Marketing strategy and planning: A solid foundation for customer engagement

Solid Foundation For Customer Alignment

Without question, effective planning is the foundation of marketing and sales success. It can help you craft perfect campaigns that break through the clutter and make an impact on your target audience. 

But where should you begin?

At Heritage, it’s our goal to help you cut through the complexity of marketing strategy and planning so you can grow your business. To help you understand how to do this, we’ve created a friendly guide named Amy.

Amy is a mid-level marketer. She has a strong background in design and writing. Amy understands how to create moderately effective marketing materials and campaigns. She knows how to write snappy taglines and how to design eye-catching graphics and stunning campaigns. She’s fluent in the tactics of marketing.

But Amy has a problem.

Increasingly, her target audience is ignoring her messages. Metrics for her recent campaigns have been trending down and to the right, which concerns her. She knows she’s missing something – but she can’t figure out what’s changed and why her proven tactics aren’t working like they used to. 

Amy is overwhelmed with her options.

What she needs is a focused, customer-centric marketing strategy. Even the most extraordinary campaigns and messages will be ignored if they’re not precisely focused on the biggest challenges, needs and aspirations of her key prospects. 

To analyze Amy’s dilemma, we’re going to employ a good, better, best framework:

  • Good approaches are adequate. They tend to follow the status quo. Many of us operate at this level. 
  • Better strategies incorporate best practices and are more focused on actual customer needs. 
  • The best strategies set a high bar for success. They elevate strategy, messaging and measurement to an exceptional level of effectiveness.

Let’s apply these three levels of planning and strategy to Amy’s marketing challenges to see what we can learn.

What’s a good approach to planning and strategy?

So, what does a good marketing approach look like? It begins with an overview of what IS working now. In Amy’s case, her prospect database is in reasonably good shape. It’s clean and up-to-date. Better still, it’s focused on her target customers. 

However, when Amy sends emails to her list, she sends the same message to everyone. That marketing strategy has been relatively successful for years. But recently, she’s noticed that prospect engagement has been steadily declining. Email open rates are anemic and unsubscribes have been creeping upward. Each campaign generates fewer and fewer qualified sales leads.

Like many marketers, Amy tends to rely on “gut feeling” for what works and what doesn’t. Yes, she has data from past campaigns. But she hasn’t invested much time to analyze it. She always skims the numbers, but it’s hard to understand what they mean – and, more importantly, what she needs to do differently to improve them.

Building a better approach to strategy and planning

What does a better approach to marketing strategy and planning look like? It begins with a better understanding of Amy’s target audience and their needs. 

Marketers often treat their lists as if their audience is a monolithic group of people with a uniform set of needs and preferences. Of course, that’s not the case. As a result, one-size-fits-all messaging tends to be ignored. 

Audience segmentation: To make her messages more relevant, Amy needs to segment her list based on groupings of prospect needs, market segments, demographics and other relevant criteria. She can then focus her messages on each unique set of needs.

Stronger branding: Amy has started to develop stronger branding for her company and its products. She realizes that branding is much more than a distinctive logo, visual treatment and signature colors. 

As part of her efforts to strengthen her company’s brand, Amy has developed a powerful value proposition that speaks to the unique combination of services, benefits and advantages that only her company can provide to its ideal customers. This compelling statement summarizes the value it creates in a memorable way and does an excellent job of differentiating her firm from its competitors. 

As a result, a growing number of prospects are starting to pay attention to its bold new direction. Leads and sales are starting to tick upward.

Buyer personas: For Amy to continue to gain momentum with this better approach, she needs to build buyer personas that clearly articulate their needs. A persona helps marketers put a face and a real-life problem on their ideal customers. It guides them to design customer experiences that are focused on their prospect’s deepest needs. Amy also needs to develop a detailed understanding of how her audience’s information needs evolve as they move through their buyer’s journey.

Content audit: The final piece of the “better marketing” puzzle is content. Amy needs to perform an audit of every piece of her company’s existing content – including blog posts, sales literature, social media posts, eGuides, webinars – everything. This analysis ought to answer questions such as:

  • What audience segment and persona does it address?
  • Where does this piece of content fit within the buyer’s journey? For example, an educational or “top 10” list article is focused on awareness-building. A blog post that instructs readers on the qualities to look for in a vendor is more focused on the consideration or evaluation stage of the buyer’s journey. 

THE BUYER’S JOURNEY

AWARENESSCONSIDERATIONEVALUATION
Prospects are aware of your product, service or brand but they’re not yet seeking a solution.They have identified a problem that needs to be solved and are researching potential solutions.They have narrowed their search to a few promising solution providers and are preparing to select one.

Ideally, the content audit will help Amy to identify gaps that need to be filled. Frequently, marketers discover that too much of their content is focused on the earliest stage of the buyer’s journey – awareness-building – while too little is devoted to the later stages – consideration and evaluation, when prospects are narrowing their field of potential partners.

The best approach to strategy and planning

Now that Amy has figured out a clear-cut path to improve her marketing strategy and planning, how could she knock it out of the park? What does the best approach look like? 

In this scenario, Amy has adopted a holistic approach to marketing strategy and planning. All the pieces fit together and reinforce each other. She has stopped committing “random acts of marketing” that don’t fit with her campaigns or personas. She’s using data and an iterative approach to do more of what’s working and less of what isn’t. 

Amy has clear objectives and measurements. Every campaign and every move are tied to her organization’s business objectives and go-to-market strategies. She’s continuously examining and assessing the results of her efforts.

Amy has embraced data. She’s using it to target her content and messaging to key audience segments. That data is driving her decisions—no more “gut-level” assumptions. She knows what’s working and can use the data to scale her lead identification, qualification and nurturing processes. 

Better still, she can SHOW the impact her marketing campaigns are having on lead generation and sales. That enables her to grow support for marketing as a profit center, not an expense.

So how does Amy reach this optimal level of best strategy and planning? Here are several steps she needs to take:

Deeper buyer personas: First, Amy should add depth to her buyer personas by interviewing her customers. Instead of just relying on the observations of her firm’s salespeople and customer-facing coworkers, Amy needs to interview real buyers and prospects. Those conversations will give her deeper insights into their needs and the problems they must solve. 

Test and evaluate: Amy needs to test, test and test again. Successful marketing campaigns are the result of continuous testing and improvement. Testing starts with developing a hypothesis. The next step is to design a marketing experiment that either proves or disproves it. One of the most common ways to do this is with A/B testing: Send two variations of your messages to small segments of your audience. Measure which one performs better. Learn what you can from each experiment, and then send the winning variation to the rest of your list. Amy should continually iterate her messaging based on the results of her experiments. 

Demonstrate value: Finally, Amy should use data to demonstrate the value of her marketing strategies. To scale her efforts, she needs the buy-in of her bosses. Once they see data that documents her early successes, they’re more likely to approve budget increases to support new branding and marketing initiatives. The result is a positive cycle of compounding success – and a growing reputation as a results-oriented marketer!

Conclusion

If Amy’s dilemmas sound a lot like your own, don’t give up. Use our good/better/best framework to start focusing and refining your marketing strategy today.

Want to keep learning? Watch our Better Results Webinar series for a super-simple, proven process for cranking-out effective direct marketing plans.

If you need help with this process, why not contact us today? At Heritage Printing, we’re here to help with all your marketing strategy and planning needs. We’ll get you on the right track to help you grow your business!

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