How to Write a Marketing Plan for Your Ecommerce Store
Are you a planner? My brain thinks in spreadsheets—and yes, they’re color coded.
In fact, during my first year of university, I made a spreadsheet for every course I needed to take. At the time, my roommate (lovingly) laughed at me.
But each time I had to pick classes, I knew exactly what I needed to sign up for—and what extra fun classes I could fit in.
Of course, not everyone (okay, potentially just me) follows a color-coded spreadsheet to graduate—but that plan helped me to use my time wisely, pursue the things that mattered, and feel less stress.
Marketing is no different.
Without a marketing plan, you might miss out on important details, channels, or customer behaviors that you can use to inform your strategies—and your customers’ experiences—to capture people’s attention and turn them into devoted customers.
Writing a marketing plan is a significant—but important—endeavor. You might not need the level of detail I had in my color-coded spreadsheet, but any effort you put into building a marketing plan will help you be more strategic in how you grow your business.
You’re not alone if you’re wondering where to start, but you’re ahead of the curve if you’re proactively planning your marketing rather than relying on ad hoc campaigns.
Ready to set pen to paper? Keep reading to learn:
- What’s the difference between a marketing plan and marketing strategy?
- Seven steps to create your own marketing plan
- Key marketing tactics for every stage of the customer journey
What’s a marketing plan?
A marketing plan is the roadmap you use to guide your business’ marketing efforts.
In terms of format, it can take many shapes. A marketing plan might be a beautifully designed presentation, a PDF, a multi-tabbed Google Sheet, or even a handwritten series of notebook pages.
The important part is not what it looks like—it’s what’s inside that counts. The word “plan” might lead you to believe that a marketing plan is purely tactical (like a content calendar), but an effective plan covers more than just the “how” of marketing.
Think of your plan as the who, what, when, where, why, and how of marketing. A comprehensive marketing plan will answer these questions:
- What’s your brand’s mission/purpose?
- What are your marketing goals/objectives?
- Who are your target customers?
- Where do your customers spend their time?
- When and how will you engage them?
- How will you measure your success?
- How will you iterate your strategy and plan based on the data you collect as you execute your plan?
No need to answer these questions just yet—I’ll get into what they all mean and how to actually build these sections in your marketing plan, but keep these questions in mind as you think through how you’ll create your plan.
Marketing plan vs marketing strategy: What’s the difference?
Wondering what’s the difference between a marketing plan and a marketing strategy?
At a high level, a marketing strategy is about the theory—rather than the practice—that you’ll use to bring your brand to people.
A marketing strategy directly supports your business’s overall strategy. In turn, your marketing strategy informs your marketing plan.
Here’s what the waterfall looks like:
- Your business strategy: The actions and decisions your company plans to take to reach your business goals and objectives, like annual growth.
Which leads to…
- Your marketing strategy: Your company’s marketing goals, objectives, and 30,000-foot approach to how you want to bring your brand to customers.
- Your marketing plan: Your comprehensive plan to translate your marketing strategy across channels to reach and convert your customers.
Your marketing plan requires both a business and marketing strategy to be effective.
In an ideal world, your business strategy, marketing strategy, and marketing plan all coexist peacefully. But in reality, is a balancing act, so keep asking the who-what-where-when-why-and-how questions to keep your marketing strategy and plan aligned with what you’re trying to achieve for your business.
7 steps to create your own marketing plan
Ready to plan? These steps will help you think through all the customer stages and key planning questions, so your marketing plan translates to a memorable customer experience.
1 | Define your business purpose
The start of any good plan: Orient around a purpose to guide your efforts.
To align your marketing efforts with your business’s strategy, start by clearly spelling out your mission and vision statements.
Your mission statement sums up your business purpose and goals.
Your vision statement describes the impact that you want to have in the world.
By starting at the root of your business’s goals and desired impact on the world, you can create a marketing strategy that lasts for more than a quarter before it needs an update. These mission-critical imperatives will outlive trends while also helping you to achieve your business goals.
If you have up-to-date mission and vision statements for your business, step one is complete! If not, here are some questions and examples to get you inspired.
Mission statement inspiration
As you consider your business mission, think about these questions:
- What does your brand do?
- How do you do it?
- Whom do you do it for?
- Why do you do it?
