Marketing is one of the most important aspects of any business, even if it feels like you haven’t quite figured it out at times. It’s necessary for any serious company that wants to grow, though it takes patience and plenty of planning to ensure you're doing the right things and making progress.
That's where a marketing strategy comes in, as it gives you clarity and helps you measure results. Without a marketing strategy, you end up trying lots of different tactics in the hope that one sticks. Such an approach never works, and it's why a well-thought-out marketing strategy can point your online store in the right direction.
With that in mind, just how do you create a marketing strategy that works? That's the purpose of this in-depth guide, which walks you through how to create a marketing strategy so you can hit the right notes with your audience and increase sales all through the medium of clever marketing.
What is a marketing strategy?
Before we get started, you may be asking, 'just what is a marketing strategy?' Not all businesses have specialised marketing departments, so it's not a given that every company understands the ins and outs of a marketing strategy and its purpose.
When we use the term marketing strategy, we're referring to a way of outlining your approach to advertising and sales. That's the crux, but there are so many different layers. For example, part of a marketing strategy looks at how to build a brand, while the other focuses on driving revenue.
Not all marketing is created equal, and the point of a strategy involves finding suitable methods for your business to bring success. Essentially, it's your company's overall game plan for achieving prospective consumers and converting them into customers who buy your products or services.
It's all about strategic planning and how you will make people stand up and take notice of your business. Within the strategy, you'll cover processes, analysis, preparation and plenty of research.
Why do I need a marketing strategy?
Without spending time creating a marketing strategy, you're taking away any cohesion from your efforts to increase the business's profile and profitability. You'll reduce how effective your promotional and sales content can be, potentially causing detriment to your business in the process.
What does a marketing strategy achieve?
Marketing strategies achieve a range of targets, from building the brand and creating a connection with audiences to directly impacting sales. Here are just some of the benefits of a good marketing strategy and what it can achieve:
- Reach your target audience
- Spend money in the right places
- Keeps consistency
- A better understanding of return on investment (ROI)
- Offers guidance
A solid marketing strategy gives you clarity. It helps define your target audience, understand their complexities and ultimately learn how to sell to them. Not every business has a marketing strategy, but those that do tend to enjoy better results. To illustrate, organised marketers (those who use a marketing strategy) are 674% more likely to see success.
Making a plan for your strategy
The marketing strategy informs the actions you'll take to impress customers, but the marketing plan advises on the strategy. That's right; you should aim to make a plan for your strategy.
Once your marketing strategy is complete, it will provide an overview of why your marketing efforts require specific resources, take certain actions and the goals you set throughout the year. The marketing plan is the measures you'll take to achieve that strategy.
Sometimes a marketing plan will refer to specific actions within your strategy, and it can all get a little confusing. But we're talking about the actual way you will go about creating a strategy for your marketing efforts.
Most businesses create a document revealing how they will execute the strategy. It identifies the budget (although some of this will be in your strategy), looks at the areas your marketing needs to focus on and explores the marketing channels you'll use. A marketing plan also ties everything back together with your business plan and keeps actions aligned with the overall company goals.
What features in a marketing plan?
Your executive summary should be a small, summarised version of your marketing plan. List the main components in brief and paint a picture of the broader plan. This is ideal if you're using it to show to CEOs or even potential investors who want to see your marketing efforts.
Within the marketing plan, you should describe your mission statement. This is your marketing activities on a larger scale that answers questions like: what do you want to do, why do you want to do it, and who do you do it for? The mission statement can help you stay on the right track and let you circle back to double-check your approach.
You'll need to know your marketing budget to put a strategy together. Within the strategy, you may look at budgets for specific channels, but the marketing plan should include details on the available budget.
You should include a brief summary of the available marketing channels to understand what is available to you. Again, the strategy can focus on how you'll attack specific media, but the plan can provide an outline.
Planning to perfection
A marketing plan helps you outline your strategy and gives you more transparency over the process. This will help you in the long run as you'll be more confident filling out the information for the strategy, whether understanding buyer personas or identifying the best channels to use to attract customers.
Create buyer persona
Before selling your products or services, you need to understand your audience. That involves creating a buyer persona to define the type of people who will buy from you. Essentially, you should aim to describe your audience in one sentence. Here’s how to do it…
What is a buyer persona?
