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6 steps to an effective B2B digital marketing strategy

by Richard Willner, Head of Strategy
22nd Jun 2015 - 12 min read

The online environment is a continuous shift of updates and next-big-things, so how do you avoid feeling like you’re always playing catch-up? Focus on your digital strategy.

Content in your marketing managerial position, your world is one day turned upside down when your boss utters the words: “We need to get serious about the internet”. Suddenly, merely having a website and adding the odd press release to your blog (last updated 12 months previous when you uploaded the identical press release from last year’s event) isn’t enough. Hell, you might even need to do something with that spreadsheet full of email addresses, saved somewhere on your desktop.

It’s time for a new challenge, one which is going to test you at every turn and have you regularly questioning your own decisions. But any marketing manager worth their salt will view that experience positively. This is the chance for a new test; a fresh opportunity to shine.

But where to begin? The danger – and the digital marketing graveyard is littered with such campaign corpses – is that you rush headfirst into something which fails to bring the riches you were seeking: seduced by SEO, allured by Adwords, captivated by content marketing. They’re all hugely powerful, but only if they’re done for the right reasons, in the right environment.

You might even think that your niche product or service is too dull, technical or simply isn’t right for online marketing.

Whether you’re unsure of what to do first or how to make progress, following these six steps will help you put in place the right plans in order for your campaign to be as solid as possible.

Step one: Set objectives

It sounds obvious – and you’d be surprised at how many companies fall at this very first hurdle – but you need to decide what you want to achieve through your digital marketing.

And I implore you not to think of your objective as ‘Be in first position on Google for x’. It is a mistake so commonly made, and has the real danger of crippling your campaign. Of course, that prime position has a significant amount of value, but it is a means to an end.

If you’re a SME, competing with some big boys, you may never place first for a generic term relating to your industry. Or, the only way to do so is to blow the next 10 years’ worth of marketing budget. Organic search rankings may well be a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) of how the campaign is going, but at this stage you need to be thinking about the end goal; not how to get there.

Think about what digital marketing success would look like and set appropriate objectives. Are you looking to increase online sales? If you don’t sell online, is the objective to increase lead generation? If your business has a healthy offline presence but is only on the beginning of the online journey, is the objective to increase brand awareness? Are you seeking to increase your profit margin?

Takeaway: Align your digital marketing with the goals of your business. Don’t get hung up on detail at this first stage.

Step two: Evaluate your position

This will take time, but is essential if you want to make the right decisions for your business. Auditing your digital assets, including website, email service and database, Adwords account and social media accounts, will give you a comprehensive picture of what you have to offer your online customer.

To properly analyse your website, you’ll need a solid understanding of Google Analytics in order to understand your audience’s behaviour. Google Analytics is what you make it: top-line stats give you a broad benchmark, but the problem-solving fun begins when you deep-dive for channel analysis, detailed user journeys and content performance.

Google Analytics, or an equivalent such as Adobe Analytics, is going to be key to your ongoing campaign, and you may well choose to get in some out-of-house support to assist you here. When you first sign in, it can be daunting, but because it works on a number of levels, it will always be useful. A good place to begin your training is with Google’s own training programme.

One of the key benefits is that it will remove the gut feeling aspect of your activity – and it will lead you away from the individual response that is: “I use the internet in this way so that must be the same for every one of my customers.” Which would you rather base your decisions on? One person’s experience or the experience of those visiting your digital store?

A data audit such as this will provide you with invaluable grounding from which to build a campaign. Associated audits on the content, messaging and branding on your digital assets, including social media and email, the technical SEO elements of your website and any online advertising accounts you own are also essential.

But don’t stop there.

Presumably, you will have a list of competitors; those seeking to usurp you or who hold higher ground. Audit their online assets with a critical, but fair, eye.

What is their website like? Is it easy to reach and complete their contact form, to find their contact details, to do what they want you to do? Appraise their social media efforts, sign up to their email newsletters, and set up Google Alerts to gain an understanding of their PR efforts.

Run a rankings search. To give you a more accurate, non-personalised result, log out of your Google accounts, open an Incognito tab in Google Chrome and type in a key phrase connected to your industry. Which of your competitors is performing well, in paid-for and organic search listings? How do their listing descriptions read? Which one would make you click through to their site?

