10 Reasons You Need A Digital Marketing Strategy In 2018

Using a digital plan to support a digital transformation

Where do you start if you want to develop a digital marketing strategy? Well, I don’t think it needs to be a huge report, a strategy can best be summarised in two or three sides of A4 in a table linking digital marketing strategies to SMART objectives. Yet despite this, it seems that many organisations still don’t have a plan.

Do you have a digital marketing strategy?

2018 Update: Since 2012 we have run an informal poll to see how widely used digital marketing strategies are. The results have shown some big improvements over the years. A few years ago we found around two-thirds to three-quarters did not have a digital marketing plan. Now that number has shrunk to 49% in latest survey, although that is still quite high, and means almost half are still doing digital with no strategy in place.

When we did the research for our free Managing Digital Marketing report we were interested to see how this percentage looked for a defined sample.

This is what we found in our survey about the level of digital marketing adoption:

Does your organization have a clearly defined digital marketing strategy?

Number of respondents: 604

So, our latest research suggests an improved approach to planning in this sample of marketers, with fewer than half without a digital strategy. Congratulations if you’re one of these companies!

A recommended approach for developing a digital marketing strategy

Whether you have a strategy or not, at the heart of the Smart Insights ‘Opportunity, Strategy, Action‘ approach to improving digital marketing, is benchmarking to compare where you are now to assess the potential against where you need to be in the future.

To help you get started, there are some benchmarking templates, as shown in the image below:


Aiming for integrated lifecycle marketing.

Take your digital marketing to the next level with this capability assesment. Use our visual checklist to audit how well your business or clients are exploiting their digital channels to identify and prioritise techniques to improve.

1. Initial2. Managed3. Defined4. Quantified5. Optimised
Creating a strategic roadmap.
No strategy. Unclear goal or prioritisation.Prioritised activities.
Goals not modelled or aligned. Martech adoption ad-hoc.
Multichannel marketing plan in place. Revenue based funnel acquisition model.Retention and LTV model.
90 day planning. Martech roadmap and structured evaluation.
Digital transformation implemented. Structured testing and optimisation programme.
Build awareness. Drive visits.
Limited ad hoc use of paid media. SEO not proactive.Search target keywords defined. Simple use of AdWords/online media.Structured approach to paid, owned and earned media to agreed targets.Programmatic. Regular improvements to media. New media review ad hoc.Media fully optimised based on attribution and evaluation of new options.
Experience, flow and content.
No insight on personas and customer journeys. Limited insight on sections.Footfall to different site sections and CTAs for lead generation and profiling.Content marketing and personalised journeys to encourage purchase.Personalisation optimised. AB testing of different site sections.Multivariate testing. High quality content marketing.
Build multichannel sales.
No paid remarketing.
Simple broadcast newsletter.
Initial media retargeting. Targeted newsletter. Simple welcome emails.Re-targeting optimised.
Welcome and abandon emails. Personalisation.
Segmented lifecycle emails, personalisation & paid media retargeting.Retargeting and personalisation optimised across touchpoints.
Customer loyalty and retention.
Limited experience research
Customer newsletter
No loyalty programme
Targeted newsletter. No personalisation.
Customer research informs site improvement. E-mail re-engagement.Loyalty programme. NPS. RFM-based email and personalisation.Retargeting and personalisation optimised across touchpoints.
Building emotional connection.
Basic brand identity but brand benefits not communicated.Brand values defined, but not clear on-site. Customer reviews.Online value prop defined
Blog and social media develop brand.
Brand personality and defects researched and acted on promptly.Fully integrated brand reputation management including PR.
Managing growth approach.
Analytics in place, not reviewed. Ad hoc performance reviews.analytics reviewed ad-hoc
Regular performance reviews. Skills lacking.
Dashboard for regular weekly performance reviews. Digital Skills.Value.based KPIs 90-day planning review.
Skills improvement.
Lifetime value KPIs
Structured defect reduction problem.
“Basic Lifecycle Marketing”“Improving Lifecycle marketing”“Planned Lifecycle marketing”“Managed Lifecycle marketing”“Optimised Lifecycle marketing”

But what if you’re one of the companies that don’t have a digital strategy yet? Well, I think the two simple alternatives for creating a plan may suggest a way forward:

  • Start with a separate digital marketing plan defining transformation needed and making the case for investment and changes to your digital marketing
  • Then, following approval, create an integrated digital plan which is part of the overall marketing plan – digital is fully aligned and becomes part of business as usual.

So, what are the takeaways to act on here? It seems to me that:

  • Using digital marketing without a strategic approach is still commonplace. I’m sure many of the companies in this category are using digital media effectively and they could certainly be getting great results from their search, email or social media marketing. But I’m equally sure that many are missing opportunities for better targeting or optimisation or are suffering from the other challenges I’ve listed below. Perhaps the problems below are greatest for larger organisations who most urgently need governance. There’s arguably less need for a strategy in a smaller company.
  • Many, a majority of companies in this research do take a strategic approach to digital.  From talking to companies, I find the creation of digital plans often occurs in two stages. First, a separate digital marketing plan is created. This is useful to get agreement and buy-in by showing the opportunities and problems and map out a path through setting goals and specific strategies for digital including how you integrated digital marketing into other business activities.Second, digital becomes integrated into marketing strategy, it’s a core activity, “business-as-usual”, but doesn’t warrant separate planning, except for the tactics.

If you don’t have a strategy, or maybe you want to review which business issues are important to include within a strategic review, we’ve set out the 10 most common problems, that in our experience arise if you don’t have a strategy.

10 reasons why you may need a digital channel strategy?

(Read them in the full SmartInsight article)

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