While all of the components discussed thus far in this series are important elements to include in any digital marketing strategy, today's list includes some of the most critical.
If you haven't made significant improvements in your website in the last few months, or worse yet, you haven't done a website redesign in over two years, you're steadily losing ground. Traditional website design, with its lengthy and expensive processes and best-guess design techniques, is a less efficient and less effective approach than growth-driven design (GDD). But regardless of which approach you take, here are some basic elements you should include in your marketing strategy:
Know your audience. Before you think about redesigning your website, make sure that you have a firm understanding of your typical/desired customers. Buyer personas (and for larger prospects in the B2B world, target-account lists) are essential for understanding your prospects' and customers' needs, decision-making process, and how you need to engage them. Without an understanding of your buyer personas, your website will be largely ineffective.
Answer their questions. Develop your new design, messaging, and content with a focus on addressing the specific needs of your key buyer personas and/or target-account lists, i.e. answering the questions they have. Focus first on understanding how to present the information your visitors are looking for with maximum clarity and minimal effort. Don't jump to design before you address those needs, because your design should largely revolve around the content.
Design for user experience and engagement. The inbound customer experience should always be a key consideration for the design of your website. Remove obstacles that get in the way of your visitor getting what they came for. Make it easy for them to navigate, find the answers they are looking for, engage with you, make decisions, and even contribute. The days of online brochures is long gone. Customers now expect a positive user experience, and they will leave if you don't give them one. Incorporate user experience engineering into your plan.
Design with proven best-practices. We all want cool looking websites (especially website designers). But "cool" too often just gets in the way of making it easy for your visitors to find what they are looking for. When possible, avoid hierarchical drop-down/pop-out menus. Studies have proven that they are hard to navigate. If you have a ton of content, consider mega-menus instead. Avoid visual clutter and overuse of color. White space is your friend. And remember that text is NOT a design element. If you can't read it, or you've made it hard to read by using reverse type or low contrast, or there's just too much of it stuck in big paragraphs, fix it or get rid of it. It's a usability killer. Critically reviewing the execution of your design should be an ongoing element of your plan.
Manage your content. There is virtually no reason today to not take advantage of current content management solutions (CMS) to help manage your website content. WordPress is free and useful for virtually any size of company. Better yet, utilize HubSpot's CMS for a much easier to use interface and benefit from the built-in SEO feedback, hints, and tips. Regardless of which management tool you use, you also need to establish a plan for the management of your content including a style guide, content organizational schema, editorial calendar, roles determination, etc.
Test and refine. The biggest mistake you can make is assuming that the design decisions you made when you built it are working as well as they can. Assume just the opposite, i.e. once you launch your website, assume that your initial decisions are only a place to start. Use your analytics packages (like HubSpot), heat maps and recorders (like HotJar or Sumome) and A/B testing (HubSpot has that too), to give you feedback on what's working and what's not. Then make informed decisions on what you should change first and make the changes. Then repeat. A website that isn't constantly improved is a website that is losing ground to the competition.
Utilize behavioral targeting/website personalization. You can develop a much better understanding of what content is driving conversions and contributing to revenue by taking advantage of software (e.g. HubSpot provides "smart" content) that allows you to customize and personalize the content based upon customer qualities and behavior. You should explore personalization options as part of your digital marketing strategy.
For most marketing and sales folks, having a marketing automation platform is a critical factor in realizing and measuring digital marketing success (I can't even imagine really having a digital marketing plan without one!). There are numerous marketing automation platforms out there and they all share a subset of the following features. Keep in mind that your strategy should also define how and when you're going to exploit these features (click here for descriptions of each), and how you're going to staff it.
- Email & Lead Nurturing
- Lead Management
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Anonymous Prospecting & Targeting
- Social Media
- Landing Pages & Forms
- A/B Testing
- Reporting and Analytics
As powerful as marketing automation software like HubSpot is, it is also a bit like a spreadsheet, i.e. it does nothing without content and without thoughtful setup and usage.
The key ingredient in your digital marketing strategy is content. Without it, you have some great tools and some thoughtful plans that will never materialize. If you only execute one element of your digital marketing plan (and that is hard to say or imagine) it MUST be content marketing. Content marketing is the fuel that drives your digital marketing engine. If you're not already totally convinced of the importance of content marketing, there are over 100 blog posts on our website alone that (at least in part) talk about the virtues and challenges of content marketing. It is critically important to remember with content marketing that the truth is, your prospects don't really care about you or your product/service offering. They care about themselves; their business; their own success. With that fact clearly in mind, here are a few of the components that your plan should include:
- Target. Don't begin to think about content marketing until you've done a detailed analysis of who your target customers are, i.e. buyer personas and target-account lists.
- Purpose. Ensure that every piece of content has a specific purpose. Content that has no expressed purpose is likely to be a waste of your time to produce, and a waste of your prospects' time to consume. The most important purpose is what benefit the target prospect receives.
- Offer. Tied directly to the purpose, don't forget the "marketing" in content marketing. Make sure every piece of content has a call-to-action (an offer of some kind that provides value to the prospect or customer).
- Blogging. We can't overstate the importance of blogging. While it may not be for everyone, it it is likely a top consideration for most digital marketing plans. It allows you to refine your messaging, clarify your unique niche, and produces great fodder for search engines.
- Website content. As mentioned above, it is critical to constantly improve your website, and that starts with your website content. It may have been great when you developed the content six weeks, six months, or six years ago, but odds are it has since lost its purpose. You can and should certainly refresh or repurpose content, but you almost always need to do something with it.
- Social media marketing. Social media serves an essential function in customer service. But it is also critical in your digital marketing planning to document how social media plays into your overall content marketing strategy. Social media allows you to consciously present your marketing message and define your brand in channels and in a manner that allows prospects to learn about you and engage with your company.
- Content planning. Having an understanding of the possibilities offers little if you don't have a plan. You should have a content marketing vision statement, a content inventory, a content map that identifies how the content relates to each persona and buying stage, and an editorial calendar. Possibly most importantly, you need to include in your strategy a commitment to consistently produce content on a regular basis. Content marketing has the potential to produce terrific results, but it is a long term strategy, and you MUST have the patience and persistence to see it through.
Perhaps the most important element of a digital media strategy is to accept the fact that the field is evolving at break-neck speed and in order to stay relevant, it is essential to constantly evolve. That means that you have to network, read constantly, dig deep into advances in technology and technique, and avoid the temptation to rest on your current level of understanding. Perhaps the saddest thing a marketer can do today is assume that their previous experience (no matter how illustrious it may have been) prepares them to succeed in the constantly changing world of digital marketing. Don't allow yourself to fall prey to this (understandable) temptation. It is a career-killer and is certain to produce lack-luster results.
Hopefully this short series has been helpful for those attempting to construct a digital marketing plan. If you would like help in producing or executing your next digital marketing strategic plan, please contact us. We'd love to help.
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