Wondering How to Design a Digital Marketing Strategy? Here are Some Suggested Steps.
As marketers, we readily embrace the benefits of an organized, focused approach to individual marketing initiatives — creating compelling images and copy, and consistently putting it out there on our chosen platforms, for example. But the more “macro” undertaking of designing and implementing a comprehensive marketing strategy often tends to be a more daunting endeavor for most of us.
Maybe it’s the prospect of REALLY starting from scratch — making no initial assumptions about our audience or the content we plan on delivering to them that aren’t already backed up by hard evidence. Or maybe it’s the prospect of properly coordinating our marketing initiatives so that they complement each other. After all, while we often tend to evaluate each marketing initiative as a stand-alone effort, renowned software platform SalesForce has noted that it generally takes between 6-8 interactions with a prospects — or “touches” — to convert that prospect into a customer or client. Ideally, you’ll want that prospect to consume your organic and paid content on more than one platform to facilitate the process.
While there are many proven approaches to creating and implementing a digital marketing strategy, here are some steps that will serve as a roadmap for doing so.
Start with Due Diligence
This includes knowing — or learning — everything you can about your business. Its standing in its industry. Its strengths and weaknesses, etc. You can’t set a course for improvement unless you know what needs to be improved upon, and this takes some research.
You’ll need to conduct an objective audit of the business’s digital assets. Is the company website as compelling and effective as it could be? When you embark on paid advertising down the line, you’ll ideally want to drive traffic to a dedicated landing page to accurately evaluate the effectiveness of your advertising, and that landing page should mirror the aesthetics of the website in terms of color, font and other elements. If the website isn’t already appealing, that landing page isn’t likely to be either, and its effectiveness will suffer.
Do your existing social media profiles effectively represent the business as you’d like? Prospects often rely on them to form their initial impressions.
Do you already have earned media in the form of word-of-mouth marketing, PR coverage and the like that can eventually be repurposed? Make note of it.
How is the business’s standing with its customers? Poring through review sites can be a painful process — we can’t help but form an emotional attachment to the businesses we represent — but it’s necessary for an honest and accurate evaluation. Are there consistent gripes that customers seem to have with the business — product dependability or customer service issues, maybe? Like it or not, these need to be addressed, and if they are allowed to fester, the effectiveness of future marketing efforts will be compromised. Addressing legitimate complaints is unpleasant but doing so can reshape opinions and lead to smoother sailing down the line. It also adds a welcome human element to the digital marketing landscape, which is often sorely lacking in it.
Are there current industry trends that may affect how the business operates in the future? Make note of these too, as they may provide a great foundation for future content that can reinforce your standing as an industry thought leader. Prospects usually prefer to do business with experts in their field.
Learning everything you reasonably can about the competition can be invaluable. How do they approach their social media platforms? What kind of content do they create that results in strong engagement? The idea here is not to plagiarize what they’re doing — a successful business needs its own identity — but to add to your knowledge base of what constitutes the best practices in your industry — its language, buzzwords and the like.
Create Your Customer Personas
The idea of creating fictional people who are the most likely prospects for your product or service may seem a little corny — the practice of doing so usually includes giving these people names — but this is a step that you ignore at your own peril. If you don’t know who you are marketing to, your marketing messages aren’t very likely to resonate. Worse still, when you build on that messaging over time, you’re more likely to get further off track.
Think of it as if you were boarding the wrong train because you didn’t put in the time to confirm which one leads to your intended destination. You may wish you didn’t have to disembark as soon as possible, as to do so would be to admit your mistake, but if you stay on that train, it will lead you farther and farther from where you need to be.
You need to know everything you can about your ideal customers. Their age, proximity from your business — especially if it’s brick and mortar — their income level, relevant interests and more. These defining characteristics matter. It’s not realistic to expect customers to drive 50 miles to a restaurant, unless it provides an unquestionably singular experience its competitors can’t offer. It makes no sense for a car dealership to focus on prospects that live far away. There will likely be dealerships located closer to them, prospects who drive an excessive distance will feel pressured into taking a deal and dealerships make a lot of their revenue off their service departments — not many prospects will be willing to drive 75 miles for routine service.
Luckily, most digital platforms have native analytics that can provide the information you’ll need. While Google has already announced that it will be retiring Universal Analytics, its G4 replacement will provide plenty of insight. Similarly, Facebook’s Audience Insights includes an impressive amount of data about your prospects’ interests, as well as their demographic information.
