The ultimate guide to marketing planning for your business
Are you a small business owner with big dreams? Do you want to know how to translate your ideas into a clear, actionable marketing plan? Whether your business is service or product based, having an annual marketing plan can help you grow and achieve your goals—without the overwhelm.
If you find the idea of planning a year of digital marketing daunting, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve got you covered with everything I’ve learned from 12 years as a marketer for some of the biggest entertainment companies in the world and 14 years as a digital marketing instructor for Google Squared, Avado and The Oxford Business School. I developed this step-by-step guide from helping clients just like you set realistic goals and take achievable steps to take their businesses to the next level.
Whether you’re a solopreneur or you’re growing your team, now’s the time to start planning! Investing time in preparing for the year as a whole will not only save you time, it will allow you to make decisions confidently and save financial and cognitive resources.
Not sure if you should invest time in a pop-up stall? Wondering if paid ads will get you results? You’ll no longer have to make an emotional decision because you’ll have a plan in place that maximises your resources and aligns with your business goals and strategy.
In this article, I’m going to break down the planning process into five guiding questions that will help you evaluate, set practical goals, and create a strategy and action plan with room to adapt and refine as you begin to see what works for you.
This planning strategy is based on a handy model called SOSTAC® (Situation – Objectives – Strategy – Tactics – Action – and Control)created by digital marketing experts Dave Chaffey and PR Smith. I will translate this formula for you without getting too technical, so a business of any size can put the principles to work.
Where are we now?
Step 1: Analyse your situation
The first step to a good plan is understanding where your business is now. Once you honestly evaluate your current situation, you can determine an effective and attainable strategy.
Let’s work this out with my (fictional) client Susan who has a business, “Tropical Treasures”, selling custom homeware and decor.
To identify her business’s strengths and weaknesses, Susan needs to understand how Tropical Treasures measures up to what her competitors offer. Here are some questions she would consider:
- What is my current sales volume compared to the past?
- Where are my customers located?
- How are my products different from what’s on the market?
- What channels and types of outreach have I tried, and which have been the most effective?
- How fast and cost-effective is my distribution?
- How do my prices compare to my competitors?
The answers will determine if her current market positioning is working and inform her business and marketing strategy. But how can she use these insights?
A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis is a straightforward exercise that will help organise your thoughts and translate them into business and marketing objectives for the year.
Create four columns in a notebook and brainstorm each category. Fill out as many points as you can under each column. Consider customer and staff feedback, competitor activity, and if there are opportunities to add niche or broader offerings the following next year. When conducting a situational analysis, you should pay attention to both internal and external factors. This way, you’ll have a clearer picture of your strengths and weaknesses. You’ll be able to see where you should focus more effort or budget.
Here’s an example of how a SWOT analysis helped Susan.
Susan found that her increased commitment to content planning had increased Tropical Treasures’ social media followers by 30% in the last three months. However, this growth was not translating into more sales. She also found that a significant number of new followers were not located in Singapore, where she was based. Her competitors offered similar products at a comparable price but they also offered international shipping.
Susan was now ready to set her goals and objectives.
Where do we want to be?
Step 2: Set marketing goals & objectives
With the realistic picture you gained with your first step, you can begin to dream big.
But you might be wondering how you develop marketing objectives and a content strategy that helps you meet them?
This is where I most often see clients in my marketing consultancy stumble. Like every business owner, they know one thing for sure, they want to increase their revenue! But how to increase profits can look very different for every business. Some may need to increase their brand awareness before they can start to really sell their products or services at the scale they would like. Like in our example of Tropical Treasures, others might be concerned with converting their audience to buyers.
Thinking about your goals for the year will give you an advantage here. With the realistic picture you gained with your first step, you can set yourself a roadmap that builds toward goals rather than acting reactively for the short term. A plan will also help you assess your budget and confidently allocate it to the highest priority.
You can start by understanding the main types of business and marketing goals (outlined in the graphic above). Once you’ve got an idea of what goals would help with your particular situation, you can build actionable objectives with specific timelines.
