How to Create a Marketing Strategy: 7 Steps (2024)

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Having a documented marketing strategy directly impacts your success, whether you’re a scrappy startup or established business. The problem? As you develop your own marketing strategy, you might feel lost in a sea of best practices and suggested tactics. 

So, to simplify the how-to of this topic, here’s a digestible guide full of insights from top marketing experts. We’ll include only what you need to know—instead of a list of tactics to try. 

What is a marketing strategy?

A marketing strategy is a company’s action plan for reaching potential customers and turning them into repeat ones. If you do it right, an actionable marketing strategy outlines your goals and objectives, and includes your unique value proposition, market research, target market, messaging, and the top marketing channels your audience uses. 

An effective marketing strategy covers the 4 P’s of marketing:

  1. Price. The amount your products cost and why.
  2. Product. The products you’ll sell and how they are different from existing products in the market. 
  3. Promotion. How you’ll get your products in front of your target audience. 
  4. Place. Where you’ll sell your products. 

Benefits of a marketing strategy

Connect with your target audience

Customers have more choices than ever. With around 24 million online stores that cater to every price point, preference, and value proposition, a marketing strategy can help you figure out who you want to sell to and how you’ll get them to listen. 

Stand out from the competition

The goal of your marketing strategy is to show how you’ll beat the competition and maintain competitive advantage over time. Without one, you can fall into a habit of trying random tactics that don’t work together, spending too much time and money on things that don’t make sales—and losing customers to competitors in the meantime. 

Build a consistent brand

A strong brand is what helps retailers sell comparable products at higher prices. That’s only possible with a marketing strategy that helps people connect with who you are, what you sell, and the things you stand for. 

Think of the exercise bike brand Peloton, for example. Thousands of retailers sell exercise bikes at a fraction of the cost, but Peloton stays in business because of the brand it’s built. Fitness fanatics know it as the best product in that niche, hence why it can charge upward of $1,000 for a single piece of equipment.

How does a marketing strategy differ from a marketing plan?

A marketing strategy is the long-term blueprint for your entire marketing department. It details your business’s overall goals, as well as the channels you’ll use to reach your target audience and achieve those ambitions.

A marketing plan, on the other hand, is a condensed version of your strategy. Plans are usually used for short-term campaigns. If you were to launch a Facebook ads campaign, for example, you’d have a marketing plan that details the types of creatives you’ll use, your campaign goals, and how it plays into your wider marketing strategy. 

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How to create an effective marketing strategy

  1. Conduct market research
  2. Define product-market fit
  3. Set measurable marketing goals
  4. Explore marketing channels
  5. Think about retention marketing
  6. Set your marketing budgets
  7. Measure and fine-tune

1. Conduct market research

Your target market is the type of person you want to sell to. “If you understand who this group of people is and what set of experiences they have,” says marketing expert Ezra Firestone, “you can relate to them through shared experiences.” 

So, who is your target audience? You can establish this by doing both qualitative and quantitative research:

  • Do a competitive analysis. Do a deep dive into the target audience of your competitors. What social media channels are they most active on? What group is their brand voice sure to resonate with most? How do they talk about their products? 
  • Monitor website analytics. Tools like Shopify Analytics andGoogle Analytics can give you further insights into your target audience’s demographic data. 
  • Conduct research interviews. Reach out to a group of people who either follow or engage with your competitor on social media and ask them for interviews. Ask them why they made that purchase, if it satisfied what they were looking for, and what would improve the product. 
  • Run surveys. Using a tool like Survey Monkey, ask questions about what people are interested in, their hobbies, where they live, how much money they make, and what they do for a living. 
  • Meet people IRL and have conversations. Sometimes, a table at your local farmers market or a booth at a street fair is the best way to get to know your audience. This allows you to have casual conversations with the people who visit your table, where you can ask them what they’re looking for if they do and don’t make a purchase from you.
  • Conduct industry research. Review research reports from sites like Nielsen, Forrester, or Pew Research on consumer behavior and marketing trends. You can also check out Google Trends, which shows reports of the rise and fall of the popularity of different items since 2004.
  • Review purchase information. Once you get a few sales, take a look at how much customers spend, where they’re buying from, and what they buy.

