What's in a strategy?

I talk a lot about the importance of marketing strategy. In an environment with limited resources – and let’s face it, everyone operated in an environment with limited resources – it’s important to spend time, money and energy on things that will contribute to business results.
So what is a marketing strategy? There are many definitions, but these are the elements that I include in a marketing strategy document:


What are you trying to achieve? The most powerful strategy documents state this as a measurable business goal. Some examples:

  • Increase in-store revenue by 5% in F’18
  • Increase online student applications by 3% in Fall 2018
  • Generate one repeat purchase from 5% of new customers 

Target Audience

Who are you trying to reach? It can be tempting to say “everyone”, but that’s not a realistic target audience.  A neatly defined target audience has at least some shared behaviors, attitudes and goals. A target audience can be based on demographics:

  • Women between 25-44
  • Adults over 65 

It can be based on lifestage:

  • Moms of elementary school age children
  • 17-year-olds in Chicago who are planning to go to college 

It can be based on goals:

  • Adults planning to move to a retirement community
  • People in northern California who are thinking about buying a new house

(It’s fine to have multiple target audiences, or primary and secondary target audiences, but list them separately.)


What are the three primary strategies you will use to achieve the goal?  It can be tempting to list more than three, but including only three forces you to focus on the top things that will achieve the goal. 

Here are some examples of robust strategies:

  • Increase social media presence in key markets 
  • Develop a web portal to provide prospective students with a personalized experience
  • Build communication flow for parents of prospective students 


The tactics provide specific details for activities around each strategy. Why separate the tactics from strategies? I think it’s easier to get buy-in, because if you get objections to your marketing strategy, it helps clarify whether the objections are at the strategy or the tactical level. I find it easiest (and clearest) to show each tactic with its associated strategy:

Strategy: Increase social media presence in key markets

Run Facebook ads in Chicago and Detroit in Q1 2018
Identify and follow key social media influencers

Strategy: Develop a web portal to provide prospective students with a personalized experience

Develop specific web content for prospective students
Create password-protected portal


The budgeting method will depend on how firm the cost estimates are for the tactics. If you know the cost of each tactic, you can show an additive budget. Alternatively, if you have a fixed budget ceiling, you can show one total budget number as a “not to exceed” budget.


The timeline should list the project’s key milestones and the target date for completion of each one. This does not need to be a detailed timeline for the project – that will come later. But it should identify the start date, final completion date, and key stages in the middle.

Key Issues

This is a list of potential roadblocks or issues that will need to be overcome to complete the project. For each issue you list, you also need to present a possible solution.

Next Steps/Responsibilities

The final strategy element is a list of the 2-3 immediate next steps and, importantly, who’s going to do them. This leaves the reader with a sense of action and urgency.