Success or failure of a business depends completely on its “Strategy”.
Here is a little snippet from Wikipedia in definition of Strategy:
Strategy (from Greek στρατηγία stratēgia) is a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty. Strategy is important because the resources available to achieve these goals are usually limited.
Hence, strategy is critical to bringing about a cohesion in prioritization of actions that enables a business to be laser-focused on doing the right thing. Some call Peter Drucker ‘the founder of modern management’, one of his famous quotes is:
“Doing the right thing is more important than doing the thing right.”
Therefore, if your business wants to do the right thing at any moment in time, it requires proper strategic planning.
Peter Drucker has the following detailed definition for Strategic Planning:
“Strategic planning is the continuous process of making present entrepreneurial (risk-taking) decisions systematically and with the greatest knowledge of their futurity; organizing systematically the efforts needed to carry out these decisions; and measuring the results of these decisions against the expectations through organized, systematic feedback.”
Why do I need a Digital Marketing Strategy?
Just writing down a brief list of what is possible in terms of digital marketing activities clearly demonstrates how confusing and inefficient the whole thing can get very easily. Let’s take a look at some of the marketing activities you may engage in:
- Your positioning and performance in multiple search engines
- Your usage of Paid Search Advertising in multiple Search Engines
- Your usage of Ads in multiple Display Networks
- Your usage of Ads in multiple Social Media Networks
- Your overall Social Media Strategy and Activities
- Your Email Marketing
- Your Content Strategy for your Blog
- Your Sales and Coupons on your website
- Your Affiliate Network
- You may also want to find out the relation of some offline efforts with your online sales, or you may want to integrate your offline data with your online marketing data
If you think about it, you have dozens of possibilities at least.
Now the question becomes, are you just initiating different activities or do you have a cohesive strategy that provides the logic behind what exactly is being done in which channel?
Furthermore, do you have a clear setup so that you can learn from what you do effectively? Remember, a strategy enables you to move in uncertainty as effectively as you can. What is key is systematic feedback that allows you to measure impact and thereby learn and get better.
How should I go about creating and carrying out a Digital Marketing Strategy?
Now that we have covered:
- The role of ‘Strategy’ in an organization in general.
- The specific need for a Digital Marketing Strategy.
Let’s have a look what are the main necessary components for possession of a successful Digital marketing Strategy.
There are 3 main steps to it:
A. Formulation of a detailed Strategic Marketing Plan according to the goals of the organization.
B. Implementation of both the Digital Marketing Activities as well as the implementation of Measurement Techniques for those activities.
C. Evaluation of the activities based on the measured results against the set goals and expectations. In a way that learning can be captured to refine and adjust the Marketing Plan as circumstances change and assumptions may not hold.
The main problem of the organizations lies in the fact that not enough attention, if any at all, is given to steps 1 and 2. In the smaller organizations, marketing activities are decided and started in more or less an ad hoc manner. And in the larger organizations, who have separate teams for different marketing channels, again, not enough emphasis is put on formulation of a cohesive strategy and its evaluation. It often happens that the bigger teams, simply start and manage a merely larger number of marketing activities. Of-course, creating a cross-team overview of things and a cohesive strategy is much more challenging in large organizations. However, the first step for all organizations remains to become fully conscious of and willing to spend resources on Formulation and Evaluation in addition to mere Implementation.
Now let’s look in a bit more detail what needs to happen at each stage:
The formulation happens on three levels:
- Marketing Philosophy (Business-Centric vs. Customer-Centric)
- Customer’s Intent Spectrum (via an Intent-Marketing Framework)
- Business Objectives (Goals, Targets and KPI settings)
In order to be able to formulate a Strategic Marketing Plan, successfully, it is important to identify and articulate your ‘Marketing Philosophy’ first. You need to articulate what you perceive the role of your marketing to be. Different people may take on different philosophies and that choice may make or break their business in the long run. There are essentially two opposing forces in the philosophical approaches:
- A Business-Centric Approach
- A Customer-Centric Approach
A business centric approach views all situations from the business perspective primarily. The main issue in this approach is that it stops at the numbers that are important for the business which can disregard what is important for the customers. It happens too frequently that a strategy devised from a merely business-centric perspective is simplified into producing more sales only without describing a path for getting there.
The whole reason behind the existence of a business is to help the customers with some aspect of their needs. And the best businesses simply understand those needs best. A customer-centric approach dictates an awareness of what the customer is trying to accomplish and forms the business around it by aligning business objectives with customer objectives. What the customer would like to accomplish can be formulated as the ‘Customer’s Intent’. From a customer-centric perspective, the role of marketing has the below 3 aspects at every touchpoint with the customers of a business:
- Understanding Customer’s Intent
- Serving Customer’s Intent
- Helping Customers See How their Intent is Served.
Intent can be defined on 2 levels:
- The job that the customer is trying to get done with the help of a product or service.
- The intention that the customer has at a touchpoint with the business.
The knowledge gained at the first level is valuable in product-design or choice of the product addition to offerings.
