Writing a marketing strategy and plan

Marketing strategy and planning set the foundation for everything you do. Doing it right enables you to focus your time and budget on the right marketing programs to reach your goals.

Video: Writing a marketing strategy and plan

Watch our video to help you understand why a marketing strategy is the key to what your business stands for.

Topics include:

  • why it's important to write or update your marketing strategy
  • why strategy must come before tactics
  • the 7Ps of marketing and the marketing mix
  • a step-by-step model to create a marketing strategy.

Effective marketing should be:

  • based on your business plan and goals and shaped by your business strategy
  • guided by a clear process and practical know-how.

Marketing strategy and planning set the foundation for everything you do. Start with your marketing strategy, then develop a marketing plan to make it real.

Your marketing strategy outlines the why and the what:

  • why you're in business
  • what you want to achieve.

It sets out your long-term marketing approach.

Your marketing plan describes the how and the when. It:

  • is the tactical roadmap to make your strategy happen
  • describes your short-term initiatives in the current year.

Having a clear marketing strategy and plan delivers significant benefits for your business. It will help to:

  • keep your marketing efforts focused
  • connect with the right customers
  • make the most of your investment
  • measure and improve your results.

Templates for developing your marketing strategy and plan

Choose one of these downloadable templates to customise and complete:

  • or
  • Develop your marketing strategy in 6 steps

    Your marketing approach influences the way you run your business, so it's important to consult your internal team and external partners.

    As you work your way through the steps, capture your insights and findings in the relevant templates.

    Know your market

    Start by capturing insights about your industry and customers.

    Market research is an essential part of your marketing strategy. It:

    • involves gathering and analysing information about your customers and industry, such as size, growth and trends
    • helps you to know more about your customers and the current and future demand for your products and services.

    There are 3 main ways to do research:

    • desktop research—accessing existing information that is readily available online from credible sources
    • quantitative research—using questionnaires to get responses from a specific audience and interpreting the data
    • qualitative research—using interviews, discussions or focus groups to explore themes in more detail.

    You can do the research yourself or hire an external agency to carry out the research. Find out more about researching your market.

    Know your business

    Next, you need an honest appraisal of your business from an internal perspective.

    A SWOT analysis can be a useful way to assess where you stand in your market relative to competitors. It highlights the major obstacles and business drivers and provides the direction necessary to:

    • build on strengths (S)
    • minimise weaknesses (W)
    • seize opportunities (O)
    • counteract threats (T).

    This diagnostic tool can help you uncover foundational insights to guide your marketing strategy.

    Learn more about SWOT analysis and complete the template.

    Based on your business plan and goals, the next step will be to define marketing objectives that are:

    • clear
    • realistic
    • measurable.

    These objectives will typically have a financial or communication focus and may cover different areas, such as:

    • building brand awareness
    • shifting customer perception
    • generating business leads
    • increasing sales volume
    • improving customer retention
    • boosting customer satisfaction.

    It's important to be as clear as possible so you can effectively measure the outcomes. Make sure that each of your marketing objectives meet the SMART criteria:

    • Specific—state clearly what you want to achieve.
    • Measurable—you must be able to measure and monitor your results and progress.
    • Achievable—take your skills and resources into account.
    • Relevant—focus on areas that will improve your business.
    • Time-bound—set a timeframe to achieve the outcomes.

    To measure and report your progress towards your marketing objectives, you should identify and define key performance indicators (KPIs). These KPIs are quantifiable metrics (indicators that can be measured) that are meaningful for your business, such as:

    • cost per acquisition
    • customer lifetime value
    • unique website visitors
    • social media engagement.

    Read more about tracking your digital performance.

    You'll know when your marketing objectives are right when they:

    • motivate you and your team
    • enable you to track your business performance.

    Review regularly

    Review and adjust your marketing objectives based on your progress.

    A classic and effective marketing framework is commonly known as STP:

    • segmentation
    • targeting
    • positioning.

    To become a customer-focused business, you need to find ways to get and use insights into your market.