Get Clear on Your Objectives
This is where having an honest assessment of your current digital marketing standing at the ready really comes in handy.
For example, if a restaurant is lauded for its great food but criticized for its horrible service, putting special effort into interacting honestly and humbly with customers via social media platforms should be part of the marketing plan.
Decide what you want your marketing efforts to achieve and write those objectives down. This almost always boils down to increasing revenue — that’s what keeps businesses going, after all — but the means of doing so will vary. Your objectives may be sales based, such as growing revenue per sale or number of sales by X percent. They may include targeted improvements, such as reducing cost per acquisition or improving net profits by a certain percentage, but all of these objectives need to be articulated clearly if they are to be addressed.
There’s no shortage of acronyms in the marketing world, but a very important one applies for this step. Your objectives should be expressed as S.M.A.R.T. goals. They need to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-sensitive in order to guide your efforts.
Research Your Prospects’ and Customers’ Pain Points, then Ideate Content that Helps Solve Them
We’ve already covered the importance of compiling as much analytical data as possible about your ideal customers, but you’ll need to take a deeper dive into their motivations. This includes determining their pain points, a term that isn’t always literal, but includes your prospects’ challenges, aspirations, and related information.
Delving into this research will provide dual, yet intertwined benefits. You’ll be better equipped to generate content that will sincerely help your prospects educate themselves as they move through their customer journey. Secondly, because the resulting content you create will be more likely to resonate with your prospects than content that doesn’t properly address their needs, it will hold stronger SEO value and appear higher in the search results. This will draw more attention to your business.
Of course, the pain points of some industries may take a little more effort to articulate than others. The term can be literal at times — doctors are often involved in the alleviation of pain, for example. Most of the time it isn’t, and these pain points refer to the common challenges or problems your prospects face. Every business is a problem solver to some extent. Consider that a given luxury car may not be a necessity, but it will be a solution for a prospect who either craves an enhanced driving experience or prioritizes notifying others of their career or business success.
Whether you embark on creating content on your own or enlist the support of others, it’s a labor-intensive endeavor. So, it’s important to focus on actual customer needs and not your interpretation of what’s important. There’s no point in creating content that’s focused on issues and subjects no one is asking about.
There’s also no point in trying to game the system with inferior content that lacks actual purpose but is filled with keyword repetition or ill-gotten backlinks. Google has evolved to an extent that below board SEO tactics, commonly referred to as “black hat” SEO tactics, don’t yield the results they once did. Instead, you’ll want to focus on being sincerely helpful. Stick to the subject matter. If you stray too far off topic in the interest of generating longer content that you hope will be seen as more authoritative, it’s only going to put off your customers and result in a high bounce rate, which will adversely affect its SEO value down the line.
Wondering what resources you can use to come up with content that matches your prospects’ search queries? There are a number of them — both paid and free. For the purposes of this article, let’s assume that you aren’t yet ready to make a regular monthly investment in keyword research tools, so we’ll focus on the latter.
The first place to start will seem obvious in retrospect, but it’s a chronically underused asset. Google’s autocomplete function factors in popular search queries, so when you type in the beginning of a search phrase, it displays the most commonly sought completions to that phrase. Experiment with several different approaches centered on the same topic, and you’ll likely end up with a healthy representative sampling of relevant queries that have previously been put forth.
While you’re on that search engine results page (SERP), scroll down to the bottom. There, you’ll see related searches that have also been included based largely on their frequency. If a question in your field is often asked, then it’s worth answering.
Answer the Public is also a great resource for keyword research. Powered by Ubersuggest, which was created by renowned digital marketer Neil Patel, it allows you to enter a relevant central topic and will then supply you with a multitude of pertinent questions that people are asking online, organized based on “Who”, “What”, “How”, “Why” and a few other differentiators that will vary depending on the topic.
Getting past Answer the Public’s home page is no small feat. It’s borderline hypnotic and usually features an animated image that really captures your attention. See for yourself.
Even in its unpaid form, Ubersuggest also offers a wealth of insight into keyword research, as well as competitive analysis. You can check out what competitors are doing with their content strategies, including gleaning information on which sites have linked to their work, the authority level of those sites and how well various pieces of their content have fared in terms of engagement.
