How to Develop and Implement a Marketing Action Plan

white board with sticky notes

If a genie popped out of a bottle and offered to grant you one wish, do you know what you would ask for? 

For many of us, we’d leap to, “A bunch of money,” or “Unlimited free time.” 

But have you considered how either of those fits into a plan that you may have for your life? 

See, in order to do anything meaningful, you have to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. You need a plan.

It’s no different within your business. Having a marketing plan is imperative for the success of your organization. 

Here’s how to develop and implement a marketing plan of your own.

Create a strategy before tactics

Small business owners often quickly fall for the hot, new marketing tactic of the week. This is usually because they have no strategy. They leap from new tactics to new tactics without sticking to the bigger picture plan. We call this the “shiny squirrel syndrome”.

The key element to making your marketing effective? A strategy-first approach.

You need to build your strategy before you even think about the tactics. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you trying to sell to anyone and everyone?
  • Are you struggling to stand out from your competition?
  • Are you unsure of what tactics even make sense for you right now?

These are strategy problems and can only be addressed with strategy solutions. You need to know your big-picture business goals. Once you have those defined, then you put together the tactics it will take to make that strategy come to life. You’ll ensure your entire team is not only rowing in the same direction but the correct direction as well.

Research your current customers

Talk to your current customers.

Your customers are an invaluable resource you can learn from to help shape your entire business, your core messages, your products or services, and so much more.

Knowing your customers can uncover the best ways how to attract, reach, and better serve the right people.

If you are nervous about talking with your stakeholders, check out your reviews to see what they are saying about your organization. More often than not, what we think is attractive about our business is not completely aligned with what motivated our clients to engage with us.

Here’s a quick story that illustrates this point.

We had a client who believed the equipment they use to service their clients was a chief draw for why they were attracted to their target audience. They talked about all the cool machinery they brought to the job sites, how slick this all was, and how much their customers loved it.

When we talked to their clients and looked at reviews of the business, we didn’t hear anything about the machinery. Just a LOT of great comments about punctuality, professionalism, and work ethic. THIS is the messaging that we encouraged them to use to engage with their target audience and address the pain points that motivate them to take action. 

Research your competitors

Conducting competitive research is a way to grow and evolve your business. It’s so much more than researching companies you consider to be your direct competitors—it’s taking a look at your entire digital competition and even looking at “aspirational” businesses and organizations you would like to emulate.

Take a look at what terms your competitors are ranking for that you should be, what content they’re putting out on their blog, or what kind of ads they’re creating. This kind of research helps you:

  • Learn new ways to serve your customers
  • Understand why other sites are ranking higher than yours
  • Uncover the type of content you need to be creating
  • Use data to spot new opportunities
  • Seize new opportunities to gain customers

Competitor research provides a plethora of great ideas for how to better engage your stakeholders. Luc Godard said, “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” Get inspired by others then add your unique, authentic spin on it.

Promise to solve a problem

Nobody wants what you sell. People want their problems solved. Period.

People buy better versions of themselves, not things. They want what they believe will help them feel good about themselves, achieve something higher, get relief from some level of pain or discomfort, avoid a sticky situation, or prepare themselves for the future.

It’s your job as a business owner to understand the problems people are trying to solve and match your offers to those very specific problems. Very few people in the world want the things, the services, and the solutions businesses sell.

You need to have an approach that is focused on a very specific type of customer, with a very specific need or problem, and a promise to solve that problem in a very specific way.

Then you need to make bold promises that you will help solve these problems. Demonstrate that you have a vision—a plan—for your client’s success and they’ll follow you there.

Map out the customer journey with the Marketing Hourglass

The customer journey isn’t linear. It’s our job to help guide buyers and stakeholders as they travel down the often-crooked path. The way that people buy today has changed so dramatically that instead of creating demand, we need to organize behavior.

A traditional marketing funnel typically identifies three stages: Awareness, Consideration, and Purchase. But the thing that the traditional marketing funnel neglects to address is that when it comes to lead and referral generation, a happy customer is your most powerful asset.

