5 Steps to planning a winning marketing strategy for 2018

5 Steps to planning a winning marketing strategy for 2018

Do you have your marketing strategy ready for next year? No? Yikes! This guide will walk you through creating your plan, your road map outlining your marketing goals, tactics, costs, and projected results. It’ll keep your entire team focused on specific goals. To win, follow these five steps...

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Selling your marketing plan to your boss

It’s not up for negotiation, your boss will be wanting to see your marketing plan. A well constructed plan will define your objectives and strategy, attract new customers, boost sales, strengthen your brand value and increase your ROI. Your marketing plan will help focus your team’s efforts and determine how you should spend your budget.

You have to be honest, you have to be brutal. Look at your business and find your strengths and weaknesses, your competitive advantage, and your target market. Your boss has questions that you have to answer:

  • Is it necessary? Abandoning or improving your marketing plan, you need to prove you’ve done your research. You understand your target market, competitors, budget, and costs.
  • How much? Your boss is going to want to see the figures. What’s the cost of email campaigns for the entire year? How are you going to prove the ROI? Be ready to show a projected budget for your plan.
  • Who are we targeting? Existing customers or new segment, identify the demographic and characteristics and explain how your plan will target these audiences.
  • How are you going to measure results? Create key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure marketing effectiveness of your content. Track actionable metrics such as email subscribers, email engagement rate, time spent on website, etc.

      Your marketing plan

      Your marketing plan isn’t just something that’s good to chat about in meetings. Your marketing plan isn’t justification for why you’re spending time on Facebook during your working day.

      Your marketing plan...

      • Ensures that your marketing objectives are aligned with those of your company
      • Formalizes ideas and concepts
      • Keeps your team on track
      • Defines objectives, tasks, and timelines
      • Can help you obtain financing

      To create an effective marketing strategy, you need discipline, time, and focus. The process is challenging, no mistake. But, you don’t have to start with a blank sheet, our guide - 5 Steps To Planning A Winning Marketing Strategy - has everything you need.

          Not all marketing plans are created equal

          This guide explains how to create your marketing strategy, offers practical and actionable steps, working templates, and real-life examples, so you can create winning marketing campaigns. There are five tried and tested steps:

          Step 1 Reporting on last year’s marketing plan
          Step 2 Generating ideas
          Step 3 Choosing your strategies
          Step 4 Setting your goals
          Step 5 Planning next year’s marketing plan

                1. Reporting last year

                Marketing metrics - a collection of data that gives perspective on your marketing campaigns, to see if they met the goals you set. There are two reasons to review your campaigns:

                • Your boss is going to want to hear how you dealt with the priorities for the year, to see the big picture. What was the ROI? Good results or bad, targets met, goals achieved. Don’t get lost in details, your boss is looking for the bottom line.
                • If you don’t review your previous/ongoing campaigns, how will you know whether they’re working? Should a campaign be dropped as a non-starter? Would a campaign improve if tweaked? You can’t plan your next marketing strategy if you’ve no clue as to the results of your current one.

                    Understand your current position

                    To set achievable marketing goals, you have to evaluate your current marketing strategy. What’s working, what’s bombing?

                    Example: If blog traffic has increased by 10% for the last six months, a 15% month-over-month target is challenging, but not impossible.

                    Objectives vs results

                    What were your objectives? What work was completed? Did you start a social media campaign? Optimize/repurpose blog posts? Initiate an SEO strategy? Take a look at the examples below:

                    Example 1

                    • Goal was to increase monthly traffic to website by 11%
                    • Result an increase of 15% due to strong second quarter and success of campaign X

                        Example 2

                        • Goal was to get 30% more newsletter subscribers
                        • Result was 22% due to blog CTAs that were only fixed in Q4

                            Example 3

                            • Goal was to increase number of followers on Twitter by 10%
                            • Result was 12% increase due to competition run during Q3

                                Specific campaigns to track throughout the year

                                Other areas of your online marketing should be tracked. You could include:

                                • Social media - growth of followers, engagement, post reach.
                                • Paid search - click-through rate, average cost-per-click, conversion rate
                                • Email - open rate, click-through rate, bounce, unsubscribes
                                • SEO - improved keyword ranking & page ranking, backlink acquisition, domain authority

                                    What worked and what didn’t

                                    You’re going to need to use qualitative and quantitative analytics. I’m sure you all know what they are, but just in case:

                                    • Quantitative analytics - looking at figures to get hard data on how consumers behave.
                                    • Qualitative analytics - putting data into context to understand why consumers behave a certain way.

                                      What were the results of your previous marketing campaigns? Reporting on your campaigns effectively, isn’t always easy, but it’s vital that you have a high-level overview. You can then summarize what worked and what didn’t.

