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How to Create a Holistic Digital Marketing Plan

The year is 2017 and for so many companies, spread across so many industries and continents, digital marketing is no longer a ‘nice to have’.

The lure of new technologies and the changing nature of the customer among countless other factors has steered digital investments into ‘must-have’ territory, but this is just the start of it. Forrester predicts US spend on digital marketing to hit $118 billion by 2021, with growth in a number of other key markets following a similar trajectory.

That’s still not all. According to Gartner, digital budgets are not wholly made up of spend detracted from outdated methods of marketing – rather, their importance is putting fresh funds into the hands of chief marketing officers (CMOs).

Traditional-minded marketers have been left shocked by the onset of disciplines like PPC, display and social media, which leaves them in a sticky situation when attempting to draft up a strategy for something they know little about.

Having a cohesive plan to support any digital effort is critical and here are the key steps that can make that happen:


  1. Go back to basics when developing a strategy


Strategic planning still occupies a huge part of any marketer’s job and they need to get it right to generate growth for their brand. The challenge is arguably even greater now in the digital age as technology and practices are fast evolving.

Gone are the days when a strategic plan would be set out, done and left for review only during the brand’s planning cycle. Agility is key, and while change is inevitable, strategic planning from the outset is still crucial in the digital age. You need a vision, goals, tactics, KPIs as well as budget to assess the effectiveness of a plan that can drive your company’s growth.

Contrary to popular belief, a robust digital marketing strategy is not about how many channels or buzzwords you can fit in there. I’ve seen people justify having a digital strategy because of the size of the budget allocated to online activities and the number of channels they could use. This seems completely illogical yet prevalent in more companies than you’d think.

The end goal is having digital initiatives that work in tandem with the rest of the marketing strategy, whatever that might contain. Unfortunately today’s companies are some way off this goal.

This year Smart Insights quizzed a number of organisations to see if they had integrated their digital efforts within their marketing strategy. The results were shocking, with half of the group claiming to have no plans for this, and many having digital siloed from the rest of the organisation.

How to Create a Holistic Digital Marketing Plan


With that in mind, let’s have a look at the components of a strong, digitally-driven marketing plan.

A marketing strategy, in general, has a long-term view to drive the company’s bottom line and help your business grow. When it comes to digital marketing – which is part of the overall picture – the objective should be to increase brand awareness and foster a sustainable and trusted relationship with your customers.

The strategic plan will help you to analyse where you are and where you are going. Such considerations need to happen even in the digital age.

A good plan also takes into account potential competition from inside or outside your chosen industry. The challenge with digital transformation is that future competitors can come from everywhere.

Look at Airbnb and how it took a swipe at the hotel market. If you’d asked big-name hotel chains like Hilton or Marriot about who posed the biggest threat to them in 2011, they’d have probably listed one of their known rivals. The likes of Expedia and HomeAway would have been wary of ‘challenger’ apps disrupting their business, but few would have envisaged what was about to happen.

CB Insights’ view of the growth in valuations says it all.


How to Create a Holistic Digital Marketing Plan

In 2011 Airbnb was worth $1 billion dollars. Fast-forward to 2017 and Airbnb posts a worth of $31 billion after ‘disrupting’ the hospitality industry. Hilton Hotels, established precisely 100 years ago, is currently worth $23.6 billion.

Thus, a good marketing plan takes into account threats from outside the industry.

Finally, it needs an eye on the customer. The customer should ensure the lifeblood of any strategic marketing plan, as their reaction will effectively make or break it. Brands should focus on experiences that matter and approaches that ring true with their desired audience.


  1. Goals and objectives


Setting goals and objectives is imperative to a strong digital marketing plan. Without these, how is the author ever to know how well it performed?

Unlike the plan itself, there is no need to reassess these aims and objectives often to ensure they are aligned with the business, unless the company itself has undergone radical change.

The most important factor is whether they are providing value to your customers. If you want to, for example, get sign-ups for a new mobile app, you have to be sure that your customer will want it and your company is right to offer it. Otherwise your downloads will be low and its impact on the bottom line will be limited.

Overall your goals need to be achievable and realistic, but ambitious enough to make a difference.


  1. Create tactics


Here’s where we get a bit sympathetic of our current situation.

Marketers are often so busy juggling projects, implementing new technology and hiring new staff that their managers will push for a tactic which does not align with the brand’s strategy. Rather than looking into things like customer surveys, data and other signs of the right route to take, they rely on that same gut instinct that would have helped them some 15 years ago but won’t cut it today. Look back to Smart Insights’ study if you don’t believe so.

Producing initiatives that are aligned with a strategy is as important as the strategic plan itself. These must set the direction for the company and give the plan the best chance of succeeding.

Remember, simply investing in online activities will not fix the business’s problems; the only way to succeed is to have an integrated and holistic plan, which makes sense for the company at hand.

It’s important to assess the company’s digital maturity before choosing these initiatives, as things like investing huge amounts into technology that’s used by junior members of staff can only have one outcome – a bad one. The road to holistic digital marketing is long and winding – sometimes, small steps need to come before the giant leaps.

Furthermore, we stress the importance of having the right resources used for the appropriate area, which is a tactic in itself. Companies who are championed in the digital environment are now changing their business model to have all functions working together. If you look to hire a digital agency in today’s market, seldom will they not preach about the efforts they’ve undergone to become a more ‘connected’ enterprise, where departments work without silos.

The single customer view is a huge ambition for companies at the minute. To achieve as much, the company must perform as one.


  1. Measure and monitor


Finally, after setting the plan, aligning the goals and selecting the tactics for making it all happen, you must monitor how you’re performing on a regular basis. For this, data is key.

While smaller companies like start-ups may struggle to justify the sizeable investment required for something like a customer relationship management tool or a trained analyst to manage it, big companies are snapping up technology that allows them to measure, track and optimise their marketing performance on a daily basis.

For a good view of how important data really is to the larger enterprise, take to Allocadia’s study from this year, conducted on companies earning between $2.5 million and $2.5 billion in annual revenue. The graph below shows the majority of these groups having a CRM system to manage their customer’s data, with dedicated performance management and business intelligence tools also proving popular.

How to Create a Holistic Digital Marketing Plan

New and important data can be available daily in the digital environment and that’s why it pays to develop a system which tracks it.

This derives from a well-designed ‘customer journey’ that provides marketing teams with unique insights about each person’s behaviour. The insight gleaned from this will inform the business’s decision-making and redesign the customer’s journey to ensure their experience is enhanced.

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