Marketing Strategy Planning — Where to Start?
Does your firm have a marketing strategy in place today, or are you finding yourself starting from ground zero and unsure where to begin? Whether you are new to accounting marketing, or are in a position to create a marketing strategy plan, knowing what information is needed to get started and how to create your roadmap is critical. With 2023 right around the corner, now is the time to get your plan started and in place. Before further discussing the “how” and “what” needed in a plan, let’s discuss what a marketing strategy is and why you need one.
What is a Marketing Strategy?
A marketing strategy outlines what a firm will do in order to reach its revenue goals, whereas a marketing plan outlines the tactics for which the marketing strategy calls. If you are not developing marketing goals, strategies and planning out how to implement them, it is likely that some (or a lot) of your efforts are being spent doing tasks that will not provide results that align with the firm’s overall strategic plan. Often, marketing is not included in the firm’s strategic plan and/or business plan creation; therefore, decisions are made and budgets are set without first understanding the overall picture. A lack of understanding the firm’s business goals can result in marketing expending great effort in areas that will not deliver relevant results in the places leadership is seeking.
Where do I Start with my Marketing Strategy?
So, where do you start? First and foremost, strategic marketing planning starts with your firm’s business goals and a little research. Analyzing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT analysis) can be very powerful, and it will assist you in developing goals and marketing strategies. Whether your most recent SWOT analysis was conducted last year or you are new to the firm and they have never conducted such research, you must understand the current lay of the land before moving forward.
While you may not have access to your firm’s business plan, asking the right questions of your internal stakeholders and confirming with leadership will provide a foundation to start. For example, are there specific practice areas or service lines the firm wants to grow? If so, how is “growth” defined? Is there a merger in the pipeline that will affect the current growth trajectory? Understanding the growth goals of the firm will not only help you in planning your strategy, but it will also be critical when making day-to-day decisions on how time and resources are spent.
Now that you have an understanding of where the firm is going, you can get started crafting your marketing strategy. If this is your first time going through the process, be sure to check out AAM’s Marketer’s Library to see examples and discussions from fellow accounting marketers. Every firm’s strategy will look different but understanding your audience and knowing what “good” looks like for your firm are the next step in the process.
Define Your Ideal Client
With a better understanding of your firm’s goals, its strengths and weaknesses and how it is viewed in the marketplace, the next step is to define your ideal client. What is their profile? What are their habits that make them an ideal client? Why do they value your firm? Each industry and/or practice area will have a different client profile, and your plan will need to be customized accordingly.
Is uncovering client personas a new concept to you, and you’re unsure where to find such information? Start with your industry and/or service line leaders and your managing partner, and have them describe the characteristics of their best clients. Are there prospects that fit the profile who you are not currently reaching, and if so, ask why. What are the specific habits and/or trends that your best clients share, including buying habits, how they receive information, etc.? It is also important to understand and have access to client feedback. This information is invaluable when trying to fully understand who your clients are and why.
Research Your Competitors
At this point, a lot of groundwork has been laid, but there is still more to uncover before you can successfully move on to determining your goals and tactics. It is likely that you know exactly who your competitors are, but have you done the research, compiled data and analyzed their strengths and weaknesses in comparison to your firm? Follow their social media accounts and see what audiences they are reaching, what their brand positioning looks like and the type of information they are sharing. There is a lot to be learned simply by analyzing websites, social media, and industry professional organizations. Everyone has clients who have worked with other firms; ask for their feedback and experiences.
Determine Your Goals and Strategies
Once you have completed and analyzed your research, it is time to determine your goals and strategies, along with the required tactics and tools. If your firm has a business goal to grow its construction industry practice by 10 % this year, be sure to ask and understand how leadership is defining that growth. Is growth determined by the number of clients or revenue? Something else? What are the specific service offerings that have a higher profit margin, and is your firm staffed accordingly to support that growth? Depending on the industry and service line, the strategy and tactics needed to promote growth will be different, which further confirms the need for your initial research. For example, your messages on social media, the type of knowledge share produced, events the firm chooses to sponsor, and what organizations to be involved with greatly differ by industry and geography.
What’s Your Budget?
Depending on your firm, you likely will have a marketing budget(s) based on industry, service line and/or geography. It is also very possible that your firm does not have one at all and rather arbitrarily sets the marketing budget based on “what was spent last year” or “X percent of revenue.” Whether you have a comprehensive process or you find yourself starting from scratch, the groundwork has been laid with your research. Your previously defined goals (ensuring they align with the firm’s business goals) will create the roadmap to compile your budget. Do your due diligence and research your strategies, software options, sponsorships, etc. Do you need additional team members to accomplish the defined goals? Perhaps there is no room in the budget for another full-time team member, but outsourcing specific projects/skillsets may be in the budget and still provide a healthy return on investment. Read more about how to determine what to outsource here.
Set SMART Goals
With a great plan in place, it is important to not only set goals but to measure and evaluate often. Without a set of clearly defined goals, it will be very easy to get off track. Successful plans have specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely (SMART) goals that are documented and will serve as a guide and provide accountability.
Goals should include a description of the impact, metrics that define success, and a completion timeframe. It is also ideal to include any known obstacles that could potentially serve as a roadblock to successfully completing the goal. Share your goals with leadership and provide status updates throughout the year. In a perfect world, things will go as defined, but more often than not, there are disruptions that will require modifications, and that is okay! Just like the firm’s business plans and goals, your marketing strategy will be an evolving plan. Be sure to document changes when they do arise as this will serve as a reference document in the future.
A lot has changed in the marketplace this year. If you have a plan in place, take time now to revisit your research and update relevant market and industry details. Ask your leadership team how the upcoming business plan is coming along, and do not be afraid to share the importance of having a seat at the table. At a minimum, having access to the firm’s high-level goals is sometimes all you may get. Starting 2023 with a roadmap is more important now than ever; work with what you have, ask for feedback and revise as needed.
About Tanya Doescher
Tanya is the Marketing Director at Melton & Melton, LLP, one of Houston’s largest independently owned accounting firms. She is responsible for developing and executing the firm’s overall growth goals and objectives. She oversees and leads the marketing, strategic partnerships and business development activities, and is responsible for branding, strategy, advertising, corporate communications, public relations and improving organizational efficiency.
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