Digital Marketing Strategy Guide
If you don’t know where you are going, you’re going to feel lost. No matter how well your campaigns seem to be working, you may have this nagging feeling that you’re headed in the wrong direction. And even if you seem to be successful, you won’t be happy about it.
On the other hand, once you know where you are going, even minor setbacks can’t keep you from achieving your goals, and you’ll be able to be totally happy and confident in your success.
With the right strategy, you’ll be ready to create plans and programs that will let you win, and—more importantly—you’ll know why you’re winning.
In order to accelerate your marketing programs, you need to have a solid marketing strategy in place and use it as the foundation of all of your campaigns. It’s critical to know who your target customers are, what’s most important to them, and how you compare to your competitors on these dimensions. This understanding will lead you to your positioning and enable you to create differentiated messages that will drive all of your marketing.
If you get this right, you’ll be hitting the bull’s-eye with every message every time. If you get this wrong, you’ll be spending your money on the wrong messages sent to the wrong people. You can test your way to the right messages over time, but it will be much easier and less expensive if you start in the right direction.
Once you have this foundation in place, you can create a detailed marketing plan that will start with benchmark metrics in all the important areas of digital marketing, and then plan for improvements over time. This plan will be the basis for all your future marketing activities, so it’s worth taking the time to build a solid plan.
Before you can create a marketing strategy, you need to know where you are starting. If you have an existing business, the best place to start is to talk to your current customers. You can learn a lot by asking simple questions about who they are, what they want, and why they bought products or services from you instead of your competitors. You can also ask them what they like or don’t like about your company and any suggestions they have for improvements. If your business sells through a channel of distribution, you can also talk to your channel partners to fully understand their needs and wants.
At my agency, we call every client every quarter with a short survey, and review what we learn in our weekly Operations meeting. We also rate the happiness of every client every week. By doing this, we are working hard to fully understand their needs and keep our services in sync with our market.
While you are building your marketing strategy and marketing plan, it’s also important to understand what your competitors are doing. You may want to copy them or do the exact opposite, but it’s extremely important to be fully informed about what they are up to. Fortunately, the web has made it much easier to get a good understanding of your competitors.
To get started, go online with the following checklist:
Website and Messaging:
- What does their core messaging say about how they believe they are different?
- Who are their best customers?
- Is their website well designed?
- Is it easy to find content on their website?
- Does it clearly communicate what their products and services do and why they are different?
- Is it clear what market segments they serve and what is compelling for each one?
- Does it strategically lead the user to compelling offers?
- Are their landing pages effectively designed?
- How well have they integrated social media into their website?
- How well is it optimized for organic search?
Advertising and Search: Search on the most important keywords for your industry.
- How visible are they on the most important keywords for organic search?
- Are they advertising on paid search?
- Are their ads compelling and do they lead to well-designed landing pages?
- Are the offers on their landing pages compelling?
- Are the tags on their website optimized for specific keywords?
- Are they advertising across other websites?
Email: Sign up for their email newsletter or register on their website.
- Are their emails professional and well designed?
- Do their emails feature strong offers?
- Do they automatically deliver nurturing emails designed to drive users through the buying cycle?
Social Media and Content:
- How many followers do they have on each of the major social media sites?
- How much content are they posting to each of the sites each week?
- How interactive are they with their audience?
- How many of their posts are about their company and products vs. thought leadership content?
- Do they have a compelling blog with solid content?
Your competitor’s web site will tell you a tremendous amount about their marketing strategy and messaging. Once you get the data on each of these items, evaluate the answers against other content and best practices listed in this book to build a full view on each competitor.
Before you start creating any new strategies or marketing programs, it’s important to learn from the past in order to understand which strategies and tactics have been successful and which have been unsuccessful. Some organizations are good at documenting organizational marketing learning, but most are not. As you assemble the experiences of the past, you should create a library of findings in one place, so you can avoid reinventing the wheel.
During the process of reviewing existing campaigns, you’ll learn clues about where to start with your new marketing campaigns. For example, if paid search advertising has worked well in the past, that may be a key element of your new campaign strategy. If it has not worked well, you may need to dig a little deeper to find out why. I always like to find out if a certain campaign can’t work for a particular company or industry, or if it didn’t work because it was simply executed badly.
