Creating a digital marketing strategy

Ok, the headline of this piece is ‘Creating a Digital Marketing Strategy’ but in my humble opinion, that’s already a bit of a misnomer because your Digital Marketing Strategy is actually just the ‘Digital’ elements of your organisations wider ‘Marketing Strategy’. Despite its prevalence, ‘Digital’ is still just the medium and channels, even if they are really great ones to use.

So, why did I use that headline?

Because tools like Ahrefs and Search Console indicated that’s what you probably wanted. I’m attempting to put your need ahead of mine, otherwise this blog would simply be amusing clips from YouTube. Addressing customers’ needs is a fundamental principle of marketing but is often overlooked for some reason I just can’t fathom.

Marketing is the study and management of exchange relationships

That definition goes way back to Richard Bagozzi in 1975 and the ‘relationship’ part of it still holds up as an excellent analogy for marketing today. OK, so most human relationships are monogamous and unlike brands, people don’t usually try to share intimate moments with thousands of other people simultaneously - at least not the people I know anyway.

But putting that to one side for a moment, I’m going to attempt to explain why I think the analogy works so well and how it might help you create your Marketing Strategy.

First, understand your organisation and your situation. What do you really do?

If your organisation is the equivalent of a dumb, ugly 40 year old man with no job and an ever-increasing beer belly then trying to attract a smart, gorgeous and successful 20 year old woman probably isn’t going to work. Start by being realistic and informed about what your organisation currently offers, where it fits in the wider marketplace and how it’s really perceived by everyone else. Then find those audiences who may actually want what you already have to offer and more importantly, what you could offer with a little bit of self-improvement and change on your part.

Remember that Twitter originally began as Odeo, a network where people could find and subscribe to podcasts but they saw that need being met by iTunes so changed their service to provide something different altogether. That might be a little harder for them in 2017 mind you – I guess we’ll see.

Get to know your target audience better than they might even know themselves

So, you want to punch above your hypothetical weight and meet the customer of your dreams. To be the best in your sector and for customers to flock to you screaming like Beatles fans. That’s great but in order to do that, you’d better have an informed idea of how many of these potential customers there are and an excellent understanding of what all your ‘potential partners’ actually need and desire.

Don’t just sit at home on your sofa, get out there and meet them face to face. Go to the same places they go. Actually speak to them rather second guessing what you think they might need just ‘cause you read it in some Mintel report that all your competitors read as well. If you know how to listen with genuine interest, they’ll happily tell you what they’re looking for in a partner. Like any relationship, the trick is correctly interpreting what they mean, not just what they say. Thoughtful and thorough market research is key to doing this and spotting the real insights.

Make any necessary changes so your company is customer-centric, not organisation-centric

Basically, don’t be the self-obsessed poser who’s favourite subject is always himself. Nobody likes that guy. Well, 46.4% of Americans apparently do but there’s no time to get into that here.

You probably care about your organisation, your boss cares about your organisation, your colleagues care about your organisation. But, for the most part, your customers don’t. Unless you know them all personally, you’re really just a means to their end and if someone else will better meet their needs, you’re at risk of them checking out the guy/girl next door instead.

As such, you don’t want to think and talk about yourself too much.

For example, a hotel that focuses 100% on filling rooms (one of the organisation’s objectives) might miss the opportunities that are inherent in addressing their customers’ objectives - making their phone work as a key card, allowing them to review different hotels, providing clothes etc. Another example is aggregator sites that spotted nobody was meeting the user need to compare providers because no provider wanted to talk about their competitors.

Yeah, I know. It’s not always possible and changing the way an organisation is used to working is like getting rid of that hypothetical beer belly – really, damn, hard. But changing the wider marketplace is significantly harder because you have little to no control over it. If you commit properly to being customer-centric then they’ll reward you handsomely and the marketing team are vital to this.

Refine your Value Proposition(s) and messaging

So, you have a good understanding of what your organisation could provide, what different segments actually need and want and you’ve even made any difficult changes to make sure that these two things will generally overlap going forward.

The next thing is communicating this successfully to the relevant audiences. In our analogy, it might be putting a video on a dating site, an ad on Guardian Soulmates and practicing your chat up lines.

We need a compelling, well-crafted message that is: 1. Completely clear and can be understood in a matter of seconds 2. Succinctly illustrates the specific benefits that they’ll get from you 3. Explains why you’re different / better 4. Is memorable and cuts through all the noise

Then we need to listen to the responses we get to refine it again until we think it’s as good as it possibly can be. Only at that point can we create the secondary messaging and brand tone of voice etc. that will support it.

Pick the channels that will work best and how you’ll use them effectively

If you focus on the ‘Digital’ aspects of your Marketing Strategy too much, then it’s really easy to get caught up in what I’d call ‘Channel-focused thinking’.

For example: “What are we going to do for SEO?”- That channel box gets ticked “What are we going to do for Social?” – That channel box gets ticked “We’re now on Snapchat” – That channel box gets ticked and then inevitably there’s a short pause that’s usually followed by “What exactly are we going to do with it?”

Whatever type of business you are (a hotel, a bank, a car dealership…) your audience doesn’t think that way. They think in terms of their needs and goals and will pay attention to (or use) whatever channel/tool makes it easiest for them to achieve it.

They’re much more likely to say “I want to find a new car and will use whatever is best to do that”, than “I want to use a website, I don’t really mind what’s on it, I just really need to use a website right now.”

It may sound obvious but I’ve seen Marketing “Strategies” in previous jobs that focus on channels and make little or no reference to customers and their needs and goals. In reality, these are actually ‘promotion’ strategies where an organisation is trying to tell everyone, everywhere about how awesome they think they are.

Focusing on the channels too much is like deciding that your prospective (or existing) partner really wants a letter rather than a phone call but not really paying much attention to what they’d like to hear - the actual message inside the letter.

Building and maintaining relationships

Like any other relationship, the one between a brand and a customer takes time to develop. They’re not going to fall for you in an instant and if you propose on the first date – the equivalent of a ‘buy now’ button on your homepage before they even know who you are – then they’re going to think you’ve lost your mind and reach for their coat.

A good Marketing Strategy and the associated plan reflects every step of your customers’ journeys right from their initial awareness to brand advocacy. Unfortunately, as a marketeer you need to act like some sort of weird Casanova on steroids with flexible ethics because you need to try and consider every single potential/existing customer, where they are in the journey currently and how you’re respectfully going to move all of them one step further along the funnel (or Tunnel of Love if you will - did I go too far that time?).

marketing funnelices/integrated-strategy/

Measuring your progress

This will normally be both the beginning and the end of your Marketing Strategy because it’s normally a cyclical process. We started off by comparing your organisations objectives (which usually include your KPIs) to those of your customers (that should be linked to certain KPIs) because if they don’t overlap then there’s a fundamental problem somewhere.

During the process of defining your strategy you may have found that the original KPIs needed to be altered. That’s generally a good thing as it means we’ve considered them properly. Borrowing from Henry Ford: does your organisation really want a faster horse or does it actually want to travel between A and B faster? Has the leadership team requested more users when in reality they want more profit?

Deciding on the right objectives, KPIs and methods of measurement is an art-form in itself and we have a specific team for exactly that. A useful approach can be to map them out so that it’s clear how the ‘lower-level’ objectives feed into the ‘higher-level’ ones.