How to Plan a Marketing Campaign: from Strategy to Tactics – Part 1

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Developing a marketing campaign requires a unique combination of creative, big-picture thinking and focused, detail-oriented implementation. It can be challenging to figure out how to piece all the different elements together, but breaking down the process into tangible steps can help ensure that your vision will translate into effective tactics to reach your business objective through powerful creativity and seamless execution.

I have worked with numerous startups, medium businesses, and in large multinational companies, and when it comes to campaign planning and execution, there are common mistakes that can be avoided through careful planning and methodical execution. Whether if you are the person in charge of marketing in a 2-person startup or a brand director supported by 5 different agencies, you should find this two-part series useful.

Generally speaking, smaller companies have limited time and resources, and they tend to skip important steps in the process given their natural bias to action or simple lack of bandwidth. Larger companies often lack the synergic coordination between teams required to make the most of the resources available or fail to properly execute their plan due to the lack of attention towards smaller, technical, yet critical details.

For this reason, I’ve decided to learn from my mistakes and the mistakes made around me and document the process required to plan and launch a successful marketing campaign. In this first part of a two-part series, we’ll be exploring how to put your business objective and target audience to work, creating actionable steps that take you from data analysis to an idea that serves as a solid foundation for your campaign.

Identify Objectives

Before diving into the steps, let’s start by exploring the three main objectives of any successful marketing strategy.

  1. Provide an Actionable Frame
    Marketing is a group endeavor, and your entire team needs to be able to see the vision in a way that is clearly connected to their individual daily activities. Your completed marketing strategy should provide a framework that can be communicated to all operators to both provide consistency (everyone gets the same message) and efficiency (it can be communicated quickly and accurately).
  2. Create a Roadmap
    A successful marketing strategy (especially in today’s fast-paced and multifaceted markets) can get very complex. Having an actionable roadmap of specific activities gives you the broad overview to keep your strategy on target and the individual pieces to delegate effectively.
  3. Enhance Overall Performance
    Every effort you make in your marketing is an opportunity to learn a lesson and improve future outcomes. If you develop a strategy that allows for identification of quick wins and a clear understanding of your existing marketing performance, you will set yourself up for long-term success that can be easily adapted to future changes in the market.

Four Simple Rules

Before you begin developing your marketing plan to meet these objectives, there are four simple rules to keep in mind.

  1. Be Dynamic
    Markets are not static, so marketing plans can’t be static, either. Instead, you should aim to create a dynamic plan with the flexibility to evolve with your business.
  2. Be Flexible
    One important rule is to not get too attached to the specifics of your plan. Remember that you are not developing a comprehensive list of every task or an in-depth analysis of each step. Instead, you are creating a flexible guide that will give you the overarching markers for ongoing, adaptable progress.
  3. Be Focused
    Every activity placed in the marketing plan should map directly back to the overall business objective. Once you have spent time identifying your business objective, stay true to your goals by making sure that your marketing strategy relates back to it.
  4. Be Clear
    Make sure you take time to clarify and reiterate the process used to come to conclusions and make decisions. Don’t assume everyone understands every step taken even if you see nodding heads. Only if everyone fully comprehends how everything was built up to that point can they contribute to the next step and execute at the best of their capabilities.

Understanding the Cycle

The marketing campaign that you are going to develop is a cycle. Each of the outputs from the previous step become inputs for the next step. In this way, you are constantly building upon what you know, creating a dynamic, responsive plan.

The campaign planning process requires a cycle to create a dynamic, responsive plan.

Worth noting is the fact that the middle section of this cycle will repeat for every new campaign. The first step (determining your angle and competition) will happen less regularly, perhaps annually. The final step of gathering lessons from your progress and using them to maximize performance and minimize costs happens on an ongoing basis.

Step 1 | Define the Objective

Define the Business Goal

The first step of any successful marketing campaign is defining the business goal. In order to make this discussion more tangible, I’m going to use a specific example. Let’s imagine building a marketing campaign for a plus-size swimwear company.

(Quick note: I picked this example not because I’m an expert in this space—far from it! I’ve only done limited research on the topic. However, I think that the companies and the communities in this space are so soulful and driven that they have a lot to teach us about how to truly use a target audience to create a product and a marketing experience that speak to company values. They not only sell products and establish brands, but they also deliver emotional value and send a positive message to society as a whole. The products transcend their functional value, and that power to change people and the culture is inspiring and makes for a worthwhile lesson for any business.)

