The Best Marketing Plan for Growth in 2018

It's the holiday season, and I'm sure you're probably checking out for the next few days. However, I'd like to remind you of what the great marketing whiz Seth Godin once said:

"Dig your well before you're thirsty."

If you want your startup or small business to be profitable in 2018, preparation is essential. So before you enjoy that spiked eggnog, here's a guide to help you create a growth marketing plan for a successful new year. Enjoy! 


Step One: Research

You may have heard a common marketing phrase that touts content as king. I say forget content; research is king! I know, I know, doing research is time-consuming, the search results are overwhelming, and you don't really know what you're investigating. I've heard it all before. In fact, someone once told me:

"why research? There are plenty of businesses that figure things out as they go."

I'm horrified this is still a common misconception. Chances are those "businesses" aren't profitable, and without revenue, they'll never be sustainable

Researching will help your startup or company understand your industry and your competitors. Analyzing your audience and gathering customer insight will help your business market it's product or service more efficiently, and happy customers mean healthy growth. Here's some structure to help you perform a strategic assessment:

  • Competitive Analysis

  • SWOT Analysis

  • Buyer Personas

  • Buyers’ Journey

Who's Your Competition?

A competitive analysis will give you the opportunity to leverage your competition. Analyzing their performance helps you set strategy benchmarks that reflect current market standards. Additionally, seeing what your competitor is or isn't up to helps you find ways to make your business stand out, and stay one step ahead. Here are things to look for when sizing up the competition:

  • SEO: anyone using the keywords you want to rank for in search results is your competitor. Find out with tools like Google Keyword Planner and SEMRush.

  • What products or services are they selling, and where are they selling it?

  • What social platforms are they on and what's their posting frequency?

  • What type of content do they publish, and who does it target?

  • Look at your competitor from your customers point of view. Would you consider buying their product or service? Why?



A SWOT analysis is an internal audit of your company's strengths and weaknesses, and an external assessment that identifies opportunities and threats. This type of review provides a framework to help you understand what tools and resources your business or startup may have and the areas where it needs reinforcement. You'll need to have an unbiased approach when auditing your startup or business to appropriately leverage your findings. 

In addition to creating a SWOT analysis for your overall growth marketing plan, you can also complete a SWOT for the different segments within your marketing strategy. For example, your company's content practices could benefit from an individual SWOT analysis to identify whether you should expand, pivot, or abandon a certain content strategy. For the sake of brevity, I won't go into further detail, but I recommend Investopedia's article if you'd like to read more on the subject.

Buyer Persona

A buyer persona or customer persona is an in-depth look at your company's user or customer. Beyond selling, developing a buyer persona allows your startup or business to actually understand your user/customer, their needs, and how you can properly address them. Buyer personas allow you to weave together all the interesting--and borderline creepy details that Google Analytics gathers from your online traffic such as:

  • customer/user's demographics

  • location

  • education

  • technology devices used

  • social platforms preference and activity

  • social interests

  • economic and professional background

  • online footprint and behavior

 Understanding who your customer is will help your company deploy marketing tactics that are helpful, personalized, and authentic. After all, inbound marketing isn't about cold selling; it's about legitimately connecting and engaging with your customer. Here's a free Hubspot template to help you get started.

Buyer Journey

The buyer persona goes hand in hand with the buyer's journey or customer buying cycle. For a startup with a product or software, a buyer's journey optimizes the user onboarding process. For service-based businesses and companies, a buyer's journey are the steps your prospect takes to become a satisfied customer. 

  • The "awareness" stage, where prospects have identified a problem and are looking for solutions, educational resources, and fellow consumer insight.

  • The "evaluation" stage, is more heavy-duty research. Prospects are debating whether or not your product or service is a good fit for them.

  • The "purchase" stage, where prospects are ready to sign up and become a customer.

Understanding the buyer's journey is essential for developing the right type of marketing tactics for every consideration stage. I'll discuss buyer personas and the buyer journey with greater detail in a future blog, but for now here is what Hubspot has to say.