The second level is more granular, and it assumes a customer on a journey to a purchase. The point is that not at every step in the journey a customer is prepared or willing to receive a sales-offer. Disregarding this fact by many businesses is something that annoys their customers greatly and causes their loss.
A.2. Customer’s Intent Spectrum
There are many frameworks that try to describe the stages that a customer goes through. The objective of these frameworks is to enable the businesses to know what to expect at every stage. An old and standard framework that deals with the different states of the customers mind is AIDA which stands for:
Although through time, many business have somewhat misunderstood the Intent-based nature of this framework and made rather business-centric implementation versions of this framework. The same can be said about the common form of a Marketing-Funnel whose sole goal becomes pushing people down the funnel rather than trying to understand the reason where people leave at a certain stage in the funnel and trying to address that.
One of the corrective efforts that can be seen in this regard is a framework by the well-known analytics expert and blogger Avinash Kaushik which is termed SEE, THINK, DO. In his blog post he provides a detailed explanation of why it is critical to identify the underlying Intent of customers and classify them as ‘SEE’ for those who just got to see or hear about the business, ‘THINK’ for those who are actively considering a purchase, and ‘DO’ for those who engage in a purchase or other form of transaction with a business.
Next, you will have to articulate your business objectives in accordance to your Philosophy and Intent Framework.
A.3. Business Objectives and KPIs
In the last part of the formulation stage, it is crucial to identify business objectives and provide a path to measure them using appropriate KPIs. It is vital to pass the business objectives through a filter of Customer-Intent. The concrete steps here would be as below:
- Identify business objectives
- Translation of business objectives to one or more Customer-Intents.
- Define one or more Marketing-Actions to address an identified Customer-Intent.
- Define according key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the performance of each action or a group of actions towards addressing and facilitating a Customer-Intent.
- Define targets for each KPI
- Identify contexts which allow learning from KPIs. (This can occur by time period comparison, segment comparison, etc)
Concrete business objectives may be things like:
- Increasing brand awareness in search
- Generating leads for specific products
- Increasing sales, or increasing sales of a specific product.
- Encouraging people to visit your offline store.
- Generating more traffic for your online-store.
- Increasing repeat purchases
- Increasing newsletter subscribers
The objectives are partly set based on an understanding of Customer’s Intent that customers may have and the state of your business as to if such intent is underserved. More importantly they need to be translated into Customer-Intent based goals for the business. Those goals need to be associated with actions which facilitate them and the success of the actions should be measured and learned from. For example:
1- Brand awareness as a business objective, is based on the customer’s intent to communicate something unique about a brand. Increase of such uniqueness helps with brand awareness. The unique point about your business may simply be its location for example. So awareness of your locality can bring about awareness of your brand in its simplest form. At this point we have translated a business objective to a Customer-Intent. Now in order to facilitate this intent, you might consider running an ad campaign that emphasised your locality. This would be the marketing action taken in association with that intent. You can measure brand-awareness in search by observing the search volume for your brand keywords. You may design a set of other actions too in the above manner all aimed at increasing your brand awareness. With a measurement KPI for this purpose like search volume for your brand keywords. You can observe where you are now and set a target for where you want to be in 3 months or 6 months and measure your actions success. Only when you have a framework for decision making about the marketing actions you undertake and a way to organize and record their results, you will have the ability to assess the success of your actions, learn from them and try more impactful actions towards your goals and business objectives.
2- Leads, as another business objective, are by definition those people who have shown some initial interest. They are not necessarily willing to purchase immediately but are willing to allow you to maintain a conversation with them by providing updates about a specific product for example. This can be one translation of that business objective into a Customer-Intent. The resulted required marketing-action maybe addition of such functionality into the product pages which allows for customers to opt to receive updates about a product. Addition of such functionality with the real Customer’s Intent in mind then can produce the required generation of leads. This can be measured by the number of people who opt to receive updates, and this number can be used as a KPI that has a target within a specified time-period. Success or lack of success of this activity and the learning from it lays the foundation for a better next step. In this way, you are systematically marching forward in uncertainty and are getting better with every action. But your actions have a far more chance of success anyways compared to taking random action because you ensure there is a set of logical reasons behind them that are well structured and documented.
I think the point and the approach should be clear by now so for the rest of the examples I will be more brief and leave further details to your imagination.
3- Increasing sales must first be broken down into its subcomponents. In general it can be done via selling to more people or selling more products to the same people either as up-sells or repeat-sells. Each of those should be explored with the relevant Customer-Intent in mind. A review of the current product-purchase combinations or addition of a touch-point that subtly allows for the customer to express additional interest could lead to a better understanding of the Customer-Intent and providing a marketing-action plan accordingly.
4- Once you approach visiting your offline store from an intent perspective, you start to analyze why a customer would rather come to your offline store and try to facilitate the intents of such customers. They may rather want to hold the product in their hands. They may want to know who they are buying from. The may have questions that need to be answered. Those items can be hints for appropriate content creation for marketing activities that are targeted at this business-objective. Appropriate measurements technique need to be setup so that the impact of those efforts can be monitored. For example, by integrating the usage of a coupon code in advertisement for the offline store and tracking its usage.
