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What is a marketing strategy? Everything you need to know

What is a marketing strategy: employees working together

Key takeaways

  • A marketing strategy includes valuable information about your competitors, industry, target audience, and brand identity you can use to make data-driven decisions
  • After pinpointing your target audience, your marketing strategy explains what entices them to buy from you
  • Creating your marketing strategy first will help inform your marketing plan with tangible steps you can take to reach your business goals

If you’re one of the many small business owners running marketing efforts entirely on their own without a marketing team, you likely don’t have the time to develop an overarching strategic marketing strategy or might not know where to start.

Whether you’re a startup or a seasoned business, growth is key. To ensure that growth, you’ll need to be proactive about seizing opportunities and spotting improvements.

An effective marketing strategy can help you be proactive. When opportunities arise, you’ll know whether they’re a good fit for your business and customer experience, and you won’t waste time and money on marketing that doesn’t move your metrics in a positive direction. 

What is a marketing strategy?

A tailored marketing strategy should spell out your business goals, brand identity, target market, and competitive advantage

In simpler terms, your marketing strategy should specify:

  1. What you’re selling
  2. Who you’re selling to
  3. Why they want to buy it

For example, Joe owns a local jewelry shop. He sells jewelry to people in his community, and he knows they buy from him because they like jewelry. But that’s not specific enough to guide his marketing objectives—local customers could buy jewelry online or in a chain store at the mall instead.

On deeper reflection, Joe realizes his customers are mostly other local businesspeople. They buy from him because he’s very involved in the community and they know and trust him.

That “aha moment” could form the foundation of Joe’s marketing strategy. It helps him understand his competitive advantage (a strength he can leverage against his competitors) and lets him know who his customers are. He now has insight into which marketing expenses would make sense (like sponsoring a local little league team) and which don’t (like buying a billboard near the highway).

Marketing strategy vs. marketing plan

To continue the example, Joe’s marketing strategy will be the foundation for his marketing plan. The two concepts are connected but different.

A successful marketing strategy takes into account your goals, brand strengths, how you compare to competitors, and who your customers are and how to appeal to them. A marketing plan includes the specific actions, initiatives, and marketing tools needed to implement your strategy.

Think of it this way: A coach goes into a big game with an overall strategy based on his players’ strengths and weaknesses and what he knows about the opponents. Based on his strategy, he crafts a specific game plan for each segment of the game, including who will be on the field and which plays to run.

Your marketing strategy will inform a specific marketing plan that includes which ads you might buy, how you’ll leverage online marketing and social media channels, and other elements to add to your marketing mix that will help you achieve your goals.

Components of a marketing strategy

Developing a marketing strategy for the first time can seem overwhelming, but breaking it down into its core elements can help. 

Market research

Market research might not seem necessary if you’ve already been in business for a while. However, knowing market trends in your industry can give small business owners perspective on market changes and advantages over the competition.

For example, is your customer base aging or getting younger? Is demand growing or shrinking? What new product or technology is on the horizon that could impact your business? Fortunately, you can do market research with a small business budget.

Competitor research

Even if you don’t have much competition in town, there are always indirect competitors (businesses that satisfy the same need with a different product).

For example, a movie theater competes with neighboring theaters and streaming services but also with music venues, comedy shows, and other entertainment or nightlife businesses.

Your marketing strategy should take into account all of your potential competition. For instance, the movie theater needs to define its competitive advantage over other local entertainment venues—whether that’s lower prices, better food options, or a more relaxed environment than a comedy club or music venue.

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Unique value proposition

A unique value proposition (UVP) states how your product or service will benefit your customers. Depending on how many types of customers your business targets, it is possible for the UVP to change. Your UVP is what persuades customers to buy from you instead of the competition and can help you build your competitive advantage.

Even in a crowded marketplace, you can stand out if you carefully define your UVP in your marketing. For example, there might be three different nail salons in a neighborhood, but if one is known for low prices, another for high-end pampering, and the third for cutting-edge nail art, they can each find their customers.

Target audience

A target audience is a group of people defined by certain factors like age, gender, location, interests, or income.

