Simple Steps to Creating a Successful Marketing Strategy

Published May, 5 2016
Content Marketing
This session was presented live at a past SoundBoard event.
Main Stage
1:45 pm - 2:25 pm

Marketing StrategyCreating a successful marketing strategy can be an intimidating proposition. The good news is the steps are simple. That’s not to say they don’t take work, but these steps apply to any campaign, large or small.

Any initiative that propels a business forward and has an impact qualifies as a marketing campaign. Whether it’s a single channel campaign with just one call-to-action (CTA), or a cross-channel campaign with multiple audiences and CTAs, the same rules apply.

Marketing campaigns can support any part of a sales funnel. For example, you might run a search engine optimization (SEO) campaign aimed at driving traffic to your site. To nurture leads, you could send an email campaign to move visitors towards sales readiness. Or, you might run a multiple-channel launch campaign to bring a new product or service to market.

Before we get to detailing the steps of a successful marketing campaign, it’s important to note that such success is highly dependent on creating a well-organized Marketing Campaign Strategy Document. This is the bedrock of any campaign.

A Marketing Campaign Strategy Doc is the bedrock of an entire campaign. It keeps you focused and organized, and also serves as the single destination where you and internal stakeholders can keep tabs on the campaign. A strategy doc is the one stop shop for the what, why, and how in terms of what you are planning to achieve.

The 15 steps below can all be considered important parts of your Marketing Campaign Strategy Document. It may seem like a lot to process, but I promise they’re not so bad!

1. Define Your Strategic Objectives

Envision a pyramid. At the bottom is your marketing campaign channel targets, whether email social media, traffic, etc.

These targets are based on marketing campaign objectives, which are in turn based on marketing team’s overall goals. These goals are in turn determined by the tip of the pyramid: the company’s strategic objectives. All of these components must be aligned so you are supporting your team but also the overall company.

That’s a lot of jargon, so let’s take a moment to define the difference between goals and objectives. Goals motivate, propel a business forward, and keep you and your team focused. Goals are typically broader in nature, and longer term in scope .

Objectives keep you and your team accountable to successes and failures. They are brief and concise statements that describe a measurable outcome.

Here’s an example:

  • Your strategic objective may be to expand your customer base for a specific product.
  • Your associated marketing goal may be to generate leads to fill your sales funnel.
  • Your marketing objective might be to generate 1,2oo leads by Q2 2017.
  • Your channel targets might be to get 100 free downloads from Facebook per month and 50 clickthroughs to your website per email campaign.

So before you move on to step 2, it’s critical to first make sure you’ve identified your strategic objectives. Otherwise, you’re possibly working at cross-purposes with your company! Remember, get everyone on the same page with your marketing campaign strategy doc! Literally, this strategy doc is the page everyone needs to be using.

2. Determine Your Marketing Goals

You’ve probably heard it before, and with good reason: Your marketing campaign goals should be SMART. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

Specific: If you don’t iron out your goals, how will you know if your campaign is a success? Avoid vagaries and subjectivity here, and clearly define the outcomes you are looking to achieve.

Measurable: Your goals should always be measurable so you have an objective way to gauge your campaign’s performance. A good rule of thumb here is to pretend you are preparing for a job interview. You’ll likely be asked to “talk about a time” you succeeded or learned from mistakes. How can you offer hard evidence without measurable outcomes?

Attainable: Can you realistically achieve these goals? The risk is overconfidence in the campaign which can skew your expectations and those of higher ups. It’s OK to be conservative here, but if you’re too conservative you again risk skewed expectations. Setting a goal for 2 downloads and getting 240 might mean that you exceeded your goals by 1,200%, but if there was no valid basis for such a low goal in the first place then this success won’t make you a superstar.

Relevant: You’ve set specific goals, but do they apply to your strategic objectives? If your goals are out of sync with strategic objectives, there’s little chance you can succeed overall. If you’ve worked through your marketing campaign strategy doc, you should be good here!

Time-Bound: It’s critical to have a deadline set for when you will expect to see results. This keeps you accountable, and sets an expectation for internal stakeholders on when they will learn about the campaign’s performance. It also will help you compare future campaigns “apples to apples.”

3. Decide How You Will Measure Success

By this point you have defined your SMART marketing goals, but how will you measure the success of your campaign? You may have hit a SMART goal like “100 signups,” but what channels did you use to get there, and how did they perform? Measuring the overall success of the SMART goal is one thing, but really diving in and measuring the different components can yield a world of insight for future campaigns. If you don’t plan on this in the beginning, these insights may not be possible after the fact.

So while it may be tempting to look at the big picture and say, “We spent X and got Y on this campaign,” that risks papering over opportunities for improvement. Did the investment in Facebook retargeting ads pay off, or should more funds be pushed into AdWords search campaigns or content development?

By defining what constitutes success for all the components of your campaign as clearly as possible, you can get a more accurate sense of what efforts are delivering the best return on investment.