                                      This Campaign Management Cheat Sheet will help track your campaigns. It highlights best practices and the metrics to prove campaign performance.

                                      Campaign Management Cheat Sheet

                                      SWOT analysis

                                      SWOT refers to strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It’s a comprehensive audit that helps you identify the internal and external factors affecting your team’s future performance. Strengths and weaknesses are internal factors, opportunities and threats are external.

                                      If performed with brutal honesty, this analysis will be a vital part of your planning process in which financial and operational goals can be set for the upcoming year, and strategies can be created to accomplish these goals.

                                      SWOT analysis

                                      For worthwhile SWOT analysis, you have to be brutally honest about the good and bad points of your business, and keep it black and white. Most of the information is subjective, so keep it simple. If you find that your weaknesses are outweighing your strengths, you should consider a full audit of your performance, to identify issues. Here're 8 reasons your marketing strategy could be failing - take a look, to avoid these common and expensive errors.

                                      Determine strengths

                                      • What makes your marketing team awesome?
                                      • What advantages can your team leverage?
                                      • What quality or cost effective resources are available to you but not others?
                                      • Which factors result in definite sales?
                                      • What do your competitors consider your strengths?
                                      • What is your USP?

                                          E.g. your team, strong brand, loyal customers, healthy balance sheet, unique tech

                                          Determine weaknesses

                                          • What internal processes need improvement?
                                          • What do customers say needs improving?
                                          • What factors contribute to loss of sales?
                                          • What do competitors see as your weaknesses?
                                          • What are activities to avoid?

                                              E.g. brand perception, technology, skills

                                              Find opportunities

                                              • Are there any interesting trends that you can benefit from?
                                              • Are there any good opportunities on the horizon?

                                                  E.g. cross-selling, new markets, new services, partnerships/co-branding


                                                  • What are your barriers?
                                                  • Has a technology change made your product obsolete or less favorable?
                                                  • Are your competitors working on a better product or service?
                                                  • Do you have cash-flow or debt issues?

                                                      E.g. customer choice, new competitors, new products, channel conflicts, economic downturn

                                                      SWOT analysis finished, now it’s time for another acronym - TOWs. TOWs analysis allows you to determine how you can use your strengths to maximize your opportunities and minimize threats. Or, create strategies to minimize weaknesses by taking advantage of opportunities and minimize weaknesses to avoid threats.

                                                      Competitive analysis

                                                      Where do you rank compared to the competition? Looking to create your marketing strategy, understanding the competition will bring new ideas and fresh insights to inspire your own plan.

                                                      Your brand doesn’t exist in a bubble. You must consider the broader competitive space - new products emerging, price cuts, new audiences, and more competition. Insights into the competition will help your brand grow, protect your brand from extinction, and improve your marketing strategy.

                                                      Here are three ways competitive analysis will help:

                                                      Understanding the competition - analyse and put into perspective to feed your marketing plan for the new year. It’ll also help how they’re performing and why customer choose them over other brands offering similar products. If you don’t understand them, how are you going to take the prize.

                                                      Identify best practices - or, copying the competition. Are they using a marketing strategy that’s winning? Does their website bring in more sales? Are their email campaigns more punchy? Do they have more social media followers? Look and learn!

                                                      Find strengths and weaknesses - how will their strengths threaten your company? How can you take advantage of their weaknesses and find new opportunities. I’m not suggesting you jump in their grave, but…

                                                      If you'd like to read more about competitive analysis, take a look at my guide - How to conduct a competitor analysis. It walks you through the what, why, and how - to identify opportunities for improving your business.

                                                      Review and update your ideal customer profile

                                                      Look at your best customers and identify what makes them profitable and fun to work with. Confirm that the ideal customer profile and buyer personas established last year, are still accurate.

                                                      Compare the results from last year with the results from this year. Did the data change? An increase in female customers? Different age bracket dominating? Depending on the results, you can tweak your campaigns to take into consideration possible changes, ensuring you’re still targeting the correct audience. Take a look at all the demographic information you can pull out.

                                                      Ideal Customer Profile

                                                      2. Idea generation

                                                      Let’s regroup.

                                                      • You’ve compared last year’s objectives and results - what worked and what didn’t - meh - we’re only human
                                                      • Your SWOT analysis is complete and it’s brutally honest - painful, but worthless if you aren’t
                                                      • The competition is well and truly stalked - hey, they’re stalking you too, be flattered
                                                      • And, you’ve established that any changes to your customer demographic will be reflected in your new marketing strategy

                                                        Now let’s go crazy! Or, in industry terms, let’s start planning.

                                                        Brainstorm to find new perspectives and define problems

                                                        How’s your current marketing strategy? Fresh as a daisy or stale as a mouldy old loaf?

