Marketing Strategy 101: A 7-Step Plan for Beginners

Erik Mathes

Nov 13, 202313 min read
Marketing Strategy


What Is a Marketing Strategy?

A marketing strategy is an overarching guide to how your business positions and promotes itself to prospects and customers to reach your company goals.

Consider it the roadmap that outlines your business’s fundamental approach to engaging with your audience, communicating your values (and value proposition), and driving sales. 

And your marketing strategy should be:

  • Clear
  • Concise
  • Specific 
  • Long-term

Marketing Strategy vs. Marketing Plan: What’s the Difference?

The terms “marketing strategy” and “marketing plan often get mixed up. 

Here’s why:

They’re closely related concepts that both inform your marketing activities.

  • Marketing strategy definition: The big-picture vision for how you’ll achieve your business’s goals. It sets the stage for how you’ll position your brand, who you’ll target, and the brand values you’ll uphold.
  • Marketing plan definition: The step-by-step details outlining how you’ll bring your marketing strategy to life. It focuses on specific processes, tools, and tactics needed to reach your business goals.
An infographic comparing marketing strategy and marketing plan definitions

For example:

A new energy drink company does extensive research and identifies pickleball players as its ideal customers. And a market segment that’s projected to grow. 

Then, the company formulates a marketing strategy focused on appealing to those players by promoting the idea of playfulness, having fun, and not taking life too seriously. 

From there, they develop a marketing plan that details how they’ll execute their strategy. Step by step. 

Through research and analysis, the team identifies four channels to focus their marketing efforts on that fit within their budget:

  • Social media via Instagram
  • Website via blog posts that use SEO best practices
  • Email via an existing list of subscribers
  • Paid search ads via Google Ads

The plan then details the specific actions that will drive their strategy goals. 

Such as:

  • Hire video creators to produce funny videos of people playing other sports with pickles as substitutes for traditional balls. Then, post the content on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok to connect with audiences and influencers on those platforms. 
  • Employ freelance writers to create blog articles optimized for keywords that pickleball players would likely search for. And write email marketing campaigns that include links to these new articles. 
  • Contract with a pay-per-click (PPC) ads expert to develop a paid search campaign for keywords related to enhancing pickleball player performance

Get the idea?

Both the strategy and the plan are crucial for success. 

Why Is a Marketing Strategy Important?

Having an established (and documented) marketing strategy provides direction that ensures all your activities are unified and working toward the same goal.

Without one, you’ll deal with wasted resources, misaligned efforts, and missed opportunities. 

The power of an effective marketing strategy lies in its ability to:

  • Drive purposeful action: It connects your marketing endeavors with overarching business objectives to ensure each initiative contributes to long-term goals
  • Foster team alignment: A marketing strategy allows all teams to rally behind a shared vision to accelerate growth, enhance sales, and improve customer retention
  • Help measure results: A clear strategy provides a framework for reviewing performance, seeing whether your tactics align, and knowing if they’re driving toward your end goal

7 Steps for Creating a Comprehensive Marketing Strategy

Whether you’re crafting a marketing strategy and plan for the first time or you want a refresher, it’s helpful to follow these steps.

1. Set Measurable Goals

Defining clear marketing goals that contribute to the larger company goals allows you to measure your efforts. And determine whether you’re on track.

The SMART framework offers a simple approach to goal setting. It states that goals should be:

  • Specific: Keep goals clear, concise, and detailed. Define exactly what you’re setting out to achieve.
  • Measurable: Set criteria for measuring your goals’ progress and success. Establish the metrics you’ll use to track and evaluate performance. Like number of site visitors, engagement rate, and conversions.
  • Actionable: Ensure clear steps can be taken and determine the workflows and investments necessary to complete your goals. Consider time, budget, and tools. 
  • Relevant: Align goals with broader organizational objectives. Such as raising revenue, boosting brand awareness, and increasing customer loyalty. 
  • Time-bound: Instill a sense of urgency and stay focused by establishing time frames with clear deadlines. Decide when actions must be taken. And when performance must be measured. 
An infographic by Semrush listing what SMART marketing goals stand for

For example: 

By applying the SMART framework, you could set a goal of getting 35% more leads through your website pop-ups by the end of Q3. 

