How to do digital marketing strategy?

The scope of digital marketing strategy is widening and becoming increasingly pervasive, but the integration of a digital marketing strategy into business and marketing strategies often represent a significant challenge for many organisations. A possible explanation for this is because typically organisations have considered the internet in isolation and sometimes try to bolt in digital marketing initiatives to existing promotional campaigns. The Econsultancy (2008) research highlighted the challenges of digital marketing strategy. The research involved e-commerce managers at companies in markets where their products could be sold online, e.g. mobile phones (Orange, Carphone, Warehouse), travel (Tui and MyTravel), financial services (Lloyds, TSB and Brandford & Bingley) and direct marketers such as BCA. Respondents were asked what their main challenges were and these highlighted the issues of gaining sufficient resources for internet marketing. Challenges mentioned included:

  • gaining buy-in and budget consistent with audience media consumption and value generated
    conflicts of ownership and tensions between digital marketing team and other teams such as traditional marketing, IT, finance and senior management
  • coordination with different channels in conjunction with teams managing marketing programmes elsewhere in the business
  • managing and integrating customer information about characteristics and behaviours collected online
    achieving consistent reporting, review, analysis and follow-up actions of digital marketing results throughout the business
  • structuring the specialist digital team and integrating into the organisation by changing responsibilities elsewhere in the organisation
  • ‘time to make’ for implementation new functionality on a site
    insourcing vs outsourcing online marketing tactics, i.e. search, affiliate, email marketing, PR
  • staff recruitment and retention

Ultimately, it is important for organisations to integrate all of their strategic plans and it is important to clearly understand how and where the digital marketing strategy fits into the organisation’s overall corporate objectives. Planning hierarchy for an organisation, from a corporate or business plan which informs a marketing plan which in turn informs a communication plan and campaign briefs for different markets or brands is shown below. It suggests than an e-marketing plan may be useful to manage the ‘e-campaign components’, which refers to online communications tools such as online advertising or email marketing or continuous e-marketing activities which may be conducted throughout the year to achieve awareness or engagement on a website or social media presence e.g. affiliate, search engine or social media marketing.

Step 1. Annual business plan
Step 2. Annual marketing plan
Step 3. Annual communication plan
Campaign 1Campaign 2Campaign 3Campaign 4
E-campaign component 1..nE-campaign component 1..nE-campaign component 1..nE-campaign component 1..n
Continuous e-marketing activity - search, partners, e-mail marketing
E-marketing plan

You may be thinking that the marketer already has enough plans to deal with. Surely the practical approach for companies that are embracing digital marketing initiatives is to integrate e-marketing activities within their existing planning frameworks? But we believe that in many organisations, a distinct digital marketing plan is initially essential if the organisation is to effectively harness digital marketing. Since online channels are new, it is even more imperative to have clarity within the organisation. An e-marketing specialist can create a e-marketing plan to help inform and influence not only senior managers or directors and other non-marketing functions but also to achieve buy-in from fellow marketers.

The impact of digital in the marketing function has increased significantly in recent years and the Internet is no longer considered as “just another channel to market”. Furthermore, it is important for organisations to plan how to manage the strategic contribution of digital channels to business objectives. Failure to plan how to manage digital channels can lead to a number of problems:

  1. Customer demand for online services will be underestimated if this has not been researched and it is under-resourced, and no or unrealistic objectives are set to achieve online marketing share.
  2. Existing and start-up competitors will gain market share if insufficient resources are devoted to e-marketing and no clear strategies are defined.
  3. Duplication of resources can occur, e.g. different parts of the marketing organisation purchasing different tools or different agencies for performing similar online marketing tasks.
  4. Insufficient resource will be devoted to planning and executing e-marketing and there is likely to be lack of specific e-marketing skills, making it difficult to respond to competitive threats effectively.
  5. Insufficient customer data are collected online as part of relationship building and these data are not integrated well with existing systems.
  6. Efficiencies available through online marketing will be missed, e.g. lower communication costs and enhanced conversion rates in customer acquisition and retention campaigns.
  7. Opportunities for applying online marketing tools, such as search marketing or email marketing don’t have the right tools.
  8. Changes required to internal IT systems by different groups will not be prioritised accordingly.
  9. The results of online marketing are not tracked adequately on a detailed or high-level basis.
  10. Senior management support of e-marketing is inadequate to drive what often needs to be a major strategic initiative.

Chaffey, D. and Ellis-Chadwick, F., 2012. Digital marketing: strategy, implementation and practice (Vol. 5). Harlow: Pearson.

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