Chapter One: Building A Basic Marketing Strategy

We now know that marketing can be likened to a goalkeeper: without a solid brand foundation, your company will take a lot of unnecessary hits. In this segment we’ll move onto how you can turn this understanding into action. 

First thing’s first: how do you actually plan out your marketing strategy?

Marketing is a multi-faceted beast, so you’ll have to do a lot of digging into what makes most sense for your company’s size, budget and goals. There are many different branches of marketing available to pursue, but don’t spread yourself too thin. No one company can do everything: it’s the marketer’s job to expertly analyze what options make most sense for your business’s context.

For the purposes of this exercise, let’s assume we’re creating a marketing strategy for a new startup or SME. 

Ask yourself (and your team) the following questions:

1) Who Would Actually Seek Out My Product?

What problems would someone (anyone!) encounter that would make them seek out your product or service? Who tends to experience these types of problems? Think more about the problems your ideal customer is facing, in addition to their socioeconomic traits.

Here’s a very basic example:

We’re looking to appeal to men in their mid-thirties who have young kids at home, or are about to become fathers. Our (mutual fund, gas-efficient vehicle, parenting guide) will help them get their family in the right shape for this big transition. 

Sit down with your company’s Customer Service team to dive into the habits, personalities, and stressors of your patrons. Create an official Customer Persona document for each distinct profile you can recognize (example, male versus female, Associate versus Managing Director, budget versus premium). 

2) Assess Your Current Market Landscape

What is the market cap for your genre of product or service? How many competitors are there in your field? Who is your closest competitor? Your customers will check out many other options before choosing to do business with you. Know your playing field. 

Assign at least one person to to collect market data full-time for a week. Collect the names of your competitors, their brand standards, their product information and their pricing guides. Compile this all together into it’s own official document, titled “Our Competitors” for example. 

3) If Your Company Was A Person, Who Would He/She Be?

Thinking of your company’s brand as embodied in a specific person can help you nail down things like colour scheme, content tone and how to relate with customers. For example, Virgin follows the playbook of flirty British party-goer to a T. Finding a “person” to represent your brand can also be a good warm-up exercise to help you ideate in the right direction.

Would your brand be an outgoing fellow who wears all-purple suits? A professional woman committed to championing other females and minorities? A super-organized public defender? Considering who your corporation would be, if they were a person, can be a good jumping off point for pinpointing the core of your brand.

Some sample questions to get you started:

  • Is this person professional like he’s giving a speech at a conference, or is he off-the-cuff like he’s hanging out with friends?
  • Does this person dress well in order to display his success, or is he humble in his appearance because he wants to be heard for his thoughts?
  • Does this person use very proper language? Are they diplomatic when dealing with conflicts, or do they always give their unfiltered opinion?
  • Does this person always have to have every small detail attended to before releasing their work to the public, or do they share raw content?
  • Does this person covet tradition, or are they a rebel at heart who leans into change?

Get these questions agreed upon early. It will help management give out more targeted feedback, and give writers and designers more parameters to shape their content. 

4) Develop Marketing Goals

To all young marketers: make sure your company knows what they want and expect from their marketing team! “More leads” isn’t enough. Sit down with your manager or CEO and get a clear, sober outlook of what resources will be allocated to the marketing team, for what desired outcome (believe me, this will save you time and headache down the road).

A good place to start is with a budget. Your CEO may want a commercial slot during the Superbowl, but it certainly won’t happen for free.

$0 Marketing Budget: Focus on optimizing your digital presence. Make sure you company’s website, social media, and any directories (Yelp, Google Business, any industry-specific directories such as G2 list) have fresh, up-to-date content. Ensure that you’re pointing potential leads to the right place: social media and directories should prominently display a link to your website, and your website should prominently display a contact form or a “Contact Us” link.  

Low-budget (up to a few thousand dollars): In this stage you can focus on growth in your digital traffic. Your goals might be “update the website to reflect our new brand identity, and increase the number of pages the average viewer visits by +2”. Or, “develop an on-brand, consistent social media presence that reinforces our website’s aesthetic”. Look into physical advertising as well, such as elevator ads or magazine ads, especially if you’re looking to target customers in a specific locality.

