The Nuts and Bolts of a Digital Marketing Strategy
Digital Marketing Strategy means little more than a buzz-phrase to nearly half (46%) of businesses, which are active in digital without having any sort of strategy or plan (Study). That may sound incredible, unless your business is among those 46%. You may still be getting some results, but rest assured that they are far below what you could have achieved if you had a sound digital marketing strategy.
Creating a digital strategy is much simpler than most people think. It doesn’t have to be prophecy or set in stone. It doesn’t have to be a 100 page document with colorful charts and tables. You can have your strategy on a single page and adjust it one thousand times or more after you start following it. It really depends upon your business needs and the amount of time and resources that you can dedicate to digital. But, setting up a strategy is better than hoping for the best in all working scenarios.
Using a rather simplistic analogy, your digital marketing strategy works just like the GPS in your car. You can glance at it from time to time when you are driving, but you are basically looking out. You can also reprogram it anytime and take a diversion or go to another destination.
Building a Digital Marketing Strategy in 9 Steps
In this article, I shall provide step-by-step guidance to take you through the entire strategy formulation process. But first, a few disclaimers:
- Every business has different needs, goals and scale of operation. So, there can be no one-size-fits-all strategy.
- All of the following steps may not be necessary to follow for all businesses. It really depends upon your needs.
- I’m hoping you are following some kind of an overall marketing strategy, because your digital marketing goals and many other factors will depend upon your marketing strategy.
- Digital marketing is evolving into digital business, a concept in which you put digital in the driving seat of your business. It is a much wider concept than digital marketing, and includes incorporation of digital in all business functions. This article is primarily about digital marketing strategy.
- Cover short, medium and long-term when preparing your digital marketing strategy. Some people may term any business plan spanning over one year or longer as long-term. But, if you really want to make a solid strategy, you should be thinking at least 3 years into the future.
- Lastly, strategy formulation can be a time-consuming process, especially if you don’t know what you are doing. It is advisable to consult a digital marketing expert or agency, as they know the whole exercise backward, and can assist you in building a robust strategy.
Step #1: Get Everyone Onboard
You need to involve everyone in the strategy formulation process. This includes your internal and external customers. A successful digital strategy thrives on brilliant ideas, which can come from anyone.
Understanding how your customers currently find you online as well as surveying people to obtain their input helps you refine your vision of your goals and strategies. It will also help you select your core digital marketing team. Core, because your extended team consists of just about everyone who has anything to do with your business.
Here are some of the things that you can do.
- Hold discussions with your marketing team about the key challenges your digital or offline marketing/business faces and the possible digital solutions.
- Ask your customer services staff about the key customer issues and barriers to booking. Then brainstorm to see how the customer experience can be improved through digital.
- Spread the word about your vision and invite ideas from everyone through an internal email or newsletter. You can also invite customers through your existing channels to share their ideas.
- Work to understand what type of content your customers are engaged with and equally what they are not. Use this to find new areas to explore and improve.
- You should have a broad idea about the kind of information that you will require for building your digital strategy. Don’t be hesitant to ask open questions, though (e.g. Which Social Media platform(s) do you think will work best for our business/product?).
Step #2: Audit Your Digital Brand
You need to know where you are to be able to go where you want to. If you are already doing marketing or digital marketing, you’ll have an idea about your brand’s current standing. The only challenge is to translate this perception into actionable points, so that you can identify your goals.
Here are some of the questions that you can answer in order to arrive at a starting point for strategy formulation.
- Measure your brand’s digital footprint. For instance, you can list down your brand’s current/average reach, engagement, followers, etc on different social media channels.
- Assess the influence of your brand messaging. Are people commenting on your content or sharing it with their friends? What are the current CTRs and conversion rates? How are you doing versus your competitors)?
- Assess how people are reacting to your brand emotionally. What are the key brand attributes that you’d like to reinforce? What is your brand personality? Should it have a comic, serious, or informative voice?
