We're living in an age of what I call "digital chaos."
Organizations are dabbling in new social media platforms, developing emails that hopefully people open, and trying to create content that people view and (by some miracle) share before swiping up or down on their smartphone. The problem is that often there's no method to the madness.
This let's-throw-stuff-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach can yield some positive results, but it's not sustainable, measurable, or necessarily connected to the organization's business objectives.
Enter the digital marketing strategy.
There are many ways to slice and dice a strategy. Most importantly, it must serve as a blueprint, a framework, or a roadmap. Call it what you want, but it must be structured enough so you can stay on track when those email numbers keep growing, yet flexible enough so you can pivot when that new Snapchat campaign flops.
I've developed a 10-step process for creating a digital strategy that isn't overwhelming or complicated, and meets the needs of most organizations.
1. Define Your "Why?"
It all starts here. Why does your organization exist? It sounds like a simple question, but you have to go deep to get at the answer. This is not just the 10,000-foot view of your brand, but the 100,000-foot view. What is the meaning behind what your organization does?
Simon Sinek's landmark TED Talk expertly lays out how to find the "why" in your organization using his golden circle methodology, and I also wrote about it here last week. He connects the dots between exceptional leaders, exceptional brands, and the notion that people don't buy "what you do, they buy why you do it."
Once you can identify the core "Why?" of your organization, crafting an effective brand story, authentic messages, and engaging content will come much easier.
[Added bonus: Knowing and clearly articulating your organization's "Why?" also helps retain and curate your talent: 40% of millennials who plan to remain with their current employer say they are doing so because their employer has "a strong sense of purpose."]
2. Create Your Brand Story
Studies have shown that consumers encounter up to 20,000 brands every day, only 12 of which leave an impression. If you have any hope of being among those 12, you must have a brand story that matters to people, which is what 73% of consumers want. Whether you are for-profit, non-profit, or for-purpose, compelling stories-not sales pitches-are what cut through the noise.
Another way to think about your brand story is to simply articulate your brand promise - the statement you make to your audience that identifies what they should expect for all experiences with your organization.
Let's look at Apple's brand promise: "Think different."
What started as a shrug to IBM's "Think,", Apple's brand promise is arguably the most famous slogan of all time and the key to Apple's wild success in the computer industry. Apple's brand promise is two-sided - their guarantee to create products based on seeing the world a little differently, and their promise to inspire their customers to do the same. - Kevin Leifer
So, what's your organization's brand promise? What's your story?
3. Define Your Goals
Recently, I was on the phone with the Chief Marketing Officer of a large global nonprofit who was looking into investing in a digital strategy. I asked her, "What are your top three goals?" and she answered, "We only have one goal: to end world hunger."
Well, that's... admirable. However, goals must be achievable and measurable in the short and long term if you're going to have any idea if what you did worked.
Do you want to increase online donations by 25%? Do you want to get 10,000 new signatures for an online petition? Do you want to engage more members, adding to your e-mail distribution list?
Remember to be SMART: your goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
Identify your top three goals. Write them down. Repeat them over and over again. This will guide your strategy.
4. Develop Audience Personas
If you want to tell a story that resonates with your audience, you first have to understand who your audience is. Doing this requires a little more than brainstorming.
You should aim to create 3-4 personas based on the types of people you attract and want to target. A complete persona will contain the person's background, career, values, goals, reservations, and decision-making tendencies.
If all of that sounds overwhelming, rest assured that you don't have to come up with this out of thin air. An often-ignored method for creating audience personas is to interview your audience. This can include one-on-one interviews and online surveys to get a pretty accurate portrait of who you are marketing to.
Create your personas. Post them on your wall. Name these fictitious individuals. Talk about them like you know them. Because you do.
5. Create a Journey Map
Once you're clear on your target audience, creating a journey map is the next step in the process. Having a journey map will help you understand the ways people are already interacting with you online as well as the potential for more or different kinds of interaction.
You'll want to start with these questions:
- Where does a user first encounter your organization online (or offline)?
- What touch-points are the most important when a user makes a decision?
- What makes them leave and what makes them come back?
The better you understand your audience and their habits and behaviors, the more detailed your journey map can be. The more detailed your journey map, the more agile your digital strategy.
6. Identify Key Channels
Here's where we start to get into the nitty-gritty of digital strategy. The number of social and digital channels out there is immense, and new ones pop up every week.
A lot of organizations think you have to have a toe in each, but the reality is you should only be where your audience is. If they're not on Snapchat, you can likely leave that app alone for the time being. If your target audience primarily uses Facebook to connect, part of your strategy should focus on organic and paid reach on Facebook.
Simply put, match each of your target audiences to the platforms that are most used by each of these groups. Then overlay these engagement channels onto your journey map. It will pretty it up and give you a clear direction on the types of content to create.
7. Develop a Content Strategy
We're squarely in the age of content marketing, and we're there because users in the digital space engage most with what's useful for them. Is your content useful?
Craig Davis, Founder of Brandkarma said, "We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in."
There's no need to re-invent the wheel when it comes to content. Find out what your audience wants and needs, and creatively provide it for them. People share what's good, follow what's regular, and respond to what's appropriate. Think quality, consistency, and customization and you can't go wrong.
[Added Bonus: download the handy Creating Valuable Content Checklist, a comprehensive overview of effective digital content creation by Aha Media Group.]
Create a content strategy tapestry - sketch the content types that would work for each of your target audiences and then categorize accordingly. There will likely be some overlaps, which is okay; the result will be a beautiful tapestry of content.
You can build this out for a specific month, quarter, or season depending on the robustness of your campaign, and the resources you have available.
8. Draft a Content Calendar
Though the digital space races ahead, calendars never go out of style. The bottom line here is that strategic goals require strategic tools.
A good digital strategy likely has a lot of branches with multiple channels, content formats, deadlines, and deliverables. Keeping track of that is half the battle, but it shouldn't be something that slows you down.
A useful content calendar includes everything from benchmarks and major industry events to listing the staff in charge of creating, approving, and publishing each piece of content.
Take the time to draft a thorough calendar - using project management software or a color-coded Google Spreadsheet and you're heading off unnecessary workflow problems during busy times.
9. Plan Your Resources
Plan for the staff and resources you have, not the staff and resources someone else has. This is an important principle that many organizations overlook, but it's critical to the success of developing an effective digital strategy.
Take a serious look at the time, money, and people you have to invest in it, and strategize accordingly. Not only will this be beneficial for the strategy, but having that kind of clarity will lead to happier, less overwhelmed employees.
10. Simply Measure
There is no shortage of data in digital marketing. All the major platforms have analytics offerings and there are countless third-party platforms that offer all kinds of data reporting.
But before you dive into those choices, refer back to your goals (see #3 above). Then you'll know which numbers to look for. And once you have numbers, you'll know what's working and what's not-you'll have insights you can actually act on.
Did the blog series attract new subscribers? Did the email campaign bring in new donations? Did that promotional Facebook campaign sell more products?
Don't forget that this is a step-by-step process. You can't make a journey map before you understand your audience personas. You can't think about content types until you've crafted your brand story.