High-budget: This will depend very much on the type of business you’re working with, and is beyond the scope of this marketing guide. With a really high budget you could work on multi-channel campaigns, look into premier advertising placements, develop business intelligence tools in-house for ROI attribution…the world is your oyster.

My recommendation for new businesses is to make their goals about execution quality and consistency. Trying to go for big wins early on means stretching yourself and making hasty decisions that veer away from your core strategy. If you want your marketing to be an investment that grows bigger and bigger and bigger over time, respect that even the tallest trees started out as tiny acorns. Marketing is about what you do one time: it’s about what you repeatedly do. By forming your strategy around consistency, new customers will see get a more impactful sense of your brand and professionalism.

Plus, consistent brand standards are inherently scalable. Having long, in-person meetings with prospective customers is not. A trap that many businesses fall into is making their CEO the number one salesperson. This is a bad idea because:

  1. Customer acquisition protocols will change with the circumstances of every meeting. CEOs tend to want to land the deal at all costs, even if it means tailoring a deal to the point it’s unrecognizable from the original offering. 
  2. It’s difficult (and risky) for team members to ask for accountability and consistency from their CEO; standards must be enforced at the highest level, and the CEO should lead by example. 
  3. For the marketing department to truly be a profit center, it needs to establish the brand foundation and gain the data to draw in customers organically. 
  4. It’s an unprofessional look for a CEO to be involved in every deal; it rings alarm bells that they’re desperate for business. 

5) Create A Calendar And Feedback Schedule

Theorizing about your customers and your company goals is great, but there must be a way to materialize these musings. Also, your boss will never accept “the brand is always building up, but in slow mysterious ways”. 

Creating a marketing calendar is a great way to keep your team on-track and relaxed. Knowing what they’re going to be doing everyday, instead of coming in and responding to immediate crises, puts everyone’s mind at ease that the route ahead is lit.

Example calendar:

Example of a marketing calendar with colour-coded entries.

If you or your teammates can’t keep pace with this schedule, there’s always room for adjustment. Play to people’s strengths: someone might be a terrible, slow writer, but maybe they’re great at brainstorming new marketing initiatives. Someone might be a great writer, but shy when it comes to communicating the significance of their work in staff meetings. 

The marketing manager or director should oversee and enforce the schedule, adjusting the plan as needed. They’ll communicate the status and results of ongoing initiatives to the broader team.

While you’re creating a marketing initiatives calendar, establish a feedback schedule with your boss (if you’re a junior employee) or your team members (if you’re the boss). Keep precise and detailed records of your feedback sessions, highlighting specific action items. This way if there are future disagreements between team members about how a job has been done, you can procure evidence to back up your reasoning. 

6) Consider Your Tools Of The Trade, And Whether You’ll Need More Experts

Most marketing teams use a bulk social media posting tool to create content ahead of time and post it at a future date. Social media content needs to be created with some sort of design tool for posters, thumbnails, headers, etc. It’s better to research what tools are out there and compare their costs and features ahead of time, than to purchase a tool because of a last-minute need. 

If your website has not yet been built, you’ll need to decide on a web hosting platform and whether you’ll be working with a template engine such as WordPress, or be building your site from scratch. 

What marketing automation software are you using? Are you going to use a CRM to store your customer profiles, and eventually plot out your customer journeys? What about an SEO platform to optimize your Google rankings?

Create a spreadsheet containing all the vendors you work with, their purpose, and any contact information, login information and pricing information. 

Depending on the size, budget and ambitions of your company, it may be worthwhile to add some new heads to your team such as a Marketing Designer or an SEO Specialist. If your team is in over their heads in a particular area, either invest in team education or invest in experts. 

Summary:

  1. Create customer personas based on real-life problems and emotional triggers. Work with your customer service team to really understand the common thread between your customers. 
  2. Create a detailed document outlining the market landscape you’re attempting to penetrate. Learn about your competitors, and understand what’s driven their branding decisions. 
  3.  If your company was a person, who would they be?
  4. Establish clear (measurable) marketing goals.
  5. Create calendars for marketing initiatives well in advance of their deployment, and set a regular feedback schedule to review how things are working. 
  6. Create a list of all the marketing tools you’ll need to create content, host it, post it, and measure your results. Hire specialists if needed. 

That should be enough to keep you busy for now! Next time, I’ll be back with Chapter 2: How To Write Good Content.