Explore our Digital Marketing Strategy and Planning Toolkit

How to use Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for marketing

Author's avatar By Dave Chaffey 02 May, 2024
Essential Essential topic

Do you, or your organization use SOPs for digital marketing activities?

You may not have heard of SOPs, since the technique seems to be more widely used in the US and in markets where the sales process is more technical (think E-commerce or B2B rather than consumer brands and smaller businesses). But I believe they are a powerful technique that any business in any market can benefit from. They are particularly useful for agencies and consultants to use when working on client activities. In a larger team, in particular, they can help achieve consistency of approach and results by everyone following best practices and can support training of less experienced team members.

What is a Marketing Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)?

So, what is an SOP? In short, an SOP defines a repeatable procedure for how a business process task should best be completed by defining a series of steps or sub-tasks.

In marketing, a Marketing Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is a detailed document that outlines the specific techniques and steps to complete marketing activities. It acts as a blueprint, guiding an individual through different marketing processes. They are aimed at improving task consistency, efficiency, and alignment with the overall strategy and objectives.

Essentially, SOPs for marketing can be defined as:

SOPs are repeatable instructions defining how to complete a marketing activity by following a series of steps in order to achieve a consistent approach and good results by applying best practices.

If you want to know where SOPs fit into the wider context of systems, processes and policies in a business, this video explains it well.

SOPs are a great fit for improving digital marketing

As we'll see, SOPs are particularly well-suited to digital marketing since when marketing using channels like organic and paid search and social media and email marketing, there is a lot of detail and complexity which needs to be mastered if we want to get good results. Consider all the activities that need to managed across the customer lifecycle shown in our visual which only covers some of the top-level techniques for digital marketing.

SOPs are a foundation of Smart Insights, since when we launched in 2010 we wanted to help marketers or business owners who were new to digital marketing save time and get better results through following best practices based on our experiences when consulting and using tests of using digital marketing across many sectors. They're even more valuable today since digital marketing has become more complex with many more channels and often less resource to work on the many always-on digital marketing activities. Using Generative AI like ChatGPT is part of that complexity, but can also help. It's also a great fit with SOPs - you can use ChatGPT to standardize approaches, particularly with copywriting - see for example, our advice in this blog covering 15 best prompts for using ChatGPT for digital marketing.

I think we all naturally use SOPs on a business or personal level, whether they are personal ad hoc time-savers we've developed or more structured process required by the business. I'm a huge fan of Standard Operating Procedures since they fit my mindset which is that, if we are systematic, data-driven and follow-best practices, we are more likely to succeed in our work and career than others who are less considered and less structured.

In the last part of this article I'll review Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in detail explaining what they are; how they relate to strategy, planning and implementation for digital marketing; different types of SOPs, how to structure them and finally how SOPs relate to our RACE planning system and member resources. Plus, we'll look at some SOP marketing examples.

Smart Insights RACE SOPs

We developed the RACE framework with the same aim as SOPs - to help provide marketers a standard set of procedures to help them succeed by seeking to review and prioritize improvements across the whole marketing funnel. The RACE framework details 25 key marketing processes which are relevant for all businesses wanting to audit and improve their marketing effectiveness. These include both processes for implementing AND creating a digital marketing strategy. Often SOPs developed by others only cover tactics for search, social and email marketing for example, but don't cover the many key processes for creating a strategy which need to be followed each year.

In total, there are more than 70 Smart Insights SOPs which cover the FULL customer lifecycle of always-on AND campaign marketing activities. These SOPs are available in our free spreadsheet template RACE Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for digital marketing.

This distinction is important, since our research shows that many businesses under-invest in Always-on activities needed to assess and tap into the continuous demand as people search for products and services they're interested in. This visual shows an example shared on LinkedIn from Spotify's former Always-on Marketing Director recommending their vision for tapping into this always-on demand.

Since successful digital marketing needs new skills and processes to be developed, we have created more detailed Marketing Standard Operating Procedures in a tab to help you review your skills and processes. We explain the Opportunity, Strategy and Action which form the procedure for each SOP and show you which of our templates and learning paths will help support you in implementing the SOP. Full details of the SOPs are available in the recommended resources available with premium Smart Insights membership.

What type of businesses can benefit from marketing SOPs?