Once you’ve got this data, compile it into a buyer persona—a fictional character that describes the demographics, interests, pain points, and goals of your target market. Treat this as the guiding foundation for every marketing strategy. It’ll prevent yourself from prioritizing vanity metrics and building an audience that never converts.

2. Define product-market fit

Once someone lands on your website, how clearly do you communicate the problem that your product solves? Shopify expert Ben Zettler recommends thinking through the following questions: 

  • What is the “why?” of the products you sell?
  • What problem does your product solve? Are you filling a gap in a market, making something better than your competitors, or solving a critical need that hasn’t been met?
  • Why should somebody buy from you over a competitor? What makes your products better? 

This is the very beginning of establishing a product-market fit for your business. While the best way to prove your product-market fit is to make actual sales, this process will help you establish the messaging you’ll use on your website. This is the copy that will take mainstage on your homepage, product pages, and landing pages. 

Four people sitting around a picnic table drinking coffee with snacks.
Equator Coffees’ Our Impact page, with information about its B Corp. status.

For example, Equator Coffees found product-market fit by crafting amazing coffee and doing great things for the global coffee community. It has been a certified B Corporation since 2011, making it the first coffee roaster in California with the certification. All of this information is clearly communicated on Equator’s website, from its homepage to an entire page dedicated to impact. 

By creating high-quality roasts, fostering a great culture at its cafés, and stepping up to bring change to the coffee industry, Equator found its product-market fit and answers the seminal question, “Why buy coffee from you?”

3. Set measurable marketing goals

Once you know who you’re talking to and the values you want to communicate with potential customers, it’s time to set goals. This is the underlying foundation for any future marketing strategies or plans. It’ll keep you from chasing vanity goals and, instead, create campaigns that work toward overall business objectives. 

The SMART goal framework comes into use here. You’ll want to set marketing goals that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound 

Let’s put this into practice and say that your goal is to increase sales. To make this a SMART goal, we might say: “We want to increase sales by 25% over the next six months.” Just like that, the goal is easier to track, has an end date, and is achievable (which is key—you want to feel excited about your goals, not discouraged or feel like they’re unattainable). 

4. Explore marketing channels

Within a marketing strategy, businesses will use different tactics—like organic and paid marketing—across channels like email, social, or SMS. Let’s explore some of the most popular. 

Social media

Social media marketing is one of the most effective marketing strategies for small businesses. It involves using social networks to promote and sell your products, services, and brand. Brands can use both unpaid (organic) and paid social media marketing tactics to increase online sales and generate awareness.

Popular social media platforms include:

  • TikTok 
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Snapchat
  • WeChat
  • X, formerly known as Twitter

Bringing out the best in social media marketing is about more than broadcasting your brand—it’s about understanding, engaging, and reacting to your audience and the world they live in. Because when so many brands use social media as a soapbox to pitch their products, it pays to be one of the ones building a real connection with their audience and adding a bit of joy to their day-to-day lives.

Search engine marketing

The majority of your store’s website traffic will come from search engines like Google. Although this digital marketing strategy takes time, it’ll become cheaper to acquire customers through search versus paid advertising, which levels out the costs.

While optimizing your store for SEO may seem like a daunting task, it’s a lot easier than you think. That’s why we’ve created a few guides below that go further into search engine optimization and will help you increase visibility and grow online sales.

Resources:

Email marketing strategy

If your business hasn’t started email marketing yet, you’re leaving money on the table. It’s become a low-cost and conversion-rich way to market an ecommerce store today, with an average return of $42 for every dollar spent.

Building an email list and sending compelling messages helps keep in touch with customers and retain them. Consider giving people an incentive to join your email and SMS lists, whether that’s a discount or something else that really adds value to your customers. Think about things like free shipping, a percent discount, buy one get one, early access to sales, exclusive access to products, or free gift with purchase.

