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Do you really need a digital marketing strategy?

5 reasons why you don't and 10 reasons why you could

Surely it's obvious, with today's digital marketing platforms like search and social networks, desktop and mobile web applications that you need a digital marketing strategy?

I don't think so, the obvious isn't always obvious, or practical to make happen, or even considered necessary. So, a couple of weeks ago we asked readers of whether their company, or if they work for an agency or are a consultant, their typical clients have one. These are the shocking? results...

Thank you if you voted or shared this post, we had around 110 responses, so a fair number, although we have no sample frame of who since it's just an informal poll.

As I suspected, there has been little change since we asked the exact same question back in 2010 as the chart below shows. This suggests that my 5 reasons why you may not need a digital strategy below are quite compelling for many companies - lack of time, resource or a perceived need for yet another plan.

It's perhaps a reflection on those managing resource not seeing the benefits and scale of change that transformation to a digital or social business requires.

I think it's sad really since creating an initial plan for digital needn't be too involved - as a minimum you can create a 1-2 side summary of the aims, strategies and KPIs for integrating digital channels as available in our digital strategy toolkit. Of course doing the initial analysis should be more involved...

Once the broad strategies and new ways of working are defined, a separate digital strategy isn't necessary since digital is part of marketing strategy or business as usual - congratulations to the quarter of businesses who have achieved this!

Here are the original results from the poll:

5 reasons why you may not need a digital strategy

1. You already have more than enough strategies and plans

If you work for a larger company, then there will likely be a clear marketing strategies and plans for different markets? Or will there?

If you work for a smaller company, then you likely don't have time and even developing any form of marketing plan may be a struggle.

If you have never had a separate plan for online marketing, it's likely you will benefit from one. It doesn't have to be a massive 50 page report - a 2 sider like our health check looking at your priorities is probably more actionable.

2. A separate digital plan can give problems of integration and ownership

I don't personally think a separate digital planning document is needed in all companies. The ideal approach is that you initially need a digital plan to help set goals for the digital channel, make the business case for investment and to create a long-term roadmap. But once you're are on this journey the long-term ambition should be to integrate digital marketing seamlessly into your marketing or business plan.

This is why one of the answers in the poll above is... "Yes - it's integrated into our marketing strategy" - if you answered this, you're likely already a fair way along your journey.

In fact you often see an evolution from a separate plan to get buy-in, resource and structure and then digital marketing has become part of business as usual.

3. A single vision and company goals are needed

Does it really make sense to have a separate vision for digital marketing, an integrated vision of how a company will grow and goals to support this can be clearer than specific digital goals. I looked last week at a good example of integrated vision statement.

4. Digital technologies and marketing approaches change so fast

It's hard to argue with this. I've spoken to many who say that the continual launch of new marketing approaches from the social networks LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook mean that any plan is instantly out of date. The introduction of Google+ is an example of this.

I completely disagree with this argument, since actually the marketing fundamentals don't change; how you segment and target your markets and having clear propositions doesn't change every few months...

Having a plan and a longer-term roadmap you're working to will help you from being distracted by new marketing approaches which can distract from your aims.

The other counter-argument here is that the move to a digital or social business doesn't happen overnight, it takes years of transformation, so a longer-term roadmap is essential to prioritise what to invest in when.

5. Increasingly digital marketing is marketing

It's also becoming more difficult to argue with this. Some pureplay online companies gain all of their business online. But these are still in the minority. In these cases a marketing plan will mainly focus on digital activity anyway, so why have a separate plan?

The reality for many companies is that while digital leads or sales are increasing, sales or gaining awareness from other channels remains important and a multichannel plan is needed.

and 10 reasons why you could need a digital strategy

I covered these in my previous article on digital marketing strategy, I think they're persuasive, but I'd be interested to know what you think.

1. You're directionless.

2. You won't know your online market share.

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

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

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

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

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

8. You're wasting money and time through duplication.

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

10. You're not optimising.

Having a clear strategy or plan will help you tackle all of these, which these reasons are all directed at getting better commercial results than your competitors.

Please vote and ask others to, I'll update with the final results next week. TIA!

Share your thoughts

  • Gareth commented on December 30, 2012

    Good post thanks Dave. We just had a partners meeting yesterday and believe we need a strategy for marketing as the tools, data and education (you guys!) are out there. We hadn’t had the resouce until now but thankfully we are now at that stage to dedicate resource towards this – I hope to report back in the future with some great results!

    Thanks, Gareth

    • Happy New Year Gareth! Nice to hear from you.

      I’m glad you’ve now won the case for investment – do let me know how it goes.
      All the best for 2013!


  • Ajay Chhabra commented on January 14, 2012

    Dear Dave, I have been advocating for having a “Effective Digital Marketing Strategy” irrespective of the size of the organization, for sometime now being in this field for almost 7+ years…Digital Marketing has come a long way and few global companies I would know of have have started to develop a long term road maps in Digital Marketing, I agree to your point that there is dynamism and things changes so fast in our field and there are innovations yet the basic building blocks and key components of Digital Marketing for a company which includes Search Marketing, Display advertising, Corporate website, Brand Micro sites, Partners websites, Third party industry websites, Mobile Marketing, Social Media marketing, Database Marketing, Centralized Marketing Database, Leads Management and more can not be brought to the desired maturity levels unless your start measuring the current state and have a digital marketing strategy and action plan for future….Regards, Ajay Chhabra 0091-9313334808

  • Martyn Etherington commented on January 10, 2012

    Dave and Allister,
    I agree with the sentiment that digital marketing is marketing. But I also believe that we have not clearly defined the term digital marketing. Dave I think you may of even helped us here at Tektronix define Digital marketing a few years ago as Achieving business objectives by
    applying Digital Technologies. Therefore it does become mainstream marketing. Simplifying further and to adapt the late great Peter Duckers’ definition of business is to create and keep customers. Digital marketing should ultimately be defined as “Applying digital technologies to create and keep customers”, thus making it mainstream and not an adjunct initiative.

    • “Applying digital technologies…” Absolutely! It’s not the theories that are changing; it’s the tools and tech. The fundamental sales & marketing ideas that underpin digital strategies are as old as the hills and continue to be relevant

    • Anonymous commented on January 13, 2012

      That’s rights Martyn, remember it well and fondly, apart from the journey!

      I’m still using that simple simple definition to remind folks that it’s about supporting goals, but try to stress the integration more these days as you do in your comment.

      Today there is this distraction to social enterprise/social business

      I love your definition of digital’s scope – it’s important for marketing leaders to remind their teams what they should be focusing on.

  • Anonymous commented on January 10, 2012

    As someone whose job title includes the words “Digital Marketing Strategy,” I suppose I should be qualified to answer this question emphatically one way or the other. But there is no single answer; every company has unique needs and challenges. But I certainly agree that not every organisation needs a detailed strategy for *digital* marketing. Your point 5 is the clincher for me: increasingly digital marketing is marketing. The only common reason I can think why you’d need a dedicated focus on building a digital strategy is if you’re still stuck in pre-digital ways of thinking and need to intentionally over-correct your marketing approach to catch up. Here’s my take on your blog post: Thanks for the thought-provoking article.

    • Anonymous commented on January 10, 2012

      Hi Allister, thanks for your comments and thanks. I’m training today, but glad it’s thought provoking – that’s what I’d hoped – the questions aren’t that tight, but food for thought – I see the majority are still selecting “No”.

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