources, and ensure that it remains valid.