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The importance of strategic marketing planning

Marketing strategy is your roadmap, says Paul Rees. Don’t start your marketing journey without first having a clear strategy.

When I speak with professional services firms there seems to be some common challenges around what approach to take to effectively market their business to help drive growth.

From my conversations four themes consistently arise:

  • Unclear who to target – should we aim for everyone or go after specific groups of people?
  • Difficulty in succinctly articulating what our offer is and how it’s differentiated from the competition.
  • Unsure what to communicate about our products/services.
  • Lack of clarity around how to reach potential customers (there are so many channels!).

The failure of marketing efforts is in part due to a lack of understanding when it comes to marketing strategy, marketing planning and marketing execution.

A strategic approach to marketing planning is hugely beneficial. It is important to identify who your ideal customers are, their needs and pain points, how to reach them, how you stand out from your competition, the right activity, and what to communicate to them to drive engagement with your firm and increase sales.

Marketing strategy done well is a comprehensive blueprint for achieving long-term business goals. It’s the master plan that guides every marketing endeavour.

Diagnosis first, then strategy
Diagnosis (or market orientation) is the insightful analysis of your current business situation. Before embarking on the strategy stage of marketing planning, it’s always beneficial to carry out a diagnosis of your business.

It’s about asking the right questions and diving deep into data, market trends and customer behaviour. When you diagnose, you understand your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. You recognise what’s working and what’s not, which helps you make informed decisions.

Ideally it should include understanding your current customers. Ask what they like about your brand and how they perceive you. Conduct an analysis of your competitors and how you compare, and review your marketing activities to better understand what worked and didn’t work.

Strategy is your roadmap
Strategy guides your marketing efforts. It’s not just a plan; it’s a well-thought-out approach based on your diagnosis. A solid strategy aligns your marketing goals with your overall business objectives. It defines your target audience, proposition, messaging, and channels. It’s the foundation upon which your execution is built.

The first stage in shaping a marketing strategy is focused on who you are targeting (and who you are not). Strategy is not just about deciding what to pursue; it is equally about deciding what not to pursue.

Segmenting your market is valuable for small and medium firms as well as big organisations. It involves dividing a target market into distinct groups based on specific characteristics, such as demographics, psychographics, behaviour, or geographic location. This targeted approach can enhance efficiency and effectiveness in marketing and product development.

Once you have identified your target segments, it’s beneficial to prioritise segments that offer the best opportunities for your business.

For B2B (business-to-business) companies I find it useful to identify Ideal Customer Profiles (ICPs), which are comprehensive descriptions of the types of companies that a business would gain the most benefit from targeting and serving.

When building ICPs it’s important to consider factors such as industry and sector, company size, geographic location, technology used, budget, company challenges, key decision makers and their buying process.

Once the ICPs have been developed, it is beneficial to identify the key personas for each ICP. Personas are a detailed representation of the different user types that might use your product or service or be involved in the purchase decision.

These personas should encapsulate the characteristics, pain points, needs, buying role, and marketing preferences of individuals within each ideal company type, which helps to humanise your target audience and guides your marketing and sales efforts.

The benefits of developing personas are that it allows you to target your efforts to the right people, tailor your marketing messaging to ensure that you resonate with them, and to concentrate your sales efforts on prospects that are most likely to convert.

Value proposition development
The next key planning stage is developing (or sense checking) your value proposition.

Understanding your target customer(s), together with a good insight into your competitors and how you compare, are two of the key inputs into shaping your value proposition, which helps articulate your differentiated offer that effectively addresses customer needs, stands out in the market, and forms a foundation for strategic communication and brand development.

Marketing plans
The marketing plan is the final part of the strategy stage. This plan is usually a detailed document that outlines how to implement your chosen strategy. It translates the strategic objectives into actionable plans and tactics. The marketing plan covers what will be done, by whom, when, with what budget, and how the results will be measured. It’s essentially the roadmap for executing the strategy.

Tactics and execution
Execution is the thrilling part where your plans come to life. However, without a robust diagnosis and strategy, execution can be like throwing darts blindfolded. When you skip the first two steps, you risk wasting time and resources on campaigns that might not resonate with your audience or move the needle for your business.

In marketing, it’s all too easy to be lured by the shiny allure of execution, but true success lies in a holistic approach that starts with diagnosis, is guided by a solid strategy, and culminates in execution. Embrace this process, and you’ll find your marketing efforts yielding more meaningful results, building brand equity, and driving sustained growth.

Paul Rees is a marketing consultant with 20 plus years’ experience in successfully driving brand and revenue growth across a broad range of sectors. He helps companies who have ambitious growth plans but are unclear on the right marketing approach, by utilising best practice marketing planning and brand development processes, as well as lead generation to help acquire new customers. Visit paulreesassociates.co.uk.

Matt Baldwin
Matt Baldwin
Co-founder – Coast Communications

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