Organizations can realize meaningful competitive advantage by developing formal digital strategies that support key corporate business and marketing objectives. By proactively designing, measuring and optimizing these digital strategies and programs, maximum return on dollars invested can be achieved.
Corporate investments on internet-oriented marketing and sales initiatives over the past 15 years have increased from virtually nothing in the mid-90s to millions of dollars annually at big companies. Today, digital activities run the gamut from multi-functional websites, search and email marketing, banner advertising, web-enabled multimedia, and, of course, social media.
This seismic increase in spending is not without good reason: digital marketing works – for new customer acquisition, lead generation, and brand building. However, given the speed at which the interactive marketplace has evolved, it should come as no surprise that many organizations now find themselves with sprawling, disjointed digital marketing operations that lack a central vision and useful measurement systems.
As a result, marketing and sales executives find themselves struggling to devise, measure, monitor and optimize the performance of these scatter shot interactive programs – which now have the full attention of the entire corporate leadership team. And subsequent digital strategy and budget planning discussions are often overly reactive and disorderly, lacking a structured framework and methodology to guide the process.
Old Methods Ineffective
We hear time and time again from frustrated clients, “The interactive world moves so fast – I constantly struggle to make sense of what we currently have going on while also planning for the future.” Though the same can be said about many functional areas of an organization, digital strategy is rife with unique challenges, due primarily to continued aggressive investment in the sector.
Business realities, however, necessitate regular planning – even in volatile environments characterized by perpetual uncertainty and constant change. Budgets need to be set, resources need to be allocated, and schedules need to be established. Digital operations that lack a meaningful framework for planning, execution, and measurement often exhibit the following symptoms:
- Misalignment. Top-performing digital strategies are integrated with marketing, sales, and operations; efficiencies are difficult to realize without a defined vision.
- Leakage. Weak measurement and optimization techniques inevitably result in under-performing interactive investments; and, reactive tactics are costly and fleeting.
- Missed Opportunities. Under-performing digital marketing teams aren’t able to identify changes in marketplace conditions in a timely manner and quickly capitalize on opportunities to take advantage of competitor missteps.
The Building Blocks of Digital Strategy
While the digital medium provides managers with a dizzying array of exciting new tools and techniques, it hasn’t fundamentally changed the way most organizations do business. As such, digital strategies need to be considered within the context of an organization’s top-line objectives.
Figure 1: The Building Blocks of Digital Strategy
The Digital Marketing Ecosystem
Meanwhile, the online marketing ecosystem – the nuts and bolts of interactive marketing – consists of a variety of dynamic components that have different roles at organizations, depending on myriad factors such as industry sector, product maturity, and the competitive landscape.
Figure 2: The Digital Marketing Ecosystem
The Planning Process
East Coast Catalyst relies on a multi-pronged approach to manage digital strategy engagements.
- Discovery. Establish a sound understanding of the organization’s underlying corporate strategies and personality, including: unique value proposition, industry nuances, target audiences, sources of competitive advantage, key performance indicators, offensive and defensive tactics, and sacred cows.
- Competitive Analysis. Evaluate the organization’s digital operations vis-à-vis the competitive landscape. Specify competitor strategies and spending levels. Identify relevant secondary research and conduct primary research. Determine industry best practices and applicable best-in-class tactics being employed in other sectors.
- Audit & Review. Canvass the organization to identify and capture digital strategies and tactics at work. Conduct expert reviews of online properties. Document cost and performance metrics (ROI) across the operation. Incorporate UX techniques as necessary. Establish a quantifiable baseline from which the operation can evolve.
- Recommendations. Deliver specific improvement concepts that can be employed to support corporate objectives and which can be measured. These can include: innovative techniques for deployment, refinements on existing tactics, initiatives that should be retired, integration opportunities, budget re-allocation, and organizational adjustments. Establish measurement frameworks, and digital goals and objectives.
Each phase of this methodology, while interdependent with the others, can be pursued in parallel in order to streamline the process and be completed quickly. Core tenets of this approach are a 360° perspective of the issues, the combination of quantitative and qualitative inputs, and specific recommendations that can be measured and optimized over time.
The Pursuit of Digital Success
Strategic planning activities are, of course, common practice throughout organizations – at the corporate, business unit, and functional levels. These initiatives yield roadmaps that govern investments, priorities, and organizational behavior. In consideration of ever-increasing interactive budgets, the time has come for digital strategy to be standard practice as well.
While digital ecosystems can be sprawling and seemingly unmanageable, the planning process doesn’t have to be. And the associated benefits can be game-changing. Among them: optimized return on interactive investments, alignment between marketing and sales, a clearly articulated digital vision, rejuvenated employee ranks, a compelling case for budget dollars, and, ultimately – meaningful competitive advantage.
Note: This paper was selected by Visibility Magazine as a Fall 2010 Article Tournament Winner and will be published in the Spring edition of the publication.
About East Coast Catalyst
East Coast Catalyst is a digital strategy management consulting firm that works with clients to develop innovative web strategies that drive new business and competitive advantage. Relying on a research-driven methodology to analyze performance and inform effective strategies – and an independent corporate structure devoid of conflict of interest concerns – East Coast Catalyst helps clients sell more products and services, capitalize on new opportunities, create sustainable advantage in evolving markets, and transform their businesses. For more information, contact Tim Bourgeois at [email protected] or 617-314-6400.