Digital marketing strategy is no different from any other marketing plan, it provides the overall strategic direction, focus, goals, prioritization, and resource allocation. Although a separate digital plan is needed to help create a strategy, it’s also important to integrate and align all other marketing communication plans i.e. social media plan, content marketing plan, email marketing plan to the overall business objectives. Interestingly in 2020, 45% of companies who are doing digital marketing, had no clearly defined strategy1Chaffey, D. (2020. "10 reasons you need a digital marketing strategy in 2020” [Online]. Available: https://www.smartinsights.com/digital-marketing-strategy/digital-strategy-development/10-reasons-for-digital-marketing-strategy/ [Accessed 1 June 2020]. . Similarly, a buyer persona plan needs to be built around customer insights and needs, in conjunction with the digital marketing strategy and not around products and tactics first.
Knowing where to start is often the hardest part when writing a digital marketing strategy and a buyer persona. Therefore, this document will provide the required steps and frameworks to create such strategies.
How to structure a digital marketing strategy and what it should include?
By creating an effective digital marketing strategy, it will help you to make the right strategic and tactical decisions. A strategy process model provides the framework, which in turn gives a logical sequence to follow, to ensure that all key activities and tactics are implemented.
The first step is to define how to manage and create that strategy:
- It should provide clear strategic directions to achieve the business objectives.
- Particularly important for digital marketing, it also has a clear vision to achieve the objective for the future.
- Be able to track and review the strategy, to keep it on track.
- What is happening in the current marketplace i.e. competitors, potential partners, and influencers.
To make sure that the digital marketing strategy has all these features, this is where the SOSTAC planning model comes in, which will provide a clear structure, a planning process framework, and will make the implementation of a digital plan easier. Furthermore, more importantly, the SOSTAC framework is very easy to use.
The planning elements of SOSTAC helps develop the digital marketing strategy:
- Situation Analysis means ‘where are you now’? The first step is to perform a SWOT analysis specifically for digital marketing, which reviews the different micro-environments including competitors, customers, intermediaries, and the marketplace.
- Objectives mean ‘where do you want to be’? This can be the vision for digital channels as well as financial objectives such as sales volumes and cost savings.
- Strategy means ‘how do you get there?’ Summarizes how the objectives are going to be achieved for the different decision points.
- Tactics define which digital communication tools are going to be used, as well as, details of the marketing mix and E-CRM.
- Actions or implementation – putting the plan to work.
- Control means measurement, monitoring, reviewing, updating, and modifying to keep the plans on track against targets.
FIGURE 1 – BASIC VISUAL OF THE SOSTAC MODEL Source: Binary Knowledge Center - SOSTAC model of marketing planning Available: https://binaryic.com/knowledge-center/sostac-model-of-marketing-planning/ [Accessed 25 May 2020]
FIGURE 2 – HOW SOSTAC PLAN IS STRUCTURED Source: Binary Knowledge Center - SOSTAC model of marketing planning Available: https://binaryic.com/knowledge-center/sostac-model-of-marketing-planning/ [Accessed 25 May 2020]
Actual steps to take in creating a digital marketing strategy with the SOSTAC planning model
Step 1 – Situation analysis – reviewing marketplace, customers, competitors, and intermediary communication channels
The online marketplace where you will compete for engagement and commerce will be shaped by the customers’ needs and how services are provided to them by also competitors, intermediaries, and influencers. While you may have an idea of what their traditional audience and marketplace may be, it may not actually know its online marketplace. This can be quite different in terms of customer behaviour and needs, influencers, and competitors for interactions, customer journeys, and sales. The online marketplace is constantly evolving and can become less familiar; therefore, it needs to be reviewed before entering the market.
The first step in this process is always to review the customers, their characteristics, behaviours, needs, and wants. Also, a buyer persona should be developed on the ideal customer you are trying to target, with characteristics summarized in an in-depth development plan. Furthermore, focusing on the needs and trends and what exactly is growing in the online marketplace will also be very useful. Not to mention, one of the most important aspects in the crystal niche market is to review the competitors and benchmark the customer personas that will be created, as well as, benchmark the competitors’ digital communication channels. Another key thing to remember is to review the different types of intermediary communication channels a potential customer may use to influence its buying decision. A simple SWOT framework (see figure 3) can summarize the analysis findings and link it to the overall digital marketing strategy.
