Updated: Mar 24, 2020
Originally appeared on Forbes Agency Council, April 12, 2019
Every day I speak to startup teams that would like to grow their businesses with marketing, but many do not have sufficient marketing strategies. I get responses that include:
"We have a business plan with a couple of paragraphs on marketing."
"Our focus has been on the product, legal, financial audits and funding."
"Yes, we’re going to do some Facebook and SEO."
"We’ll have one put together once we figure out what works for us."
"Hiring a group like yours to do their thing has been the idea."
If you're starting to pick up a theme here, it should be no surprise that many of our prospective clients don't want to invest funds into the development of a well-researched marketing model, even if it's an algorithmic road map to their revenue goals. Many startups would rather spend on marketing tactics with the hope of performance right out of the gate.
Unfortunately, marketing science is not black and white. There are inherent, unpredictable elements for any launch that require authentic human responses. And merely investing time or monetary resources does not warrant or guarantee anything. If Facebook or Google begins offering pay-for-performance campaigns on initial launches for brands, we will happily provide it, but that simply is not in the cards.
Having a marketing strategy is important. I could reference any one of many historical quotes here: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail," or "Planning is everything."
How To Create Your Own Marketing Strategy: The Eight-Point Plan
To create your own marketing strategy, here are a few steps my team and I use from our eight-point plan:
1. Industry Overview
Do real-time research on your industry to get a clear pulse on the marketing landscape your target audience is experiencing. Recent industry trends, supply-chain shifts and upcoming legislation can all have an immense impact. Without doing the due diligence to get this real-time data, you're shooting in the dark.
There are a variety of great free and paid tools to use here. Statista's free insights are often undervalued. IBIS is generally at an enterprise level. And do not underestimate the value of extensive Googling to find critical insights, market size/growth and overall direction.
It’s important to understand your position in the marketplace to uncover opportunities and learn from others' results.
2. Competitor Audits
This is not just a list of who your direct/indirect competitors are, but an in-depth study of how those brands are obtaining their digital market share. Find out:
What social and blog platforms are they using? How often are they posting? What content is getting the most engagement? What tags are utilized? Who is commenting? Are they running any unique promotions?
Which influencers are talking about them? What do the posts look like?
What publishers and writers are covering them? What are they saying?
How do their site analytics (e.g., visitor volume, time spent, bounce rate, traffic sources, audience geographies) look?
Are they running advertising? Which channels? Which keywords? What do their ads look like? How much are they spending? How aggressive is their retargeting?
Which keywords are they ranking for?
Can you find any case studies that share performance and acquisition data?
Ideally, you want to walk away from this research with a precise understanding of how these brands are doing it. I’d like to quote Tony Robbins here by stating, "Success leaves clues." We like to think we are standing on the shoulders of the competitors here and leveraging their market testing.
This can be the most valuable section of the entire plan and set the framework for all remaining parts.
3. Target Audience
In a past life, I worked as a vendor for many major agencies, contracting for Top 100-500 brands. I have seen heavy audience persona decks, and unless I see this level of detail in a brand’s target audience data, I believe there is more to be done.
There's a reason that the largest ad-tech platforms place such an emphasis on audience modeling and why historical brands still invest increased budgets, year over year, into this due diligence. The better you know your customer, the more action you can inspire.
Imagine knowing a breakout of your customer groups by:
Geolocation (down to a small radius of local businesses or landmarks)
Household income level
Use of income
Preferred point of purchase
Personal and public influencers
Frequency of social media interactions
Could you learn from this data to wager on predictable patterns? If nothing else, would it support in identifying the digital touch points, developing messaging to run on each and determining tangible goals from these executions?
Business page analytics on the forefront social platforms will blow your mind these days. Web analytics can give you plenty of information. A focus group or survey can be powerful when structured properly. You can be very specific on your questions, but you'll only get the data you're looking for, so be sure you're covering everything you want in your questions. These are some ways to research information about your target audience. The data is out there, and it is waiting to be mined.
At times, for different verticals, these segments are easier to find than others. But even outlining this info based on assumption, broken into several audience profiles, can make a world of difference in communications with your team, vendors (great for proposal conversations) and other third parties.
I recommend personifying each of these profiles down to the persona level by creating a fictitious but symbolic individual who is relatable in any planning meeting.
Now that we've gone through the macro-industry research, we can dive into micro-competitor data, which will influence the actions the plan is set out to create. A plan is ever evolving, and the upcoming sections in Part Two will lay the groundwork for the plan in detail, ultimately leading into algorithms for each marketing activation.