“To improve the 26 years we each spend in bed and to brighten the days in between.”
Notice that Casper doesn’t even mention selling mattresses. Similarly, you probably don’t need to directly mention your product in your mission statement. Rather, focus on the value behind your product to truly capture your brand’s mission.
Vision statement inspiration
In your vision statement, you get to dream big. Think about the perfect world your company could create. Consider:
- What impact do you want to have on the world with your product/brand?
- What problem does your product/brand solve?
- How can you change people’s lives for the better?
Here’s Casper’s vision statement:
“To awaken the potential of a well-rested world.”
Your vision captures a longer-term goal than your mission statement, so envision what kind of impact you’d like to have in the next five or more years.
2 | Set your marketing objectives and goals
For ecommerce businesses, your marketing efforts are like a storefront’s salespeople.
That means your marketing has several responsibilities: bringing in new people, convincing them to buy your products, and treating them so well that they come back to buy again.
Depending on where your business is in its growth, you might want to prioritize one of those responsibilities more than another.
Enter, marketing goals and objectives.
Your marketing objectives determine what you want to achieve with your marketing, and your goals help you measure whether it’s working.
Start with defining your objectives. Here are some examples to consider:
- Build brand awareness
- Find new first-time customers
- Increase awareness of a specific product
- Upsell current customers
- Build outstanding relationships with existing customers
You know best what your business needs—and what’s actually achievable. Home in on what will truly serve your customers and aim to do a few things really well rather than many things just okay.
Once you have your objectives to guide you, create corresponding goals to measure success. To create truly actionable goals, consider using the SMART goal framework. SMART stands for:
- Time bound
Need some examples to get you started?
If your business is relatively new, your primary objective might be to bring in new customers, so your goals might look something like this:
- Increase first-time website visitors by X% by [Date]
- Increase website conversion rate from X% to X% by [Date]
- Increase revenue by X% YoY
If you already have brand awareness in the market, you might want to increase customer loyalty. Here are some example goals:
- Increase repeat website visitors by X% by [Date]
- Increase percentage of customers who make more than one purchase from X% to X% by [Date]
These are just some examples of what your goals and objectives might look like—but whatever you decide, make sure your goals and objectives are documented somewhere that you can continuously come back to them to understand how your marketing plan is working.
3 | Identify your target customers
Once you have a clear business direction to guide your marketing efforts, it’s time for arguably the most important part of your marketing plan: focusing on your customer.
Customer personas are documented descriptions of your customers’ motivations, preferences, challenges, and even behaviors (like what products they view most on your site). Personas help you create campaigns that truly resonate with your customers.
While you might think you know the people who make up your customer base, a persona isn’t based on assumptions.
Typology, a Paris-based skincare company, isn’t afraid to ask customers the important questions: They have a skin diagnostic test that asks people to identify their biggest concerns about their skin.
For building out personas, Typology can use this data to aggregate website visitor data like common concerns, goals, gender, age, and more. This illuminates what motivates customers and how Typology could better appeal to what matters most to customers.
For example, here’s a hypothetical persona that Typology might build from this survey:
Persona: Millennial Mike
Concerns: Wrinkles, dark spots
Motivations: Keeping skin in good condition, easy routine
Recommended products: Anti-aging cream, firming serum
Preferred communication: Facebook, email
The secret to an effective marketing persona? There’s no such thing as too much information.
Being obsessed with your customers is arguably one of the most important steps to being able to serve them well. So don’t settle for just knowing their age and gender—dig deeper.
You know your customers best, so when you build your personas, get creative about what traits are most important to include.
For example, if you learn that people in the UK have different concerns than those in other European countries due to post-Brexit shipping charges, build geography into your personas so you can make sure to message appropriately.
Once you have several personas to understand your many different customers, use them to more accurately create campaigns that speak to their specific motivations and concerns.
4 | Meet customers where they are
Selling online means guiding potential customers from being unaware of your brand to being loyal brand advocates.
Your marketing plan should account for each stage in this process, which is called the customer lifecycle or journey.
To truly resonate with your audience, craft your messages and tactics to best appeal to where people are in the customer lifecycle.
The DTC customer lifecycle spans several key stages:
- Awareness: When people first learn about your brand
- Acquisition: When people give you their contact information
- Conversion: When customers decide to make a purchase (woohoo!)
