Marketing has evolved continuously over the last two decades. So much so, that what was true just six months ago might not be true today. One key principle, however, has remained consistent: Regardless of industry, company size, economic climate, or goals, every marketing plan needs to come from a solid marketing strategy. And yes, marketing plans and marketing strategies are different.
Many companies might think it’s safe to skip the marketing strategy development and jump right into the ‘let’s get something DONE!’ When they hear “let’s first work on your ‘marketing strategy,’” alarm bells go off. Usually, that’s because in the business environment, the strategy work is expensive, and it may take a very long time.
This isn’t to say a marketing strategy won’t cost money and time, but rather that it isn’t a waste of time or money. Together, the marketing strategy and marketing plan are meant to grow your business by driving the best business decisions across the organization—sales, marketing, product, and more.
A marketing strategy should be shaped by company business goals, and if done right, it will look at all the areas and layers of the business, enabling leaders to make better decisions. Goals should be set against each part of the marketing strategy, and then the marketing programs or tactics will be shaped accordingly.
With B2B companies, it’s important to have a marketing strategy that includes discovering what the customers’ pain points actually are—beyond just a wild guess. Depending on the product or service, the market will likely have fewer potential buyers than for most B2C companies, and the personas and behaviors will be more complex than a direct-to-consumer brand. If targeting isn’t based on research, the chances of over-spending or under-achieving on marketing goals are much higher.
Companies also need to understand the competitive landscape in depth, so that they can position themselves intelligently and find the ‘white space’ – where the best opportunity lies. By gaining an understanding of pain points and market competition, companies can then develop positioning, segmentation, messaging, product roadmaps, and program strategies to complete their growth plan and business goals.
Think about product design – when a business decides to build a new product, they need to first develop a product strategy, otherwise they might build something that people don’t want or need. The same goes for a marketing strategy—it’s all about finding that fit. For example, if a company is launching a new virtual assistant software specifically targeting CEOs, they want to figure out what features and services they need most, and specifically what other platforms are not currently offering them. They also want to know how others are pricing their offering so that they don’t price themselves out of the market at launch. A reasonable goal for this company might be to reach 100 new subscriptions by the end of the second quarter. To get there they decide, based on market research, to target the tech industry—specifically companies that have 50 employees or fewer.
Now that they know what success looks like, they can plan their marketing tactics accordingly to drive toward that desired goal.
Once you have your marketing strategy in place, you’re ready to write your marketing plan. The marketing plan will help you describe and visualize how to achieve and prioritize the goals you set out in your marketing strategy. Your marketing plan will serve as a roadmap of how you will execute your campaigns and programs over a specific time period and provide measurable results. It will include a firm and realistic marketing budget, marketing programs to be executed, and any additional resources that will be required. Your marketing plan will help you map expected investments and analyze the results of your marketing activities.
Marketing is more than tactical programs. Your marketing team is just as important as your sales team in driving profitable growth for your business. The ‘let’s just get it done’ approach may look like the easier path to take when there is pressure to show results or get a product to market. It also might seem cheaper and faster, especially if you are outsourcing your marketing to a third party. But an agency or consultancy who says they are willing to move right into a tactical marketing program without setting the strategy first might not be doing you any favors, and will probably not save you money and time in the long run. Smart businesses will recognize that the marketing strategy is the key piece of the ROI puzzle and greatly minimizes risk while maximizing the impact of all the other marketing activities. Don’t skip it!