    As a starting point, summarise the findings from any customer research you've done. This will reveal:

    • customer attitudes and behaviours in your industry
    • current and future needs for products and services.

    Based on this analysis, follow these steps to define your target segments:

    1. Choose the most appropriate way for you to segment the market (e.g. demographic, geographic, psychographic, behavioural).
    2. Prioritise target segments based on relevant criteria for your business (e.g. potential value, brand differentiation, ability to serve).
    3. Document a profile for each of your preferred target segments and then create personas to bring these to life in a meaningful way.

    Action item: segment your market

    Your business most likely operates in a competitive market. Customers are typically spoilt for choice. That's why it's essential to establish your brand positioning in a way that achieves sustainable competitive advantage.

    As part of your marketing strategy, you should maintain a profile of your key competitors. You can:

    • talk to people who might have relevant information, for example, your sales teams and business partners
    • review their digital presence, for example, website, social media
    • collect readily available marketing material and price lists
    • read online ratings and reviews from their customers
    • purchase products and services at their premises or online.

    If you don't know where to start, find out how to do market research.

    Find information about each of your key competitors':

    • products and services
    • pricing model
    • customer service
    • supply chains
    • brand difference
    • marketing approach.

    Use this information to help identify what sets your business apart.

    • How do you meet the current needs of your customers better than the competition?
    • How can you better meet the future needs of your customers?
    Thumbnail of competitor profile chart

    Competitor profile chart

    An easy way to better understand your competitors is to complete a competitor profile chart.

    You can:

    Brand positioning is much more than just your name or logo. This is your business purpose. It's why you exist. It's about making sure that your communications, culture and customer experience are all working together in harmony.

    The ambition is to build a distinctive brand. This is about what you want to:

    • be known for
    • want to own in the hearts and minds of your customers.

    It will guide everything you do and don't do.

    Work through the guidelines to help build your business brand.

    It's also beneficial to define your value proposition. In simple terms, it's a statement of the benefits you provide in exchange for payment. Think of this like a win-win for your business and your customers. It explains:

    • the promise of value you will consistently deliver to customers
    • how your business model meets the needs and wants of customers.

    Your value proposition will look closely at the problems you are solving for customers.

    Remember to look at your value proposition in terms of the current situation and the ideal future. This will help you to prioritise future improvements.

    Discover more about how you can bring your value proposition to life.

    You can identify your high-priority marketing programs based on your:

    • marketing objectives
    • target segments
    • brand positioning
    • competitive analysis.

    Think about these as your strategic themes.

    For example, imagine you're running an innovative online store. Based on your analysis of the current situation and assessment of future opportunities, you might identify 4 marketing programs you need to drive growth:

    • review and relaunch the brand
    • increase new customer acquisition
    • grow value though cross selling or upselling
    • boost customer loyalty and advocacy.

    These work packages will then direct your marketing actions and determine where you'll focus your marketing efforts. Be focused and consistent. If you're doing something outside of these themes, ask yourself why.

    Checklist: from strategy to planning

    Make sure you've completed the 6 steps discussed above before moving on to your marketing plan:

    1. I know my business and the current market.
    2. I've set clear, realistic, and measurable marketing objectives.
    3. I've defined meaningful target segments.
    4. I've defined my business's distinctive brand.
    5. I've completed an analysis of my competitors.
    6. I've identified the marketing programs I need to focus on.

    Translate your strategy into your marketing plan

    Once you have a marketing strategy, you can extend it into a marketing plan. The marketing plan reflects and builds on your thinking. It's your roadmap to get where you want to be.

    A marketing plan:

    • is a practical and detailed document
    • sets realistic and measurable activities.

    It's about the execution of:

    • tactics (methods)
    • actions
    • controls.

    A structured and documented marketing plan has many benefits. It:

    • takes the guesswork out of your marketing
    • keeps your marketing activities targeted
    • ensures that you can monitor your success.

    Don't try to do everything at once. Adopt a phased approach based on the skills, time and staff you have available.