SOPs work particularly well in larger marketing teams since they help with standardizing approaches where different people may work on one type of activity and people like new starters may be unfamiliar with a process. They are vital in marketing agencies since people may do many activities and may be new starters where they can form part of on-the-job training.

That said, they can help workflows in smaller business too since they can enable more repeatable processes and different tools including AI tools can be used to save time in a 'team of one'. They are a really good 'aide-memoire' for activities you do regularly perhaps once a month or once a quarter, but the details can be difficult to remember.

Examples of SOPs for marketing

Our RACE framework spreadsheet features SOPs from across marketing including strategy and implementation and also links to other spreadsheet templates that can be used to build and develop your own SOPs. Let's take a look at a full example of a single SOP.

This SOP is particularly relevant to agencies who will have to regularly set objectives when onboarding new clients. This SOP is less relevant for businesses that have established objectives, but we see that many businesses are new to setting objectives.

Standard Operating Procedure (SOP): Setting Objectives in Digital Marketing Using the RACE Framework

1. Purpose

This SOP aims to guide the marketing team in setting structured and effective digital marketing objectives using the RACE framework to ensure alignment with the organization's strategic goals.

2. Scope

This procedure applies to all marketing team members involved in digital marketing planning and execution across the organization.

3. Definitions

  • RACE Framework: A planning model that outlines four key stages of customer interaction in digital marketing: Reach, Act, Convert, Engage.
  • SMART Objectives: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound objectives.
    KPIs: Key Performance Indicators used to measure the success of objectives.

4. Tools

  • RACE Framework Planning Document
  • Digital Analytics Software
  • Project Management Software

5. Procedure (Steps)

Step 1: Understand the RACE Framework
Familiarize the team with the stages of RACE: Reach, Act, Convert, Engage.

Step 2: Define Vision and Goals Across RACE Stages
Establish a vision for each stage aligned with broader business objectives.
For example, increasing brand awareness (Reach), improving online interactions (Act), boosting online sales (Convert), enhancing customer loyalty (Engage).

Step 3: Set SMART Objectives for Each RACE Stage

  • Reach: Set objectives to expand the reach of your digital presence, such as increasing traffic to the website by X% within Y months.
  • Act: Define objectives to enhance customer interactions, such as increasing newsletter sign-ups or content downloads.
  • Convert: Focus on conversion-related objectives, like improving the e-commerce conversion rate by Z%.
  • Engage: Set objectives to increase engagement, such as improving customer retention rates or social media engagement metrics.

Step 4: Select KPIs for Each Objective

  • Determine specific KPIs for each objective within the RACE stages to track performance effectively.
  • Use digital analytics tools to monitor these KPIs regularly

Step 5: Document and Communicate Objectives and KPIs

  • Document all objectives and KPIs in the digital marketing plan.
  • Communicate these goals clearly to all stakeholders to ensure understanding and alignment.

6. End of Procedure

Responsibility: The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is responsible for overseeing the implementation of this SOP and ensuring compliance with all steps.

Review and Update: Review this SOP annually or as necessary to adapt to new marketing strategies or changes in business objectives.

Closing Reminder: Continuously assess and refine digital marketing objectives to ensure they remain aligned with the dynamic business environment and technological advancements.

This revised SOP structured around the RACE framework offers a clear pathway for setting strategic, measurable digital marketing objectives that support overall business goals and enhance customer engagement across all digital channels.

I hope this article about SOPs has given you food-for-thought about how you could apply them in your business.

Author's avatar

By Dave Chaffey

Digital strategist Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of online marketing training platform and publisher Smart Insights. 'Dr Dave' is known for his strategic, but practical, data-driven advice. He has trained and consulted with many business of all sizes in most sectors. These include large international B2B and B2C brands including 3M, BP, Barclaycard, Dell, Confused.com, HSBC, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, M&G Investment, Rentokil Initial, O2, Royal Canin (Mars Group) plus many smaller businesses. Dave is editor of the templates, guides and courses in our digital marketing resource library used by our Business members to plan, manage and optimize their marketing. Free members can access our free sample templates here. Dave is also keynote speaker, trainer and consultant who is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Digital Marketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing. My personal site, DaveChaffey.com, lists my latest Digital marketing and E-commerce books and support materials including a digital marketing glossary. Please connect on LinkedIn to receive updates or ask me a question.

Recommended Blog Posts