Key steps to creating a digital marketing strategy

digital marketing strategy

How do businesses navigate the quickly changing world of digital marketing and marketing automation? Some days, it seems like there are too many tools and an overwhelming amount of data. In fact, working in marketing can feel both chaotic and exciting at the same time!

Confused? It’s not surprising! Gary Meldrum, Director, Strategic Development at g[squared], an Edmonton marketing and advertising agency, offers some valuable guidance about how to set up and manage your digital marketing strategy. He explains how targeted engagement is now possible with data available from digital, and advises  and the role of marketing automation.

Digital marketing strategy
Gary Meldrum

Why you need a digital strategy

It wasn’t that long ago that organizations needed a marketing strategy which supported their business plans. Now the focus is on developing and implementing a solid digital strategy. Why the shift and what does it mean?
I think that there are a couple of shifts. Firstly, from the big picture point of view, organizations are experiencing how digital is impacting them, whether it be the markets they operate in, or how their business model is structured, right down to their departments (such as marketing, HR, production and sales). Next, businesses need to know how to best utilize digital to optimize business operations.

Digital has changed marketing forever. Its impact is so great and the opportunities it provides are so vast that a digital strategy must be scoped out strategically to support a business’s fundamental goals. That’s why you need a digital marketing strategy.

The challenge is to truly understand how you can use digital to better reach and serve your target audience.

It’s typically not by abandoning traditional media and marketing methods. Instead, businesses must take the data provided by digital and understand what it means. What patterns and trends do you see? By using this data you can understand which marketing channels to use and how to use them. In this way, you’re using digital to optimize your marketing.

Four steps to developing a digital marketing strategy

Developing a digital strategy from scratch can be daunting. There are so many things to consider. Where should organizations begin?
With this kind of situation an organization should really go back to basics. First, identify overall goals (growth, profitability, customer service, employee retention etc.). Second, know who you are (what you do well and full SWOT analysis). Third, know your audience (research, data) and fourth, know who your competitors are and what they are doing.

A digital marketing strategy comes from the first four steps. Everything is built around this information. Tactics, platforms and priorities can change over time, but the process is generally the same.

For organizations that have not yet fully explored the power of digital and do not have a digital strategy, it can be overwhelming taking those first steps. Guidance is important. I suggest doing some research, talking to contacts who have been through the process, and using a qualified, skilled and creative professional to get the process underway. Digital is ever-changing and very time consuming, so if you don’t have time to do it well, outsource it.

Marketing automation – handle with care

Most marketers know that they need to think like a customer. But this can be challenging, particularly when there are numerous customer contact points. How can organizations better understand the customer experience and journey? And what role does marketing automation play here, particularly given that customers still value contact with people?
It’s a very relevant question. Organizations must create a road map for each customer journey from start to finish, and use the data and feedback relevant to each contact point in the journey. This can be a large project, depending on the number of interactions. Further research could be required to completely and accurately paint the picture.

There is an increasing role for marketing  automation, but not at all costs. When considering further marketing automation, it is important to consider the impact to customers – look at each customer journey. Fundamentally, with marketing automation, you want to be able to identify when customers want certain types of contact and when they don’t.

You should often test marketing automation with focus groups of customers and get feedback. This is very important. Test and, if the marketing automation is implemented, keep a close eye on feedback.

I had a client who wanted to implement a fully automated quoting system for their business. I advised against it, because they were not the cheapest price option, and in order to be successful they would have to provide service, rather than turning their business into strictly price-driven commodity game that they would lose. Their customers want service and the clients win with service, so give them service and a fair price.

Yes, there will be growing pressure for marketing automation, and managers want to see efficiencies. But again, this goes back to data. If you invest in reading your data so that you can segment and target your customers, you will be able to use data intelligently and with precision and find the right balance between the human connection and automation.

Content marketing: Use it to establish brand authority

How can businesses optimize their content marketing, and use content really lift their brand?
Content continues be a major element in successful digital strategies. The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) says that almost 90 per cent of B2B marketers in North America rely on some form of content marketing. So content marketing should really dominate an organization’s digital marketing strategy. It can be hard to cut through the noise and rise above competitors.

