I'm going to start with a pretty big assumption: you know that you need to market your business online. You've read that online sales are expected to grow from $225 Billion in 2012 to $491 Billion in 2018.You are also aware that even when a purchase does not occur online that 81% of consumers research online before buying. "But Justin," you say, "those are e-commerce and B2C driven statistics. You've left out the fact that 78% of B2B buyers start their research with search!" And you are absolutely right! Again, we're all savvy business owners and operators so the question is not if we should invest in online marketing, it's how we invest. The majority of users will have their first impression of your business online, so make it count. Do it right and you will earn the new business you're looking for. Do it wrong and your competitors will be writing you thank you cards for driving customers away.
Step 1: Define Your Goals
This may seem like an obvious step, but you'd be surprised how often defining marketing goals is overlooked or taken for granted. Business owners assume that their marketing department knows what they want for their business. Marketing Executives think their agency understands their business goals because they were alluded to over a series of five separate e-mails/phone calls/meetings. Hindsight reveals these obvious disconnects, but I get it: when you are in the thick of a project, goals and objectives can get lost. It happens to the best of us. To avoid these disconnects, I focus on the SMART method for goal development. It ensures the goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
- Specific - Be specific with your marketing goals. Business owners are going to have the goal of growing their business/revenue/clientele etc... This is admirable and necessary for their business to succeed but it lacks the specificity needed to effectively market the company. Will the business grow through promotion of a new product line? Or acquiring international business? Or by expanding into new markets? Take the time to identify your specific objective.
- Measurable - You should be able to measure how your efforts are performing in relation to your goal. This will help you keep track of the progress made while the campaign is running, and will also help you determine how effective your marketing efforts are at the end of the day.
- Attainable - While everyone would love to have a site that drives millions of visitors a day, this is not possible for 99+% of site owners. While I applaud and encourage aggressive marketing goals, a healthy dose of reality will help you set the proper expectations and help you succeed in the long run.
- Relevant - A relevant goal will be appropriate for your business, industry and your target audience. For example, reaching 1000 views of your YouTube video tutorial by the end of the month may be specific, measurable, attainable and time-bound, but it's probably not relevant if your target demographic is 65+ years old.
- Time-bound - Setting a time-frame can help keep your efforts on track as there will be specific deadlines around your marketing strategy. Grounding your goal in a time-frame will also provide you with boundaries to accurately measure the success of your strategy.
Step 2: Identify Your Assets
The key to success in an online marketing campaign is having a bevy of tools at your disposal all working in harmony. You cannot maximize marketing results by relying on one channel. Even if your goal is to raise your social following, you need your website to promote your social properties, specific markup to make sharing easy and interactive, or an incentive/giveaway for those that choose to follow. Start by creating an inventory of the various assets that you have to support your online marketing campaign. This will be a mixture of digital assets, physical assets and manpower. Don't limit this list based on your specific goals. This list should be comprehensive and a resource that can be updated/re-used for future marketing efforts. Then evaluate each asset on a scale of 1 to 5 (5=I've got the best asset in town, 1=I sure hope that no one sees this...). This will help you identify opportunities for improvement as well as which assets are ready to promote your marketing initiative. There are numerous assets that may be at your disposal but here are a few examples and what you should be evaluating. Also consider getting a third party involved for some of the more subjective criteria. Website: This is the crux of any marketing campaign, let alone an online campaign. Make sure this is looked at with the most critical eye. Some things to consider during your evaluation:
- Is my site responsive? Mobile usage is spiking and sites with a poor experience on phones and tablets will suffer.
- Does my website appropriately represent my brand? You've worked hard to build a world-class business, does your website reflect that?
- Is my site setup to convert? Depending on your goals, is your set built to guide users to your desired outcome (form completion, e-mail, social share etc...)?
Blog: A blog can be a great way to develop fresh content that users in your industry and marketplace are looking for, but only if executed properly:
- Do you have a target audience in mind? You should have an understanding of who you are trying to speak to in order to develop appropriate blog topics.
- Does your content have value? Make sure you're developing content that there is demand for. An easy way to do that is talk to your sales or customer service team to brainstorm questions or concerns that customers have when buying your products/services. Then develop content to address those questions and concerns.
- Do you post frequently? There is no magic number for the frequency of blog posts, however a blog that is poorly maintained or ignored can hurt more than it helps. Choose a posting frequency that is both realistic for your team, and often enough to promote confidence in users.
Social Media: Like a blog, social media can be a great tool when utilized properly. It gives businesses the ability to engage with their customers and promote their content.
- Are you on the right social properties? There are many different social media outlets to choose from and not every one of them is right for your business. An understanding of your customers, industries and products can provide insights into where you need to be active and which media you can avoid.
- Have you optimized/branded your social accounts? Social media can be used to search through their database of users/companies/pages so optimizing your account with keywords can help users find you. Also, make sure that the account is an appropriate reflection of your company and brand. Use similar color schemes, logos, and value propositions to maintain consistency.
- Do you post frequently/appropriately? Each social media is different and has their own set of best practices. Take some time to learn about what those are before giving up on a social media channel.
Step 3: Create your plan
Now that you have your goals and an understanding of the assets at your disposal, the time has come to create your master marketing plan. When creating your plan, make sure that you are setting deadlines, timelines and expectations for the various marketing channels. With all of the variables and uncertainty that come along with a marketing campaign, this allows you to take a modicum of control over the strategy. It also helps when you go back to analyze the plan to understand its effectiveness.
Step 4: Execute!
This may sound like a no-brainer but you need to put the plan into action. It's easy to get lazy or overlook a part of the plan that you think is less valuable, but you took the time to develop an elaborate plan, now you need to see it in action. Remember: your plan may be a work in progress. There may be channels that perform really well and you may want to allocate more time and budget sacrificing underperforming parts of the plan. I would advise that you be flexible while also being patient. Some marketing efforts take time to build momentum and yield results. Pulling the trigger too quickly could cost you in the long run.