FIGURE 3 – Most Popular Decision-Making Frameworks Among Project Managers
Source: Software Advice - Most Popular Decision-Making Frameworks Among Project Managers Available: https://www.softwareadvice.com/resources/decision-making-framework/ [Accessed 25 May 2020]
Step 2 – Objectives – Where do you want to be in the future?
What do you want to achieve once it enters the market? What specific digital communication channel objectives to set, in order to reach the eCommerce goals? What would you like to achieve in the future in terms of sales and costs? just some of the probable objectives. Asking how, why, and what is key.
If an organization does not know where they are going, when/how they will get there, it won’t know it’s progress on the journey and won’t be able to adjust when things go astray. The best way to define these concrete goals is to create a SMART measurement framework (see figure 4).
FIGURE 4 – How to define SMART marketing objectives
Source: Smart Insights - How to define SMART marketing objectives Available: https://www.smartinsights.com/goal-setting-evaluation/goals-kpis/define-smart-marketing-objectives/[Accessed 25 May 2020]
Step 3 – Strategy – Summarizes how the objective will be achieved
The strategy does not need to be very detailed, as this is merely used to summarize how the objectives will be achieved for the different decision points. It will provide a quick overview of how to achieve the mission.
A quick overview example of a strategy would be:
“By using social media regularly, it will increase the appeal of (company) brand to attract potential customers. The social media posts will be high-quality pictures of personalized (products) to showcase the different designs. The social media strategy will help to tap into new customers, learn about the audience/target consumer and increase sales, and leads for the business”.
Step 4 – Tactics – Details of the actual plan are defined
The element of tactics ties in with the strategy, as this is where the details of the actual plan are defined. These specific actions and communication tools outline what moves need to be made to carry on the defined strategy. For instance, “Social media will be used once a day” is a poor example of defining the actual communication tools and actions. However, “Instagram will be used to showcase the high-quality pictures of personalized (products), posted at least once every day at 10 am”, which describes the exact communication tool to be used, as well as the time to use it and the frequency to post them.
This element should be looked at possibly towards the end, as a buyer persona needs to be created first so that tactics can be built around the digital marketing strategy and buyer persona in conjunction.
Step 5 – Action or implementation – putting the plan to work
This is the stage where the tasks, roles, and responsibilities will be assigned to the individuals in the organization.
Step 6 – Control – measuring, monitoring, reviewing and updating the plans
This is the stage where it will be stated how the measurement and monitoring of the output and results of campaigns will be done. This could include tools such as Google Analytics – which can be a powerful measuring tool to report on e-commerce sales. Also, it should be stated how often results will be analyzed so campaigns can be adjusted accordingly.
To also help develop digital tactics in the digital marketing strategy, another methodology can be used in conjunction with SOSTAC, called RACE (see figure 5 ).
FIGURE 5 – Introducing RACE: a practical framework to improve your digital marketing
Source: Smart Insights - Introducing RACE: a practical framework to improve your digital marketing Available: https://www.smartinsights.com/goal-setting-evaluation/goals-kpis/define-smart-marketing-objectives/[Accessed 25 May 2020]
What are buyer personas and how can they help you?
Once most of the digital marketing strategy has been defined through the SOSTAC model (perhaps leaving the ‘Tactics’ last to accommodate buyer personas), it is time to create the buyer persona which needs to be built around customer insights and needs, in conjunction with the digital marketing strategy.
