I talk a lot about the importance of marketing strategy. In an environment with limited resources – and let’s face it, everyone operates in an environment with limited resources – it’s important to spend time, money and energy on things that will contribute to business results. So what is a marketing strategy? There are many definitions, but these are the elements that I include in a solid marketing strategy document:
What are you trying to achieve? The most powerful strategy documents state this as a measurable business goal. Some examples:
- Increase online student applications by 3% in Fall 2018
- Increase alumni giving participation from 10% to 15% in 3 years
- Generate one repeat purchase from 5% of new bookstore customers in 2018
Who are you trying to reach? It can be tempting to say “everyone”, but that’s not a realistic target audience. A neatly defined target audience has at least some shared behaviors, attitudes and goals. The most effective way to segment is based on audience goals:
- Adults planning to complete a college degree
- Working professionals looking to get an additional certification
A target audience can be based on demographics:
- Women between 25-44
- Adults over 65
It can be based on life stage:
- Moms of elementary school age children
- 17-year-olds in Chicago who are planning to go to college
(It’s fine to have multiple target audiences, or primary and secondary target audiences, but list them separately.)
What are the three primary strategies you will use to achieve the goal? It can be tempting to list more than three, but including only three forces you to focus on the top things that will achieve the goal.
Here are some examples of strategies:
- Increase social media presence in key markets
- Develop a web portal to provide prospective students with a personalized experience
- Build communication flow for parents of prospective students
The tactics provide specific details for activities around each strategy. Why separate the tactics from strategies? I think it’s easier to get buy-in, because if you get objections to your marketing strategy, it helps clarify whether the objections are at the strategy or the tactical level. I find it easiest (and clearest) to show each tactic with its associated strategy:
Strategy: Increase social media presence in key markets
- Run Facebook ads in Chicago and Detroit in Q1 2018
- Identify and follow key social media influencers
Strategy: Develop a web portal to provide prospective students with a personalized experience
- Develop specific web content for prospective students
- Create password-protected portal
The budgeting method will depend on how firm the cost estimates are for the tactics. If you know the cost of each tactic, you can show an additive budget. Alternatively, if you have a fixed budget ceiling, you can show one total budget number as a “not to exceed” budget.
This is a list of potential roadblocks or issues that will need to be overcome to complete the project. For each issue you list, you also need to present a possible solution. (Otherwise, you’re just whining.)
The final strategy element is a list of the 2-3 immediate next steps and, importantly, who’s going to do them. This leaves the reader with a sense of action and urgency, and ensures that those responsible for follow-up items know what’s due when.
Deborah Maue is the president of Higher Thinking, Inc. a consulting firm that helps higher education institutions achieve their goals through strategic planning, consumer branding, and organizational development.