Once you have a good understanding of your customers, competitors, channel partners and campaigns, you’ll be ready to start setting objectives.
Setting objectives can be a very challenging task. If you set your goals too high, you’ll run the risk of failure. You may dramatically improve your results, but not hit the lofty goals you set. If you set your goals too low, you may be accused of sandbagging.
Before you can set your marketing objectives, you must understand the mission and vision of your organization. Is your organization all about brand impact, social impact, sales growth, online sales, or customer engagement? Each of these organizational goals will drive a different type of marketing campaign and marketing mix. For example, if your organization’s marketing goal is to build a world-class brand, you may focus on ad strategies and content that deliver high-impact messages to a wide audience and measure your impact by the number of ad impressions. If your organization is focused on growing sales, you may want to put all of your effort behind driving qualified sales leads.
Once you have a good understanding of the goals of your company, you’ll need to translate them into specific marketing goals, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and set up the analytics necessary to track the results. This is a challenging process, but the planning methods described later in this chapter should help you get there.
Personas: Your best customer profile
When you build a marketing plan, you need to know who to focus on. Ready, Fire, Aim is not a strategy that will drive results for marketers any more than it drives results for marksmen.
To build an effective view of your best target customers, you need to start by carefully understanding what makes your potential customers different from each other. This process is called market segmentation or persona building. If you are selling a product in a B2B market, your potential customers might need to be addressed differently because of their:
- Role within the company
- Level within the company
- Size of the company
If you are selling to a B2C market, you might need to address customers differently by:
- Income Level
- Technical Skills
- Shopping Patterns
These are just starting sets of potential customer demographic differences. There are many more potential segmentation variables that you might consider based on your specific market.
Once you understand the segmentation variables, you’ll need to decide how to break up your segments within each variable. If you are selling cars, you might address people differently if they are under 18, 19–35, 36–50, and over 50 years old. If you are selling LEGOs, your age segmentation might be under 6, 7–9, 10–12, 13–15, 16–18 and over 18 years old. The number of segments you create for each segmentation variable will determine how detailed a plan you’ll need to build to address each market.
Once you have your segmentation variables in place, you’re ready to create buyer personas. This step is where you get in touch with your customers in order to understand who they are, what they like, and how they buy.
First, consider your customers’ goals, their characteristics, and their obstacles or challenges. When you think about their objectives, remember to consider both their personal and professional goals. What are their personal objectives? What do they really want to get out of this product or solution personally? What are their professional objectives? What business goals do they want to accomplish?
In terms of their personal characteristics, what’s their title? Where are they located? What experience do they have? What are some trigger events that might be moving them to look for a solution to their problem?
Once you understand their goals and characteristics, you can start to understand the challenges they face. This step is where you put all of your research and analytics together and start to think about who your ideal customer is. When you create personas, it’s best to give each one a name and actually create a picture of your ideal customer.
Here’s an example of a persona: Chloe is a U.S.-based marketing director in the healthcare industry with 5 years’ experience in digital advertising, but she’s struggling with how to use mobile advertising effectively in order to achieve her company’s marketing goals so that she can get a promotion.
In this example, you can see how we’ve included her objectives, characteristics, and obstacles in order to describe a persona that seems real. By using personas, you can be more specific about the kind of content that’s going to be helpful, not just to the general market, but to Chloe, a person you can actually visualize. This will help you make your content and programs more tangible.
When you first start developing personas, start with no more than 3 to 5, so that you can focus on a few of the most important personas who are going to make a difference to your organization. By focusing on a few, you’ll avoid getting bogged down and creating too many that you won’t be able to adequately address. It will also be a much easier to develop great content for the most important personas rather than mediocre content or just a thin layer of content for all the personas you might imagine.
The Buyer’s Journey
As you build your marketing plan, you will quickly realize that the content and programs you need for a buyer who is early in the buying process are very different than the content and programs you need for buyers who are about to make a purchase. If you want to create content that matters, you’ll need to do so for your customers and prospects throughout the entire buyer’s journey. In most complex purchasing decisions, buyers often go through an awareness phase, an evaluation phase, and a purchase phase.