Defining your target audience is essential for effective marketing because it focuses your message and helps you choose the proper channels to reach them. For instance, a local fine dining restaurant might want to target older adults with a high income rather than college students or young parents.

Here are some questions to help define your target audience:

  • What is the age range of your current customers?
  • What is their income bracket?
  • Where do they live?
  • What do they have in common that makes them choose your business?

Taking time to define the demographics of your current and potential customers will help you streamline marketing goals and choose the right marketing tactics and initiatives to reach them.

To reach a target audience, consider investing in ads, available on many popular search engines, social media sites, and Yelp. Look for options to target specific demographics like age, income, and location. The more narrowly you define your target customers, the more effective your digital marketing strategy will be.

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Market segments

Market segments are groups of customers with similar needs or characteristics—and you might already be dividing your customers into segments without even realizing it.

For instance, a hair salon might market everyday family haircuts to moms but also have a marketing campaign for bridal parties that aims to reach young women.

The salon might target moms through images of happy kids with clean hair and messages about affordability but bring very different photos and messaging to a bridal show.

Segmenting your target audience by customer needs and demographics is a smart and easy way to appeal to more than one type of potential customer. It also helps with personalizing your marketing efforts, such as email campaigns.

Buyer personas

Senior couple happily hiking

Some businesses further delve into their target market by developing buyer personas for their customers. A buyer persona is a fictional character created to represent a customer.

Creating buyer personas can help you get inside the heads of your target customers and understand what they want and need from your business. Once you have a few buyer personas, it’s much easier to develop targeted marketing campaigns that speak directly to them.

For example, a lawn care company might create characters named Bob and June, an active retired couple who enjoy a high disposable income. Bob and June love to travel, and they need a trustworthy lawn care company to keep things in shape while they’re gone.

With that image in mind, the lawn care company might create marketing messages that stress how their team can offer reliable lawn care that’s easy to schedule remotely.

Brand identity

Your brand identity makes your business recognizable. It includes everything from your logo and color scheme to your messaging when answering the phone and posting on social media.

Customers should be able to immediately recognize your company when seeing your marketing materials. Consistency is key when crafting brand elements. Use the same colors, fonts, words, and images repeatedly to reinforce your brand identity.

To build an effective brand identity, consider what you know about your unique value proposition, target market, and competitive advantage.

For example, suppose your business, an affordable daycare center, targets young parents. Your brand identity could include bright colors and a cartoon character in the logo with a catchphrase about affordable, reliable child care.

However, if you run an elite daycare center that includes French language lessons and gourmet meals, you might choose an elegant color scheme, like navy blue and silver, with a slogan about giving kids a high-quality educational experience from a young age.

An effective marketing strategy leads to a strong marketing plan

Once you have your strategy mapped out, it’ll be clear which marketing activities are best for your business growth. That’s where strategy ends and the marketing plan begins.

Small businesses use some (or all) of the following tools to implement their strategies:

  • SEO optimization. Make sure your website includes the right keywords to attract new customers.
  • Email marketing. Build an email list and use it to keep in touch with—and win over—potential customers.
  • Social media marketing. Choose social media channels used most often by your target market and engage them in conversation.
  • Content marketing. Add a blog to your site, start a podcast, or create guest content for third-party blogs to maximize your content marketing efforts. Publishing SEO-optimized content will help showcase your team’s experience and attract the right traffic to your website.
  • Classes and webinars. Free webinars are a great way to “meet” potential clients, learn more about customer needs, and add prospects to your email list.
  • Online advertising. Expand your reach by buying ads on search engines, social media channels, and Yelp, where potential customers are researching businesses and have high intent to buy.

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Map out your marketing strategy

Now that you know what a marketing strategy is, why it’s important, and what goes into creating one, you’re ready to start working on your own. 

A successful marketing strategy will be unique to your business and evolve as you grow. Be sure to track your results so you can improve your strategy over time.

Once you’ve documented your marketing strategy and know your target audience, discover six effective customer engagement marketing tactics to build loyalty and increase sales.

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.