Advertising 

Advertising can take place anywhere—online or offline. Amongst some of the most popular places for businesses to advertise include:

  • Facebook ads
  • Google Ads 
  • Billboards
  • Radio ads
  • TV commercials 

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking ads have to be paid. You can deploy free advertising tactics—such as directory listings, showcasing customer reviews, or entering business awards—to raise awareness and increase sales on a minimal budget. 

Word-of-mouth marketing

Word-of-mouth marketing is a promotional strategy that encourages current customers to refer new ones to your business. This is incredibly effective considering 92% of people trust a friend’s recommendation over traditional branded ads. 

If you want to create a referral program, there are many referral apps in the Shopify App Store to help you launch one. You just have to download the app, pick your incentives, create the campaign, and promote your new program. 

5. Think about retention marketing

Retaining customers is much cheaper, and significantly easier, than acquiring new ones. Aside from building trust through community outreach and word of mouth, building long-term trust with non-customers and customers alike is what will keep them coming back. 

Targeted email marketing

Once you’ve got a customer’s information and they’ve made their first purchase, put together a post-purchase email flow. This is your opportunity to provide a coupon code for a future purchase, ask for feedback and reviews, and acquire user-generated content. 

You can create automated email marketing campaigns to connect with existing customers and convince them to buy again, such as:

  • Transactional emails, sent during checkout or other purchasing actions. These are mostly functional, but are important for sending key shipping and order information to customers. 
  • Promotional emails, designed to build awareness and promote new products or deals. For example, you could build a Black Friday Cyber Monday email sequence to send limited-time discounts during the shopping holiday.
  • Lifecycle emails, or “triggered” emails, sent based on the actions a shopper takes and where they are in their customer lifecycle. For example, a cart abandonment email you send only after a customer leaves a product behind. 

Loyalty programs

There’s a local grocery store with a cult following in a little surf town outside of San Diego. It’s grown a reputation for its burgundy tri tip, a mouth-watering hunk of meat locals love to serve up on tacos or sliders on warm days. It’s a spot folks frequent for lunch, since its prepared food section rivals even the biggest, best Whole Foods. 

The market implemented a loyalty program where frequent shoppers can earn cash toward their groceries by scanning in every time they shop. 

This is how it works: 

  • Spend $1–$300 a month and earn 1% of total purchases
  • Spend $301–$500 a month and earn 2% of total purchases 
  • Spend $501+ a month and earn 3% of total purchases 

The market mails reward checks twice per year, so long as the amount is over $10. Customers make purchases and earn rewards—there’s an incentive (other than the delicious wares) to return. 

6. Set your marketing budget

A marketing budget is a dollar amount that you plan to spend on marketing initiatives. Yours doesn’t have to be huge—some of the most creative marketing ideas are incredibly cost-effective. It just helps to have some guardrails so you can prevent overspending and measure return on investment. 

The average business spends around 10% of its annual revenue on marketing, but yours can fluctuate either side of this benchmark. Brands with an aggressive advertising strategy will likely need a higher marketing budget, whereas online stores that are just starting out might want to test the waters with free tactics first.

Once you’ve got your overall figure, allocate it to each marketing channel you plan to use. Most platforms have budgeting tools that explain how far your money will go. Facebook advertising, in particular, shows how many people you can reach (or how many people will complete your campaign objective) once you enter a daily budget.

Facebook shows you can reach up to 10,000 people with a daily budget of £10.
Facebook’s budgeting tool is available inside Facebook Ads Manager.

7. Measure and fine-tune

In older eras of marketing, we’d often launch without sufficient instrumentation, leaving us without any capability to truly understand what’s going on. Cue advertiser John Wanamaker’s famous quote: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Digital marketing doesn’t make us immune to poor measurement, but it certainly makes tracking our results significantly easier. Conversion rates, customer acquisition costs, payback periods, user behavior—digital marketing offers a deluge of data that savvy business owners can sift through to uncover insight.

Internet marketing, in particular, can be tested with minimal budget and precise cut offs, which lets you keep costs lower until you find a winning campaign—then you can scale your marketing efforts quickly and aggressively if needed. You already know what works; you just need to double down on it. 

