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How to Create a Data-Driven Marketing Plan

Last updated: December 18, 2019

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Marketing plans have been used for decades to outline an organization’s marketing strategy and communicate aspects of the current marketing environment. These plans are usually designed to take place over the course of a year, a quarter, or a month, and are intended to improve a business’s market share and their subsequent bottom line.

However, many marketing plans are becoming outdated. In recent years, data has taken a central role in marketing – but data hasn’t necessarily moved to the center of many marketing plans. Let’s take a look at key areas to integrate data-driven insights within today’s modern marketing plan.

Building Your Marketing Plan

To get back to basics, a marketing plan outlines your overarching strategy and the tactics used to accomplish specific business objectives. Many marketing plans generally include the following elements:

  • Business Objectives & Executive Summary - This part of your plan will outline what a business is trying to achieve, whether that be related to revenue growth or customer retention.
  • Target Audience & Target Market - This part of your plan will outline who your target market is. It will address your target audience’s demographics, including gender, age and interests.
  • Marketing Strategy - This part of your plan outlines the marketing initiatives your team will take to help the business reach their overarching objectives.
  • Marketing Tactics - Marketing tactics include the individual campaigns and milestones needed to accomplish the objectives set by the strategy.
  • Marketing Channels - The marketing channels will describe where media is bought and how this media is placed.

Traditionally, marketing plans included these key parts. By creating a marketing plan, organizations are able to better understand their current environment, and devise a course of action to reach their organizational goals. However by combining these plans with a data-driven approach or strategic marketing planning tools, organizations can drive better results.

Set SMART Goals and Use KPIs

Marketers shouldn’t let their strategy determine their goals – instead, they should let their goals determine their strategy. This will help marketing teams not only think outside of the box, but it will ensure that your marketing team stays on a consistent, pointed trajectory that focuses on metrics first. Once your campaign is in flight, SMART goals and KPIs are great ways to break down what parts of your campaign are working, and which parts aren’t.

Marketers should begin their planning by devising SMART goals – goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Each of these five attributes are very important, but for data-driven marketing plans, it’s critical to have goals that are measurable and time-bound. Without the considerations set forth by SMART goals, it will be much more difficult to determine your progress towards goal completion. SMART goals try to take an objective angle to goal setting, and force organizations to realistically assess what they hope to achieve.

These SMART goals should then be broken down into KPIs. This requires taking a baseline of the company’s current activity – for example, if your goal is to increase your organization’s social following by 10 percent before the end of Q2, you should find out how many followers the organization currently has on social media. Then, you can use those baselines to set specific KPIs that contribute to the completion of your SMART goal. So, you may have a KPI to increase Instagram followers by 20 percent, and another KPI to increase Facebook followers by 5 percent. KPIs like this allow your organization to measure and attribute marketing success in a data-driven, granular way.

Find and Segment Your Target Market

Once your organization understands their goals, they need to understand how to leverage their target audience’s needs to meet those goals. This is why it’s important to use data to create well-defined, accurate target markets and their subsequent customer segments. These segments will allow your marketing team to focus on reaching the right customers – not the most customers.

To determine this, take a look at the customers that are buying from your organization and determine what they have in common. Some niche products will attract a small, general market that largely looks and thinks the same way. However, more often than not, many small customer segments make up an organization’s larger target market. Finding these segments involves analyzing customer data, typically using a clustering analysis, to find similarly motivated groups of customers.

For example, imagine that you run a bookstore that attracts a diverse group of customers – making it a challenge to frame your communications for one type of customer. Instead of casting a wide net, you look at sales data and customer data to determine which types of customers are contributing the most to your business.

After running a segmentation analysis, you find that two primary segments exist. The first segment is primarily composed of recent college graduates, aged 22 to 30, and their purchase motivation is entertainment first, self-education second. The second segment is primarily women aged 25 to 35, and they primarily purchase children’s books – making education for others their top priority.  Now, you can examine both of these segments and have a better idea of how to best address their purchase motives.

Understand the Buyer’s Journey and Industry Sales Cycles

Once you understand your customers, you should understand how they shop by analyzing the buyer’s journey and industry sales cycles. It’s important to understand exactly where a customer is in their journey relative to the sales cycle, as these stages indicate a customer’s purchase intent. By having data about a customer’s propensity to purchase, organizations can target the right marketing messages at the right time.

The buyer’s journey is a framework that breaks down a customer’s purchase intention into three key stages – awareness, consideration, and decision.

  • Awareness - At the “awareness” stage, marketers need to refer to a customer’s purchase motivation, which was found during the segmentation analysis. This purchase motivation often revolves around unmet needs – so, marketers should make customers aware of this need, and suggest how to resolve it.
  • Consideration – Customers will begin researching your brand. If a customer is in this stage of the buyer’s journey, your brand should provide promotional assets that explain how your product resolves their needs more effectively than the competitor’s offering.
  • Decision – The customer is ready to purchase, and is currently seeking your product. At this point, your brand should focus on customer retention efforts.

buyer’s journey portrayed as funnel

These stages can predict a customer’s propensity to purchase as they travel through the marketing funnel. Finding where a customer is in this framework requires analyzing massive amounts of data involving customer interactions within your plan’s previously defined customer segments.

Marketers should then layer the buyer’s journey with information about their industry’s sales cycles. Sales cycles determine how many customers are shopping in your market at a given time. This is typically found by analyzing sales volume data on a monthly basis, and then evaluating long term, year-over-year trends. By understanding the data behind your industry’s sales cycle, you can ensure your marketing messages are aligned with when your target customer is most likely to make a purchase.

For example, car dealerships are often very concerned with the sales cycle and the buyer’s journey. They experience slow sales in the winter, so they use that time to create seasonal advertisements that build their brand’s image. These advertisements aren’t designed to encourage short-term purchases. They’re designed to convince customers in the awareness phase to consider buying a car in the coming years, especially in the spring time – which is when the sales cycle says customers are most likely to purchase.

Align Customer Experience with Strategic Priorities

A customer’s experience is the sum of all their interactions with a brand’s employees, marketing channels, systems, and projects. It takes into consideration both positive and negative experiences with a brand. Marketers need to understand how to improve the customer’s experience to overcome the most challenging aspects of today’s marketing environment, such as increased competition and rising customer expectations.

Determining the ideal customer experience means inspecting the customer segments and personas that were established earlier in the planning process. Marketers should leverage information about the motivations, goals, and needs of their highest value customers, and consistently keep profiles up-to-date with fresh qualitative and quantitative data. It’s also important to ensure the customer’s experience is attuned to the right phase of the customer’s journey via frequent analysis.

Remember that crafting the best customer experience doesn’t just focus on how experiences play out for the customer. Rather, consider how departments within your organization will work behind the scenes to achieve the ideal customer experience. This requires total organizational alignment, especially in areas like sales and customer service. Then, don’t forget to justify the budget for such an undertaking to senior level management.

Final Thoughts

Marketing plans are essential to any successful marketing strategy. However, many organizations still create marketing plans that are based on subjective insights – not firm data. In today’s data-driven environment, marketers must maximize the success of their strategies by placing data at the center of their marketing plans.

Through intensive data analysis, good data quality, and strategic marketing planning tools, marketers will receive a realistic portrayal of their customers, the state of the market, and competitor activity. This will give your marketing plans a clear sense of direction, allowing your organization to seize more market share than ever before.

 
Written by Marketing Evolution