This is why we follow the stakeholder lifecycle approach to marketing that identifies four major areas of engagement: ATTRACT, BOND, CONNECT and INSPIRE phases. These can be further broken down into the Marketing Hourglass approach. It consists of seven connected stages:

  • Know—one of the best ways to become known is through organic search and authentic outreach. Start by using content to spark interest.
  • Like—once someone knows your organization, you start to nurture your leads during this phase by demonstrating your expertise, sharing knowledge, and giving them useful resources. These don’t all need to be bespoke, long-form materials. Simply connecting people with valuable information and resources is effective.
  • Trust—people buy from organizations they trust. Get your customers involved in content creation. This is where customer-generated videos, case studies, stories, and social media are a major playing piece. This is the “social proof” that backs up the promises you make to solve your stakeholders’ problems.
  • Try—this stage is where the audition happens. It’s where you need to really deliver more than anyone. Consider providing a free or low-cost version of what you sell or an entry-point item that creates a value-exchange relationship (e.g. something of value in exchange for an email address counts).
  • Buy—time to show real results and keep the experience high in this stage. Think about how you orient new stakeholders, exceed their expectations, and surprise them. The complete customer experience is measured by the end result, not what you did to get the sale.
  • Repeat—the easiest way to increase revenue is to engage your existing client or stakeholder base. And the best way to get repeat business is to make sure your clients receive and understand the value of doing business with you. Look, selling to and engaging with new stakeholders is exciting. But the lowest-hanging fruit for most organizations is to go back to the well that has been produced in the past. Just ask your existing stakeholders to do more with you to get the quickest revenue wins.
  • Refer—turn happy customers into referral customers. Create a remarkable experience with your customers that exceeds their expectations so they are compelled to share your business with others. Then build out a referral program that keeps your stakeholders engaged in promoting your organization to their networks.

Every organizations’ stakeholders move through these stages, but most organizations are only addressing a few of them. Figure out the journey your ideal customer or stakeholders travels to engage with this when they are seeking the solutions you provide.

Use the Marketing Hourglass framework to map your customer journey. Then, the next step in your marketing action plan is to strategically use a variety of content to engage with your audience at the various stages of the hourglass.

Use content as the voice of strategy

Content creation is the hardest job a marketer has to accomplish, but when you plan your content with your hourglass in mind, it’s the highest payoff work you can do.

Content has grown beyond just being a tactic—it touches all aspects of your marketing and your business. It powers the entire customer journey.

Your audience expects to be able to find information about any product, service, or challenge they face simply by doing a Google search. And if you aren’t showing up, you won’t be found.

Without a great content plan backed up by valuable materials, there’s a pretty good chance stakeholders won’t move forward with you because you lack credibility in their eyes. People go with solutions they feel they can trust.

You must use the content as your voice of strategy, and the best way to do this is to produce content that focuses on education and building trust at every stage of the customer journey.

Develop a list of quarterly priorities and live by the calendar

As a small business owner, you know there’s always plenty to do and never enough time in the day. But marketing needs to be viewed as a habit that’s ingrained in your daily routine. And it’s WAY easier to stay on track when you have a plan.

Planning for what needs to be done and when—is how you can stay focused on the activities that will give you the highest ROI. Start by creating a list of the highest impact items you need to fix or implement for each quarter.

Then, live by the calendar. If you don’t schedule it, odds are it won’t happen.

Something that has worked extremely well for many business owners—who have been trained by our system—is adding monthly themes around your foundational marketing projects, breaking them up, and spreading them out over the course of the year. If you commit to an annual calendar, you’re more likely to follow it on a consistent basis. Your Marketing Action Plan will provide you with the roadmap you need to achieve the success you are seeking.

Measure what matters

There are so many things you can measure: sales metrics, social metrics, content metrics, conversion metrics, growth metrics, the list goes on and on. And one of the biggest challenges is determining what you should be measuring.

But you can’t measure what’s easy—you have to measure what matters. You can start by doing these 4 things:

  1. Create metrics that serve your priority objectives—whether it’s your goal to increase customers by X or grow your audience by X, you need to define what metrics make sense for the goals that you’ve set.
  2. Establish target goals for each objective—figure out how you’re going to gather the data you need to gauge whether or not you are on the right track.
  3. Select the tools you’ll use to track your progress—dashboards are an everyday reality for marketers. As a business owner, you need to be able to see what’s happening day-to-day.
  4. Use your results to make improvements—when you’re measuring the right things, you’ll start to see trends, why something happened, and what you might be able to do to make improvements.

Running your business without a fully fleshed-out marketing plan is like driving without a map.

Maybe you make it to your destination, but you might find yourself taking quite a few detours along the way. You can save yourself a lot of trial and error by developing and implementing a marketing action plan.

Want to learn more about creating a Marketing Action Plan or getting your team trained up on the building and implementing your plan? Get started with our Certified Marketing Management Program.