Similarly, you can monitor your marketing analytics to see which campaigns are worst performing. Before you turn off poorly performing campaigns, ask yourself if there’s anything you can do to improve it. If your marketing data has already proven that Facebook ads that contain social proof have high click-through rates, it makes sense to insert customer reviews or user-generated content into campaigns that don’t always have them.

Examples of successful marketing strategies

Caraway Cookware

Cookware brand Caraway proved there’s more to an effective marketing strategy than simply choosing a laundry list of channels to post on. 

In the company’s early days, founder Jordan Nathan intentionally focused on creating great products with stylish designs and functionality. “We saw a big gap in the market to focus on design, color, and home décor, because no other brand was thinking about [cookware] this way,” Jordan said in a Shopify Masters interview. 

Now he’d found something unique that set the brand apart, Jordan went full steam ahead with tactics that reflected the brand’s angle, like product photography that showed its cookware in real situations (rather than on a white backdrop). The result? Caraway was featured in publications like Vogue and Architectural Digest

White and gray cookware on a stovetop in a modern kitchen with marble countertops.
Caraway’s beautiful product photography.

The Honey Pot

Influencer marketing is one of the best ways to market your brand and build awareness online. It involves building partnerships with creators who align with your brand messaging, and promoting products through their channels. 

The Honey Pot, an online retailer that sells feminine care products, created a marketing strategy that involved influencer marketing and humor. Its goal? To change its industry and turn The Honey Pot into a household name.

Giovanna Alfieri, the brand’s VP of marketing, told Shopify that the brand landed on influencer collaborations as a marketing channel because it supported their brand values: “It minimizes the potential shame or discomfort that comes from the educational topics that we cover. For us, it’s about finding people who can reflect our values back at us whilst producing meaningful, creative content.”

Heyday Canning

Going viral and reaching millions of people would cost a fortune in advertising terms, but strike the social media algorithms right—and produce content that makes your audience like, comment on, and share your post with their friends—and you could do it all for free.

Heyday Canning proves you don’t need to operate in a buzzing niche to go viral. The canned beans product category isn’t regarded as the most exciting. In a bid to stand out from the noise, founder Kat Kavner took a risk. She used almost all of Heyday’s quarterly marketing budget on a bean swap pop-up shop that was promoted heavily on TikTok. 

“We wanted to … focus all the money on one thing that had the potential to cut through the noise and grow brand awareness,” Kat said in an interview with Shopify Masters

It worked: Heyday amassed more than 230,000 views on TikTok. Influencers and creators attended the event and promoted the brand’s products on their owned channels—something that would have cost thousands of dollars if Heyday had gone the typical route and paid for brand endorsements.

Screenshot of Heyday’s TikTok profile with follow count above and video thumbnails below.
Heyday’s most popular TikTok videos are based around the bean swapping event.

Improving your marketing strategy

Marketing in ecommerce is extremely hard. It’s not always a linear journey, and it takes trial and error to get it right. 

If you’re struggling to find marketing that works for your business, go back to the beginning. Return to those first couple of people who invested in your business and have another conversation with them. What do they want to see from you in the future? What got them excited about your brand in the first place? 

Their insight can help you restructure your marketing efforts in a way that better serves your audience. 

Marketing strategies FAQ

What are the 4 Ps of marketing strategy?

The four Ps are product, price, place, and promotion. Marketers use these to determine how they’ll promote their products, reach their target audience, and increase sales.

Why is a marketing strategy important?

A marketing strategy helps you identify your target audience and craft campaigns that reach them. It prevents you from going after vanity metrics that don’t truly move the needle for your business, and instead put your budget to good use by turning strangers into paying customers.

What are the 3 Cs of marketing?

The three Cs of marketing are company, customer, and competition. These three Cs help you connect with your target market, stand out from the competition, and build a consistent brand.

What are the latest marketing strategies?

  • Social media marketing
  • Influencer marketing
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Advertising
  • Referral and loyalty programs
  • Search engine optimization
  • Email marketing 
  • Podcasts 
  • Content marketing
  • Digital PR

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