Creating a marketing plan is mandatory to acquire customers and grow your business.

A marketing plan can fill 200+ pages of theoretical fluff, or can be a few pages of actionable, prioritized steps to be effective.

I prefer shorter and actionable. No fluff and no theory. Just what works in the real world.

Mark Twain once said, “If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter.”

I’ve taken the extra time to create an actionable playbook you can follow to build your marketing plan, scale your business effectively, create profitable unit economics and put media behind it to amplify the growth.

Understanding Your Audience

Step 1 in creating your marketing plan is to understand your audience.

What does it mean to understand your audience?

You should write down your audiences’ demographics and psychographics. 

Take out a notebook and start writing the demographics of your male and female customers.

  • How old are they?
  • Where do they live?
  • What is their education level?
  • What is their household income?
  • What is their marital status?

Now think about their psychographics:

  • What are their interests? TV, Music, News, Sports, Activities.
    • Where do they consume this stuff?
  • What are their desires and goals?
  • What are their interests?
  • What are their values?
  • Who else do they purchase from (in your niche)?

Really take some quiet time to write answers to each of those questions and start visualizing that person in your head.

Why do you need to do this?

The more you understand about your customer the better you know how to speak to them through your words and images. 

When you communicate the value of your product to them, you will speak to them through the lens of who they are. 

Understanding Your Audiences’ Challenges

Now write down the top 5 challenges your audience has as it relates to you product.

Then next to each challenge, write down how your product solves these challenges for your audience.

You just made your marketing plan so much clearer by creating a framework for how you will speak to your audience. 

The #1 thing everyone cares about is whether your product solves their needs.

Message Hierarchy

All messages are NOT created equal. Some are much more powerful than others and you must be crystal clear on which the more powerful messages are versus which are secondary.

I like to call this “Why People Buy” which is rooted in human psychology.

Benefit-driven messaging is how you should position your marketing. Ask yourself this question – “How does this benefit the consumer?”, then lead with that message.

Do not confuse this with feature-driven messaging which comes secondary. Feature-driven messaging is exactly as it sounds. It communicates the product features and comes after the benefits.

To summarize, lead with the benefits, then include the features.

Why People Buy

There are only a few core psychological reasons people buy and they are rooted in our earliest desires as humans. 

Reasons people buy (primary):

  1. To save money (price value).
  2. To be attractive to others; to look good (sex sells).
  3. To feel important; to be distinct; to be liked (egocentric bias)
  4. To be happy
  5. To be comfortable (physically, emotionally, mentally)
  6. To make money
  7. To save time or for convenience

Think about your product and which of these benefits it can achieve for your audience. Be ready to hit on that message during your marketing.

Other Psychological Triggers

There are three additional psychological triggers that get people to take action when you pair them with primary and secondary messages.

  1. Scarcity messaging. Limited run of your product, special limited collaboration, low quantities.
  2. Social proof. Testimonials, reviews, almost sold out, celebrity endorsement, celebrity using it.
  3. Urgency. Time based expiration. Limited time promotions and offers.

Putting These Together

  • Benefit-driven message tied to a primary desire.
  • Feature-driven messages or secondary desires.
  • Trigger to create action.

Unit Economics

A big part of scaling your business is making sure your unit economics make sense and are profitable.

What does this mean?

At the most basic level, if you are selling a physical product you need to make sure your COGS are X% of your full price. Typically your COGS should not be 30% or less of your full price. This ensures you can sell DTC, wholesale, retail, and offer price promotions and bundles all while remaining profitable.

This article will not go into detail about unit economics but the point is you need to fully understand your unit economics as you craft your marketing plan. Many of your marketing levers will be influenced by the margins of your unit economics.

Marketing Funnel

Let’s start crafting your actionable customer acquisition and retention playbook.

Pull out your notebook again and draw a funnel that looks like this – 

You want three equal parts in your funnel which can be labeled Top of Funnel, Middle of Funnel, and Bottom of Funnel, which represents the three stages of taking a prospect through the awareness (top), interest & evaluation (middle), and conversion (bottom) stages.

Here are the most common marketing channels in each stage of the funnel. You can replicate the funnel image below and populate it with specific campaigns and ideas you have in each category.

Marketing Top of Funnel

At the top of the funnel, you are creating content and campaigns that target prospects who have never heard of your brand. Here are some channels and assets you can create to reach them with the messaging framework we learned about earlier in this article.