Competitors like Moz also offer a variety of free tools. Most of the free versions of these sort of utilities limit the number of inquiries you make in a given time, so if your future work will require especially labor-intensive keyword search and digital competitive analysis, you’ll probably want to step up to a paid version.
Over the years, consumers have developed an affinity for video content and YouTube’s meteoric success reflects this trend. It’s now the world’s #2 search engine — just behind Google — and features an autocomplete function of its own that will provide valuable keyword insight.
Identify the Digital Platforms That Are the Best Match for Your Business.
This is where having your topics well developed makes things easier. Notice we previously said to ideate but not create content? Not yet anyway.
That’s because you’ll have some decisions to make as far as where that content will reside. Not every digital platform is a strong match for every business and if you don’t happen to have the benefit of a content creation team, it’s not hard to spread yourself too thin by attempting to create a regular quantity of content that’s just too much for you to handle.
It’s far better to do a great job with the platforms that best suit your business type and industry than it is to simply make sure you’re represented in all of them. Is your business aesthetics-based? Consider focusing on Instagram or Pinterest to start. Do you have good camera presence — even if it’s not particularly polished? You’ll probably want to make sure YouTube is included in your arsenal.
While it’s standard practice to closely monitor responses to your content, regardless of the platform they’re on, some platforms require more attention than others. Twitter, for example, can move very quickly, with a given post meeting with quite a few comments in a matter of minutes. If you’re not able to stay on top of that engagement, it may not be a good idea to put much focus on it.
Engaging with the comments you receive after posting your content is an important but often overlooked part of digital marketing. All too often, content creators put up their content and then rarely, if ever, check back, except maybe to count “likes”. There are seemingly countless building tradesmen on Houzz who display their work and then never respond to questions that often indicate very serious buyer intent. Review some heavily watched YouTube video and you may also see relevant questions that are just waiting to be answered, as well as obvious spam that should have long since been removed.
As you decide which platforms you’ll focus on, don’t make the mistake of neglecting email. Building an email list holds several advantages. Unlike Facebook and other social media platforms, that list remains yours to market to — providing you do so properly and respectfully. We all periodically receive emails that appear to seem to have no thought put into them and feature little more than a “buy this now” call to action. Businesses that don’t put effort into offering value and targeting their messaging to their audience won’t hold on to their email subscribers for very long.
Implement Your Content Across the Platforms You’ve Chosen
Most of us have a knack for making lists, but now it’s time to take action and start creating well-crafted and thoughtful content that solves your prospects’ needs. It’s no easy endeavor as, to yield results, content creation must be consistent in both quality and frequency, although it is possible to overdo the latter.
Content that has been created for one platform can often be adapted for another. When abbreviated, a long form blog post may be effective on Facebook, or a YouTube video may work on TikTok.
Digital marketing is often associated largely with organic content, but paid content is becoming a more important part of the marketing mix. Due to the consistently declining reach of organic content, relying on it as a means to attract and engage prospects is becoming more and more difficult. However, organic content can usually be adapted for use as paid advertising — social media consumers generally expect advertising to be more sales-oriented, so an effective call to action becomes an important element in paid advertising content.
Creating, and then sticking to, a content calendar will organize your efforts and make things easier. It doesn’t have to be particularly sophisticated — many content calendars are created using Excel. To be effective, a content calendar should include specifics such as the format of the content to be created, its title, a brief description of its topic, its projected publishing date and time, who will be responsible for its creation, and its updated status as the content moves from pending to published.
Monitor Your Results and Test Variables
Given the importance of a marketing strategy, as well as the amount of time and effort that goes into creating and executing it, it’s to be expected that we become personally invested in its outcome. This shouldn’t mean that we are so convinced of its quality that we don’t allow ourselves to honestly monitor its results and then test variables to optimize it further.
Every digital platform has analytics that need to be scrutinized for results. Testing variables, one at a time, and then monitoring improvements or declines in those results is the only way to ensure that a digital marketing strategy is as effective as it can be. Subject lines can be tweaked, offers can be reworked, and organic posts can be shortened or lengthened. The list of variables is considerable.
If all of this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. But it’s important work — a sound and well-conceived digital marketing strategy is almost always an essential element of a business’s success. It’s very much worth the time and effort you put into it.
For those of you who have created your own digital marketing strategies, as well as those of you who are on the verge of doing so, we’re curious — what do you see as the most challenging part of the process? We’d love to hear from you.