Developing a Digital Marketing Strategy – Part 2

Source: Content adopted from eMarketing.

As Neil Patel just articulated, deciding between SEO and PPC is a strategic decison, not a flighty one. Similarily, before you start any digital marketing tactic (be it email marketing, search marketing, email marketing, or whatver it may be), it’s important to remmeber that the end objective of any digital marketing effort are no different from the objectives of the marketing program as a whole. It can be easy to set objectives for digital marketing based around ‘vanity metrics’ such as number of likes or followers or a #1 ranking in Google — all of which are very poor measures of actual business performance.

Start with a business strategy

All types of digital marketing must be firmly grounded in sound business strategy. The end-goal of any business is to make money, in one way or another. Business strategy asks the questions: ‘What is the business  challenge we are facing that prevents us from making more revenue?’ or, ‘What business objective should we strive for in order to increase the money in the bank?’ When you have the answer to this question, you can formulate a marketing strategy to address the challenge or objective you’ve discovered.

Then a marketing strategy

The purpose of a marketing strategy is to address a business or brand challenge or objective that has been revealed. An effective strategy involves making a series of well-informed decisions about how the brand, product or service should be promoted; the brand that attempts to be all things to all people risks becoming unfocused or losing the clarity of its value proposition. For example, a new airline would need to consider how it is going to add value to the category and differentiate itself from competitors; whether their product is a domestic or international service; whether its target market would be budget travellers or international and business travellers; and whether the channel would be through primary airports or smaller, more cost-effective airports. Each of these choices will result in a vastly different strategic direction. To make these decisions, a strategist must understand the context in which the brand operates: what are the factors that affect the business? This means conducting a situational analysis that looks at four pillars:

  1. The environment
  2. The business
  3. The customers
  4. The competitors

Here are some considerations and tools for conducting your brand’s situational analysis.

Understanding the environment

The environment is the overall context or ‘outside world’ in which the business functions. It can involve anything from global economics (how well is the local currency performing these days?) to developments in your industry. Every brand will have a specific environment that it needs to consider, based on the type of
product or service it produces. An analysis of the business and brand environment will typically consider political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental (PESTLE) influences to identify a clear set of considerations or issues pertinent to the marketing strategy. Understanding the business There are several marketing models that can be used to understand the business and brand you are working with. Since it’s essential for all marketing messages to encapsulate the brand’s identity and objectives, this is a very important step. A crucial consideration is the brand itself. What does it stand for? What does it mean? What associations, ideas,  emotions and benefits do people associate with it? What makes it unique?
There are several levels of branding to investigate:

Out of this, you can determine what the brand or product’s unique selling point (USP) is. A USP is the one characteristic that makes your product or service better than the competition’s – what unique value does it have? Does it solve a problem that no other product does?

Understanding customers

In order truly to understand your customers, you need to conduct market research
(discussed in much more detail in the next chapter). Try not to make assumptions
about why people like and transact with your brand – you may find their values and
motives are quite different from what you thought. Ongoing research will help you
build a picture of what particular benefit or feature your business provides to your
customers, allowing you to capitalise on this in your marketing content.
One important area on which to focus here is the consumer journey – the series of
steps and decisions a customer takes before buying from your business (or not).
Luckily, online data analytics allow you to get a good picture of how people behave
on your website before converting to customers; other forms of market research
will also help you establish this for your offline channels.
On the Internet, a consumer journey is not linear. Instead, consumers may engage
with your brand in a variety of ways – for example, across devices or marketing
channels – before making a purchase.

The goal is to reach customers with the right marketing message at the right
stage of their journey. For example, you may want to use aspirational messages for
someone in the exploration phase, but focus on more direct features and benefits
(such as a lower price) when they’re almost ready to buy.
Understanding competitors
Finally, it’s important to know who else is marketing to your potential customers,
what they offer, and how you can challenge or learn from them.
On the Internet, your competitors are not just those who are aiming to earn
your customers’ money; they are also those who are capturing your customers’
attention. With more digital content being created in a day than most people could
consume in a year – for example, over 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube
every minute (YouTube, 2013) – the scarcest resources these days are time, focus
and attention.
When considering competition, it’s also worthwhile looking at potential
replacements for your product. The Internet is disrupting and accelerating the
pace of disintermediation in a number of industries, meaning that people can now
go directly to the business instead of transacting through a middleman (look at the
travel industry as an example). To stay ahead, you should be looking at potential
disruptors of your industry as well as the existing players.

Then a digital marketing strategy

Once you have a clear sense of what the business challenge or objective is, and you
have defined how your marketing strategy will work towards fulfilling it, you can
start thinking about your digital marketing strategy. Digital marketing strategy builds on and adapts the principles of traditional
marketing, using the opportunities and challenges offered by the digital medium.
A digital marketing strategy should be constantly iterating and evolving. Since the Internet allows for near-instantaneous feedback and data gathering, digital
marketers should constantly be optimising and improving their online marketing
User-centric thinking, which involves placing the user at the core of all decisions,
is vital when looking at building a successful digital marketing strategy. The
digital marketing strategist of today is offered not only a plethora of new tactical
possibilities, but also unprecedented ways of measuring the effectiveness of chosen
strategies and tactics. Digital also allows greater opportunities for interaction and
consumer engagement than were possible in the past, so it is important to consider
the ways in which the brand can create interactive experiences for consumers, not
just broadcast messages.
The fact that digital marketing is highly empirical is one of its key strengths.
Almost everything can be measured: from behaviours, to actions and action paths,
to results. This means that the digital marketing strategist should start thinking
with return on investment (ROI) in mind. Built into any strategy should be a testing
framework and the ability to remain flexible and dynamic in a medium that shifts
and changes as user behaviours do.
If we defined strategy as ‘a plan of action designed to achieve a particular outcome’,
the desired outcome of a digital marketing strategy would be aligned with your
organisation’s overall business and brand-building objectives or challenges. For
example, if one of the overall objectives were acquisition of new clients, a possible
digital marketing objective might be building brand awareness online.

What does a digital marketer do?

Digital marketing is carried out across many marketing roles today. In small companies, one generalist might own many of the digital marketing tactics described above at the same time. In larger companies, these tactics have multiple specialists that each focus on just one or two of the brand’s digital channels.