Traditionally, brands would create business plans setting out how they would transform inputs into outputs. Usually, it was just a small document that included things like the goals of the company, details on how it would operate, and the ways in which it would acquire customers.
Digital plan structures are something similar, except specially tailored for the complexities and challenges of the online space.
Creating the best digital plan structure for your NI business is quite involved and required thinking methodically. It’s not always something that you can rattle off in an afternoon. Careful thought is the order of the day.
The goal of digital marketing is to use various channels (like your website, search results or social media) to grab leads and make sales. But how you ultimately do that is the arbiter of your success. Many businesses simply launch straight into a marketing campaign without really thinking long and hard about the best approach for their particular business model. Consequently, they often wind up wasting vast sums of money that they could have used for more productive activities. That’s something you want to avoid.
Begin With Customer Journey Mapping
If you want to understand how your customers relate to your enterprise, you need to perform customer journey mapping. This discipline involves creating an account of how your customers interact with your enterprise throughout their journey with you.
Brick-and-mortar businesses understand this journey well. That’s why they focus so heavily on every stage of the interaction, from initial window dressing to service personnel wishing people a good day as they leave the store.
The digital marketing world, though, is a little more complicated because of the sheer range of channels and objectives. Thus, breaking it down into smaller chunks can help.
The first thing to do is to create a list of all of the channels that your business uses. When you write it down, you often find that you have more touchpoints with customers than you thought.
Here’s a rundown:
- Social media channels
- PPC ads that appear in search results
- Remarketing ads and banners
- Public relations campaigns on third-party sites
- Guest blogging
- Website and blog
- Emails and other forms of automated marketing
Knowing which channels you should use as part of your digital transformation, however, can be a challenge. That’s why it helps to break it down into bite-sized pieces.
Here’s what to do:
- Research your channels: Find out who is using which channels and then see whether they match up closely to your buyer persona (the “average” customer who interacts with your business).
- Identify your target audience: Look for channels that offer audiences to whom you could potentially sell.
- Build the use of that channel: Sometimes a particular channel will offer such compelling benefits for your customers and business that it is worth investing in it directly.
- Analyse how your competitors are using channels: There’s often no reason to reinvent the wheel. Simply observing how your competitors use channels allows you to adopt an effective copycat strategy while you continue your search for fresh insights.
- Partner with others: Sometimes, you’ll unearth opportunities to work with influencers or partners through various channels who can amplify your reach.
- Integrate channels: For instance, you could add social sharing buttons under your website blogs or create links from your YouTube channel to your product pages. Creating synergies and links between channels helps your customers hop from one page to another seamlessly, without feeling penned in.
Ideally, you want to be able to characterise the contribution of each channel to your overall business objectives and create a map of how they relate to each other. Having this information available lets you plug holes in your digital marketing strategy and find easy strategies for improving it.
How Should You Structure A Digital Plan?
It turns out that there are several competing methods for structuring a digital plan, two of which we discuss below.
What you want is a system that allows you to evaluate the capabilities of your organisation, set intelligent goals, choose particular channels in which to invest, and then define the resources you need to do it.
Over the years, industry specialists and firms have created strategies that allow you to do this, going by various acronyms.
RACE For Structuring A Digital Plan
Race stands for Reach, Act, Convert and Engage. When you first encounter it, it sounds quite abstract. But once you start deploying it in your business, you can see the value and discipline that it brings.
The system relies heavily on the concept of sales funnels. The idea is to get more value from your existing marketing budget by choosing the techniques most likely to generate leads and sales in both the present and future.
The RACE framework consists of the following:
- Planning: Planning isn’t part of the RACE acronym, but many businesses still include this as a separate stage. This stage is akin to the concepts that we discussed in the previous section. You want to define the most lucrative channels for you to target, the customers who can benefit from your services, and the kinds of digital and media experience you intend to create. Ultimately, you need to position yourself as the brand that people should go to when they want the particular service that you offer.
- Reach: Reach is all about exploration. It involves targeting channels that offer the optimal combination of audience volume, quality and cost to acquire. Activities falling into this category include influencer marketing, PR, display adam, paid search and social media posts. It’s all about getting your audience interested in your brand and what you sell.
- Act: The “act” phase is the one in which users are working out whether they should buy. It’s not just about getting eyeballs in front of your brand but doing things that directly influence the buyer’s thought process. The key metrics you want to target here are the lead or conversion rate, the time visitors spend on your site, and the number of subscribers or likes you receive. Content for buyers at this stage should be relevant and inspirational, showing them how they might benefit if they decide to part with their cash.