What is a buyer persona? In a nutshell, buyer personas are fictional, generalized characters that build a picture of the ideal customers you wish to target. They usually encompass not only demographic information like age, location, and income but also psychographic information like interests, reasons for buying, and concerns. Tony Zambito, who created the first buyer insight and buyer persona development methodology in 2002 defines it as:
FIGURE 6 – DEFINITION BY TONY ZAMBITO ON WHAT IS A BUYER PERSONA
Source: Tony Zambito - What is a buyer persona? Why the original definition still matters to B2B Available: http://tonyzambito.com/buyer-persona-original-definition-matters/ [Accessed 25 May 2020]
Furthermore, by creating these buyer personas, you will have the ability to tailor the marketing campaigns and connect with the right target audience, thereby, meeting their needs and solving their problems. They are useful for developing and evaluating the content, offers, and messaging that can differentiate your brand from competitors. They are the foundation for any organization that relies on conversion, retention, and customer acquisition. According to a study by Rob Petersen, three to four buyer personas usually account for over 90% of a company’s sales2Petersen, R. (2014). "31 business-building benefits of Buyer Personas” [Online]. Available: https://www.businessesgrow.com/2014/02/12/31-business-building-benefits-buyer-personas/ [Accessed 21 May 2020]. .
Actual Steps to take for buyer persona development
When it comes to framing buyer personas, marketers still play the ‘guessing game’. By having only, a vague idea about the buyer, the right marketing messages are not presented to the ideal customers. To overcome this marketing problem, the following steps will map out buyer personas for your brand, which will help to understand the ideal customers better and create marketing messages that are tuned for conversions.
Step 1 – What to do without clients?
If your company is a start-up without an existing client base, thorough research is needed on the potential customers that should be targeted. Furthermore, you should avoid making guesses and assumptions when creating the buyer persona framework in the long run. Forming an idea of what the buyer personas are and once your brand establishes an existing clientele, it needs to find out as much about them as possible, and work hard to really understand their needs and challenges. As the development of buyer personas moves forward, those assumptions and guesses should be replaced with real-life researched examples.
A good way to start the process is to reach out to people/non-competing businesses in the same niche network as you, who may be aiming at a similar audience. Forming mutually beneficial relationships with other businesses who aren’t in direct competition but who want to target similar buyers, can be very beneficial in many ways.
Step 2 – What information is needed for defining personas?
Before the research begins, it’s important to set some guidelines for exactly what information is needed. The best way to come up with some criteria for researching the audience is to start with the end in mind, otherwise, it is very easy to get lost in the complexity. Keeping in mind that there will be a lot of information collected in the research process, so getting clear about what it is that is needed is very important.
There will be a few assumptions at this stage, for example, there will be predictions on broad groups that you may typify as your customer. There is nothing to worry about, as there will be work towards either validating or debunking these assumptions throughout the research process. Furthermore, one needs to keep in mind that most businesses will have multiple buyer personas, so some assumptions will happen before the actual fact-based evidence has been researched.
Step 3 – Research
Now that the information has been decided that will be gathered about the ideal customers, it’s time to do the research. There are three different types of information that can help; by asking internal stakeholders, conducting secondary research, and finally, going straight to the potential customers.
Interviewing the freelance or other internal stakeholders may help gain an insight into the potential customers that you should be targeting, which in turn helps to create the first buyer personas.
Once all the internal stakeholders have been exhausted, it’s also time to gather some hard evidence that will invalidate the pre-assumptions/guesses about your ideal customer.
Secondary information is a great way to get started in gathering more accurate data to build a buyer persona. This information can also act as a great support mechanism for primary research results.
So where can one find secondary information about the ideal audience? Here are some examples of places to look:
- Industry reports and surveys (preferably conducted in the last couple of years).
- Social media trends, chats and discussions.
- Blog comments from popular sites on crystal gifts/crystals.
- Product and user reviews from potential customers (Amazon product reviews are a great example).
- Keyword data and analytics related to popular sites in the crystal industry (Google Analytics, Moz and
SEMrush can help with this type of information).
If the content is user-generated – such as a comment or a review – exact language needs to be used. These insights will help to better understand the customers and shape the personas.
The real validation and insight come when the middleman is cut out and talking directly at the potential customers. It is important that internal stakeholders and secondary research is carried out before any primary research is conducted, as that will shape the way potential customers are to be approached for more information.