  • Blog posts
  • Articles
  • Videos
  • Social media updates
  • Podcasts
  • Infographics
  • Paid ads

Marketing Middle of the Funnel

At the middle point of the funnel, you are reaching an audience that has heard of your brand and is interested in learning more to evaluate whether they want to purchase.

Common tools to help potential customer through this phase are:

  • Special reports
  • Guides
  • Case studies
  • Templates
  • Ebooks or White papers
  • Toolkits
  • Lists of resources
  • Quizzes and assessments
  • Webinars
  • Email sequences

Take some time to stare at this list through the lens of your ideal customer who’s demographics and psychographics you’ve already written down. 

Now select a few of the above tools and topics you can create. You can offer these to your audience behind an email wall, meaning ask them for an email address so you can send them this information.

Once you get their email address or other contact information, you officially have a potential customer with a very powerful way to communicate with them again in the future.

Marketing Bottom of Funnel

The bottom of the funnel is where conversion occurs. These is the warmest audience you have and they are so close to the finish line.

Here are the tools that can help you get them to purchase:

  • Customer reviews
  • Testimonials
  • Discount codes
  • Free trial
  • Competitive comparison
  • Detailed specs or features
  • Phone call consultation
  • Video demonstration of your product

Acquisition vs Retention

Think of your marketing as two main objectives. You need both components to succeed:

Acquiring customers is called acquisition, and once you get a customer how you get them to buy again and again is called retention.

The messages you create to accomplish these two actions are different. When you acquire a customer for the first time, they haven’t had experience with your product yet so you have to educate and convince them to buy with certain messaging. 

After someone has purchased from you, they now have familiarity with your product so how do you get them to purchase again?

The most common ways are to sell them more of what you already sold them or to sell them complimentary items to what they already purchased. 

Email marketing, loyalty programs and new product launches tend to work very well to encourage repeat purchases.

Lets Get Tactical

Let’s get to the important stuff – effective, actionable marketing.

I often get asked, “Max how would you market this business?”

Here is my recommended game plan:

1. Start with paid social ads.

Facebook’s ad platform and algorithm is as good as it gets for converting prospects into customers, finding look alike audiences from your target demographic and retargeting those who have already engaged with you. 

You can successfully use Facebook Ads to hit every part of your marketing funnel and scale to huge levels.

2. Then use Google Adwords for paid search.

Google Adwords is also an amazing platform but I only recommend it for two types of businesses to start. 

Adwords search relies on having a product that satisfies the searcher’s intent. Typically this includes a commodity item or a brand. For example, when someone searches “workout t-shirt”, if you make a $22 workout tee you will have an easier time converting than someone who sells a more premium $50 fashion t-shirt that could double as a work out tee. 

Google search is also great for functional searches like “how to play piano at home”. If you have an online course that teaches people how to play piano then this is a perfect channel because your product satisfies the searcher’s intent.

When you find profitable keywords on Google Adwords, be sure to carry them over to Yahoo, Bing and consider YouTube Ads. 

3. Press outreach

The best way to get press is by working with a reputable PR agency however this path can be very expensive. After you get you business to $1m or $2m+ in annual revenue I recommend you hire a PR agency but until then you can get your hands dirty and do the outreach yourself.

Two great routes for this are (1) sign up for HARO (helpareporterout.com) and look every day for opportunities and ways to craft your brand story in a way that appeals to those on HARO making interview and information requests. 

If you don’t have time, then have an employee do this every day or outsource the task on upwork.

The second way is to search for authors and publications who have covered your industry or your competition. Then use Twitter to find the authors and DM them about your story. If they’ve written about a similar topic in the past they are very likely to want to cover you. But be ready to feed them a story angle. The more information you can feed a writer the easier you make their job and the more volume of articles you will get.

A beautify byproduct of press are the SEO benefits.

4. Social Media

As you’re actively making progress on the first three steps, you can add a parallel path with growing your organic social media presence and building relationships with accounts with large followings.

For most brands social media does not pay off which is why I wouldn’t put a lot of emphasis on this channel however if you can grow it in parallel to your revenue generating marketing efforts then it’s worth doing.

To grow your organic social media, you need good engaging interesting content to post. Then you can reach out to complimentary brands with similar values and audiences to hold contests and giveaways together. You can send your product as “seeding” to influencers with a nice handwritten note. Many will post your product and tag you.