To understand your buyer’s journey, look at your own marketplace and ask yourself how your buyers make decisions. In every market and in every industry, this is going to be a little bit different. In general, buyers start their journey by identifying an issue or problem that they are having. Then they start researching potential solutions to the problem. From there, they start evaluating products and then potential vendors. Finally, they study alternative products and vendors so that they can make a decision. Along the way, they come up with a list of criteria that will help them make a decision.
Let me give you two examples of how this works in different situations. When high school students and their parents make a buying decision for college, they start by going through a process to try to figure out where they want to go to school and what they are interested in studying. Then they start reviewing and reading material from specific schools. They might also look at U.S. News & World Report or other publications that show college rankings. From there, they might look at potential schools in their area, talk to friends, and explore social media conversations. They may also look at school websites and talk to people at certain schools before they start narrowing down their list.
During this time, they will develop decision criteria that will help them sort out their options as they visit different schools. Finally, the student actually applies to a school or multiple schools, and then makes a decision once he or she is accepted. It’s a very long, complicated process and the buyers consume a lot of information along the way.
Let’s contrast this with a business-to-business example in a large company. If you’re an IT buyer—let’s say you’re a director of IT—you might identify a problem where you don’t have the right disaster recovery capabilities within your organization. To solve this problem, you will go through a very different process.
You start by fully understanding the problem: “What if there is a fire in my data center? What do I do?” Then you research solutions. You might look at what analysts are saying. You might read articles, blogs, and white papers. You might read examples of how other people solved this problem by asking questions on social media. In addition, you might also go to an event or conference to learn more.
While you are learning about options, studying alternatives, and talking to vendors, you will also be building a set of decision criteria to help you choose the best solution. Once you finish your research, you will start evaluating vendors and products and finally make a purchase decision.
These are just two examples, and for your industry there may be a totally different type of buying process. You must understand what your buyers are actually doing to make buying decisions in order to create appropriate content to communicate with them across the entire buying cycle.
From these two examples, I’m sure you can see the importance of engaging with your buyer early in the buying cycle. If you can influence the buyer’s key purchase criteria in your favor early in the process, then you will have a much stronger chance of winning them later. Also, if you are not part of the consideration set early in the process, you may never be considered for the purchase.
Key Purchase Criteria—What do they want?
Once you’ve defined the personas you plan to address, you’ll need to decide what’s most important to them. For each persona, make a list of their key purchase criteria. In other words, what factors do they use to make a decision about what to buy? If you are selling cell phones, your customers might be thinking about price, technology, ease of use, compatibility with a network, design, size, weight, style, and other features they might want.
Once you have a good set of criteria identified, rank order the criteria from most important to least important.
Positioning vs. the Competition
The next step is to determine how well your product or service fits the needs of the persona. To do this, rank your own company on a scale of 1–7 on each of the key purchase criteria you listed above. Then do the same for at least two of your competitors. When you complete this exercise, you’ll be able to see your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors on the factors that are most important to a particular market segment.
The factors that enable you to win against your competition are your sources of competitive advantage. The factors that you lose on are weaknesses that you’ll need to overcome. It’s best when you win significantly on the things that are most important to your buyers. If you don’t have competitive advantages on the things that are most important to your buyers, you may be at a competitive disadvantage. This may require a new product strategy, or the need to address a different segment that values the things that you offer.
Once you complete this process for one market segment, repeat the process for all of the other market segments you plan to address. If you find that the segments respond in the same way, you may find that you have too many segments, and you’ll be able to group them together and use the same messaging for both of these segments.
Many companies complete the process described above with input from their management, sales, customers, prospects, and marketing teams. The results are so much more powerful, however, when you validate all of your assumptions with actual survey data from customers in your market. You may think you know what’s most important to them and how you compare to your competition, but it can be very revealing to see how your customers really think based on data from a survey or focus group.
Differentiated Messaging—How to leverage your market position
Once you finish the process of identifying your sources of competitive advantage, you’ll be ready to start writing your messaging. By giving your copywriters a complete understanding of the market segments you are focused on, what’s important to them, and exactly how you win against your competition, they will have what they need to create the headlines, messaging, and other content that’s necessary to sell your products and services.