Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat..Sun Tzu
What is a digital marketing strategy? Is it just a bunch of concurrent online activities or is there something more to it? Importantly who is responsible for putting it all together and how will you know if your strategy is even working?
First off a few basics…
Goals and Aims
This is what you’re trying to achieve – it’s also how, in retrospect, you determine whether or not a marketing campaign has been successful or not. Naturally, they should be made in line with your Business Goals – We’re not about to tell you about go about determining a business strategy – but suffice to say your digital marketing activity should run in parallel (and very closely knit with) the overriding businesses goals that you have laid down.
To be clear, as we hear this way too often, “to sell more” is not a legitimate strategic goal. If that was all you wanted, then spend 10 million quid on PPC and I guarantee that you will sell more. That strategy is as impractical as the goal itself.
An example of a legitimate goal is to “raise revenues by 10% whilst retaining our current profit margins”. Add a timeframe on there, (ie “within 12 months”) and you have you’ve a specific point of time at which your strategy can be reviewed.
It’s worth noting, that your aims can be very simple. For most SME’s it’s likely you’ll be dealing with short term goals – “increase sales of brand x by 25%” or even “generate 10,000 opted in email addresses within 6 months”. Whatever it is, the idea of SMART goals is something most business strategists will be aware of.
Commonly, we are not provided with goals at all rather we’re given budgets. It’s the easy get out for most business owners and in this instance, the proxy to a goal is to maximise the ROI for any given budget which is not exactly SMART – but it’s perfectly fine notwithstanding there can often be a gulf between the budgets provided and the goals desired, but that’s another story…
Tactics are the individual activities that are undertaken within an overarching strategy. In themselves, they are often very simple component activities that are unlikely to be enough on their own to achieve anything substantial. They are things like the posting of social updates, the setting up of a PPC campaign or the sending of email shots – repeatable activities that can be done time and time again either by marketing staff or agency executives.
Where many site and business owners slip up, is they hear of a successful tactics in the media (social media being a classic case) and insist on doing it with little other thought given to why to do it. These are the “noises before defeat” – with no goals set and no genuine commitment to marketing with purpose.
As an aside, for those on tight budget, many tactics could (and in fact should) be covered in-house or through the use of dedicated marketing contracts. LINK THIS! A Lot of tactics are simple in complexity but time consuming to do but should not be overlooked.
If you have a goal and you have an armory of tactics, the strategy is the bit that ties the two together. It’s more than a list of the chosen tactics/activities though, it also identifies where you have gaps in your human resources or your technological assets so that they can be accounted for.
For example, if you have the goals of doubling the amount of new customers you have in the next 12 months, you also need to think strategically about whether your servers will cope, can your distribution set up handle these new orders or you have enough phone lines on your customer support line?
A real strategy will also take account of what is required for a single tactic to be most effective. A PPC advert for example, can be set up in a very short time indeed. But that isn’t enough: “Fire and forget” campaigns are not SMART. It is folly to not also have resources in place to manage the ongoing spend/performance as well as tracking ongoing results against your goals. Even simple things like the resources to build re-marketing banners for promotional periods are too often overlooked.
It is better to have a two or three tactics that are working well, then a bunch of half assed attempts at marketing that are all falling below par. And one tactic can often feed into another – one of the best ways of getting new contacts for an email campaign is to offer free content only accessible once a user has subscribed by email (ie “free” whitepapers as email bait)
Who Is Responsible?
Everyone within a business is responsible for marketing success or failure. The person answering the phones is as important as the person writing the adverts who as vital as the person shipping the products on time. Your customers only see your company – they don’t usually care who is behind any specific interaction.
So if a long term strategy really does touch on all aspects of a business, ultimately it is the senior managers of that business who are responsible. There will be individuals charged with specific elements of that strategy who will be held to account, but only the top of an organisation have control over the disparate departments that cover staffing, financials, branding and the multifarious “stuff” required to run a comprehensive strategy – saying “I want more leads” and handing over the reins to the office junior just won’t cut it.
It is true that most organisations use a mix of in house and 3rd party agencies to deliver campaigns. Your strategy in that case will take this into account, laying out the roles and responsibilities with senior managers overseeing all parties.
What Does a Strategy Look Like?
Ok, so we know our goals, and we understand the assets that we have at our disposal – we’re ready to put together a strategy….
Every agency will take a different approach dependent upon the skill set that they have their disposal. Multi-channel agencies will tend to have a fairly eclectic range of options and agencies with one specialist skill set (PPC agencies or pure development agencies) will of course rely on that singular tactic. But our strategies tend to be formed with four obvious parts
- Where is the traffic coming from
- Where is the traffic going to
- How do we know the tactic is working
- What are the assets we have to make the strategy a success
These are your building blocks. They effect the very ability to deliver and achieve the aims. Get these right, and you’re well on your way to achieving your goals. Usually, your assets are the biggest influence on the success of your business – they are the very substance of your enterprise. Get them wrong, and no matter what tactics you employ, you’ll fail.
