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10 reasons you need a digital marketing strategy in 2017

Using a digital plan to support digital transformation

Where do you start if you want to develop a digital marketing strategy? Well, I don't think it needs to be a huge report, a strategy can best be summarised in two or three sides of A4 in a table linking digital marketing strategies to SMART objectives. Yet despite this, it seems that many organisations still don't have a plan.

Do you have a digital marketing strategy?

2017 Update: Since 2012 we have run an informal poll to see how widely used digital marketing strategies are. The results have shown some big improvements over the years. A few years ago we found around two-thirds to three-quarters did not have a digital marketing plan. Now that number has shrunk to 44% in latest survey, although that is still quite high, and means many are doing digital with no strategy in place.

When we did the research for our free Managing Digital Marketing report we were interested to see how this percentage looked for a defined sample.

This is what we found in our survey about the level of digital marketing adoption:

So, our latest research suggests an improved approach to planning in this sample of marketers, with fewer than half without a digital strategy. Congratulations if you're one of these companies!

A recommended approach for developing a digital strategy

Whether you have a strategy or not, at the heart of the Smart Insights 'Opportunity, Strategy, Action' approach to improving digital marketing, is benchmarking to compare where you are now to assess the potential against where you need to be in the future.

To help you get started we have created a free digital marketing benchmarks download with a series of benchmarks covering overall digital strategy and the key tactics like Search, Social media, Email marketing and site/experience design.

But what if you're one of the companies that doesn't have a digital strategy yet? Well, I think the two simple alternatives for creating a plan may suggest a way forward:

  • Start with a separate digital marketing plan defining transformation needed and making the case for investment and changes to your digital marketing
  • Then, following approval, create an integrated digital plan which is part of the overall marketing plan - digital is fully aligned and becomes part of business as usual.

So, what are the takeaways to act on here? It seems to me that:

  • Using digital marketing without a strategic approach is still commonplace. I'm sure many of the companies in this category are using digital media effectively and they could certainly be getting great results from their search, email or social media marketing. But I'm equally sure that many are missing opportunities for better targeting or optimisation or are suffering from the other challenges I've listed below. Perhaps the problems below are greatest for larger organisations who most urgently need governance. There's arguably less need for a strategy in a smaller company.
  • Many, a majority of companies in this research do take a strategic approach to digital.  From talking to companies, I find the creation of digital plans often occurs in two stages. First, a separate digital marketing plan is created. This is useful to get agreement and buy-in by showing the opportunities and problems and map out a path through setting goals and specific strategies for digital including how you integrated digital marketing into other business activities.Second, digital becomes integrated into marketing strategy, it's a core activity, "business-as-usual", but doesn't warrant separate planning, except for the tactics.

If you don't have a strategy, or maybe you want to review which business issues are important to include within a strategic review, we've set out the 10 most common problems, that in our experience arise if you don't have a strategy.

10 reasons why you may need a digital channel strategy?

1. You're directionless

I find that companies without a digital strategy (and many that do) don't have clear strategic goals for what they want to achieve online in terms of gaining new customers or building deeper relationships with existing ones. And if you don't have goals you likely don't put enough resources to reach the goals and you don't evaluate through analytics whether you're achieving those goals.

2.  You won't know your online market share

Customer demand for online services may be underestimated if you haven"t researched this.  Perhaps, more importantly, you won't understand your online marketplace: the dynamics will be different to traditional channels with different types of customer profile and behaviour, competitors, propositions and options for marketing communications. See online marketplace methodology post.

3. Existing and start-up competitors will gain market share

If you're not devoting enough resources to digital marketing or you're using an ad-hoc approach with no clearly defined strategies, then your competitors will eat your digital lunch!

4. You don't have a powerful online value proposition

A clearly defined online customer value proposition will help you differentiate your online service encouraging existing and new customers to engage initially and stay loyal.

5. You don't know your online customers well enough

It's often said that digital is the "most measurable medium ever". But Google Analytics and similar will only tell you volumes of visits, not the sentiment of visitors, what they think. You need to use other forms of website user feedback tools to identify your weak points and then address them.

6. You're not integrated ("disintegrated")

It's all too common for digital marketing activities to be completed in silos whether that's a specialist digital marketer, sitting in IT or a separate digital agency. It's easier that way to package digital marketing into a convenient chunk. But of course it's less effective. Everyone agrees that digital media work best when integrated with traditional media and response channels.

7. Digital doesn't have enough people/budget given its importance

Insufficient resource will be devoted to both planning and executing e-marketing and there is likely to be a lack of specific specialist e-marketing skills which will make it difficult to respond to competitive threats effectively.

8. You're wasting money and time through duplication

Even if you do have sufficient resource it may be wasted. This is particularly the case in larger companies where you see different parts of the marketing organization purchasing different tools or using different agencies for performing similar online marketing tasks.

9. You're not agile enough to catch up or stay ahead

If you look at the top online brands like Amazon, Dell, Google, Tesco, Zappos, they're all dynamic  - trialling new approaches to gain or keep their online audiences.

10 You're not optimizing

Every company with a website will have analytics, but many senior managers don't ensure that their teams make or have the time to review and act on them. Once a strategy enables you to get the basics right, then you can progress to continuous improvement of the key aspects like search marketing, site user experience, email and social media marketing. So that's our top 10 problems that can be avoided with a well thought through strategy. What have you found can go right or wrong?

By Dave Chaffey

Dave is CEO and co-founder of Smart Insights. He is editor of the 100 templates, ebooks and courses in the digital marketing resource library created by our team of 25+ Digital Marketing experts. Our resources used by our Expert members in more than 80 countries to Map, Plan and Manage their digital marketing. For my full profile, or to connect on LinkedIn or other social networks, see the About Dave Chaffey profile page on Smart Insights. Dave is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Emarketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing.

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