Every successful company has an idea of their ideal buyers, a person who fits the description of the key people you want to target. Buyer personas include demographic and psychographic information, such as age, job, title, income, location, interests and challenges. Buyer personas need to form a critical part of your marketing strategy.
How do I create a buyer persona?
First, it's good to research even if it feels like you already have a good grasp of your target audience. Delving deeper can help you define your current audience and identify future customers.
- Who is currently buying from you?
- What does their job look like?
- How does their home life look?
- Are they the final decision maker (more relevant for B2B)?
These aspects will form part of your buyer persona and help you better understand the demographic of customers you should aim to target. It's also worth looking at your competition to see the type of people who buy from them.
Don’t fall for traps
Sometimes a buyer persona might seem straightforward. For example, if you sell fitness clothing, people who work out will be your target market. But you need to compartmentalise further and segment: what types of fitness clothes do you sell? Are they high end or budget-friendly? Is your service based on speed or personalisation? These answers will help you further define the buyer persona.
More than one persona
It may be that you have several buyer personas – most businesses do. Once you've researched and organised, begin determining how many personas you need to define. You don't necessarily need to cover everyone right now, as some may surface once initial ones are created. Yet, it's still good to have an idea about possible different personas. When you have gathered more data on leads and prospects, you can also redefine current personas and add more if necessary.
Create a story
After you have an idea about the basics of your buyer persona, it's time to create a story around them. Write down the look and feel of your target audience, painting a picture of what they look like and their motivations.
- How old are they?
- What is their job?
- Where do they live?
- What are their hobbies?
- What are their aspirations?
The answers to these questions provide context around what motivates your buyer persona and where they are in their life right now. The more you understand what they want, the easier it will be to identify with them and create a journey so they can buy your products or services.
Buyer personas define your marketing strategy. Without them, you will struggle to create a plan of action that you can use to sell. Your buyer persona should be thorough and reveal everything needed to understand the motivations of your target audience.
“Organised marketers (those who use a marketing strategy) are 674% more likely to see success.”
Your Products and Services
How does your product or service relate to the market? It's a critical question you need to answer within the marketing strategy. Describe your product or service and how it fits into the market. Ask why there is a need for it and which problem it solves for your target audience and customer personas.
What do you do?
By this stage in the business, you should already have a good understanding of what your product or service does and know how to explain it. Now it's a case of writing that information down in the marketing strategy and thinking more about its place in the market.
List its purpose, what it does and how people use it. Many businesses believe a product review is only necessary if they offer a complex service. But even if your company sells electrical appliances, it's still good to note down what they do and how people use them.
Why is it needed?
This is especially important if you’re venturing into a new concept or invention. But even if you’re not, the marketing strategy should explain the need for a product or service and how it plans to solve pain points for customers.
Dive deeper into the features and see how your product or service differentiates from the competition. Truth be told, it's rare for businesses to have entirely new concepts, so it's necessary to list the features, price points and level of service to see how it matches up against competitors.
Focus on the benefits
Having unique features and a USP is vital, but so too is knowing how those elements add value to customers. Are they cheaper, higher in quality, or offer something different? Translate the benefits into clear and concise bullet points showing how the product or service improves your target audience's life.
Demonstrate thought leadership
Once you're in full marketing mode, you'll need to show customers why it's worth using your product or service. Therefore, it's important to be a thought leader in your industry and offer insight. Use your marketing strategy to show why your company is the best option for providing those products and services. Include aspects that make you an expert in the business, including testimonials, awards or anything else along those lines.
Write as if you’re talking to customers
The aim is to be customer-oriented when you sell products and services, and the concept of sounding and reading as if you’re talking to customers in-person starts in the marketing strategy. Everything you write should be crafted with a consumer-centric approach.
Lastly, look at how your pricing matches up against the competition. Where do you sit in the market? Is your offering a premium product or service, or a budget-friendly one that aims to compete? Clarifying your pricing will better position your business in the market.
Products and services lead the way
Your products or services are the foundation of the business and the primary reason why customers will purchase from you. For that reason, you should ensure the marketing strategy has a section detailing everything offered by the business, plus why and how it will benefit the customer.
Set the budget
Now that you know who to sell to and the benefit of your products and services, it's time to set the budgets needed to secure leads and turn them into paying customers. The marketing budget is vital to the success of your strategy. And while it helps to have vast resources, having loaded pockets isn’t the only way to achieve success when you execute the marketing strategy.