It’s important to make a distinction between business goal, marketing objective, campaign objective, and campaign metric. Here’s how they are different in our example.

  • The business goal is the target you need to reach for financial or competitive success (e.g. grow sales 45% YoY during the 2018 summer season).
  • The marketing objective is the result you want to achieve to reach that goal (e.g. grow your customer base 10% or increase purchase frequency of a specific audience by 5%).
  • The campaign objective is the behavior you want to drive to achieve your marketing objective (e.g. get the target audience to throw away their old swimsuit and buy a new swimsuit for the summer).
  • The campaign metric is how you are tracking against your goal (e.g. new customers, frequency, etc.).

Map Strategic and Competitive Opportunities to Identify Business Opportunities

Once you have a clear business objective, it’s time to perform a strategic business analysis to understand how your business/offering stacks up against competitors. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are my advantages?
  • What are my disadvantages?
  • What do I offer that others don’t?
  • Where am I going to play?
  • How am I going to win?

Using our example of the plus-size swimwear industry, we can map our competitors onto a continuum based on whether they are a larger brand that offers a dedicated section for plus-size swimwear or whether they are a company that specializes solely in this product.

Although the mapping may not be accurate. The objective of this step is to understand how you can differentiate yourself from the competition and what you can do to make consumers choose you over them.

In this case, specialized brands and stores can make a claim of focus and authenticity that sets them apart from their competitors.

Another component of this step is performing customer research to understand how your brand/store is perceived. Here are some elements to consider when analyzing customer brand perception:

  • Do customers understand your “satisfaction guarantee” policy?
  • Do customers see your brand as economically valuable?
  • Do customers consider you a source of exclusive designs?
  • Do customers associate you with any social causes/charities?
  • Do customers recognize the variety of products that you offer?

Perform Financial, Sales, and Customer Data Analysis to Identify Challenges/Opportunities

Next, through financial, sales, and customer data analyses will surface the kinds of insights that will drive your campaign strategy. Take the time to do this strategic assessment. It can be tempting to go off of instincts and hunches at this stage, but many campaigns fail because the execution isn’t aligned to the reality, and that reality is revealed in this important data.

Here are some example insights that our swimwear company turned up in their customer data analysis:

  • People who buy for the first time on a price discount don’t later buy at full price. They continue to wait for the next promo.
  • People who buy for the first time with another incentive (free shipping, free accessory, etc.) tend to buy at full price and have a higher return rate.

And here are some example insights that they turned up in their financial/sales analysis:

  • Free shipping drives volumes but is very expensive and reduces profitability.
  • Exclusive designer collections are more profitable when designer agrees on a fixed fee for collection vs. revenue share.
  • Bigger names that collaborate with multiple brands don’t always result in more sales. Customer base seems to value authenticity over fame.

Define Target Audience to Drive Business Objective

Remembering to match this back to your initial objective (see Step 1), now is the time to define your target audience. You do this by combining the insights gained through existing customer data (from your internal database) and external customer research (through existing surveys or additional research).

Your existing data provides you with a plethora of important data points. You should be able to use it to determine how frequently a customer makes a purchase, AOV, CLTV, basket composition, purchase habits, and discount redeems. Understanding this data helps you capitalize on your existing customer base, helping to ensure repeat business.

External research helps fill in some gaps in your overall knowledge of customers, granting you the opportunity to extend beyond your existing customer base and helping ensure new customers. From this external data, you can expect to gather demographic information, shared interests, attitudinal alignments, and personal preferences.

From these insights, you can create a consumer persona. The consumer persona should reflect a specific demographic, attitudinal alignment, and purchase behavior trend.

For our swimwear example, let’s take a closer look at a potential consumer persona. We’ll call our consumer Summer Mom. This consumer is a working mother aged 25-44 who is fashion and style conscious. She likes going to the beach/pool but wants younger, sexier options than a classic one-piece. Her purchase behavior includes a high basket size, high retention, and low frequency. In other words, she wants to shop for items that appeal to her attitudinal alignment at the beginning of the swim season and make all of her purchases during that visit.

Step 2 | Focus on the Audience

Validate Consumer Personas with Analytic Tools

In order to create a consumer persona, you have made some assumptions about customer behavior. This is a necessary step, but assumptions should be validated using analytic tools.

