Shannon Wilkinson

One would think that by developing award-winning creative (I’m talking the kind of work that makes you stop in your tracks and say hallelujah), you’d get those rainbow unicorn customers lining up at your door with money falling out of their pockets (in this dream, the unicorns have pockets, okay?).

While most businesses should aspire to put beautiful work out in the world to represent their company and sell their products, it’s absolutely key that a thoughtful plan come first. You must have good strategy backing that hallelujah creative, otherwise you risk falling flat and getting little return for your efforts.

Now, I love good design probably more than the average Joe, so I’m definitely not downplaying its importance. My personal art and passion is interior design. I can relate how I go about planning and decorating a perfect room to how a business should approach marketing: with a strategy-first plan of attack. Many people design a room piece by piece over time as the wind blows and as the clearance items pop up (I’ve been guilty of it myself in the past), but end up with a mismatched mess that doesn’t work together or look intentional. To keep that from happening, you can watch marathon HGTV and channel your inner Joanna—or you can make a plan, then work the plan. Same goes for marketing your business or organization.

Ask who you’re doing this for.

When I look at an interior design project, I have to consider who will be using the space. Are they entertainers and want to impress guests? Are they parents of young kids who will use the room for a family hangout? What are their tastes? What’s their budget? The more I can find out about who my client is, the more successful I’ll be in the end because I will be able to make choices that fit their personality.

Similarly, you have to have a very clear idea of who you’re marketing to. And if that’s hard for you, start by taking a closer look at the data you have available—specifically your current, best customers or constituents. What are some of the commonalities? Start small—identify whether a specific gender, age or position in their company rises to the top. Are you finding that your major clients have similar educational backgrounds or income levels? Are you seeing specific industries emerging? The more detailed you can get, the better chance you have of reaching them with your message.

Look at the end game.

As I begin an interior design project, it’s essential to have a picture of how I want the space to look after it’s completed. I also need to know my budget and my timeline. I need to make certain the room will serve the intended purpose and that it will wow the client. You also have to know when you’re done. There has to be an end defined because, well, you could potentially keep designing and perfecting a room forever. And then you get an over-designed, over-budget space that fills you with regret more than joy. No one wants that.


No. Just no.

So put pen to paper and create your marketing goals. Make them as specific as possible. With a budget and timeframe put in place, list your desired results. Do you want a specific number of new customers or orders? Is it a lead generation campaign and you’d like a certain number of qualified leads in the pipeline? Do you have a revenue goal in mind? Be as detailed as possible and put numbers to your goals so that you have a way to track, measure and define your success.

Make the road map (but be ready for detours).

At this point, I have a vision for the completed project (or in an Ideabook on Houzz. Check it if you don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s like Pinterest for interior decorating addicts). It’s imperative at this stage to define the tactics to creating that perfect space. From paint to light fixtures to rugs to the finishing decorative touches—make the list of all the elements necessary to meet the goal, set budgets for each and schedule them out in the order in which they should be completed. If I’m always looking at each decision with the goal and audience in mind, it’s easy to stay on track. There are always going to be those surprises and stumbling blocks that come along—a client might bring you a sentimental tchotchke halfway through the process that you have to work into the design without looking out of place.

Now that you you’ve defined your goals for your marketing plan, develop the tactics that will get you there. By looking at your audience, your budget and your goal, you can intelligently choose the media mix that will impact your consumers the most. You can create personalized, integrated marketing experiences for them that will have way more impact than blanket advertising messages to the general population. But always stay flexible. By continuously measuring the success of each tactic as you move through your campaign, you can make modifications and adjust according to how your audience is responding.

Finally! Go forth and create.

Here’s where my vision turns from ideas on paper into real-life execution (AKA shopping). At this point, I know a whole lot about who I’m appealing to, I know where I’m going with my room design and I can make selections for each of the tactics I’ve outlined. When I shop, I can more easily zone in and choose (and rule out) items because I have a list I’m working from. I can choose decor that speaks to the client and the goal. And I still have a lot of movement and flexibility within those parameters—and that’s where my creativity really flows.  

Similarly, you can now develop your creative and messaging based upon the specific tactics that you’ve defined. You know who you’re appealing to, so you can personalize your interaction with your audience with not only the medium you use to deliver it, but in the creative messaging itself.

Don’t haphazardly scatter your marketing message, hoping it a) gets in front of your intended audience and b) they respond to it. You might get responses by piecing together creative and flying by the seat of your pants, but that’s not strategy. That’s luck. And no one wants to leave their success and profitability to chance. Design your marketing efforts with intention and strategy and it will all come together beautifully.