Spend money to make money
Regardless of the size of your budget, you'll need to set something aside for marketing. Therefore, it's good to define your budget in order to know how much money is available to spend and where it's getting spent.
As a result, you can:
- Get a better picture of where the finances go
- Have the ability to track your return on investment for each marketing pound spent
Without having a clear picture of the budget, you'll soon run into issues and end up with a haphazard approach yielding little results but costing money. But don't worry – it doesn't require a mathematical genius to define a marketing budget.
Calculating your marketing budget
There are several ways to calculate a marketing budget so you know what there is to spend and what you can spend it on. These include a percentage of revenue, top-down, competition-matching and goal-driven budgets.
Percentage of revenue
Calculating your budget with a percentage of revenue involves some guesswork. Essentially, you need to land on a percentage of revenue to spend on marketing and choose the projects and tools to use. In general, startups are advised to allocate between 12 and 20% of their revenue for marketing, while companies older than five years should use between 6 and 12%.
This method isn't particularly data-friendly, but it is clear and concise. The budget comes from the top downwards, meaning the CEO informs the CMO or director of marketing, who relays the budget onto the marketing teams.
You will need to know how much the competition spends on marketing for this method to succeed. It primarily involves watching what they do and matching i5. Eg, if your competitor launches a blog, you do the same. Such a method can have some success if you're looking at more established companies, but it goes against many marketing tropes and limits creativity.
You set the goals first with a goal-driven strategy and plan your budget accordingly. This means deciding and adapting your budget further down the line in response to where you are in relation to achieving your goals. You'll need to define goal acquisition costs like average price methods and overtime costs.
- Average price methods – what is the average cost to create a piece of content, eg £25 per hour for four hours of writing or one hour of designing at £25.
- Over-time costs – look at how much you spent on marketing in the first month and how many conversions it brought, then add the total spend and divide by the conversion to get total over-time costs.
Money, money, money
There are many ways to set a marketing budget, and it's ultimately down to the method you feel most comfortable executing. If it's your first marketing strategy, you may do better going for a top-down approach or percentage of revenue as they offer a more straightforward approach to defending how much you want to spend on marketing.
Understand your competition
You should be aware of your competition and how they achieve success. Otherwise, you'll be blindsided and will struggle to make any gains in the competitive world of ecommerce. That's why it's good to conduct market research before finalising important aspects of your marketing strategy.
What is a SWOT analysis?
Many companies undertake a SWOT analysis to better understand their own offering compared to other options on the market. Going down this route gives you a clearer picture of current conditions, which helps you make important marketing decisions now and in the future.
A SWOT analysis is an acronym standing for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
- Strengths – what is it about your product or service that stands out? What does it do best?
- Weaknesses – where might your product or service be vulnerable compared to competition already on the market?
- Opportunities – how can your business improve further?
- Threats – can you identify any potential hurdles, such as changing market trends, an uncertain economy or lack of demand?
A SWOT analysis lets you see how your business measures up against the competition and what exactly you’re up against. You can better understand external and internal factors by performing a SWOT analysis.
What else can I do?
It's also important to conduct a competitive analysis. Doing so will help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors and give you more knowledge of how to operate your online store. It will also help you:
- Brainstorm ideas for how to improve your own communications
- Make forecasts for future market trends
- Gain a better understanding of your target personas (as they’re likely similar to your competitors).
To do a competitive analysis, first, you'll need to identify your competitors. You can do this by performing a Google search of the products and services offered by your business. For example, if you sell bike parts, you'd type 'bike wheels', 'bike seats' or 'handlebars' into Google.
However, you should be realistic about your competitors. If, for example, you sell sporting equipment, you're not going to take on Nike or Adidas on the first attempt. Smaller businesses should look at similar-sized competitors as their true competition.
Research your competitors
The most time-consuming part and one that holds the most importance is visiting your competitors' websites and looking at pricing strategies, sales formats (how do they sell?), and product offerings. Lastly, examine their marketing materials, including website, social media and email content.
Once you've done the research, it's time to compare. Here, you can perform a SWOT analysis to get a clear picture of how you stand up next to your competitors and a better understanding of what's required in the next steps of your marketing strategy.