- Fulfillment: When the customer receives the product or service they purchased
- Loyalty: When the customer makes another purchase, leaves a rave review, and/or becomes a brand advocate (bigger woohoo!)
When creating your marketing plan, tailor your messages to what your customers care about most.
For example, early in the customer journey, people don’t know about your brand, so your goal is to capture their attention and educate them about your product. That means your acquisition efforts will likely provide product-specific education and perhaps first-time buyer discounts.
In the loyalty stage, however, your customer already knows about your product and will be more receptive to your brand. This is where telling your brand story can pique someone’s interest to humanize your relationship.
5 | Identify your top marketing channels
So, how do you actually guide people through the customer journey?
By finding the key marketing channels you can use to build relationships with them.
In marketing, channels are pathways to engaging with your customers. Choosing the right channels to build relationships with your customers will help you ensure you not only bring in new customers but also keep them coming back.
Here are a few ecommerce marketing channels to explore:
- Email marketing
- Website/Organic search
- Organic social media
- Paid advertising (Google ads, social media promoted posts, etc.)
- Third-party sellers (like Amazon)
Some of these channels are more suited to specific parts of the customer journey than others, but it’s best to engage your customers in multiple channels. Marketing is all about reaching the right people at the right time with the right message on the right channel, after all.
Email marketing, for example, comes into play after acquisition, because—of course—you need a customer’s email address to send them an email. Businesses usually use third-party channels to drive acquisition, like paid advertising and even third-party sellers.
But these third-party channels can pose problems for sustainable long-term growth.
Why? They often have high acquisition costs because you’re forced to bid against other brands that may be able to spend more. Plus, these channels restrict how you can engage their audiences, risking the effectiveness of your marketing plan.
On the other hand, channels that you own—like your website, email marketing, and mobile marketing—give your brand more ownership and flexibility. These channels enable you to deliver highly personalized experiences that reflect your brand’s personality. The cost of acquisition is also lower because there’s no third party to pay for customer attention.
The ideal solution: Create a cross-channel plan where you direct customers from third-party channels to the channels where you have the most control. By funneling customers to your owned channels, like your site, you’ll ultimately have more opportunities to capture first-party data that you can then use to create more personalized experiences that appeal to your customers..
For example, you can use a paid Instagram post to direct traffic back to your site, which has a form with a 10 percent off discount when your site visitors subscribe to your newsletter. Then, once your site visitors have given you their email address, you can use email marketing as a channel to create a relationship that the customer actually benefits from and enjoys—and this can ultimately help you to increase customer loyalty and repeat purchases.
6 | Implement tactics for each stage of the customer lifecycle
As you create your cross-channel marketing plan, consider grouping your marketing tactics by the five stages of the customer lifecycle you learned about earlier.
Here are some marketing tactics to consider that can help you drive customers from awareness -> acquisition → conversion → fulfillment → loyalty.
To build brand awareness, go to channels your target audience already frequents. These are the channels that help you introduce your brand to new people, such as search engine optimization (SEO) and paid advertising.
SEO helps potential customers who are looking for your products find your website through the queries they put into search engines—like when someone searches “purse” into Google when they’re looking for a new bag.
To optimize your ecommerce website, create content that ranks for the keywords your potential customers are using for their searches.
Paid advertising includes both paid search (the ads you see at the top of search engine results page) and paid social media posts (the sponsored ads you see on Facebook and Instagram).
These channels are pay-to-play, so you’ll need a budget to run advertisements.
Your budget doesn’t need to be massive to start testing paid advertising—see what kind of returns you’re able to get to determine what’s worth putting investment into.
A word of caution: Paid advertising is only getting more expensive. Businesses are estimated to spend close to $95 billion on Facebook and Instagram advertising in 2021, which is a rise of 22.5 percent from 2020.
And, with the data privacy changes that are happening with Apple and Google, spend on paid ads can become increasingly more inefficient.
While this expense is something to be wary of, paid advertising will likely be part of your marketing plan, especially for driving awareness in the early stages of your business. To grow your business more organically, make paid ads an element of your marketing plan, not a cornerstone.
Plus, get a higher return on your investment in paid advertising by ensuring you have sufficient steam at the next stages of the customer lifecycle—acquisition and conversion—to inspire people to subscribe to hear from and engage with your brand.
