It doesn’t matter what business you’re in; it’s a fairly safe bet that an increasing number of your target market rely on digital technology every day to research, evaluate and purchase the products and services they consume. Without a coherent strategy of engagement and retention through digital channels your business is at best missing a golden opportunity and at worst could be left behind, watching your competitors pull away across an ever-widening digital divide.
Potential customers are readily turning to their personal networks and publicly available information – increasingly via digital and social media channels – to self-diagnose their problems and form opinions about solutions. To understand the scope of this issue in the B2B context, the Marketing Leadership Council (MLC) surveyed more than 1,500 customer contacts (decision-makers and influencers in a recent major business purchase) and found that the average customer had completed more than a half of the purchase decision-making process prior to engaging a supplier directly.
The fundamental implication is clear: companies that fail to “show up strong” in this context are underserving potential customers and at risk of losing mindshare and, ultimately, sales opportunities.
Unlike conventional forms of mass media marketing, the internet is unique in its capacity to both broaden the scope of your marketing reach and narrow its focus at the same time. Using digital channels you can transcend traditional constraints like geography and time zones to connect with a much wider audience. At the same time, digital technology allows you to hone your marketing message with laser-like precision to target very specific niche segments within that wider market.
Implemented effectively, it can be an incredibly powerful combination. It’s often stated that the internet puts consumers in control as never before. But it’s also important to remember that the internet also delivers an unprecedented suite of tools, techniques and tactics that allow companies to reach out and engage with those same consumers. The marketing landscape has never been more challenging, dynamic and diverse.
You’ve probably been thinking about digital marketing in the context of your business, about what your competitors are doing online and why, about how your customers and prospects are integrating digital technology into their lives, and about how you can best exploit these new and exciting digital channels to foster longer, more productive relationships with them.
These are the components that will form the foundation of your digital marketing strategy:
Know your business: Is your business ready to embrace digital marketing? Are your products or services suited to online promotion? Do you have the right technology, skills and infrastructure in place? How will digital marketing fit into your existing business processes, do those processes need to change, and are you and your staff ready to accommodate those changes?
Know the competition: Who are your main competitors in the digital marketplace? Are they the same as your offline competitors? What are they doing right (emulate them), what are they doing wrong (learn from them), what aren’t they doing at all (is there an opportunity there for you?) and how can you differentiate your online offering from theirs? Remember, competition in the digital world can come from just around the corner or from right around the globe. The same technologies that allow you to reach out to a broader geographical market also allow others to reach into your local market. When you venture online you’re entering a global game, so don’t limit your analysis to local competition.
Know your customers: Who are your customers and what do they want from you? Are you going to be servicing the same customer base online, or are you fishing for business from a completely new demographic? How do the customers you’re targeting use digital technology, and how can you harness that knowledge to engage in a productive and ongoing relationship with them?
Know what you want to achieve: If you don’t know where you’re going, there’s a pretty fair chance you’ll never get there. What do you want to get out of digital marketing? Setting clear, measurable and achievable goals is a key part of your digital marketing strategy. Are you looking to generate online sales, create a source of targeted sales leads, improve your brand awareness among online communities, all of the above or perhaps something completely different? Your goals are the yardsticks against which you can measure the progress of your digital marketing campaigns.
Know how you’re doing: The beauty of digital marketing is that, compared to many forms of advertising, results are so much more measurable. You can track everything that happens online and compare your progress against predefined goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). How is your digital campaign progressing? Are certain digital channels delivering more traffic than others? Why is that? What about conversion rates? How much of that increased traffic results in tangible value to your business? Measure, tweak, refine, re-measure. Digital marketing is an ongoing and iterative process.
Don’t get too bogged down in the technical details – remember, digital marketing is about people communicating with other people; the technology is just the bit in the middle that helps it to happen. Your strategy should provide you with a framework.