If you’ve guessed I have another acronym to help, you were right! Using the SMART format to pen down your goals will make sure you keep them realistic and achievable. SMART stands for:
Let’s look at an example of how this works.
Tropical Treasures’ strength is having solid brand awareness in the market. However, their weakness is that their social media content was not converting sales. Here are two ways Susan could approach the problem:
Goal 1: Increase sales
Goal 2: Increase sales of soft furnishings, decor, and affordable artwork by 10% month-on-month.
You’ll notice that the second attempt at writing out a goal ticks all the SMART boxes. Now, Susan not only has specific objectives, with the quantifiable target, she has a way to measure whether she’s reaching her goal and adjust her strategy accordingly.
When you set SMART goals you can create a list of three to five goals for the year, considering that you can capitalise on the success of one goal to build up the next. For Tropical Treasures, a second goal might look like this:
Add an international distribution partner in Australia within six months to expand reach and increase sales by 30%
This means that Susan can plan ahead to anticipate channelling her increased sales revenue from goal one toward additional inventory while working on her outreach for a distribution partner.
How do we get there?
Step 3: Create a marketing strategy
With informed goals and objectives in place, we can create a strategy that will hit the mark. An essential element of crafting a strategy is what marketers call “positioning”. This simply means that you understand your customer and make sure you target your marketing efforts to the channels where you’re most likely to reach them. This allows you to connect with their pain points and solve their problems with your offer.
There are a few steps that can help you gain clarity and implement an effective marketing strategy.
Know your customer
To create a digital marketing plan that will connect with your ideal customer, you need to understand your customers. Creating a detailed sketch of the customer personas most likely to purchase will help. To identify your customer, think about who has shown interest in or already purchased your products or services and create an “avatar” outlining as many details about them as you can to understand what appeals to them, how they live and what they tend to need and buy.
Communicate your value proposition
When you are clear about why someone would want to buy from you instead of a competitor, you can craft a strategy that plays to your strengths. Your value proposition is the unique solution that only your business provides customers.
In the case of Susan, there are hundreds of stores offering homeware competing with Tropical Treasures, so she would need to ask why a customer would choose to buy from her. This goes beyond a generic statement of “a variety of homeware at great value.” Susan will need to connect how her products solve her customers’ pain points. Susan’s value proposition would say how her products are unique in the market in a way that speaks to her ideal customers and encompass at least one clear Unique Selling Point (USP).
With Tropical Treasures Susan is not just selling home goods, she’s selling a lifestyle. Rather than providing goods at low price points that will be discarded in a short time, Tropical Treasures offers carefully sourced products that last. After understanding her ideal customer, Susan is targeting buyers who have a strong identity and will pay for quality. Susan’s value proposition here would be around quality and curation:
Tropical Treasures brings the outside in with an exclusive, rotating curation of creative, colourful, soft furnishings and handmade collectibles sourced from artisans across Asia.
With her value proposition in place, Susan can build her strategy around her USP of high quality and limited edition homeware.
Craft your messaging
Create marketing material to speak directly to your customer personas. You may not reach each persona every time, but you can develop a targeted plan to reach one or more with each piece of content you put out.
Select your channels
Millennials will likely respond well to Instagram and email marketing. You may reach a younger audience through TikTok and a more mature one on FaceBook.
What do we need to get there?
Step 4: Devise marketing tactics
Now the fun part. Thinking up tactics that will reach your customers where they are and deliver an offering that they can’t resist.
I regularly consult with clients who tell me their promotions have very short term effects. They’re wary of giveaways and tactics that lead to wasted time and resources. Avoid this by aligning your tactics to your strategy. An annual digital marketing plan can help you integrate social media marketing and email marketing with content planning and a strategy that targets the areas you have identified to grow your business around.
It’s important not to skip straight to this step without going through steps 1 – 3 because the type of promotions and offers you run will be most effective when you understand your business and set an informed strategy.