                                                        What worked last year, isn’t necessarily going to work in the future. The pace of change is rapid, your marketing strategy has to grow and evolve. Since your last marketing plan was drawn up, you’ve launched new products, there have been changes in your industry, your customer base has shifted, your competitors have announced new developments. Your marketing plan is redundant.

                                                        Brainstorming is for problem solving, generating new ideas, encouraging cross-functional communication, identifying your competitive advantage, and for promoting innovation.

                                                        When you brainstorm as a team- a white paper, a blog post, a webpage, an event, a product launch - it strengthens your team, cultivating a feeling of team ownership.

                                                        Feed the little grey cells

                                                        To generate new, creative ideas and solutions with interaction and group chat. So, who do you include in your brainstorms?

                                                        Choose your invitees wisely - all those who’ll be directly involved with managing and implementing your marketing strategy. That could include content writers, market ops, community managers, graphic designer, demand generation, UX designer, email campaign officer, SEO and SEM specialists.


                                                        There is no preparation, you start with a blank canvas; no researching, no preconceived ideas.

                                                        Think outside the box

                                                        • Forget what you know
                                                        • Encourage crazy ideas
                                                        • Build on the ideas of other
                                                        • Criticism kills
                                                        • Get visual
                                                        • Quantity is good

                                                            Nothing kills the energy in a brainstorm quicker than calling an idea stupid - it’s a real cheap way to prove your own superiority.

                                                            Talk to other teams for customer insights

                                                            Take advantage of your customer-facing teams - sales, support, account managers. Each team has a unique perspective on customer touchpoints. Feedback from these teams gives a more comprehensive picture of your customers and how to keep them happy.

                                                            Tips for sharing information:

                                                            • Centralize customer insights - build a database to include survey results, market research, support calls, customer testimonials.
                                                            • Ask customer-facing teams to share their findings with back office teams. A bug hunt for dev and new feature requests for product.
                                                            • Mix up your teams - sit a project manager on an email marketer’s knee, get marketing to hold hands with support.
                                                            • Listen to your team - encourage feedback from your employees across the board. Anonymous if they’re a timid bunch.

                                                              An Internet Minute

                                                              What do you see? A challenge or a nightmare? (Cumulus Media)

                                                              Your vision statement - where do I see my team going?

                                                              This is the heart of your team. The big picture of your overall goals, where you see your team in the future.

                                                              Here’re some tips on writing your vision statement:

                                                              • Don’t be afraid to dream big
                                                              • Be clear and concise
                                                              • Let your passion and emotions free
                                                              • Share your vision statement with your team
                                                              • You have to be prepared to put in the hours to achieve your vision

                                                                  Here’re some great Examples of vision statements to spark Your imagination. Brands include IKEA, Nike, and McDonald’s.

                                                                  Vision for my team

                                                                  Keep it simple. Take a look at the image below, that’s all it needs to be.

                                                                  Vision for my Team

                                                                  Your mission statement - where does my team exist?

                                                                  A clear, concise declaration about your marketing strategy, the reason your team exists. Focus on what your team does for the company, and what it wants to achieve. Added bonus, it helps keep your team focused on your objectives. Answer these questions:

                                                                  • What do we do?
                                                                  • How do we do it?
                                                                  • Who do we do it for?
                                                                  • What value are we bringing?

                                                                      Take a look at this blog post - What great brands do with mission statements. Eight big names and their mission statements, including Google, Amazon, and Virgin.


                                                                      Every marketing strategy comes down to tactics, strategies, and tools. We’ve published several blog posts that list the best tools out there, with industry experts recommending them. The tools you’ll need, depend on the campaigns you plan to run. Here’re some suggestions:

                                                                          3. Strategy

                                                                          You’ve moved on from crazy ideas, and now it’s time to formalize your marketing strategy.

                                                                          Your marketing strategy

                                                                          You’ll outline your target markets and bring the six Ps into play: product, price, people, promotion, place, and positioning.

                                                                          It’s not uncommon for digital marketers to be so reactive, that we run out of time to be proactive. But, it’s imperative that we find time to plan a marketing strategy to enable us to achieve maximum profit and sustainability.

                                                                          Internal strengths and weaknesses identified, external opportunities and threats recognised, you can now build a strategy that plays on your strengths, and minimizes your weaknesses.

                                                                          Identify your assets

                                                                          To achieve your targets, you need to identify your assets. What assets do you currently have that you can use to make your strategy work? Refer back to your SWOT analysis for inspiration.