2. Conduct Market Research and Identify Your Target Audience

Doing market research gives you insight into the overall market landscape and who the audience is. Which impacts your marketing strategy.

So, where should you begin?

Semrush’s Market Explorer allows you to benchmark yourself against your competitors and learn details about target audiences.

Open the tool, make sure the “Create List” tab is selected, and enter at least three competitors’ domains. And click “Create and analyze.”

"," "" and "" entered into Market Explorer search

You’ll then be taken to the “Overview” report for a high-level look at the market. Including the level of consolidation, the market size, and the total amount of website traffic the market receives. 

Market Explorer overview report

Scroll down to “Domain vs Market Dynamics” to take a closer look at how each competitor stacks up against the larger market.

“Domain vs Market Dynamics” section in Market Explorer

Now, head to the “Audience” tab. 

You’ll be able to see a ton of information about the audience. Including their educational level, interests, social media preferences, and most frequently visited domains. 

Market Explorer audience report

Then, use the insights you gain from Market Explorer to create in-depth customer profiles (also known as buyer personas) to get a clearer picture of your target audience.

These are fictional but data-driven profiles of your ideal customers.

Semrush’s buyer persona templates can help you create your own customer profiles based on your research. 

Click “Create Your Free Buyer Personas.

Semrush Persona landing page

Then, click the image that best represents your ideal customers.

An image selected under "Choose your persona" section

Next, select “Default template.” 

"Default template" selected under "Choose template" section

Now you can start filling in your buyer persona details. Including a fictitious name, bio, and demographics. And crucial details like their frustrations, goals, and factors influencing buying decisions. 

Semrush Persona template page

If you’ve been in business for a while, consider additional research methods like surveys, feedback forms, and social media analytics (if you’ve been using social media to promote your business). 

It’s also a good idea to look into individual competitors using the Domain Overview tool. To learn more about their online presence.

In the tool, enter a competitor’s domain and click “Search.”

"" entered into Domain Overview search bar

You’ll get a comprehensive snapshot of the site’s performance. And be able to see metrics like organic (meaning unpaid) traffic, paid search traffic, total backlinks (links from other domains that point to theirs), and more. 

Domain Overview report for ""

Use this data to gain a better understanding of who you’re competing against. And what it will take to stand out. 

Further reading: What Is a Competitor Analysis & How to Do It (with Template)

3. Determine Your Overall Approach

Deciding your overall marketing approach forms the basis of your strategy. Which enables your company to stand out among the competition and connect effectively with your target audience.

Once you’ve set goals and completed your groundwork research, gather the stakeholders who will have a say in determining your marketing strategy. Meaning marketing leadership and leaders from sales, finance, and any other teams involved.

With your goals set and data gathered from the previous steps, collaborate to decide on a marketing strategy approach that makes sense for your company. 

Consider evaluating your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats using a SWOT analysis to help you plan.

An infographic on how to do a SWOT analysis

Every business will have a different approach to marketing strategy. So, your approach represents a conscious choice and commitment to how you’ll achieve your goals. 

For example:

A small, luxury beauty company knows it won’t be able to compete against big players by outspending them.

So, they devise a strategy to emphasize what sets them apart by highlighting their dermatologist founder, clean ingredients, and clinical trial results. To appeal to prospects who are willing to invest in better makeup. 

With that direction in place, the brand will stay within their marketing budget and can now focus on its messaging, channels, and tactics. 

4. Craft Key Brand Messaging

A strong brand message shows what your company stands for, why you’re different, and why people should care. And attracts the right people. 