    Your marketing plan will be implemented repeatedly and change over time. There are different stages to this process:

    1. Write your marketing plan.
    2. Implement marketing tactics.
    3. Measure against key performance indicators (KPIs).
    4. Refine your marketing plan.

    To successfully achieve your marketing strategy, you'll need to:

    • identify the tactics (methods) you want to use
    • be able to describe these tactics
    • be clear on why they're appropriate.

    Remember: your tactics should address the needs and wants of your customers.

    If you need inspiration, you can:

    • read about the right combination of the 7 Ps of marketing
    • look at the results of your SWOT analysis to identify opportunities.

    Follow this 3-step process to guide your thinking:

    1. Select a marketing program (work package) from the ones you previously identified.
    2. Refer to the needs of your relevant target segment to make sure you will be addressing these needs.
    3. Document specific projects you will deliver.

    Repeat this process for each of your high-priority marketing programs.

    For example, you may have identified the need to increase awareness of 1 of your products amongst young adults aged 18 to 25 who live within 10km of your business. An appropriate tactic could be to implement a geo-targeted marketing campaign:

    • across social media, online advertising and local publications
    • with a dedicated website landing page to promote the offer.

    Don't be scared to test and learn. Test some ideas on friendly customers, partners and employees. Using the right tactics over time will connect with your target segments and ultimately improve your sales results.

    Once you've worked through your tactics for each marketing program, you need to turn this into an action plan. The action plan must capture all the actions you need to perform.

    For each marketing tactic, list the specific steps required in as much detail as possible. (You can download and use the action plan template below to guide you through the process.) This can include the following fields:

    • actions
    • timing
    • people
    • budget
    • KPIs.

    Regularly refer to, and update, your action plan. This will help you to:

    • keep track of your work in progress
    • manage the implementation of projects.

    Great marketing requires great people. The people in your business will determine how successful your marketing is. They need to be involved throughout the process and believe in what they are doing.

    Your marketing approach will also inform your sales techniques. Marketing and sales need to work together. Link your marketing KPIs and sales targets.

    Make sure you have assigned responsibility for each of the actions in your action plan.

    This is the process that allows you to track and report on your marketing performance and make the necessary changes if needed.

    Based on your business plan, you have developed a set of SMART marketing objectives. These will most likely be based on the following outcomes:

    • financial (e.g. sales numbers)
    • communication (e.g. brand awareness).

    Within each of your high-priority marketing programs, you have assigned specific KPIs for each tactic. For example, these KPIs could be:

    • responses to a targeted direct mail
    • number of leads generated from an event.

    Before you run your marketing programs, you need to know how you'll measure and evaluate the results. A review of each activity will then help to:

    • identify how well your marketing has worked
    • show what areas need to improve
    • check if the activity gave a positive return on your investment (ROI)
    • establish benchmarks that you can strive to outperform in the future.

    Continue to review and revise your marketing. For example, on a quarterly basis, you should ask:

    • How are we tracking with budget and timing?
    • What tactics are working and not working?
    • What has changed in the external market?
    • What adjustments do we need to make?

    Marketing action plan template

    Download and complete the marketing action plan template.

    This plan also forms part of your larger marketing strategy and plan.

    Implement the marketing plan

    To implement your marketing plan successfully, you need to confirm you have everything you need to implement it.

    Resources and expertise

    Ask yourself these questions about your skills and capacity:

    • Have you allocated the right budget?
    • Do you have the right knowledge and skills in-house?
    • Will you need to upskill your current staff or employ new staff?
    • Should you consider engaging an external marketing partner based on your internal gaps?

    Depending on the type of business and your marketing strategy, you may need to prioritise training and development. For example, with an online business, this could include website and social media management.

    Communication and collaboration

    Your staff need to be engaged and committed to make your marketing efforts to work.

    • Make sure your staff understand how marketing fits in with your business plan and goals.
    • Involve your staff throughout the marketing strategy and planning process.
    • Mentor employees who are enthusiastic about marketing and provide opportunities to increase their skills.
    • Keep communicating—your business marketing will always be changing and growing.

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