Acquisition and conversion
People often hesitate before making a purchase. The bigger the purchase—like fine jewelry or high end fashion—the longer the buyer will likely take to consider it.
This consideration phase is why it’s important to not rely too heavily on third-party and pay-to-play platforms to grow your business. Your ability to target your messaging is infinitely higher on the channels you own, specifically through your website and email marketing.
As you create marketing programs that are designed to inspire people to sign up to your email list and make a purchase, here are some tactics to consider:
- Signup forms that provide incentives to subscribe
- Product pages optimized for conversion
- Educational emails about product benefits
- Cart abandonment emails to remind people about things they’ve already expressed an interest in
For example, Soundbrenner’s cart abandonment email automatically goes out to people 15 minutes after someone leaves their website without purchasing an item they put in their cart.
Tactics like these—especially when they offer extra incentives to convert—help nudge a potential customer to make the purchase, so include them in your cross-channel marketing plan.
Once you’ve won a new customer, the journey isn’t over—it’s just the beginning of what will hopefully be a long relationship.
Getting something new is exciting—and you can make this moment even more memorable by creating a fantastic post-purchase experience.
For the fulfillment stage of the customer journey, your biggest priority is to instill trust and excitement.
How can you do that? Simply keep your customer updated on their order with informative transactional emails after they make a purchase.
Order confirmation and shipping confirmation emails go a long way in letting recent purchasers know you care about them. Ensure the product they ordered is front and center so you can build anticipation. Add personality and reasons to continue engaging wherever possible.
For example, Sous Chef’s order confirmation email keeps customers informed and encourages them to further engage with their brand through a newsletter that’s highly relevant to their product offering.
Want to build compelling order confirmation emails?
The loyalty stage of the customer journey is your opportunity to convince people who have already purchased to become loyal supporters of your brand.
Creating a delightful customer journey with touch points at each stage already goes a long way in earning the ongoing attention of your customers, but how else can you focus on retention in your marketing plan?
Regularly engage with your customers to keep your brand top of mind and build a relationship that’s valuable keeps them coming back.
This doesn’t have to be a huge effort—it can be as small as capturing someone’s birthday and sharing a discount or a birthday message, like Norman Love Confections does.
The more customer loyalty you build, the higher your customer lifetime value (CLV) will be. CLV is the measure of how much customers will spend over the course of their relationship with your brand. The higher your CLV, the more you can offset the cost of acquisition to create massive brand growth.
Other ways to cultivate customer loyalty include:
- Create a VIP rewards program
- Start a customer loyalty program
- Send customers emails with products that are relevant to their interests
7 | Measure, analyze, iterate, and repeat
When measuring the success of your marketing plan, compare your impact with the goals you defined early on.
In addition to those individual metrics, here are a few KPIs to monitor your marketing success:
- Cost of customer acquisition. How much it costs to get a new customer.
- Average order value. How much customers spend on an average purchase.
- Customer lifetime value. How much a customer will spend over the course of their relationship with your brand.
- Revenue by channel. What percent of revenue comes in through email marketing, social media, paid advertising, etc.
As you get more customers, you’ll also get more data about how those customers interact with and respond to your brand and marketing—use that information to cyclically evaluate whether your marketing plan needs to be revised.
For example, if the audience you’re targeting on paid channels is not converting, perhaps you need to revisit your personas. If they’re converting but not repurchasing, consider what else you could be doing at the fulfillment and retention stages to build customer loyalty.
Create a plan to be more intentional in your marketing
Creating a marketing plan is no small feat—I covered seven steps in this guide alone—and it’s no small time investment either.
Your start-to-finish plan doesn’t need to be complete by the time you exit this webpage. You can start with some elements, test and learn, and then build on what drives the most success.
Ultimately, the goal is to create a plan that will outlast fads and trends to grow your business and delight your customers, which is a worthy endeavor.
Going through each of these steps will help you reach the right customers and create an experience that leaves them happy and likely to return to your business.
Now that you’ve read the guide on creating your marketing plan, it’s time to get started.
Of course, bonus points if you color coordinate your plan like I did mine.
Want more insight into the customer journey? Check out these resources on how to find, convert, and delight your customers.
Ready to turn your marketing plan into a reality?