Start with your tone of voice. Our guide on how to define your brand’s tone of voice walks you through the steps. But here’s a quick overview: 

  1. Define your core values by creating a mission statement and communication goals (i.e., adjectives that describe your business)
  2. Determine your tone of voice by establishing characteristics that define how you want to sound to your target audience (e.g., funny vs. serious, formal vs. casual, respectful vs. irreverent, enthusiastic vs. matter of fact
  3. Observe your audience (like on social media) to find out how they interact with your content and how they communicate with each other. This will allow you to tweak your voice based on their preferences.
  4. Set clear brand guidelines (like the example from Adobe below) for correct use across channels
"Voice" section of Adobe's brand guidelines

Next, use your brand’s tone of voice and buyer personas to shape your messaging. Which conveys how you’ll communicate with your audience to compel them to become customers.

It highlights your company’s value proposition. Which is a concise statement that explains what makes your product or service unique and beneficial compared to competitors. It may also showcase company values, like eco-friendliness, inclusivity, and future-mindedness.

An infographic showing what your product/services’s value proposition is

Your messaging should touch on vocabulary. Including which words to use frequently and which terms to avoid. 

It also includes slogans and taglines that help prospects and customers identify your business and what it’s about. 

Remember—the best brand messaging is:

  • Clear and easy to read and understand
  • Consistent across different marketing channels (to a degree)
  • Captivating to hold people’s attention
  • Connected to people’s values and emotions
  • Convincing enough to compel people to buy

Once you’ve sharpened your brand messaging, it’s time to identify which marketing channels and tactics you can use to achieve your strategy.

5. Select Marketing Channels and Tactics

Choosing the right marketing channels and tactics is pivotal. Because even well-planned campaigns can miss their goals if they’re broadcast in spaces that don’t align with your audience.

Content distribution occurs across three broad channel categories:

  • Owned channels: The channels your brand controls. Like your website, social media profiles, email newsletters, and apps.
  • Earned or shared channels: Third-party channels that share your content or content about your brand. Think guest posts, reviews, and media mentions.
  • Paid channels: Channels that involve paying to promote your brand. Including paid search ads, social ads, sponsored content, or influencer/brand partnerships.
An infographic on key types of content distribution channels

When crafting a digital marketing strategy, the channels you’ll use depends on your individual business.

To see which channels have worked for you well in the past (if your company has been around for a while), head to Google Analytics to gather data.

Open the “Traffic acquisition” report to discover which channels are driving traffic to your website. 

“Traffic acquisition” report in GA4

Some traffic acquisition channels you might see are:

  • Organic search from sources like Google, Bing, and Baidu
  • Organic social from sources like Tiktok, Instagram, and Facebook
  • Direct traffic from people who type your URL directly into their browser
  • Referral traffic from other websites
  • Paid search from pay-per-click search campaigns
  • Email from links in email messages sent to your subscriber list

To uncover which channels your competitors are using, head to Market Explorer

Like before, open the tool, select the “Create List” tab. Then, enter at least three competitors’ domains and click “Create and analyze.”

In the “Overview” report, scroll down to the “Domain vs Market Dynamics” module toward the bottom. 

There, you’ll find the “Traffic Generation Strategy” data for all competitors you enter.

“Traffic Generation Strategy” section of the report in Market Explorer

Then, scroll to the top and click “Audience” and scroll down to glean which social media platforms your competitors’ audiences prefer. 

"Social Media" charts from the "Audience" report in Market Explorer

Let’s say you discover that YouTube is a priority channel because it’s driving massive amounts of traffic to your competitors.

You could then prioritize tactics like optimizing your current YouTube videos’ titles and descriptions with keywords. And creating new content based on users’ comments and feedback.

6. Establish Your Budget and Timelines

Creating a marketing budget that’s aligned with your resources, channels, and tactics is key for putting your plan into action.

Start crafting your budget by distributing it across your highest-priority channels and tactics.

For example:

Say you run a restaurant with a marketing budget of $50,000. 

Your priority channels are Tiktok, Instagram, and your website. And your main tactics are creating eye-catching photo and video content of your cuisine and chefs, posting that content on your site and social media, and running paid social ads to attract new customers.

