The Four Steps of the Marketing Process

A good marketing process is vital to the success of any company. This guide provides the steps and tactics to create a successful marketing process for your small business.

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Did you know that social media, content creation, and website development all lead the way when it comes to the biggest marketing trends?

The marketing landscape is constantly changing thanks to the internet, and it can be exhausting to keep up with.

But when it comes to coming up with a new marketing campaign, marketing tactics stay largely the same.

Even if the mediums and channels change rapidly, the principles of marketing do not. You're still trying to define your company, then your customer, and then create a direct marketing strategy that appeals to that customer — and your small business marketing plan should reflect that.

If you don't have a marketing process, or even a marketing research process, it's time to take a deep breath and start drawing one up. It informs all of the other efforts in your business, from the pricing strategy to the positioning strategy to the go-to-market strategy. And while it sounds complicated and overwhelming, it’s absolutely doable, even if you’ve never done it before.


What is the marketing process?

The marketing process refers to all the steps a company takes to analyze market opportunities, identify a target customer, and create a multifaceted marketing strategy to interact with those customers and qualify leads for the sales team.

The goal of the marketing process is to make potential customers aware of the company's existence and build the brand's identity so that the company can sell to those customers.

While marketing processes can vary widely depending on the company and the industry, they generally have four phases:

  1. Defining the brand
  2. Creating a customer profile
  3. Developing a strategy
  4. Evaluating and adjusting the strategy

The 4 steps of the marketing process

Your marketing process should be highly unique to your company, but you should generally follow the same four marketing process steps when creating a strategy for any company.

Step 1: Defining the brand

The first part of the marketing process is to define who you are as a company. It's not good enough to simply say, "we sell IT services." You need to spell out what problem you solve and why it is that you do what you do.

You could say, "We protect small- and mid-sized business from cyber attacks that could result in devastating lawsuits for an affordable price," which is a much more effective message than an overly broad "we provide IT services."

You should also draw up a mission statement that describes what makes your business unique and what your vision is as a company.

To illustrate this point, Tesla has done a great job defining its brand by leaving price totally out of the equation and focusing on the niche of eco-friendly-yet-cool vehicles that are essentially status symbols.

White Tesla on grass next to a gravel road.

Tesla’s clever branding has totally upended the entire automobile market.

Tips to help you define your brand

While building a brand is fun in theory, this concept is much more difficult in practice and requires a lot of pointed thought and brainstorming.

Answer five questions

When setting out to define your brand and lay out your mission statement, answers these five questions:

  1. Who are my customers?
  2. Who are my competitors?
  3. What problem do I solve?
  4. How am I different from others who solve this problem?
  5. What kind of personality do I want my brand to have?

Once you have the answers to these questions, your mission statement should flow easily from your brain.

Use the “Golden Circle”

The Golden Circle has been used by many businesses trying to define their brand. It takes the form of a target, with "Why" as the bullseye, "How" in the next ring, and "What" in the outer ring. The Golden Circle stems from a central truth about your customer: They don't buy what you do, they buy the "why." You need to get customers — and investors — who believe in you and what you are trying to accomplish.

Once you've defined that "why," then and only then should you define "how" you accomplish that why, and finally what that product or service will be that accomplishes this.

Picture of the "Golden Circle" showing "Why" in the center, "How" in the middle, and "What" on the outside.

The Golden Circle will provide much-needed clarity for your business.

Step 2: Creating a customer profile

You can't create a marketing strategy without knowing who your customer is, and that's where a customer profile comes in.

Ideally, you should have a few customer profiles with their own names, so when you talk to your team, everyone knows which type of customer you're referring to when you say "Joe" or "Susan."

A good customer profile breaks down the following common aspects about individual customers:

  • Age
  • Education level
  • Gender
  • Job title
  • Interests
  • Needs and pain points
  • How they currently solve their problem

To illustrate this point, no company knows their customers better than Harley-Davidson, which has its Harley Owners Group that numbers in the hundreds of thousands. This group allows the company to connect with its customers in a way that most companies only dream of — and therefore helps Harley understand its customers better than anyone else.

Tips to help you define your customers

You may already have the benefit of meeting your customers regularly in a brick-and-mortar store. However, if you run an eCommerce store or sell SaaS software, you may need to dig a little deeper to understand your clients.