5- Generating more traffic for the online store is also a high level goal that needs to be first broken down into different traffic channels and an exploration of Customer-Intent for those coming in from every channel. Then defining marketing-actions and content in an effort towards facilitating the intents best. Here a KPI to start with for evaluation would be the bounce-rate. It can be used to identify the relevance of what customers see from different channels with their intent. High bounce-rate usually indicates irrelevance of content. decreasing the bounce rate to a certain level can be set as a clear target within a set period of time.
6- Repeat purchases can have a lot to do with the level of satisfaction of the customer at the first purchase. Marketing actions can be devised to measure and improve their satisfaction level accordingly. The number of repeat purchases in itself can be used as a KPI to track performance of the activities on this front.
7- Increasing newsletter subscribers, developing an understanding of why customers may be interested in a newsletter from you lays the ground to adjust the content accordingly and have more success in acquiring new subscribers. This can be accomplished via several methods, for example a customer survey or monitoring the types of articles that are most successful on your your blog. Once you have identified and collected the main Customer-Intent which become relevant in the context of reading a newsletter then you can act accordingly and measure your success with the number of subscribers as a KPI to watch.
As you can see the process of formulation of your strategy and articulation of clear business objectives as well as providing a roadmap for achieving them is no easy task and requires time, effort and creativity. It also require a structure for producing, recording and organizing thoughts as well as monitoring their impact.
Naturally, next is to proceed with the required implementation for the marketing actions of the strategy as described in the next section.
Once an action plan for Marketing Activities is set it needs to be implemented on two levels:
- The Marketing-Action itself.
- The required tracking facility to measure the according KPI.
The first part which is the implementation of a marketing-action itself is more obvious. It might be as straightforward as writing a blogpost, or starting a paid campaign with the desired theme or provision of a certain content on certain pages etc.
What is more important that is frequently ignore is ensuring the required KPI for the relevant business objective can actually be tracked. The ability to track the relevant KPIs, may require adjustments in the setup of the analytics platform that is used for example in Google Analytics. It will also need a straightforward method of monitoring the KPI in relation to the business objective in an easy to use environment for example in a custom made dashboard.
In the below we are going to have a brief look at some common types of the setup requirements that may need to be implemented in Google Analytics as an example:
- Definition and setup of events to track certain actions like downloads or interaction with a video etc.
- Definition and setup of goals or smart-goals.
- Setting up special capabilities like ecommerce or enhanced ecommerce
- Setting up cross-domain tracking via the Linker plugin.
- Definition and setup of Custom Dimensions and Metrics.
- Writing custom plugins to add additional features to Google Analytics.
- Setting up Enhanced Link Attribution in Google Analytics.
- Defining and setting up Experiments in Google Analytics.
- Connection to other platforms like social media to collect data centrally via Analytics Social Data Hub for example.
- Definition and setup of Calculated Metrics.
- Creation of UTM parameters in a structured manner and usage of the correct code in the correct content.
- Integration with offline activities to enable data-collection from an offline Point-of-Sale for example or a separate Email marketing tool.
- Enabling Site Search in Google Analytics.
At the same time there is a number of mistakes that can happen during setup of Google Analytics which need to be identified and addressed. An overview of some of the common Google Analytics related setup errors and issues can be found here.
Therefore, the implementation of the appropriate tracking capability is also not a job to be taken lightly and needs ample attention and testing to produce sound results. Both types of implementation activities have costs associated with them. A clear estimation of the estimation cost can also help with the decision making process and also provide grounds for a later ROI analysis.
Once an appropriate implementation is in place for a particular strategy formulation. Then it is possible to monitor change and evaluate it. Evaluation is not simply monitoring the KPIs but conducting an analysis that allows for learning in such a way that it ties into improvement possibilities in the strategy formulation and the association of Customer-Intents or goals with business objectives. For a proper evaluation and analysis, a number of activities are noteworthy:
- Comparative analysis based on similar time periods.
- Comparative analysis of various segments of people.
- Correlation analysis of the designated Intent based KPI with the actual business objective.
- Capturing closer learning about Customer-Intent.
- Coming up with further Customer-Intents in alignment with the business objectives.
A proper and constant evaluation of the circumstances is also something that is ignored by many businesses. However, that is exactly where improvement opportunities are identified and captured. Such regular analysis must be scheduled in a continuous strategic planning context. If you bring such level of structure in your digital marketing planning and strategy, obviously your organization will achieve greater heights in a shorter period of time, systematically and efficiently.
How can we help with the above?
Sentientic provides a strategic planning platform for digital marketing. We work with you via the platform to:
- Formulate your strategy
- Implement your strategy
- Evaluate your strategy
It allows for organization of activities, definition of business objectives and KPIs, setting target and monitoring progress as well as capturing the resulted learning and translating it into what needs to be done next.
What do you think?
Please, let me know in comments if it all makes sense to you. What part would you agree or disagree with? Is there any specific question that you are thinking about? Or whatever else that might come to your mind; as hearing from you is most definitely encouraging and a conversation on an important and complicated topic like the above is very valuable.