Step Two: Set Some Goals!

Yep, all of that was just step one. Nuts right? After completing your research you're now ready to conjure up some business goals! Client goals always inspire me, and sharing in their vision is one of the many reasons I love what I do. There are several methods for setting business goals, but I'm a big proponent the SMART goal method. SMART is an acronym for:

Implementing specific goals gives you clear business direction. Measuring goals with qualitative and quantitative data allow your company to track growth and avoid loss more effectively. Defining a specific end date for your goal will keep you motivated. I recommend segmenting long term goals into 90-day sprints that focus on 3-5 objectives. This method is usually more digestible and attainable. 

It's also important that your business addresses every opportunity, weakness, and threat uncovered by your SWOT analysis. This is where KPI or key performance indicators, come in handy. KPI's act like a checks and balance system which keep track of your business goals. For example, if you're hitting your ROI or customer retainer KPI's every quarter, you'll know all your hard work is paying off. If you're missing the mark, then that's a clear sign to redirect!


Step Three: Create Your Strategy

Goals are the first step in creating your marketing strategy. Your strategy includes all the tactics you will use to carry out your marketing plan. They include:

  • SEO

  • Analysis

  • Business Goals

  • Tailored Content

  • Distribution: social, email, web

Tailored Content

Creating high-quality content requires writing buyer personas for your business. How many buyer personas should you create? As many as you need to capture a clear picture of your audience. Be sure your personas also reflect every stage of the buyer journey. You'll want to create personalized content to help you engage with each of your personas. For example, here are some of the types of content you may want to consider: 

  • Video

  • Blogs

  • eBooks

  • Podcasts

  • Webinars

  • White Papers

  • Product Demo

  • Free Trial Downloads

Your content is also where you can use SEO tactics to gain visibility and help your business rank on search engine results. Be sure to spend a lot of time exploring the way your business can leverage the strengths that set you apart. Having a consistent brand identity will help you nurture customer trust. 


Social media is the number one way to distribute your content. That's not to say your website and email should be discredited. Using balanced distribution will ensure your users/customers can find and engage with you in a manner that works best for them. My biggest suggestion here is to select a marketing tactic that you can maintain. For example, if you don't like Pinterest don't use it. Whatever is sustainable for you will be enough to make the difference. However, consider which platform your personas use most before ruling out a social platform. Another key factor to consider is that not all social media platforms function the same, and thus not all content will work for each platform. Each platform also has unique posting times for optimal views, clicks, and engagement.

Email is a simple yet highly effective lead nurturing tool. When visitors come to your site, they might find themselves in the awareness and may not be ready to buy. By offering downloadable content, you can capture a visitors information to continue the conversation.   Simple, crisp, and perfectly timed emails are a smart marketing tactic to incorporate into your strategy.

SEO & Analytics

I could write an entire blog or several in fact on SEO and analytics. The truth is that if you don't measure your business efforts, you're not going to grow. You won't know how to, and even if you magically get lucky, it won't be sustainable. Analytics should be at the core of your marketing strategy. Google Analytics is a free tool that can easily integrate with a ton of other analytics platforms such as Kissmetrics. Bottom line: monitoring your growth and testing strategies is the ONLY way to reach your audience and see a return on your financial investments. For information on SEO basics head over to Moz and read their blog!

Step Four: Organize

Organize efforts into a cohesive marketing plan. Include as much detail as necessary:

Once you have honed in on your marketing strategy, decide which tactics you will use to achieve your goals. Remember you are segmenting goals into 3-5 objectives over a 90-day period. Thus it makes sense to only use a few tactics at any given time. To help you stay focused, create an editorial calendar to schedule when and how you will execute your marketing plan. Once you've written your content, use a scheduling tool like Buffer and Zapier to help you automate the process. 

Finally, please remember that your growth marketing plan is a guide! It's ok to revise your strategy quarterly or annually. I hope my marketing how-to guide helps your business thrive in 2018. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments section below. Happy Holidays!


Be Well, 

Gabriella Cook