5. Plan for Virality

As you’re taking action on the first four action steps above and while keeping in mind your target audience demographics and psychographics, think about what you can do to plan virality.

Virality comes when you provide something so entertaining or valuable that your audience can’t help but share it with friends in high volume. 

As you’re creating your ads, videos, messages, infographics, blog posts, etc always be planning to engineer virality and engagement. Some ways to do this are through lists (top X), quizzes, scholarships, news roundups, best of / worst of lists, industry awards, etc.

6. Create Content

As you’re spending most of your time on the first five steps, you should hire someone to write 3 – 10 core content pieces that educate your customer about the key issues your product helps them with.

This should be done as a parallel path and will not put money in your pocket immediately but it fills out your brand, helps with community building, and over time will increase your conversion for prospects on the fence of buying.

Creating and Tracking KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators)

Now that you have everything you need to hit “GO” on your marketing campaigns, you need to take some guesses on important KPI’s and see how you track toward them. If you’ve been in business for a while and already know your KPI’s then no need to guess. You can use your real stats.

Here are the KPI’s you should start with at minimum:

  • Know your Average Order Value (AOV)
  • Know your customer Lifetime Value (LTV)
  • Know or make estimates on your conversion rate, preferably by traffic channel or by campaign.
    • From there you can back into your daily traffic goal so do that too.
  • Number of new customers acquired
  • Repeat purchase rate

Create a spreadsheet where you write out all these KPI’s and what your data is for each area. If you don’t have data yet, make your best guess as to what it’ll be, write them down, then later when you collect real data compare it to your guestimate KPI’s and adjust accordingly from there.

Marketing Campaign Experiments

Create another excel spreadsheet to document your advertising experiments. You’ll want to spend more time crafting and launching A/B tests than documenting the data but it’s very important to understand this part.

When you are running ads on paid social, you are paying by impression. So it’s in your best interest to split test with the goal of finding ads with the best KPI’s.

Here are the KPI’s you should be keeping track of:

  • Impressions
  • Clicks
  • Click-through-rate (CTR)
  • Cost per thousand (CPM
  • Conversions

<insert experiments sheet example>

Look to Scale Big

As you’re running ads, you should be looking for ads and targeting groups with the highest ROAS and look to scale those as big as possible.

This process starts small. When you find an ad where for every dollar spent, you make back $3; try spending $10 to make $30; $1000 to make $3000; $100K to make $300K; $1m to make $3m; $10m to make $30m.

Go back to your unit economics and make sure they still work. If they do then go all in on scaling up.

Understanding Performance vs Brand Marketing

Performance marketing is where all your campaigns are designed in a way to see immediate return on ad spend (ROAS).

You test many different campaigns with low dollar spend. When you see positive ROAS, you pour money into those campaigns but if you see negative ROAS, you immediately pause the losing campaign and work on improving it.

I’m a big fan of performance marketing and many of today’s best modern brands were built on the back of performance marketing.

When planning your advertising budget on performance campaigns, it’s very straight forward – as long as your ROAS is profitable you keep spending more.

Performance marketing can get a company to $50m annual revenue. Above that you will need a lot of brand marketing added to the mix.

Brand marketing has it’s place at companies but you have to be careful not to blindly lean on sloppy campaigns under the guide of brand marketing.

Brand marketing is harder to measure and does not see an immediate ROAS. Think of billboards and Super Bowl commercials as brand marketing for simplicity sake.

They are difficult to track and see immediate ROAS but they come with large brand awareness that could pay off in the future.

As your company passes $20m annual revenue you can start thinking about including larger brand marketing campaigns and to reach levels of $50m and beyond, brand marketing will take over the bulk of your campaigns.

Brand marketing budgets are typically planned as a percentage of revenue and can be anywhere from 10 – 25% of revenue.

If you’re just starting be sure to start with performance marketing.

There you have it for how to start your marketing and grow your business.

Next

After you have mastered the foundation in this article, you will get into more advanced marketing methods which we will cover in future articles.

These campaigns include:

  • Direct Mail
  • Influencers
  • PR Agencies
  • Pop Up Shops
  • Satellite Radio
  • Traditional Radio
  • Television
  • Physical Locations
  • Podcast Sponsorships
  • Pinterest Ads
  • Newsletter Sponsorships
  • Experiment with Tier 2 networks like TikTok and Snapchat
  • Brand Collaborations
  • Capsule Collaborations with Celebrities