Any interaction your collaterals have with a viewer has the potential for a sale. This means that how and where you present your offerings to your audience is a big part of setting your tactics.
It’s important to navigate the type of content and messaging that will work best for your audience.
For Tropical Treasures, Susan wanted to increase sales but a strategy driven by discounts might not work well since her value proposition is based on quality. In this case, Susan may do better by focusing on storytelling content about where she sources her products, highlighting how local artisans benefit from each sale. Her giveaways could be timed appropriately to create a sense of exclusivity.
Using well-timed calls to action is another tactic to consider. A call to action is a prompt designed to encourage someone browsing your channel to take action. They can be in the form of providing additional information (“learn more” or “contact us”) or encouraging visitors to sign up to your mailing list or make a purchase. Remember to sprinkle these across your channels so your customers know what to do to connect with you or to make a purchase.
Action your SMART goals
You can now put those SMART goals (Step 2) into action together with your strategy (Step 3). There are a few elements to setting up successful tactics. Consider how you will achieve each of your goals in terms of influencing the behaviour of your target market through the relevant channels, messaging and content.
Let’s look again at Susan’s goals for Tropical Treasures. She wanted to increase her sales-driven marketing and add email marketing to her outreach.
Susan will strategically target her customer avatar, a 35-45-year-old expat woman in Singapore who wants to celebrate tropical living when planning her content. Here are some specific examples of tactics for Tropical Treasures.
- Regularly connect with the target market identified via three core channels (social media, email and paid search) to generate brand awareness.
- Collaborate on giveaways with businesses or influencers to expand reach and identify potential new customers. This might include boutique beverages, a restaurant with an indoor-outdoor concept, or women’s resort wear.
- Participate in relevant pop-ups during peak retail season, leveraging her email newsletter to meet followers in person and convert them into customers.
- Leverage email marketing to build deeper relationships with existing customers with email only promotions and a referral rewards programme, increasing customer loyalty to her brand.
By having an annual plan, Susan knows how much of her marketing budget and time she can devote to each of these activities and spread out her resources to where they are most effective.
Did we get there?
Step 5: Monitor your performance and make adjustments
Understanding how your strategy and tactics performed is an integral part of the process. It may not happen during the planning stage, but you can set yourself up for success by assessing the success of your efforts. This will also help you keep the bigger picture in full view and make adjustments regularly to control your spending and time invested in your marketing efforts.
Optimise your feedback tools
Each social media platform and email marketing system will provide you with feedback on your content and outreach at no cost. Once you have identified how to receive this information, you may decide to invest in additional tools to provide more comprehensive data on your content.
Understand and record insights
It is helpful to keep a history of the performance of your posts and campaigns. To preserve a complete view, you can consider archiving the most critical pieces of information like engagement rates on posts on various programmes, the number of entries on giveaways, and even informal customer feedback by transferring them over to a spreadsheet or document that you own.
Perhaps the crowded landscape in the lead up to Christmas meant your hashtag reach declined, but in-person fairs generated more sales. Taking a few minutes to set up how you organise this information can help when you want to create your next campaign or you’re ready to plan your next year.
Review your processes
If you’re new to planning for a year or your business circumstances have changed since the last time you undertook the exercise, it can be illuminating to look back on your processes alongside the results of your goals. If something went particularly well or even if it didn’t work out as anticipated, note it down in a journal or keep a separate tab together with your statistical insights.
Perhaps you learnt that you needed to time a campaign differently or discovered new ways to save time on content planning. Creating a “playbook” of your processes can help you repeat your successes and avoid making the same mistake twice.
Planning your marketing for a year can be time-consuming, but it’s well worth the investment. Remember that the time you spend planning is an investment, and you will gain confidence in your decisions for months to come. I hope this guide has demystified how you can accomplish the task with minimal second-guessing and maximum confidence!
If you need help along the way, feel free to book a call to see how I can help grow your business. I offer planning, goal setting, strategy packages, and regular, bite-sized digital marketing training on these topics.