Break your budget down according to your needs, starting with a photographer and videographer to shoot images and clips. This content is key to achieving your goals, so you allocate $8,000 for these efforts.

You also need to hire a web designer to spruce up your website, so you budget up to $5,000 for that. 

The remaining funds will be divided to meet your writing needs, the cost of campaigns, etc. It’s also a good idea to keep a contingency fund to cover unexpected expenses.

Of course, this is just one way to go. 

Once you’ve determined the numbers, ensure you stay on track and within budget by mapping out timelines.

Using the same restaurant example, it would be important to set deadlines for creating photo and video content, completing your website revamp, and finishing your social media calendar.

And having clear time constraints in place will keep everyone on track to achieve your goals.

7. Track and Monitor Progress

Monitoring your results lets you see what’s performing well and helps you work toward your goals. And determine whether there are optimizations you can make to improve.

The tools you’ll use to measure your performance will depend on which channels and tactics you’re leveraging. 

For example:

  • Google Analytics measures website/blog performance
  • Google Search Console tracks organic search performance
  • Google Ads and other platform-specific analytics monitors ads 

Another useful measurement method is tracking your site’s organic search rankings with Semrush’s Position Tracking tool.

Open the tool, enter your domain, and click “Set up tracking.”

Position Tracking tool

On the next screen, choose a search engine, device type, language, and your target location. Then, click “Continue To Keywords.”

"Targeting" window in Position Tracking settings

Now, enter a list of keywords you’d like to target. You can enter them manually or import them from a file or other resource.

Then, click “Start Tracking.”

"Keywords" window in Position Tracking settings

The tool will then gather data for your target keywords. And you can head to the “Overview” tab to see a dashboard showing where your site currently ranks for them.

"Rankings Overview" report in Position Tracking tool

You can now monitor how your site ranks for each keyword you’re tracking and observe improvements and setbacks as they arise.

To track your efforts on social media, try Social Analytics. Which lets you monitor metrics across your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram accounts.

Open the tool and click “+ Add profile” to connect your accounts.

Social Analytics tool

Follow the prompts in the configuration wizard for each profile. And then head to the “Overview” tab to get a high-level look at your follower growth, engagement, and more across your social accounts.

"Overview" tab in Social Analytics tool

You can also look into the specifics for each profile by clicking on the corresponding tabs. 

All of these tools simplify tracking so you can take a data-driven approach to the final piece of the marketing strategy puzzle: iteration and optimization.

Marketing Strategy for Small Businesses

Shaping a marketing strategy for a small business is especially important due to limited resources and the need to rapidly grow.

Here’s what small business owners should consider doing on top of the general marketing strategy steps outlined above:

  • Offer personalized customer engagement. Cultivate deeper, personal relationships with your customers. Doing so generates positive word-of-mouth recommendations and online testimonials.
  • Invest in local SEO. Emphasize local search engine optimization (SEO) to ensure that your business stands out in your immediate vicinity. Small businesses thrive on local support, and ensuring you’re visible in local search results and directories is key.
  • Foster community engagement. Get involved in local events, sponsorships, and collaborations. Not only does this bolster local presence, but it also instills a sense of community trust and loyalty.

Further reading: Business Growth: Stages, Strategies, and Tips to Grow Sustainably

Activate Your Marketing Strategy

Having a marketing strategy is key to achieving your broader business goals.

Now that you understand marketing strategy basics, it’s time to take action. And you can get started by looking into digital marketing tools and competitor analysis tools

Like Market Explorer. A tool that gives you invaluable insights about all your competitors.

Author Photo
Erik Mathes is an SEO content strategy consultant, copywriter, and content creator with 12+ years of experience writing and executing SEO and content marketing strategies for B2B and B2C companies, including MasterCard, Oracle, AWAY, VistaPrint, and Unilever. As a freelance journalist (and former professional chef), Erik has contributed articles, reviews, and recipes to BuzzFeed, USA Today, HuffPost, and more.
More on this