Before you move onto the next step, this is a great moment to emphasize the importance of giving your relevant teams a heads up as to what channels you’ll be using in your campaigns, and if you have any associated needs. Whether it’s just making sure the right analytic tools are in place, or even stress/performance testing the channels themselves, it’s important to make sure the right people on your team have the heads up they need early on. Make sure your best laid plans don’t end up in flames because your team got caught off guard.

4. Understand The Problems You Solve

If you’re planning a sale or special promotion, like a new line of clothes or custom business cards, it’s critical to your marketing strategy to first know what problems you solve.

Perhaps you’re invoking a sense of accomplishment for getting the best bang for your buck, Or, if you’re offering a new line of jeans, you may be helping customers find the perfect fit. If you sell business cards, you might hone in on the idea that you’re offering customization at workable price. The common thread here is that you are clearly painting a picture of the problem and how you’ll resolve it.

5. Identify Audiences Who Have The Problems You Solve

You’ve solved a problem, but how do you let your potential customers know? You can’t communicate effectively if you don’t know who you’re speaking to. Make a list of the different audiences that have these problems. Creating customer personas will definitely help you identify your ideal market segments.

Now, start to think about what these audiences have in common. What age are they? Do they live in a specific geographic area? What about behavioral characteristics — what online communities do they participate in? What sorts of sites do they visit? Are they motivated by price or convenience?

Ironing out exactly who you are trying to communicate with will help ensure that you’ve got an actual shot at connecting and being heard.

6. Research How The Competition Solves These Same Problems

SWOT analyses: not just for MBA students anymore! This exercise will force you to consider the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of a company, all of which can be incredibly helpful when building a successful marketing campaign.

A SWOT report on competitors is just as important. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis the competition will help you identify what you do differently or better than others in your market, and also where you may have room for improvement.


Strengths can be put out front and center of your marketing campaign. This is your chance to honestly assess the strengths of you and your competitors, and tell a story on how you are the better choice.


You understandably don’t want to promote your weaknesses, but you do want to have transparency internally about them. For example, your sales team needs to know potential customer objections so they can have an answer ready. Same goes for your customer service team, who will want to know how to respond to complaints.


Opportunities are factors outside your company that could impact your campaign. It could be a fashion trend, celebrity shenanigans, or a time of year when your strengths are apparent. If, for example, you offer free, easy returns, that might be a great item to emphasize around the holidays.


Threats are also factors outside your company that could negatively impact your campaign. If you’re about to roll out a big campaign that touts your strength, but your competitor just came on the scene with a strength that negates yours, that’s a threat.

Your goal is to stand out in the crowd. By first assessing the competitive landscape with SWOT analyses you can continue to develop your campaign with confidence.

7. Ask Yourself, What Makes My Product, Service, Or Business Unique?

Armed with all your research from your SWOT analysis, it’s time to focus in on what makes you unique. This is your Unique Selling Proposition, or USP.

Most companies are very similar, like Lowes and Home Depot. What sets them apart? You might argue not much, but they run sophisticated campaigns both in and out of their stores to appeal to particular market segments.

If you’re struggling to find your USP, run through the famous Four P’s of the marketing mix: Product, Price, Promotion, and Place.

Wal-Mart has a USP that squarely lands under Price, as they relentlessly compete on low prices. Old Spice competes on Promotion. There’s only so much difference between deodorants, but their Smell Like a Man campaign is one of the most successful in history.  Amazon competes on Place, as they are increasingly the king of home delivery.

In your campaign, pick the one thing you kick butt at and run with it!

8. Consider What Your Audience Is Thinking And Doing Now

If you want a shot at a connecting with customers, first—as the saying goes—walk a mile in their shoes. You want to get to know what are they doing, thinking about, and care about right now.

How? Moz has Jackie, who schedules one-on-one interviews with customers. She might ask questions that seemingly are unrelated to Moz, like what are they reading, and what trends they are paying attention to. Get to know them! For their help, we offer a $10 gift certificate to Starbucks. It’s an affordable, fun way to get in the minds of our customers and learn what makes them tick. The better we understand our customers, the more value we can deliver.

You can also talk to your sales and customer success teams. What pain points and insights are they learning about?

Interviews are time consuming, and you may not have loads of customers yet, let alone sales and service teams. That’s no excuse; you can still talk to friends, family, and even strangers that might be a fit for your product or service. Even if they aren’t, a fresh, outsider’s perspective can be invaluable!

9. What Do You Want Your Audience To Do After Seeing Your Campaign?

You can improve your campaign messaging and results by thinking through in advance what you want your audience will do when they see your campaign. Do you want them to immediately run to your store? Engage content? Or maybe your goal is to inspire an emotion so when they’re ready to buy you’re top of mind.

Asking these questions helps you develop your message into something that drives action.

10. Choose The Most Important Thing You Want To Communicate

Your message is the absolute most important thing you want to communicate. Make sure it is focused, powerful, snappy, and effective. Also, make sure it is benefit-driven. Features are great, but benefits resonate and will help you more effectively connect with the value you are offering your customers. If people know what’s in it for them in regards to your offering, you’re doing a good job.

