This Is Not Your Father’s Marketing Plan, and That’s Good

Paige Musto

In marketing, much like in life, success is often a function of how well you plan – how much you’re willing to research, strategize, optimize your approach. Mankind’s earliest marketers knew this: Umbricius Scaurus, a resident of Pompeii in the first century, A.D, famously promoted the fish sauce he was known for (so beloved across the Mediterranean that even people in France knew his name) with descriptions he knew would appeal to well-heeled consumers; mackerel as the “flower” of the sea. Marketing adapted to taste and preference.
Marketing plans are just as essential to business success today, but they’ve changed dramatically, thanks to changes in marketing itself – the rise of mobile, social media, the internet, all of which have made information more readily available to consumers and forced marketers to engage them even earlier, even more effectively.

Gone is the view that marketers are harbingers of brand only; now, they’re responsible for revenue, profits, growth, and the customer experience – a paradigm shift that calls for a newer, high-performance plan capable of addressing modern marketing holistically across awareness, acquisition and retention objectives.

Here’s where you start

Build the plan around specific buyer stages. There are many ways to organize a marketing plan, but the structure that makes most sense today is a framework based on the stages of customer engagement.

It’s like a timeline: Attract (being active in the places where customers and prospects are, attracting their eyeballs, establishing trust and thought leadership). Capture (gaining more direct information about customers and advancing company awareness with, say, gated content such as white papers and eBooks). Nurture (using customer contact information to start and advance the conversation in ways that feel helpful and personalized to the potential customer). Convert (knowing when the customer is ready to buy). Expand (how to expand relationships with existing customers – marketing’s job no longer ends at the sale).

Develop compelling themes. A strong marketing plan must nail the messages that will resonate with target buyers – not just product positioning but how a company wants potential, existing and future customers to feel about it.

This is why the right content is so important. As marketing consultant Lee Odden has said, “Content isn’t king. It’s the kingdom.” Content must: Address buyer pain points and needs. Be simple to understand. Be relevant during all stages of the buyer’s journey. Be enduring enough to stand the test of time (at least a year).

And don’t overdo it – no more than three or perhaps four themes. More just dilutes the messages and creates noise.

Map content to customer lifecycle stages. An impactful content program provides the right information at the right time. Thus, in the Attract phase, which is focused on creating trust and thought leadership for the brand, deliver blog posts, press releases and similar material. In the demand generation stages of Capture, Nurture and Convert, rely on eBooks, white papers, webinars and third-party content like analyst reports and case studies to validate why you’re right vendor. In the Expand phase, think about training and adoption. How do you cultivate happy customers who love you, keep buying and recommend you to others?

Sweat the tactics. Each stage of the customer journey should have matching tactics, and they should meet certain goals. For example, the objectives of Attract tactics could be to increase inbound activity and website traffic and amplify social media engagement. Capture tactics could aim to raise website conversions, maximize trade show and online event success, and increase lead volume. Expand goals could include capitalizing on upsell and cross-sell opportunities, and increasing loyalty and retention rates.

Depend on technology for help. Given the new requirements being placed on marketing in the hyper-digital age, it’s important to determine what technical systems can support the marketing plan. With more than 3,000 marketing technology vendors out there, it’s hard to make sense of it all. Companies should take full advantage of technology that provides a single command center to better understand customers and prospects, and track, measure and analyze every interaction.

Measure! You know the saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” The marketing plan should include ways to measure everything possible that ties to the customer lifecycle objectives. It’s the only way to make sure the plan is working (not to mention justifying the marketing spend to higher-ups). Get buy-in from the whole team so everyone has a vested interest in the strategy and how to measure its success. Make sure you have the technology in place to track performance.

Find a big idea. Incorporate a favorite bold idea into the plan and go all out on executing it. Examples: A new channel or tactic to unearth new opportunities for the business. Innovative content – think beyond the eBook. How about video marketing? New ways of reporting KPIs or motivating teams to achieve them.

Marketing plans that fail to adequately address the new realities of today’s customer environment are becoming, like Pompeii, ancient history. Smart marketers are turning to fresh new approaches for the age-old planning exercise.

Paige Musto is Sr. Director, Corporate Marketing at Act-On Software, a marketing automation provider.