“A “To Do” list does not a strategy make.”
At The Gray Dot Company, we don't use the word "strategy" lightly. We find that too many people use the word to mean a list of ideas or tactics that they think are generally a good idea.
This results in "strategies" that are not well thought out, not well executed, and generally not hitting goals.
Yes, sometimes spaghetti throwing works - or at least, some of the strands stick! - but for the most part, it's a waste of time and resources that could be better allocated, thus giving your business a better return, sooner.
So what is strategy exactly? The definition of strategy is "a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim." But if you don't know what your overall aim is, how the heck can you develop a good plan to hit it?
So many companies want to jump right to a digital strategy, or a channel-specific strategy (like SEO,) without actually defining what's important for their business or why.
Instead, we recommend starting with a solid business strategy that defines how & where you want to grow, save costs, etc. To do this, you need a strong understanding of your brand itself and clearly outlined KPIs (key performance indicators) across all your marketing channels - digital or otherwise. A SWOT analysis that outlines your competitive advantages is a clear starting point for your business plan.
Only then can you align digital or channel-specific initiatives against these goals and define the work that can help you achieve it.
To be clear, The Gray Dot Company does not provide business or brand strategy work. But we’ve seen enough good plans - and bad plans, and lack of any plan! - to know how critical this first step really is. We can make introductions to recommended strategic management vendors if this is a gap you need to fill.
The critical point here is that you can't build a good digital/channel strategy without a good foundation.
Define your needs/goals, so it's easy to align work with what you are aiming for. This also makes it easier to pivot your strategy/work if/when it's not meeting your needs.
Just as important as defining what you want to happen: defining the parameters for how you get there, and anything that's off-limits or not possible/desirable, regardless of the reason.
Common examples of assumptions / constraints:
Why does this matter?
I'm not going to go into too much into this point, mostly because it's so well covered elsewhere (you might have heard of Big Data?!)
Good data is critical to good decision making. Make sure you collect & utilize it when deciding the following:
Don't forget these obvious ones:
Within each channel, ensure that you think through all the major elements critical to that channel, and you know when & how to implement them.
Not every plan has to contain elements for all 3 (Why? Smaller sites are much less likely to need technical SEO and much more likely to require a good content strategy to get off the ground. Larger websites need both. Whether or not you need links depends on how you are doing on links vs. your digital competitors,) but you do need to consider all the elements so anything that's left out is purposeful and not accidental.
In all channels, make sure you define:
Additionally, it's important to consider who you'll reach through a particular channel & therefore how you'll utilize that channel.
A silly example: you aren't going to grow brand awareness via internal email (by definition, they already know who you are if they are signed up for your list!) but you could through advertising on the email lists of others.
Not all channels reach all of your customers at all the stages of the customer funnel. And they don't have to - so long as you have a good plan across channels.
What’s a customer funnel? “a consumer-focused marketing model that illustrates the theoretical customer journey toward the purchase of a good or service.” via Wikipedia. Something like this:
The customer funnel helps you meet customers/consumers/clients where they are, so you can thoughtfully help move them further along (as a part of your broader strategy.)
Consider creating a matrix that contains the following:
This work helps you ensure that a) you aren't forgetting critical funnel stages, and b) you have a plan for how to transition people deeper into the funnel, and across channels.
Depending on your business model (say, ecommerce or services based,) your strategy should have a clear path to purchase. That may include a merchandising plan, a marketing calendar, a lead generation & nurturing strategy, etc.
To state the obvious, a plan is only as good as how well it's carried out.
If you roll out new messaging and no one responds, or your customers respond with dislike... you don't keep going, right? A good strategy can & should frequently adapt based on results.
Updates should be ad hoc (for big, glaringly obvious results or lack thereof), or updated every 1-2 quarters, at minimum.