At this stage, a robust understanding of the potential customers is starting to take shape, while you should continually challenge assumptions and refine the data accordingly over time. Once the research is completed, the results need to be narrowed down, by finding the most common answers received from customers and subscribers. Then, a thorough analysis needs to be carried out on the researched data to determine the most important details that’ll affect how you will communicate with its new audience.
An example of the starter questions that could be asked for the primary stage of the research:
FIGURE 7 –EXAMPLE OF BUYER PERSONA STARTER QUESTIONS
Source: Social media today - What is a 'Buyer Persona' and Why is it Important?
Available: https://www.socialmediatoday.com/news/what-is-a-buyer-persona-and-why-is-it-important/507404/ [Accessed 27 AMay 2020]
Step 4 – Completing the buyer persona template
Now that all the information needed has been gathered and analyzed through research, completing the buyer persona template would be the next step. Moreover, there may be a few different potential personas that have been developed during the research process. However, the general rule should be to keep the personas to no more than 2 to 5 as it may over complicate things.
There are many different styles of templates for creating buyer personas, but ultimately, it should focus on some basics like demographics, their goals and challenges, values, and fears, elevator pitch, what type of work they do, and how best to speak to them through what marketing messages. Below are examples of non-completed and completed persona templates:
FIGURE 8 – EXAMPLE OF A BASIC BUYER PERSONA TEMPLATE
Source: Buffer App - The Complete, Actionable Guide to Marketing Personas
Available: https://blog.bufferapp.com/marketing-personas-beginners-guide [Accessed 25 April 2018]
FIGURE 9 – EXAMPLE OF A COMPLETED BUYER PERSONA TEMPLATE
Source: Buffer App - The Complete, Actionable Guide to Marketing Personas
Available: https://blog.bufferapp.com/marketing-personas-beginners-guide [Accessed 29 April 2018]
Step 5 – How to effectively use the completed buyer personas
With all the buyer personas defined, it will provide a much better idea of who, how, and where you should be marketing to achieve the greatest level of success. The demographic information of each persona will help target the ads more effectively, and the psycho-graphic information can help write more engaging marketing message for each persona.
Developing and deploying informative content through content marketing
Once the strategy has been defined and the buyer personas have been created for you, it is time to develop informative content based on the researched personas. This will allow us to target the specific audiences for whom the content will be created, what their needs are, and what their content engagement cycle might look like.
Alternatively, informative content can be developed and deployed through a strategic marketing approach called ‘Content Marketing’. The Content Marketing Institute defines it as:
FIGURE 10 – DEFINITION OF CONTENT MARKETING
Source: Content Marketing Institute - What Is Content Marketing?
Available: http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/what-is-content-marketing/ [Accessed 25 May 2020]
Content can be presented in a variety of formats, including blog posts, news, videos, white papers, infographics, case studies, how-to guides, photos, and so forth. By taking the content marketing approach, which does take time, an effective content strategy and plan of action should be created for the future.
Paid advertising for an effective digital marketing strategy
By creating an effective digital marketing strategy, buyer persona, implementing content marketing, one should not forget paid advertising to support these marketing mechanisms. Gaining quick exposure is vital for building up a strong customer base for your business, recommended advertising tactic would be pay per click (PPC) model, through Google AdWords. If done right, it will drive more traffic, achieve more brand visibility, and make more sales in a shorter period, than purely relying on organic marketing results. There are other advertisement tactics, including social network ads, banners, mobile marketing, videos, and email marketing to name a few. It can become expensive if a specific paid advertising strategy and tactics are not developed beforehand to take considerable risks and opportunities into account.
Successful digital marketing requires a multifaceted approach including the creation of a long-term strategy and tactics plan, as well as, defined buyer personas to better understand the ideal customers to target. In addition to complementing these marketing approaches and mechanisms, using content marketing and paid advertisements should be an important part of the whole digital marketing strategy. It requires patience and observation to see results, but it is a sound investment over time.