Brand tone of voice
The tone of voice (TOV) is critical to your business's success. It's how you talk to customers and what sets you apart from competitors. In general, the right branding builds a company ready for the long haul. With the right TOV, you can have a consistent presence in your market and a personality that customers identify with and even get excited about shopping with.
More often than not, people think about visual identity when it comes to branding – the Apple logo, Google’s colours, the Nike swoosh. However, none of these iconic images would stand the test of time if it wasn’t for the right tone of voice.
Why is the tone of voice so important?
Who are you? What do you sound like? What expectations do shoppers have when they use your online store? These are all questions that the brand TOV can answer. It is personality and emotion that defines your business.
Brand TOV runs through every aspect of your company, from the copy on your website to how employees answer the phone or respond on social media. A bland TOV blends into the crowd and hinders your chances of getting shoppers' attention.
A great TOV, however, gives your company a strong sense of purpose and a clear personality. Your message is consistent, no matter where it's found, and customers come to identify with your brand thanks to its messaging architecture.
How do I differentiate voice and tone?
The voice describes your company's personality and how it talks to customers. It's consistent and never changes, no matter the platform or medium it's used for communicating.
The tone is slightly different, as it communicates the emotional aspect applied to your voice. It's the intricacies between different types of messaging.
So, while your voice remains consistent, the tone can change depending on the mood. A social media post about a sale might have a fun tone, while news about price increases would likely take on a more sombre tone. Regardless of the tone, however, the voice essentially remains the same.
How can I establish a TOV for my business?
- Review your company’s mission statement – your brand personality needs to reflect the values of your business
- Audit current content and messaging – review how you’re already speaking to customers
- Ask your audience – what do they expect when communicating with your brand?
- Perform exercises – a ‘we’re not this; we’re that’ type of exercise is great for establishing TOV. For example, ‘we’re not a brash company; we’re an understanding one’
- Make a chart – look at three to four words that represent your brand and dive deeper into them, explaining how each trait should and shouldn’t be represented
- Create guidelines – clear guidelines mean existing and new team members can refer to your TOV.
What about employees?
The tone of voice isn't solely related to your website copy and other forms of written messaging. Your employees should also adopt it in their communications with customers. On top of that, it should run across any video narration. Essentially, it needs to cover every aspect of the business, from the copy they read on a website page to how your staff talk to a shopper.
Goals are vital to the principles of marketing. Without them, there's no way to judge success. Plus, it's essentially impossible to measure the right metrics. Setting goals isn't an easy task, though. How far do you cast your net? Should you be cautious, or do you aim to overachieve, knowing full well you might fall short of targets?
Goals shouldn’t be rigid, and you can expect them to change as dynamics evolve in the industry. However, there are some ambitions you should set out to do when starting out and crafting your marketing strategy. These include:
Raise brand awareness
The goal of your online store is to sell products and services; that's a given. But increasing your brand awareness will go a long way to building trust with shoppers and making it easier to sell to your target market. Plus, if consumers don't know who you are, how will they know what you have to offer?
Be recognised as an expert
Regardless of your industry, you should aim to be recognised as an expert in your field. It helps with credibility and shows that you have a high level of knowledge about the products and services the business sells.
In order to sell products and services, you’ll need leads. Your marketing strategy can play a pivotal role in generating leads, which can be beneficial if you have a sales team. After all, it’s those leads that turn into new customers. Therefore, lead generation should form part of your marketing goals.
Increase customer value
Don’t forget about your current customers because it’s more important than ever to keep your current customer base happy. Satisfied customers will buy from you again. Plus, they can become one of your biggest champions, referring you to friends, family and colleagues.
Boost website traffic
As an online store, your website is everything, even if you use third-party sites like Amazon. Bringing plenty of traffic to your website is a surefire sign of successful marketing, and it should be one of the goals you set out to achieve when defining the strategy.
Improve the internal brand
An increasing number of companies are also taking on internal comms in an effort to educate employees across the business. This includes ensuring team members understand the brand's target personas, what's required in respective stages of the buyer journey and more.
Finding the right targets
You don't necessarily need to aim for all of the above metrics. Much will depend on your marketing team's capacity and budget. Whichever route you choose for setting goals, look at the most important aspects of your business and settle on a few targets you believe are achievable. Setting goals provides structure and gives you something tangible to aim for during your efforts to market the business.