Facebook Audience Insights is only one of the possible tools you could use to validate your personas, but it is an easy one to use that provides a lot of information about your customer base, their interests, and the validity of your segmentation and personas.

Hone in on target audience with purchase behavior and customer survey signals. Develop customer personas to bring target audience to life

Using your internal customer database, upload the emails that fit the purchase behavior you associate with your particular persona. This will provide you with insights into whether your assumptions about this particular segment are accurate.

Generate Actionable Insights

Now that you have a sense of who your target audience is, it’s time to create some actionable insights.

Insights typically reside within the “4 C’s”: Company, Culture, Consumer, Category. Developing an insight is about more than simply collecting data or making observations. It’s about understanding why people behave the way they do. Meaningful insights offer true challenges and opportunities, giving you a clear view of your potential paths to successfully meet your objective.

The Four Corners of the Mind helps you use expansive thinking to identify opportunities and inform innovative ways of positioning your product to target audience.

Here is an example of identifying insights in a way that addresses a target audience. This “four corners of the mind” approach looks at four categories:

  • Upsights- bigger context in category, society, or history
  • Side Swipes- competitor weaknesses
  • Downsights- inner truths/assumptions of your industry
  • Sidesights- analogies with other markets

For our swimwear company, an upsight might be understanding that the body-positive movement has created advocates for challenging cultural assumptions about beauty and size. As a result, the application could be in marketing two-piece swimwear within this context: you have nothing to hide.

A side swipe might occur when we recognize that many of our competitors are not specialized. We can then cater to our customers’ needs from beginning to end in a way these other companies cannot. We can apply this by providing a booklet with our products and other content articles to make our customers part of the movement.

A downsight might be that sexy plus-size swimwear is difficult to find and expensive. We can use this insight to give high-end editorial style to our photography while simultaneously highlighting our fair pricing and wide collection.

A sidesight might be that the subscription fashion model with personal stylists has increased loyalty and frequency. We could use this insight to advertise the fact that we have on-staff stylists that can be reached at any time to give fashion advice to our customers.

Inject Yourself Into the Customer Journey


By this point, you have a clear sense of who your customers are and what they are likely wanting from a company like yours. The next step is injecting yourself into their consumer journey so that you can find the right time, place, and manner to put your actionable insights into practice.

You should take this step so that you meet customers where they already are rather than trying to force them into your ideal process (which is more work on a company’s part and less successful). By unpacking the consumer experience and turning it into components, you can uncover just the right “pain points” to position yourself for a win that’s directly tied to your objective. Brainstorming actionable solutions to address these pain points, barriers, and objections (from the customers’ perspective) gives you a steep marketing advantage.

Inject ourselves into consumer journey to identify consumer-centric opportunities. By mapping consumer journey, we reveal opportunities to deliver value through our offering and communication.

One way to achieve this is by creating a timeline of events. For our swimwear company, the timeline might look something like this. If our Summer Mom has a family vacation coming up, she may be prompted to realize that none of her swimsuits match her style needs. She’ll start searching online for what she wants until she finds one. At that point, she’ll wait for it to arrive and evaluate the fit before deciding whether or not to keep her purchase.

Throughout this process, there are many potential unmet needs. She could get frustrated when she can’t find what she’s looking for, get discouraged because the research of different companies is too time-consuming, feel unsure of whether the order will fit, and wish she had a chance to return easily.

We can then use these insights to create manageable, actionable marketing strategies. We can write a blog about what to pack for a vacation to help alleviate the sense of being rushed. We can send her a catalog with editorial content that reads like a magazine ahead of time so that she’s already got our company in mind when her need arises. We can curate collections to make her browsing more focused. We can guarantee satisfaction and ship her selection with suits a size smaller and a size larger, including an easy-to-use return package for the others.

In short, by understanding our customers’ likely needs, we can meet them before they even know they have them. That’s the advantage of smart marketing.

Be sure to check out the second part of this series to learn more about the next steps. Once you have put your business objective and target audience to work by creating actionable steps, you can plug these actions into your communication strategy and learning agenda to ensure ongoing, meaningful results, and you can put measurement processes in place to make sure you are taking full advantage of the possibilities.

Part  2  – How to Plan a Marketing Campaign: from Strategy to Tactics

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Author: Paolo

Economist by education, digital marketer by profession, coffee roaster by hobby.