Survey your customers

If you already have a customer base, a great way to start understanding them is to simply ask them questions in the form of a survey. And don't just survey them once; try to do it on a fairly regular basis, perhaps quarterly or semi-annually.

Doing it this way will also allow you to spot any shifts in preferences or demographics on the part of your customers, and allow you to adapt.

Use NAICS codes

If you don't have a strong customer base to draw from, you can still conduct some good research by looking up the NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) codes of your competitors, which will tell you what industry they're in (and therefore what industry you're in).

You can then take these NAICS codes and look up detailed market research on these industries that will define what your customer looks like. This research is often expensive, but you may be able to access it for free through a local library that has a small business program.

Step 3: Developing a strategy

Now that you know who you are and know who your customer is, you can put together a comprehensive marketing strategy. This marketing strategy should be integrated, meaning all marketing channels — video, blog posts, social media, print, and the like — are working together to communicate the same message.

You'll also need to create marketing goals. How many customers do you hope to reach in each channel? What level of engagement do you want to achieve? How many qualified prospects would you like by the end of the quarter, or the end of the year? What kind of budget will you dedicate to these efforts?

Remember that sales and marketing go hand in hand, and your marketing goals should keep your sales team and their goals in mind.

For example, just about everybody is familiar with Geico. But it's probably not because of how good their car insurance is; you could probably recount at least four or five different Geico advertising storylines.

Their marketing strategy is multifaceted and can be found on just about every medium, from television to billboards to the internet.

Tips for developing a strategy

Not all marketing strategies are a match for all brands. One brand may rely heavily on social media while another's customers may prefer email marketing. Below, we explore some opportunities to develop a strategy that's a fit for your business.

Explore marketing partnerships

Doing marketing on your own is tough, especially when you're a relatively small or even brand-new business. Chances are, there are other small businesses out there that balk at the high cost of outsourcing content, digital, and email marketing.

For example, if you provide IT services to small- and mid-sized businesses, you could team up with one of those businesses to create a series of YouTube videos on the importance of cyber security for small businesses.

Focus narrowly

You've got to be realistic about what you can accomplish with your resources. While a multifaceted approach to marketing is important, you cannot try to attack too many different channels — focus on just a few where you know you can be most effective with the fewest resources, whether that be time or money. Assess the resources you have now and have a meeting with your team to focus on what you can realistically accomplish over a period of, say, a quarter.

Step 4: Evaluating and adjusting the strategy

If you're not using marketing software, it's time to get some, because in order to maximize your effectiveness, you'll need software that can track your data and produce actionable reports based on marketing analytics that tell you which channels are working the best for you and which aren't.

These reports should also be able to tell you which campaigns are resonating the most with customers, and which stories aren't really connecting.

As an example, perhaps no company has had to change its marketing strategy over the years more than Netflix, which started out mailing DVDs to customers but now relies almost entirely on streaming content, and even creates its own award-winning TV shows and movies. As your business changes, your marketing strategy must change with it.

Tips for evaluating and adjusting your strategy

All brands need to reevaluate the success of their marketing efforts to ensure they are meeting their goals and spending their marketing dollars wisely. Below, we explore a few ways to keep your finger on the pulse so you can tweak your strategy accordingly.

Look for shifts

When you examine data, what you're looking for are shifts — whether that be a big, seismic one that could represent a huge opportunity for your business right now, or a small shift that might seem minor but could portend to bigger things down the road.

For example, if you see that your customers have slowly migrated toward a cloud-based version of your product, that could be an indication of a long-term trend that you should be preparing for now.

Watch your competitors

Don't just look within for insight, look outside as well. The actions your competitors are taking could provide clues on where the market is headed and help you adjust your strategy accordingly.

If you see a couple competitors start making sales to enterprise customers, for example, that could be a sign that the small business market is starting to dry up and therefore you should research ways to adapt your product for larger clients.


Start drafting the marketing process for your small business

It’s time to sit down and draw up a quick draft of what you think your processes of marketing need to be.

Create a mission statement, brainstorm a couple customer profiles, and lay out a few channels you can go after. Then do the research to start refining these hypotheses. Conduct surveys and talk to your team to get feedback that you can incorporate into your new strategic marketing process.

With this in place, you can draft a comprehensive marketing strategy that will help you see results.

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