Developing a digital communications strategy
The digital landscape is continuing to evolve at an exponential rate. Many businesses know that digital and mobile channels provide great potential for customer retention and acquisition, but are not sure how best to use the channels available to them. Digital is now an integral part of everything we do, but like most things in life, those that have a plan of where they want to get to, are more likely to arrive in a timely manner.
Why do you need a digital strategy?
Figures from the Office for National Statistics demonstrate the growth in digital consumption and online behaviours (UK).
When it comes to making purchases, just over three-quarters of adults bought goods or services online, up from 53% in 2008.
Reading news, newspapers or magazines online has tripled in the past decade, from 20% of adults in 2007 to 64% in 2017.
While internet banking rose by 33 percentage points in the same period, with just over two-thirds of adults accessing banking online in 2017.
As you’d expect, the rise of the smartphone continues. Nearly three-quarters of adults accessed the internet ‘on the go’ using a mobile phone or smartphone, more than double the rate in 2011.
According to GlobalWebIndex on average over 30% of the total time spent by 16 - 64 year olds online is on Social Media. That’s an average of 2 hours and 15 minutes per day on social networks and messaging apps, and an increase of 45 minutes per day, per user from 2012.
This data clearly demonstrates just how important digital is when it comes to communicating with consumers and it doesn’t stop there. New technology is always emerging. Artificial Intelligence and the rise of chatbots is predicted to be one the most significant investments for brands in 2018.
The way people consume information has changed as a result of this ‘switched-on’ activity. Attention spans are getting shorter. People are on multiple channels receiving many messages from employers, brands and importantly from friends and family. They actively seek out recommendations and referrals from their peers, valuing those opinions over the marketing messages sent out by brands, no matter how large or small the purchase.
And so for brands it becomes more challenging to retain and acquire customers, particularly if competitors are engaging with their customers more effectively.
So where do you start? This can be the tricky part as developing a digital strategy can feel like a mammoth task and putting it off is often based on not knowing where to begin.
We favour a lean digital and adaptable plan that includes a short, mid and long-term view and there are lots of ways to break this down.
The short-term plan is ideally based on 90 day planning so that you can start implementation and see results quickly. The long-term plan should look ahead to five-year objectives. The real danger is taking no action at all, so making a start is a positive step forward.
To avoid procrastination, start mapping out the digital strategy and then, begin to integrate this into your wider marketing plan. A digital strategy should complement what you’re already doing and identify any gaps in the business that could be improved upon.
It’s a good idea to involve as many people in your company as possible in the development of your digital strategy to achieve a collaborative and transformative effect, so schedule a kick-off meeting with the wider team and start an open discussion.
Here are some of the key areas to get you underway:
What’s our vision?
What’s our purpose?
What are our values?
What makes us different?
Who are our audience?
What expertise do we have?
What data do we have?
What data/metrics do we want to get back?
Where are the gaps?
What do we need to do to address those?
Who is responsible for what?
Do we have the skills we need in-house?
Define your audience
This is quite possibly the most important aspect of a digital strategy but often the most overlooked.
There are a number of ways you can build up a picture of your audience. Surveys, focus groups, one-to-one interviews and previously collected behavioural data are all useful. In addition, at Hornbeam, we use social listening tools to see who’s talking about your brand or interacting with similar brands online (especially important if you are a new brand). Our tools look broadly at news, media and forums that bring in a greater range of insights, as well as social channels where customers are often talking freely about their experiences - both good and bad. This insight helps us to identify gaps in your service, or issues that you can positively address.
Once you have this information you can start to develop personas which can give you a more in-depth view of your audience groups, what motivates them and what content they engage with. By placing your audience at the heart of your strategy you can move forward with a customer centred focus which will drive results.
Choose your channels
Once you understand your audience and where they are likely to be you can start identifying the channels you should use. Knowing where your customers are spending most of their time enables you to streamline your resources to these channels and increase cost efficiency. There are a variety of channels that can form part of your digital strategy. Use this opportunity to audit existing activity and explore what has worked well.
Channels may include owned and earned media across;
Web ecosystem (core website - microsites, applications)
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
Social media platforms for internal and external use such as Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook Workplace
Search Engine Optimisation
Pay Per Click
Integrations/ Systems that will help to reduce administration
Your brand story
Once you have agreed your strategy and know what activity you want to put into action, it is important to consider your brand story and key messaging. Remember that attention spans are short and you have to demonstrate a brand story that is engaging.
If you don’t already have guidelines for brand and tone of voice, creating them will really help to outline how you want to communicate. This will help you to form a distinctive online identity and can help to create standout, build brand loyalty and drive action.
Benchmark and measure your activity
One of the reasons digital is such an effective marketing channel is because it’s measurable. You can constantly monitor how your brand is performing online and adjust your activities and strategy as it evolves. But as mentioned earlier, before you launch your strategy you need to know where it’s going. Create a list of short, medium and long-term S.M.A.R.T goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely). What do you want to achieve? What KPIs will you measure for success? Having a clear set of goals will help you to create a more focused and streamlined strategy and will lead to better results.
Ensure you benchmark your digital channels so you have something to refer to as your strategy progresses. It is easy to fall into the trap of focussing on the wrong metrics by, for example, looking at the number of followers but ignoring the quality of the followers and the engagement levels.
Set milestones and review them regularly too. Milestones can consist of a number of measurable KPIs. This will help you to identify what’s working and what isn’t. It could even demonstrate some barriers you need to overcome like resource issues or in-house skillset. Measuring and testing your digital activity is fundamental to success, enabling you to adapt and discover new ways of reaching more people online. After all, one of the most distinct advantages of digital is the potential to test, learn, adjust and repeat.
If you need help creating a digital strategy please get in touch with us.