If you are not taking a step toward your goals with the time, energy, and dollars you are spending to market your organization, you might as well be taking a step away from them.
David Campbell, founder of Saks Fifth Avenue, said, "Discipline is remembering what you want." It is so easy to take advantage of an opportunity that pops up out of nowhere, but that might not be aligned with your goals.
In this case, "discipline" is adhering to your digital strategy. There are opportunities that are once in a lifetime, and there are opportunities that just seem to make sense at the moment. Make sure that the choices you make augment and support your goals and strategy, instead of taking advantage of a one-off chance to do something that is a tangent for you and your organization.
Beware of the "should" statements. Back in the 1990s, it went something like this: "Our company should really have a website." A little bit later it was: "We should really start blogging." More recently it has been: "We should really be on social media. All of our competitors are." Not to mention the need to have a mobile app or, at the very least, a mobile marketing and advertising strategy. Additionally, there will surely be something new that comes out tomorrow that is the new must have. It can be a full-time job keeping up with the constant barrage of new social media sites, communications tools, advertising products, and even new devices.
Without a clear strategy and a clear set of goals tied to that strategy, it is easy to create a series of tactics that serve no true purpose other than to keep up appearances with your customers and competitors. Your digital strategy is the long-term plan that incorporates more short-term tactics and allows each to work together in harmony, instead of having each working in a silo.
For what it's worth, there is a very good chance your company should have a website, a social media presence, and a mobile marketing plan, but before you get lost in the tactics of digital marketing, let us look at some ways to stay on track by remembering what you really want your digital strategy to accomplish.
Start from the top
If it has been a while since you last evaluated your digital strategy, or if it is not formally documented, it is time to start from the top. Your digital marketing plan is outlined by your organization's business objectives and marketing goals. Take the time to create a strategy with clear, measurable goals that are in line with your larger organizational goals. Remember not to let tactics get in the way at this point. How the goals are achieved will be determined soon enough, but starting from the top gives you the opportunity to determine the goals you want to achieve without the burden of figuring out how they will get done.
To be even clearer, make sure you tie your goals to one of the three key business objectives that can apply to any organization: increasing revenue, lowering costs, and improving customer satisfaction. If you can do that, you are definitely on the right track.
You would be surprised by the number of organizations that have not gone through this process as thoroughly as they should, but it is never too late to start. To do a quick analysis, start by clearly defining your organizational goals and dependencies along with the metrics of success. Then, create specific goals for your marketing and digital marketing strategies, defining your key audiences as well as their wants and needs. Analyze your digital landscape, and tie each of your audiences and organizational goals to each property and tactic that your brand touches.
Once you have performed this exercise, you will probably notice a few things. First, a lot of what you are currently doing may already be a good fit as tactics to achieve your goals, but their purpose should become clearer. Second, you will probably see that some of the activities you are currently performing simply do not contribute in a meaningful way toward achieving any of your goals, either specific to your marketing efforts or to your broader organizational objectives. Finally, you will most likely uncover new uses for some existing tactics. For instance, your social media communications are assisting with your marketing messaging and PR outreach, but how can it help your customer service needs?
If your digital strategy is up to date with your company's overall objectives, I would recommend that you review it often and keep those goals in mind when you are brainstorming new ideas, or when new tactics are suggested. Review the strategy with your staff as well to make sure their activities are kept in line with the goals at all times.
Don't reverse-engineer your strategy
Many of us are averse to change, and we also want to know that the hard work we do fulfills an important purpose for our organization. There might be some activities your organization performs that simply do not fall in line with the goals outlined in your digital strategy. It can be very tempting to reverse-engineer your digital strategy to incorporate something you feel should be included. This means you create the justification for a tactic after the fact, instead of allowing the goals of your strategy to dictate which tactics should be used.
This is not an easy thing to do because, in the absence of hard data to support what you are doing, it is easy to reverse-engineer a solution. Like previously mentioned, you probably need to be addressing your audience on social media in some capacity, but before you set up 15 profiles on the most popular social networks, let your strategy determine where you communicate with your audiences, how you communicate with them, and the measurements you will be using to determine its effectiveness in achieving your core objectives. There are not enough hours in the day at even the largest organization to justify putting resources toward something that is not pulling its weight.
Be willing to let go
No one said that focusing would be easy. You and your team have developed a lot of great tactics over the years and have no doubt gained a lot of views, friends, engaged followers, comments, and measurable data. But, some of what you are doing is taking more time to manage than it should with regards to the value it is contributing to your marketing efforts. Your digital strategy is your guide to tell you what fits and what does not, and it should be your guide to notify you when and why you should reassess.
Let us take the example of social media again. Your company had a pretty amazing MySpace profile in 2007. Both Tom and Tila Tequila were your friends, and your list of friends was growing at a record pace. Why do you not have a MySpace profile anymore? The wrong answer would be, "because it went out of style." The right answer would be "because MySpace's audience base shifted to a segment no longer targeted by our digital strategy." Even with 4 million friends, at some point it no longer made sense to spend the time and effort to communicate with an audience on that channel. You did the research and determined that there were other social networks that your demographic was using as a trusted platform to interact with brands. If it turned out that MySpace was continuing to send you an audience that converts higher than Facebook, no matter how passé it might seem, there's a reason to be there in some capacity.
A great way to help evaluate these types of decisions is to set up a metric for measurement. If the tactic can be measured, and the measurement supports the goals you have set in place in your strategy, you should strongly consider keeping it. If you find yourself struggling to find a meaningful way to measure it and there's nothing but a "feeling" that it is a good thing to do, you should reconsider this tactic.
The best results come from focusing
Another upside to evaluating your tactics against your strategy is that you might uncover and eliminate inefficiencies that free up time and resources for projects and actions that are more in line with your goals.
For instance, I recently worked with a client that was spending an inordinate amount of staff time writing posts for the company blog. They were great posts, but when I analyzed the amount of traffic their company blog was receiving, as well as the efforts they were undertaking to drive traffic there, it was easy to see that the time spent was not worth it. If they were to keep blogging, one of two things needed to happen. Either their strategy needed to incorporate a goal of driving eyeballs to the company blog, or they needed a plan of guest blogging on third-party sites with higher traffic volumes. After we started from scratch with their digital strategy, it turned out the latter was not only going to provide better results, but it also was going to eliminate several hours a week of time spent writing, since our plan included fewer actual posts being written each month.
One of the great things about the digital marketing space is the constant innovation and exploration of new ways to engage, entertain, and measure. It is easy to get lost in the tactics, but by keeping your organization's goals and your digital strategy front and center at all times, it makes choosing what is truly important to both your organization and your audience a much simpler and more effective endeavor. Because things move at such a fast pace, revisit your strategy at regular intervals to make sure you are addressing all of your audience's needs.
Greg Kihlström is founder and CCO of Carousel30.
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