How do companies decide what to do in digital? Well, some firms take a strategic, measured approach to digital marketing. But a lot of companies take a more reactive approach. They make a widget when that's hot, create a corporate blog that ultimately garners about seven monthly visitors, create "viral" efforts that don't catch on, or simply field campaigns and vehicles that have some positive results, but aren't the best ways to spend money.
Ultimately, this trial and error approach limits the success of the medium because too many marketing decision-makers feel disappointed or (worse) burned, and therefore stick with the TV and print they know.
One of the most common issues I have heard from companies is that they are searching for the best way to create a digital plan. My refrain is that classic planning processes -- particularly the ubiquitous key issues/objectives/strategies/tactics approach used by thousands of companies -- can be extremely effective in digital marketing. Further, it is a process that most people are very familiar with, which makes it much easier to field and adhere to.
That being said, it's important to include the right components in each step of the classic process -- components that will yield great digital strategies and tactics. With that in mind, here is a set of process steps that can help drive effective digital strategic planning with the classic key issues/objectives/strategies/tactics model.
1.) Key issues/key learnings
In the traditional marketing plan, the key issues phase outlines the most critical problems or opportunities that need to be addressed in the coming year. An effective marketing plan typically focuses on three to five such issues; these then drive the objectives around which all efforts are based. Issues are based upon key strategic learnings.
Ideally, the digital strategic process occurs in tandem with the larger marketing plan process. But whether or not this is the case, the digital key issues should be a subset of the overall marketing problems and opportunities a brand is facing. The digital plan focuses on those marketing issues that have a realistic chance of being addressed via digital media. This often (but not always) excludes key issues around distribution and merchandising, or product problems/opportunities. All communication issues, however, make the cut.
Suppose, for example, that the four key learnings that have been identified by the larger marketing plan are:
- Declining product penetration / How can we drive retrial among lapsed users?
- Stagnant buying rate / How can we get current users to buy us more often?
- Declines in distribution driven by competitive distribution initiatives / How can we regain dominance in offline distribution?
- Dramatic growth in sales to younger consumers, offset by declines among younger users / How do we accelerate trial among 18-34 year olds?
Your assessment of these five factors might lead you to conclude that digital can help solve three of the four issues -- specifically issues one, two and four. In other words, you have concluded that the distribution issue would be better addressed through direct trade spending and other efforts.
The objectives phase provides measurable, accountable goals against which strategies and tactics will be aligned and measured. Given that for the purposes of digital planning we have narrowed our focus to three of four key issues, we need to align digital objectives with the larger marketing objectives.
So, for example, the relevant marketing objectives might be:
- Increase consumer penetration by 3 percentage points.
- Drive one more purchase per year for the average consumer.
- Increase trial among 18-34 year olds by 10 percent.
Here's where the real digital work begins. The first step is to make an assessment of what the target audience does in digital, and what their motivations are. Consider the penetration and usage rate of major digital vehicles. At minimum, the process should consider the following set of vehicles:
For the PC-based internet:
- Penetration and usage
- Online video
- Blogging (read, author)
- Propensity to viral
- Web-based radio usage
- PC gaming
- Massive multiplayer gaming
- Willingness to shop online
- Penetration and usage
- Web search
- Other data services
- Satellite radio
- Game console
- Game handheld
Also consider the state of your brand reputation in the digital environment currently. There are likely thousands of people discussing your brand out there already, and the tenor of this conversation is a critical consideration. Lastly, consider the state of your website both in relation to best practices as well as to how your site "stacks up" against competitive sites.
Using this information as a foundation, it's time to create digital strategies that align with the relevant overall marketing objectives. One of the key challenges here is to discern between digital strategies and tactics. Making a considered effort to separate WHAT we want to do from HOW we want to do it is critical.
Now it's time to use your digital insights and strategies to identify the ways you put them into practice. You must simultaneously define a measurement and optimization plan to determine the effectiveness of your approaches. Using this plan, you can optimize your efforts and spend in ways that will have a bigger impact on the business.
Because digital has "arrived" in the consciousness of nearly every marketing leader, our space doesn't have to justify its existence anymore. What we must do is make it easier for marketing generalists to create, field, and optimize digital marketing programs. That requires we give people understandable and effective ways to create powerful digital marketing plans. Whether you ultimately use this process or another, taking a more strategic approach to digital planning will yield dramatic results.
Jim Nichols is senior partner at Catalyst: SF.