Your digital marketing plan: where to start & why it should never end

It’s virtually impossible to run a business entirely offline these days. And why would you want to? Email, the internet, social media all make running a business smoother, and in so many ways. But in other ways, they add a level of complexity which can become overwhelming without a robust digital marketing plan.

Digital marketing planning: why?

Many businesses operate multiple digital profiles, with a website, maybe a blog and one or more social media pages. They all require ongoing attention, and it’s not uncommon for business owners to find themselves managing these platforms reactively on a day to day basis, with little planning or strategy involved. Not only can this be incredibly time-consuming, but it is often ineffective and inefficient.

A digital marketing plan is a critical tool to help business owners manage their digital platforms and maximise their return on the time and money they invest online. But where should a business start when developing a digital marketing plan? It may seem logical to commence by planning a calendar of activities, but there are several steps to be taken at this point. Effective planning for digital marketing requires a lot of analysis. It may not be fun, but it is an essential component for success.

The initial analysis phase

A commonly used exercise in strategic management is a STEEPLE analysis (also known as a PEST or PESTLE analysis). Many businesses may already have conducted this when developing their overall marketing strategy, or even earlier during the business planning phase. A STEEPLE analysis involves reviewing socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental, political, legal and ethical factors which have the potential to impact the business. This type of analysis helps to identify threats and opportunities which digital marketing may help to mitigate or leverage.

Once completing a STEEPLE analysis, the business is halfway to a completed SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), which is another powerful analysis tool in the process of developing a digital marketing plan. SWOT has been around since Neanderthals first carved emojis in their cave walls, but its relevance has not declined in the slightest. Analysing the internal aspects of the business and identifying strengths and weaknesses will round out the SWOT. And it’s here where elements of the digital marketing plan will start to emerge: how can digital marketing be used to leverage the strengths and opportunities of the business? And how can it be used to mitigate the weaknesses and threats? The answers to these two questions will suggest actions for the implementation phase of the digital marketing plan.

Further analysis

That’s not the end of the analysis though. Target market analysis also needs to be completed to ensure a thorough understanding of current and potential customers: where they are, who they are and how they behave online. Without this information, any digital marketing activity could miss the target market entirely and waste valuable resources.

And then there is competitor analysis. A business needs to understand its competition if it is to achieve competitive advantage and win sales and market share. Competitor analysis should look at more than just rivals offering similar products. Businesses with substitute products or services could also pose a competitive threat, while indirect competition could take many different forms.

Once the analysis is complete, it’s time to revisit the goals of the business. Most businesses will have clear topline objectives, but it’s also important to set specific goals for each digital platform and each piece of content posted to it. Setting intentions in this way enable a business to measure whether each objective is achieving success at a defined point in the future. Without this step, it is doomed to repeat activities which have not delivered any tangible benefit and may even have cost the business in time or money. That’s right, doomed.

The audit phase

At this point in the planning process, it is worth completing an audit of every digital tool the business is using. This means examining the website, blogs, social media platforms, SEO performance, pay-per-click campaigns, email marketing, mobile apps, backlinks, online PR and any other digital presence the business may have. Information compiled from the target market and competitor analyses, combined with the results of this audit, will help to identify which platforms are achieving the best return on investment. Which are making their stated objectives; which are underutilised; which should be deactivated; and whether there are any platforms where the business currently does not have a presence, but should.

The planning phase

And now, finally, it’s time for developing the actual plan. This involves using all of the knowledge gathered throughout the various stages of analysis and making decisions about which digital tools and tactics to use, as well as when and how to use them, and how to integrate them with traditional marketing and communications activities. Now a calendar of activities can be developed, and operational efficiencies introduced through the use of automation tools. Simple, right?

The implementation phase

But the fun doesn’t stop there. Once developing and implementing the plan, an ongoing cycle of monitoring, measurement and adjustment is essential. Tools like Google Analytics and the insights available on social media platforms provide plenty of data to help with calculating the tangible and intangible returns on investment achieved. Because ultimately, understanding which platforms and activities are providing the most significant ROI is the key to investing time and money efficiently in digital marketing activities.

And now, for digital marketing success: repeat

It’s important to remember that in the continually and rapidly evolving digital world, social media platforms adjust and change their rules. New digital tools become available. Customers modify their behaviour. Competitors change their tactics. And so it’s essential that any digital marketing plan also evolves and adapts as the internal and external business environment changes. With this in mind, revisiting each aspect of the digital marketing planning process should be regular. Just like visiting the dentist, it may not be fun, but vigilance now may save a whole lot of pain in the future.