KPIs and Metrics
The marketing strategy starts with clear goals and objectives, and then needs to progress to metrics and KPIs (key performance indicators). Goal setting and KPIs go hand in hand, but which metrics should you track, and how do you set realistic KPIs?
Different types of marketing metrics
- Customer lifetime value – how much revenue will the business generate per customer over their lifetime?
- Customer acquisition cost – how much it costs to earn one customer
- Incremental sales – track sales growth over time
- Conversion rate – percentage of visits ending in a sale
How to measure different metrics
Ultimately, you want to set defining periods to measure metrics and see if you've reached your goals. Most companies do this quarterly, but you can also do it on a micro-level and have smaller aims. It might be hitting revenue numbers by a certain period or even just raising social media follower counts to a specific number.
Why are metrics important?
There's no point in having a marketing strategy if you don't know what impact it has on the business. Therefore, your marketing metrics and KPIs should be available across the company and provide plenty of transparency. Many outside of marketing departments often don't quite understand how it all works, and using metrics allows you to track your own success while giving the broader company an overview.
Find the best channels
You know the budget and understand your goals. Now, it’s time to look at the channels you’ll use to reach customers to strike a chord. A varied approach tends to be the best method when it comes to choosing where to market the business. Try different platforms to see what works and what doesn’t. Primary channels include:
Social media has become one of the most important channels for online stores to attract new customers. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok have given brands the chance to connect with their audiences by using a mixture of organic and paid posts. Today, having a social media presence is vital for building your brand and acquiring new customers.
Your website can be so much more than a space to sell products and services. Use it to create landing pages, blog posts and videos. All of this content can help educate your customers and help them make a buying decision. It also helps boost SEO and increases your chances of ranking on search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo.
Platforms like Amazon are essential for some online stores, as it's the largest marketplace in the world and gives you more reach. Some businesses exist solely on Amazon; that's how profitable it can be for ecommerce companies selling particular items.
Email marketing is an important tool for online stores. You can use it to keep in the minds of current customers or attract new ones, sending emails when you have sales, special promotions and other interesting information to share.
Even in today’s digital world, print advertising still has an important role to play. It can be more expensive than digital marketing, but you should factor it into your strategy, especially if you’re a hyper-local business that is active in its local neighbourhood.
Partnerships also play an important role in your marketing strategy. Working with other companies can help increase awareness of your business by giving you more visibility across other companies' websites and social media.
Whenever you do anything online, you should also consider the impact of people viewing on mobile devices. Mobile optimisation is vital to the success of businesses, and you need to ensure that everyone can view and interact with the company, regardless of the device they use. More than 50% of shoppers use a mobile device to buy in the UK, meaning it's the primary way for people to shop online.
Finding the right channel
Sometimes you might need to be visible on every channel; other times, you can focus on two or three primary ones while dipping in and out of others. It's good to remember that these channels are the primary way shoppers will see your business, so it's essential to include a good portion of your strategy in the type of marketing channels you'd like to conquer.
You've reached the end stage of the marketing strategy, meaning we're at the point where it's time to turn thoughts, theory and written processes into action. Now it's time to plan how everything you've written down will become a reality and help generate leads and attract customers.
Who in your team will execute certain aspects of the marketing strategy. Will it be in-house employees, freelancers or a combination of both? Who will post on social media, where will the blog articles and content come from, and will you hire an agency to create video content or do it in-house? All of these aspects need to be decided before executing the marketing strategy.
Which tools will you use? Do you need social media planners to schedule posts, how will you upload blog posts, and are spreadsheets required for Google ads details? How you're going to implement the points of the strategy is just as important as who will be the primary person performing the actions. You need to know how you're going to execute the plan so you can provide clear instructions to those helping you do it.
Create a schedule of when you're going to execute the marketing strategy. It's unlikely you'll do everything at once. First, you might start with some Google Ads to boost your appearance online; then, you may focus on posting social media content or writing blog posts and other content. Everyone involved needs to have a clear outline and understanding of expectations and when they need to work on specific tasks.
Having a marketing strategy is necessary to achieve your goals as a company and ensure you're moving in the right direction. Regardless of what you sell, it's vital to have a strategy that offers a clear plan of action and sets the tone. Over time, you can adapt and amend it as needed. But everything starts with that first marketing strategy aimed at moving your business to the next level.