Step #3: Profile Your Digital Market
Your digital market consists of all the existing and potential users of your product or services who go online. The easiest way to profile your digital market is to take the segmentation and targeting information from your strategic marketing plans, and analyze it from the digital angle.
Here are some of the questions you can ask.
- Where are my customers located geographically? Are you targeting a global or local market?
- What is their demographic profile? Age, gender, ethnicity, income, and other demographic attributes can influence people’s choice of channels and content. For instance, younger people are more inclined to use apps than older people, who prefer to browse the web or to stay offline to find what they need.
- What are the digital platforms that my digital market is using? What are the social media networks they use? You can look at the digital footprint of your competitors, as their target market is similar to yours.
- What are my targeted devices? Do most of my customers come online using a desktop/laptop or mobile/tablet? Many companies neglect mobile, whereas mobile traffic now accounts for nearly 50% of all web traffic. Understanding this traffic can be make or break to most companies.
- What are their media habits? Do they like to read blog posts, watch videos, play games, download stuff?
Step #4: Select Your Channels
There are numerous digital channels that you can use for your inbound marketing. These are mainly made up from—SEO, PPC, Social, Content, display, VOD (video on demand) and Email. You can skip some of these depending upon the time and resources that your business can spend on digital marketing, but if you can afford, you should try to be active on all these channels depending on success through trial and error. Your selection of platform will be based upon your digital brand and market information.
- SEO: SEO (search engine optimisation) delivers organic traffic to your website or sales pages from search engines. Utilizing thorough SEO practices, you will keep receiving a rush of customers to your pages without actively doing anything else. A high search engine ranking is a strategic asset for your business. Many businesses consider SEO as a one-time exercise, whereas it’s a continuing process and must be thought about in strategic terms.
- PPC: Regardless of how well your SEO is performing, PPC (Pay-per-Click) advertising still pays. Google Adwords charges you only when someone clicks on your ad, so your brand getting exposure and you pay only when there’s a chance of making a sale.
- Social: Everyone who logs on to the Internet have a social media account these days. Social media allows you to reach your customers instead of them having to reach you. The use of social media has become obligatory for businesses that don’t want to appear outdated and remote. Even if you don’t advertise on social you should try to incorporate as part of your strategy. You could be missing out on a huge amount of data regarding your current customers which will help you get new ones.
- Content: This channel basically consists of your blogs, vlogs (video logs), podcasts, and guest blogs. Blogs give you the opportunity to keep serving fresh content to your audience. You can write about hot topics and emerging trends in your industry. You can optimize your content for searches and share it through social media to increase its reach.
- Display: Similar to content and PPC. Display media allows you to advertise image or rich media creative on other websites. You can also retarget people who’s already visited certain pages of your site in a bid to win their customers.
- Email: The good old email is still going strong. It’s an intimate way to reach people in their private space and reinforce your message. The channel should be used on an opt-in basis, as people hate to be spammed.
Step #5: Set Your Goals
In steps 1 through 4, you have gathered most of the data that you need for setting your digital marketing goals. Your goals or objectives that you set should be SMART—i.e Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-barred. You can take help from the following guidelines.
- Set a digital sales objective.
- Set reach and engagement goals for all your digital channels.
- Set targets for CTR, conversion rate, impressions, CPC (cost per click), CPL (cost per lead), CPM (cost per thousand impressions), social engagements, social media followers, and other key performance indicators (KPIs). A professional digital media plan may include targets for around one hundred different KPIs across all the five digital channels.
Example: You can say that in three years, you’ll have 100,000 Facebook followers. That can be one of your strategic targets on one of the channels. Other Facebook targets can include lead generation, engagement, reach, cost per like, etc. There can be many similar goals that you can set on other channels. For instance, one of the PPC goals can be that you’ll increase your conversion rate from 2% to 4% in three years. Sound SMART, don’t they?
Step#6: Prepare a Content Strategy
Your strategizing process isn’t complete unless you know what types of content you are going to publish to your digital channels. Ask the following questions.