- Convert: The conversion stage is the point where the buyer decides to take the plunge and hand over their cash for a particular service. Key metrics include your revenue or profit per customer, sales volume and average order value. At this stage, you want to use persuasion marketing. Remember, customers at this stage already know that they want your product. It’s just a matter of nudging them over the finish line so that you get paid. Ideally, you should expose customers at this stage to direct sales pitches or additional offers that incentivise conversion.
- Engage: Conversion isn’t the end of the story. Once a customer buys from you, the next goal is to keep them engaged in what you’re doing so that they come back for more and more. At this stage, you should be focusing on things like loyalty drives, social proofs and referrals, according to the RACE framework. Metrics to follow include brand satisfaction data, advocacy rates and repeat purchases. Working out the lifetime value of a customer helps to underscore the importance of this phase. Engagement is often more lucrative than conversion, once you have a sizable customer base.
SOSTAC® For Structuring A Digital Plan
You don’t have to abide by the RACE formulation. Other plans are available. One of them is SOSTAC® which stands for situational analysis, objectives, strategy, tactics, actions and control. Dave Chaffey, co-author of Digital Marketing Excellence developed the concept.
But what does it mean in practice? Let’s break it down.
The purpose of the situational analysis phase is to enable a firm to figure out where it is right now so it can chart a course to where it would like to be in the future.
Companies engaged in this phase of SOSTAC® should attempt to work out:
- What they can do to stand out from their competitors
- What tactics they’re already using to win conversions
- Which channels their audience is using
- Which channels rival brands are using to capture leads
This stage often involves taking stock of the firm’s internal resources and capabilities. It also means thinking honestly about how customers perceive the brand, and whether this chimes with the company’s long-term objectives.
This last point ties in nicely with the objective component of SOSTAC® which is all about thinking about where the company would like to be.
Again, the SOSTAC® method emphasises the importance of quantification. Brands, therefore, should identify:
- How many new sales they would like to make over the following 12 months
- How much money they want to save on their existing process
- How often they would like to communicate with their customers
- How well they would like to serve their customers
- How many new customers they want to make in the next 12 months
Quantification is important here because it generates accountability. The firm can compare the number of sales that it wanted to make, for instance, to the number it actually made.
Dave Chaffey defines the term “strategy” as relating to the question “how do we get there?”
You might have a great account of where you are now and where you would like to be in the future. But if you don’t have a practical plan for how you’re going to get your digital marketing to that stage, you’re stuck.
The trick here is to look for areas in which you have a competitive advantage (both from a marketing and product perspective). So, for instance, perhaps you discover during your investigations that your product is cheaper than your competitors’ and that your rivals are not using social media, despite the fact that your audience uses it.
The obvious strategy in that situation, therefore, is to simply talk about your unique selling points on social media. You can then use the added revenue you get to invest in your product’s weaknesses, allowing you to challenge your rivals on more platforms.
Strategy also involves other things like thinking about the types of technology and messaging that you’ll use.
Tactics are different from strategies. A strategy is all about how you’re going to win overall. Tactics are individual manoeuvres.
Here, you have a near-infinite list of choices. The digital marketing options available to you include:
- Affiliate marketing
- Native advertising
- PPC marketing
- SEO (search engine optimisation)
- Email campaigns
- Content marketing
- Partnerships with third-party blogs
- Link building
- Inbound marketing
- Video production
SOSTAC® also makes it clear that the people within organisations need to have clearly defined roles if you’re to successfully carry out a digital transformation.
Thus, the action phase involves working out who does what, and when.
If you already have clearly defined roles and processes, this stage shouldn’t be too challenging. Existing marketing managers just need to imbibe the process outlined above. However, implementing your roadmap may require a broader group of stakeholders. For instance, you might need an external agency for link building. That sort of thing is a challenge to do in-house.
You also need to rethink how you’ll manage your internal resources and skills. Keeping people in their current roles could be a roadblock to genuine transformation.
The final phase of SOSTAC® is control. Here, the question is “how do we monitor performance?”
There are actually many ways that you can do this. Plus, you can use it to get feedback on both the marketing methods that you use and your products. Customers satisfaction surveys and KPI collection are essentials. As part of this stage, try to define things like how often you’ll connect statistics, and how you’ll present and report those data.
Which structure your Northern Ireland business chooses depends very much on your individual objectives. B2B businesses tend to focus more on lead generation, which might make SOSTAC® a more helpful approach. B2C businesses focus on sales, making RACE more attractive. Both, however, are good enough for most purposes.