We all know how important it is to build a solid business plan. In fact, you’d (hopefully) never dream of charging into a new business without one. And yet, surprisingly, many of us aren’t putting in nearly the same effort when it comes to building a strong marketing strategy.
What’s the point of investing so much time and money into building and creating a new business, only to have no customers?
This isn’t Field of Dreams where you build it and they will come. (OK, so the line is actually, “If you build it, he will come,” but you know what I mean. The whole team showed up eventually. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s a classic, look it up.)
If you want customers, you’re going to need to actively get out there and find them, and then let them know you exist. The only way to do that is with a solid marketing strategy.
According to a study by Smart Insights, 46% of brands don’t have a defined digital marketing strategy yet, and 16% do have a strategy but haven’t put it into effect yet. That means that more than half of the businesses out there aren’t getting the exposure and customers they could be, simply because people don’t know even know they exist yet.
When you don’t have a marketing strategy, you run the risk of becoming directionless as a company, wasting money on channels that aren’t bringing you results, and losing out on potential customers to your competitors.
Thankfully, it’s not that hard to come up with your own marketing strategy. Here are the four steps you need in order to create a marketing plan that works for you.
How To Build A Marketing Strategy
Know Your Target Customer
The first step in building your marketing strategy is to know who it is you’re marketing to. Doing so ensures that your marketing efforts are focused, and as a result, you’ll be getting the return on investment that you’re after.
One common way to go about this is to create a buyer persona. By creating a buyer persona, you can be sure that you’re marketing to people who are actually interested in what you have to offer. Otherwise your marketing strategy is pretty much the equivalent of a man on a box yelling through a megaphone at random people on the street.
Think about what you’d like your ideal customer to look like. Start getting granular and create a list of demographics that your customer falls into. Responsive Inbound Marketing recommends these major questions you should ask yourself about your target customer when outlining a buyer persona:
Location: Where do they live?
Excluding Location: Where do they not live?
Age: What is the age range?
Gender: What is their gender?
Interests: What are their interests?
Education Level: What is their education level?
Job Title: What fields of work do your customers work in, and what types of job titles do they carry?
Income Level: What is their income range?
Relationship Status: What is their relationship status?
Language: What languages do they speak?
Favorite Websites: Why types of websites do they frequent?
Buying Motivation: What are their reasons for buying your product?
Buying Concerns: What are their concerns when buying your product?
Building a buyer persona is more than just broadly listing out demographics of your target customer though. You need to know your target customer as if they were a close, personal friend, like you might go out to see them for drinks this very weekend.
As we know from interactions with our own friends, they can be full of surprises. So one of the biggest mistakes you can make when creating a buyer persona is to constantly make assumptions. Actually put these personas to the test, hit the pavement, and start interviewing people and get some real data. After all, there’s that saying about assumptions making a donkey out of you and me.
The easiest place you can look to define your buyer persona is to whatever current customers you might have. Ask them for 10 minutes of their time for an interview, or send out a simple survey. Interview people who aren’t even your customers yet, but people who fit the profile of your target customer.
Find a way to incentivize people to do interviews with you, by potentially offering them a discount or a free product from your store. Whatever solution you work out, your goal should be to find out what people are really thinking about when they see your store.
There will be a temptation to gloss over this part, thinking you’ve already got it down. But generally speaking, the more time you put into developing your buyer personas, the more effective your marketing strategy will be in the end.
Once you know what your target customer is all about, it’s time to move onto the next step of building your marketing strategy.
Research Your Competitors
No business exists in a vacuum, even if you are the only brand on the market in your own very specific niche. You can be guaranteed that sooner or later, you’re going to find yourself with some competition, and they’re going to have their own ideas about the best way to acquire customers.
This is why it’s important to spend some time doing research on the competition.
Before you get the wrong idea, though, the point of running a competitor analysis is to help you figure out what you can be doing better or different than the rest of the crowd. It’s not so you can replicate their every move, but rather, so you can:
• Find out what’s working for them and do it better;
• Or, find untapped opportunities.
You’ll also want to go deep than scanning your competitor’s social media accounts every now and then.
Unless you happen to have a really good relationship with someone else in your niche and you can find the time to get them on the phone and talk marketing strategy, chances are, you’re going to have to dust off that deerstalker hat and do a little sleuthing.
One way to get a good initial grasp of what marketing channels your competitors are using is to go directly to their customers and find out what they’re saying.
You can easily do that with Mention, a social media monitoring tool that allows you to quickly scan the web and find mentions of your competitors online and on social media. You can analyze online conversations that are happening about your competition and, most importantly, what online communities are forming around them.
Tap into those conversations and see if you can find out what products people are purchasing and how they found out about them, and whether their experiences have been positive or negative. Learn what promotions and deals they’re offering through social media.
Another great tool to use to monitor your competitor’s online marketing strategy would be Moz’s Open Site Explorer.
I like to use Open Site Explorer as a way to check out what my competitors are doing with their SEO. Moz allows you to find out what external links your competitors are getting. This can give you incredibly valuable insight as to what their content strategy is like, or if they even have one in the first place, and potentially where they’re advertising online.
You can find out what their top pages are and what their most popular content is, and use their successes to help find ideas and inspiration for what your link-building strategy might look like. For more on a successful link-building SEO strategy, check out this post.
The final method I’d recommend is to simply sign up to their email list and see what their email strategy is like. Not only will this give you invaluable insight as to what their email marketing efforts look like, but it’ll also give you an up close and personal view of their overall strategy.
For example, you can find out if they’re doing a product launch, and if so, how they go about it. Or if they’re hyping up interest for a similar product to yours. Get into the belly of the beast and find out what’s going on.
Of course, there are also dozens of others tools and methods you can use to do competitor research. But this should give you a good idea of where to start with your own.