But there are things that businesses need to do to stand out. Authentic storytelling is vital, because it’s engaging and, done well, can sustain interest and establish authority.

Understandably, many businesses struggle with storytelling and I advise them to hire someone who is highly skilled at asking the right questions and teasing out those great stories. Content that is very well-written will always stand out and will have longevity, too. Use the best writers and videographers you can hire.

Finally, remember that content is not about generating sales in the short term. Its purpose is to raise awareness and trust, and create a true sense of brand authenticity and authority.

The top ten things good web managers should do

Managing a website has become more complex in recent years. There is no longer any room for the build-it-and-leave it mentality. A single person or small team needs to strategize on web responsiveness, brand management, UI/UX, sales team input, inbound marketing, content, SEO, and more! How do you prioritize web management activities?
This is another good question and that will have many different answers that can all be justified. Here’s mine:

  1. Check for errors (use SEM Rush)
  2. Ensure backups are OK (backup buddy is good for this)
  3. WordPress plugins are up to date (love WP!)
  4. Google Analytics (audience behavior, acquisition, links etc.)
  5. SEO (local search visibility etc.)
  6. Content (review of popular content, opportunities)
  7. Link analysis
  8. Google Search Console review (errors, indexed pages etc.)
  9. Competitor & keyword review (SEM Rush)
  10. Proof read and edit regularly.

How to organize your digital marketing function

For some marketers, a roadblock to developing a digital strategy is a lack of a cross-organizational approach. How can marketers or comms staff persuade leadership that cross-organization is best in order to avoid silos? And how important is it that all key players in an organization help shape and own the digital strategy?
Without the cross-organizational approach, you’re wasting time, effort and money. For me, it’s about optimization. In my experience, all it takes to get the process started is a meeting of department heads to share a vision of where you want to go, why you want to do it, and how it affects them. That will usually generate further discussions with each department on ways we can make the strategy work better.

Engaged employees/partners and continuous improvement are the keys. It’s about being open, communication, and making sure you treat your colleagues in other departments as clients. When IT can only promise to deliver something to Marketing in six months, that’s not good enough, and it holds up optimization, productivity and progress towards business goals.

In an open, confident, and respectful organization where managers and team leads know that they can be progressive and make decisions that matter, then the natural leader of the digital strategy will emerge and will be respected by most.

Any thoughts on who should lead the digital strategy? Marketing or IT, or does it depend on the organization?
I think it depends on the people in the organization. I’ve worked with many companies that have an IT team that is not dynamic or not yet recognized the power of digital, but I have also seen the opposite. Organizations have their individual cultures, and this usually stems from the CEO’s leadership style.

Marketing trends in 2017

Speculating on the future is always tricky, and I’m sure if you had a crystal ball the CMI would love to get its hands on it! But can you outline some trends to watch in 2017?
Oh the dreaded crystal ball! Video has been gaining ground and I can’t imagine that will slow down. People’s attention spans aren’t getting any longer. Here’s my list of trends to watch:

  1. Live video – it’s only started.
  2. Brands will start to figure out content distribution. They’ll understand the ‘produce good content’ phase, but start to see the distribution side.
  3. Using data effectively. There’s a lot of it out there, but you’ve got to be able to read it and understand it to further your goals. This is vital so that you can properly use marketing automation.
  4. The good (great) content creators will shine – so many brands haven’t caught on yet. But they will want the great creators as they realize that good content is important. I subscribe to the 10x principle – (your content must be 10 times better than anyone else’s), and I’m still trying to live up to that!

Digital Marketer Gary Meldrum:

Gary Meldrum is Co-owner and Director, Strategic Development, at g[squared], a marketing and advertising agency in Edmonton, Canada. He works with a broad range of clients from all sectors of the economy and helps them develop a strong online presence through digital marketing strategies. His expertise lies in the development of digital strategies, marketing automation, and the monitoring and evaluation of results. Gary has a B.Comm. in Marketing from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. His Linkedin profile is here.

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Sheelagh Caygill

Sheelagh Caygill is a journalist, content marketer, and communications specialist. She has worked for newspapers, news organizations and in the corporate and non-profit sector in Canada and the U.K. Based in Toronto, she is freelancing and looking for a permanent position. Contact her via the contact form on this site or Linkedin.

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