- What are the topics or themes that you’ll center your content around? Don’t pick too many different topics unless they all fit into a bigger theme that relates to your brand. For instance, if you sell seafood, you can talk about dolphin-slaughter in Japan and how to go fishing. These topics talk about something that is at the core of your business—fish.
- What will be the tone of your messaging? It is important to define certain modes of behavior depending upon your product and the channel that you are using, so that your messaging is consistent. A law firm’s tone of voice will be more professional and formal than a cheeseburger seller’s. Having simple guidelines to reference will help.
- What will be the media type? Although much will depend upon the channels that you are using, it is important to include a lot of pictures and/or videos in your media mix. All creative assets should be consistent to display a unified and recognisable approach to potential customers.
- How will the content be created? Some experts suggest that you should curate 90% of the content that you share with your digital audience, and create just 10%. I personally think the 80-20 Rule works better. Get hold of the best, most current content that’s doing the rounds, content that relates to your core themes, and share it on the appropriate channels.
- The content that you’ll create yourself should focus more on your brand or company. Apart from designing promotions, you can also shoot how-to videos or snap some exciting pictures of your products, people or premises. Apply the Instagram effects and float them around.
Step #7: Prepare Your Plans
So, you have your digital media strategy on paper and are ready to implement it. Maybe not so fast! You need to break down the strategic goals into long and short term plans before you can put them into action.
For example, after assessing your company’s digital marketing needs, you may find out that you need three people for taking care of the digital side of your marketing. You’ll need to hire new people or train some of the older ones. A recruitment or training program will thus be required. Similarly, having 100,000 followers 3 years from now may require you to make 3000 followers a month. A tall order, so how do you plan to achieve it? It may require a certain amount of reach and likes achieved every day or week. Make your annual plans, then break them down into weekly, and if needed, daily tasks.
The planning process will also include establishing standards or benchmarks for performance measurements. For example, you need to have 30% higher digital sales by the year’s end. In order to make sure that you get to your goal, you should break it down into monthly increments and see if you are on track from month to month. Some of the benchmarks can be taken from the industry too, for instance, average conversion rates, CPC, or other similar parameters.
Step #8: Implement Your Plans
Before you can put your plans into action, you’ll need to arrange the material and human resources that you have envisaged. Organize your digital marketing unit and make sure everybody is onboard about what is happening. Make sure that your digital marketing team (or individual) has full knowledge of your plans and takes ownership of the process.
- Show personal interest in digital marketing and support your team by brainstorming ideas with them and giving them the resources to fulfill their roles.
- Keep a break-in period before the full launch. During this period you should anticipate and solve problems and glitches. Watch out for bottlenecks, software issues, and integration problems.
- Start building your presence on the channels that you are targeting according to your digital marketing plans, which you have prepared in step #7.
- Start sourcing, creating and sharing content according to your content marketing strategy and plans.
Step #9: Monitor and Respond
Technology has made it possible to analyze data in a thousand different ways. You must take advantage of some to determine whether you are on course. Social media networks, Google, Bing, and others offer an extensive amount of analytics, using which you can see a clear picture of how your digital marketing is performing.
Digital media melts the boundaries between you and your customers, putting them in direct contact with your brand. The way you respond to their needs and queries will determine their perception of your brand. You’ll need to gear up the responsiveness of your entire organization, so that customer problems and issues are addressed quickly.
The process of formulating your digital marketing strategy helps you think about your business goals and the ways to achieve them. It is a healthy exercise for the entire organization, as it engages your people and invites them to share their vision. Strategizing gives you new insights into how you can squeeze out better returns on your investment.
Most often, businesses that formulate and follow sound digital marketing strategies experience a significant jump in revenues. I’m not surprised when our clients tell me they have doubled their sales just by thinking strategically.
I hope this article was helpful in acquiring the understanding of the building block of a digital marketing strategy. Please contact me through your comments or email if you need guidance about any specific aspects of your strategy.