When developing your core message, you can decide if you want to focus on the perceived perceived benefits of taking action, or the perceived loss of benefits from avoiding action. It is difficult to do both, so write out the pros and cons of both and decide which is more powerful. To help decide, think back to the activity you want your campaign to drive.  If you’re sending people to a store, is it the money saved by going now, or the missed opportunity to get a hot new item? Ultimately, choose the message method that you believe is most likely to drive action.

11. Substantiate Your Message

When’s the last time you bought something without checking reviews, accreditations, price matches, testimonials, or white papers? You’ve probably gotten used to having these sorts of signals available to help substantiate a company’s claims and instill confidence in your purchasing decision.

That means that even if your campaign’s message is on target, customers may not trust you enough to pull the trigger if you can’t come across as credible. Substantiators like the ones just mentioned can play a crucial and often overlooked role in the purchasing process.

If you can’t substantiate your message, go back to the previous step and re-think your message. You probably wouldn’t buy something without a company first establishing some level of trust in your message, so why should you ask that of your customers?

12. Have A Strong Call-To-Action

Once you nail down your substantiated message, it’s time to create your glorious call-to-action (CTA). The form your CTA takes depends on the medium. It might be a phrase at the end of a commercial, or a button on your website.

Regardless of type, your call-to-action should:

  • Convey a sense of urgency.
  • Be clear and concise.
  • Set an expectation.
  • Not be boring.

A note on that last one. We’ve all done it in a pinch, but challenge yourself to just say no to “Learn More” call-to-action text. You can do better! Try for something more fun and engaging, and connected to your message. Leaving it as “learn more”  is a missed opportunity in your campaign!

Sick and tired of “learn more.” Admittedly, I’ve done it. What’s fun and engaging, I guess “learn more” will work. Maybe, but I’ll bet you can do better!

13. Set Your Marketing Budget

In a world of finite resources, it’s time to get focused on what you’re spending where. Here are the key considerations to keep in mind when setting your campaign budget:

  • What is your marketing budget for the year, and where does your campaign fit it in terms of priority and scale?
  • Check with internal stakeholders to verify that your budget hasn’t changed since it was originally planned out for the period or year.
  • List all the marketing activities you would love to do that you think would help you reach your objectives.
  • Prioritize your marketing activity wishlist based on budget and past or perceived effectiveness.

Once you have a list of marketing activity priorities, it’s time to dive into an Excel or Google Doc spreadsheet and breakout the budget by activity. Here are a few steps that can help you get started on this template:

  1. Create a topline row with your total budget that automatically reduces as you add in your suggested budgets by activity.
  2. Create a column for each week or month that your marketing activities will run. Since your campaign is time-bound, you should have these dates outlined already.
  3. Create a row for each marketing activity you hope to include in your campaign, and then input the expected budget for each.

You can budget by channel, promo activity, communications, or whatever else makes sense for you. Be sure to include line items for any marketing technology costs your campaigns would incur, like a new email server for analytics platform.

You’ll probably end up over budget, so adjust accordingly. If you’re not ready to cut something, you’ll want to have a strong business case for why you need the over-budget items to accomplish your objectives.

14. Choose Your Channels Of Delivery

There’s no set playbook for deciding what channels to use to deliver your campaign.  Choosing what channels to invest in depends on business type, budget, and fit for your campaign goals.

For example, are you trying to generate awareness? You’ll likely want to measure number of impressions, which could lead you to a display campaign. If you’re targeting ready buyers, a more targeted search campaign may be in order.

For a broader perspective, it may help to think of channels in buckets, like “traditional media,” “digital media,” and “relationship marketing,” which could include customer service, partnerships, sponsorships, etc.

Consider which channel will connect best with your audience, and rank by where your audience is located based on previous audience research.

Ultimately, ask yourself: Will this channel help me complete my task?

15. Don’t Forget To Follow Up

Before you launch your campaign and grab a much-deserved nap, there’s one last crucial step: the follow up.

Recall that it takes more money to acquire a new customer than retain an existing. It’s also true that people typically need more than one interaction with a brand before they make a purchasing decision. So always have a follow up marketing activity planned!

Remarketing pixels are a great and affordable way to get back in touch with your audience, and they are relatively easy to set up for Facebook and Google AdWords ads.

You could also run a double opt-in email marketing campaign to build your relationship with customers and prospects. Definitely avoid emailing people just because you have their email address. The standard is permission-based campaigns for the best brands.

Followups can and should also happen on social media or review sites. At Moz, if someone engages with us on social media, a follow up could be as simple as just thanking them, and letting them know we’re glad they like the product.

Though relatively simple and intuitive, it’s easy to let these easy wins slip by when you’re busy. So take care to plan out your follow up activities as part of your campaign, not as an afterthought. .

Launch, Measure, Improve!

Now that you’ve done all the planning, you’re ready to launch! The insights you gain from your measurement of this campaign will help you improve your next campaign, and this is a process that is always going to evolve. But with these foundations, you’ll be ready!