- The staff you have
- Your website (including your mobile site)
- Your CRM
- Your web feeds
- Your style/brand guidelines
- Your servers
Before you are able to determine whether your activity is successful or not, you must have metrics upon which to judge its success or failure. Before undergoing any campaign a hypothesis of the outcome will need should be established and you need to ensure the ability to be able to check on success or failure.
It is fair to say that often, there is an element of guesswork as to a campaigns expected outcomes. That is fine – no one is all seeing. But without analysis, how can the campaign be improved?
What your users see is pretty important – if you don’t have content, you don’t have anything. There are very few tactics that don’t require at least some sort of content to be placed somewhere – even PPC campaigns require ad copy and a page to send a user to.
This is where the traffic arrives from and they are their akin to the tactics that you’re going to employ. If your strategy is simply growth based, then your channels will be complemented with expanding assets.
There are costs for everything and a digital marketing strategy is no different. When building your strategy, you need to take into account not only the costs of the channel (PPC, social ad’s, banner ad’s), the cost to produce the content that will appear on or be sent to from, your channels and finally, the costs of setting up (and maintaining) the assets that will allow it all to happen.
Strategies at Different Business Stages
Part of the reason we offer different marketing packages, is so that we can cater for different types of business that have different internal structures and assets.
Small businesses will hopefully be so busy growing that their core business strategy is simply keeping up with growing demand for their services. Being agile and adaptive is essential as a lot of digital activity is taken up simply with reacting to unexpected business demands.
Once a business is established though, unless it happy “treading water” (a perfectly reasonable aim for lifestyle businesses!) the challenge moves onto achieving specific goals that help to step-change operations. This may be for as simple as how to pay for additional member of staff to allow the overworked owners take a less hands on approach or it may be grander, eg to help fund a large purchase or national chain of shops.
As a very simple exercise, let’s assume Example Company has just invested in a new widget machine for £50,000 – part of their business strategy requires them to have paid off a bridging loan for that investment. Their average order value is £3,000 and therefore they need to achieve 17 additional sales within six months.
We know, because of previous strategies leading up to the purchase, that included establishing excellent business intelligence, that they convert 1% of inbound visitors at the top of the funnel (Awareness stage) into inquiries, 10% of visitors at the consideration phase into inquiries and their internal marketing teams expect 20% of their existing customers would be interested in their new widgets. Finally, their sale teams have also calculated that they convert 25% of inquiries into sales.
We have decided that we will use a multichannel approach of Pay Per Click, Email Marketing and paid content promotion to attract the additional business.
It has been estimated from test campaigns that we can attract 1000 paid content clicks a month, 500 users through PPC and that 20% of our existing 1000 customers open and read email newsletters.
So our strategy looks like this, with “hard” (fixed) and “soft” (variable) costs included. Hard costs are usually unavoidable costs and would usually be largely agency fees whereas variables costs are associated with actual clicks/actions.
- Paid Content – promotion of content onto third party sites costing on average £0.50 per click (£3,000 soft costs = 6000 visits & 60 inquires)
- A series of 6 email newsletters sent to existing customers (£0 soft costs = 40 inquiries)
- Pay Per Click at £2.50 per click (£7,500 soft costs = 3,000 visits & 30 inquires)
- 5 new articles for click bait/paid content – (£2,500 hard cost)
- 6 emails designed & sent – (£2,000 hard cost)
- PPC advert writing – (£200 hard cost)
- PPC landing page (£1,000 hard cost)
- Photography of New widgets for sales pages (£1,200)
- A/B split testing of content to ensure inquiry rate is achieved – (£400 hard cost)
- Goal tracking set up to monitor ROI from all channels (£200 hard cost)
- Ongoing PPC optimisation to maximise conversions (£800 hard cost)
- New contact form coded for landing pages (£400 hard cost))
- Sales staff to call up prospects and perform visits (£3,000 soft cost)
- Email service provider (£300 soft cost)
The total cost of this marketing campaign therefore stands at £22,500. It also estimates to generate 130 inquiries of which 33 will be converted generating gross sales of £97,500 and net income of £75,000 – helping achieve the goal of paying off the bridging loan in 6 months.
What this strategy gives Example Company, is far more than a hit and hope set of tactics. It also caters for the ongoing management and the content creation and each channel can be analysed for its ROI so as a business, ongoing marketing campaigns can be judged credible or not by their previous performances.
What this above example demonstrates, is only a microcosm of one part of the strategy – It’s a 6 month period of what would have been a period of testing marketing channels for their efficacy and perhaps time spent improving data in their CRM and building a social media profile to also make use of any amplification of their promoted content.
Essentially, business need to avoid sticking to single tactics and need to think about their strategy. How do all the digital marketing options available combine together to help achieve business goals. Importantly, are your business goals adequately catered for in terms the time and budget required to fulfill the content required, the analysis and the core assets needed to compete both on and offline.