                                                                          Here’re some examples of assets you may have:

                                                                          • Website
                                                                          • Blog
                                                                          • Email
                                                                          • Newsletter
                                                                          • Social media channels
                                                                          • eBooks and guides
                                                                          • Corporate brochure, fliers, etc.
                                                                          • Videos - sales and training
                                                                          • Testimonials
                                                                          • Your team
                                                                          • SEO ranking
                                                                          • Domain authority
                                                                          • Influencers, brand advocates
                                                                          • Trade shows

                                                                          Action plans

                                                                              You can now break down your marketing strategies into action plans - what your team is going to do to achieve your goals. Each plan has to specify:

                                                                              • What'll be done - e.g., email campaign run throughout the year to attract new customers
                                                                              • Timeline - start, review, finish
                                                                              • Who’s responsible for what
                                                                              • Cost - e.g., printing, event stands, new team members, travel - estimate based on past expenses
                                                                              • Measurable projected outcome - e.g., 50 conversions, new partnerships or sponsors

                                                                              My team's priorities for next year

                                                                              Use a template like the one shown below, to show how you'll achieve your vision. List your assets - refer to the last year's performance and your team's vision.

                                                                              Team´s Priorities

                                                                              That’s your plan, now follow it!

                                                                              4. Setting goals

                                                                              Where we’re at. You’ve had a cracking brainstorming session with your team, solved some issues, generated some exciting new ideas, and cultivated a warm, fuzzy feeling of team ownership. You’ve bounced ideas off other customer-facing teams and found new insights. Vision and Mission statements are completed, and you’ve checked out some interesting stats. Now it’s time to set your goals.

                                                                              Your head may be bursting with exciting ideas, goals you want to achieve. But, you can’t pluck your strategy out of thin air. The first step to planning an effective strategy is to define your strategic objectives - you need to be SMART.

                                                                              • Specific - real numbers with real deadlines: who, what, where, why?
                                                                              • Measurable - how will you track and evaluate your achievements?
                                                                              • Achievable - work toward a goal that’s challenging, but possible.
                                                                              • Relevant - do you have the resources to make it happen?
                                                                              • Timed - when will you achieve your goal?

                                                                                My team’s goals for next year

                                                                                Use a template, like the one below, and list your strategic goals.

                                                                                Next Year Team Goal´s

                                                                                The key to setting achievable marketing goals is to understand your current position - look back, move forward.

                                                                                How many goals?

                                                                                Your choice.

                                                                                Some marketing plans concentrate on a single goal, whilst others have 1-2 core goals that impact the bottom line, and important initiatives or channels. I’d advise against more, as you’ll lose focus.

                                                                                What type of goals?

                                                                                Choose goals that you care about, that are authentic. The type depends on what stage your business is at. If you’re a newbie company, focus on engagement and listening to feedback to validate your products. Later, focus on growth metrics.

                                                                                Avoid these pitfalls:

                                                                                • Assuming you know what your customers want - listen to them. This is where I plug Talkwalker's social media listening tool. Seriously, you'll be able to find out exactly what your customers are talking about, thinking about, liking, feeling - give it a go.
                                                                                • Ignoring your competitors
                                                                                • Competing on price alone
                                                                                • Growing too quickly
                                                                                • Relying on a small customer base - grow
                                                                                • Becoming complacent about your product - innovate, innovate, innovate

                                                                                    There’s no secret formula that I can share with you. But…

                                                                                    • Keep it simple stupid (KISS)
                                                                                    • Stay focused
                                                                                    • Be authentic
                                                                                    • Load yourself up with data and insights
                                                                                    • Ensure your short-term goals support your long-term goals
                                                                                    • Always, always keep your team in the loop

                                                                                      5. Planning next year

                                                                                        So, let's pull it all together.

                                                                                        You've analyzed last year's marketing strategy, checked the figures, and found the ROI. Strategy sorted, goals vs results proved. After an electrifying brainstorm, you've set SMART goals. Quantitative and qualitative analysis has revealed what worked and what didn't. Your SWOT is set in stone, and your competitors’ performance has been pulled apart.

                                                                                        Now it’s time to pull it all together and set up your plan for next year. Ensure you’ve allocated enough resources to achieve your goals - people and money. The size of your budget depends on how much you have to invest, and how quickly you want to see results.

                                                                                        Time to meet up with the boss. Present your marketing strategy; break it down month by month and demonstrate what your team is going to do and how you’re going to achieve it.

                                                                                        Achieve our goals


                                                                                        Creating a marketing strategy is not something to be done once. You’ve read this guide on how to create a winning marketing strategy and next year, what are you going to do? Correct, you’re going to go back to the beginning and start again.

                                                                                        If you have any questions, or suggestions of things that should be included - post a comment below, and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

                                                                                        In the meantime, try our Free Social Search - it’s awesome!