Marketing Plan Optimization Starts With a Solid Strategy

Over the last eight months or so, you’ve come to this column on ClickZ to learn about ways to optimize your email marketing campaigns. In nearly every article, we’ve focused on the components of the optimization process related to data, technology, and integration with other media. However, one subject that has been absent is attention to the upfront strategy essential to starting campaigns off on the right foot.

Rather than offer a one-size-fits-all approach to every email marketing campaign, I’ll offer this simple series of questions to review prior to each campaign:

  • Who are my customers, and what do they need? This is the most basic of marketing questions, but one that many people can’t answer. After all, understanding whose needs you’re satisfying is the first step in developing a company — not just a marketing — program.
  • What is the solution that I’m offering to my customers? The word “solution” has been overused in the marketing world. Often, products are released under the guise of a solution when they’re really not solving any real customer problem. Consider not only what you believe your product or service to be but also how your customers perceive it. Also, how is your solution different from the one your competitors are touting? Make sure your customers understand the benefits of your solution and how it’s different from others out there.
  • How am I communicating this solution to my customers? Communicating at the right reach and frequency to a target audience, with a message that the audience perceives as valuable, should be a cornerstone of every marketing communications program. In many companies, the marketing tactics are executed across different departments with little visibility into what the others are doing. To maximize the brand impact, and ultimately a campaign’s return on investment, work hard to ensure that your various customer touch points present an integrated brand message and personality.
  • What is the purpose of this specific campaign? A concept in search of a campaign is a bad sign. For example, during the planning stages of your marketing plan, you may state that you will, among other tactics, execute two email campaigns per month during the year. If you suddenly reach a month when you’re not quite sure what to offer your customers in the second mailing, but you’ve got some seemingly impressive ideas for the creative, opt to skip the campaign. In addition to having a specific purpose for every tactic within a marketing plan, you should also include learning objectives. What do you want to learn about your customers from this campaign? What bits of data — demographic, behavioral, or other — can you capture that will help you be more effective the next time you’re planning tactics?
  • What metrics will I use to gauge the campaign’s effectiveness? Goals are valuable only when they are measured. A sure sign of a lackluster marketing plan is one that has no metrics for tracking success. Each business has metrics that can be tracked and evaluated to determine the failure or triumph of a marketing plan, such as market share, revenue per transaction, new-customer Web site traffic, customer satisfaction, and a myriad other drivers of business results.
  • What will I do if the campaign shows signs of being ineffective? Always have an alternate plan that is well thought out, in case the first set of tactics doesn’t seem to be working. Upfront market research and focus groups might offer a lot of insight into what tactics will deliver the greatest return, but the true test doesn’t come until the market reacts. Don’t be afraid to trash creative, redesign direct mail efforts, and redirect ad campaigns; the short-term pain it causes in your company will pay off later.

As the ever-present saying goes, marketing strategy is ultimately about bringing the right message to the right person at the right time. In many cases, the use of newly developed marketing media channels, such as banner ads, has been blamed for poorly performing marketing campaigns when, in fact, hasty planning was the root cause.

The first step toward creating an optimized marketing program is to ensure good strategy and tactical planning, for no whiz-bang technology will make up for a bad strategy, hasty planning, broken sites, a limited value proposition, or a lack of customer understanding.

Ultimately, the questions outlined in this article should help you define your business first; marketing communications plans should flow easily from there.

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