This audit phase of work is time-consuming but it is so worth it. Not only will you come out the other side armed with a bunch of documents on which to build your campaign but you will gain a sense of your industry landscape from an entirely new angle.

This section is by far the longest section of this article – and for a good reason. Analysis of this depth is so powerful and rewarding. Would you ever consider manufacturing a product or taking a new service to market without any kind of research? Could your business survive on such a strategy? Then why should your digital marketing?

Takeaway: To become a great digital marketer, you need to be able to manipulate Google Analytics. Learn it, love it, live it.

Step three: What are your options?

Before you set off on building a strategy, based on your research, you’ll want to consider your options. With this in mind, it is worth simply listing the digital services available. A spreadsheet is ideal so you can update as necessary. This one, on Smart Insights, is a decent start although it should be adapted to your situation.

This will give you an at-a-glance checklist of what your options are and what resources you’ll need. For example, if you’re looking to build awareness for your business or product then YouTube advertising is an option – but you’ll need a video produced; if you’re happy with traffic levels but need them to convert at a higher rate then you should run some Conversion Rate Optimisation activity, incorporating software such as Optimizely – but you’ll need to identify conversion hurdles, generate a hypothesis of why the problem exists and run some A/B testing to try a new page layout or sales message.

The spreadsheet can be updated to answer ongoing questions: How do the channels fit within your budget? What support will you need? Will you be looking at new hires? Will you need to use an outside agency?

Takeaway: Compile a list of services and channels in a shared spreadsheet.

Step four: Create a strategy

The fun part; where the problem-solving begins. Objectives set, analysis conducted and options known, it is time to produce a plan for your business’ digital marketing.

While you could go crazy and produce a plan containing a number of services, and using a plethora of channels, strategy creation is about prioritising, and is why the audit phase is crucial.

You know what you need to achieve and the analysis will not only have highlighted the barriers to achieving your goals, but will hopefully have indicated how high those barriers measure in order to fully appreciate opportunities. This will ensure that you are able to set realistic targets, for chosen lengths of time eg 1 year, 3 years and 5 years.

Realistically, you can only begin to consider targets at this point, unless your budget pockets are bottomless.

Your strategy should be a roadmap for how you’re going to reach your long-term goals. Here’s an example:

Objective: Increase sales by 10% within 12 months.

Current situation: Very little visibility in organic search rankings, small amount of media spend on brand terms in Adwords, a website which isn’t optimised for mobile, Facebook and Twitter accounts with little audience and no engagement.

Gaining visibility in organic search is needed but will take time; the Adwords activity would benefit from expansion but some industry terms are expensive; Google Analytics shows that the amount of traffic coming from tablets and smartphones is increasing but isn’t converting; and Facebook and Twitter might be useful long-term but this can’t be considered priority.

Strategy: Short-term, you’ll want to consider an expanded Adwords account while keeping a close eye on Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) and explore optimising your current site or even building a new site in order to capitalise on the rise in mobile traffic. You’ll probably want to look at organic search visibility in the second half of the year, knowing that this activity is for the long-term. Social media activity can be quite time-consuming and the value just isn’t there at the moment.

Planning: The next step is to consider how a 12-month plan might look. Break this down into manageable periods – three months, for example – so that tactical planning is easier.

Your first three months might then involve Adwords account improvements with new terms being tested through the year, a new optimised site built could be pencilled in over the first six months, an on-site content section built and ideas generated in period three and content produced in period four.

It is also prudent to mention that when it comes to your content – just as with a niche product – there is always the opportunity to excite and inspire. Too often in the B2B sector, businesses fall into the trap of thinking that what could be perceived as a ‘dull but worthy’ product means dull content. That certainly does not have to be the case.

Approaching your content with an eye on the benefits that your B2B product bring can often lead down a more enticing content path. I often look at makers of security alarm systems. They sell themselves as offering peace of mind so that business or home owners can get on with the important things in their lives; they don’t sell the fact that their alarms make a hell of a lot of noise.

Takeaway: Produce your strategy with your chief exec in mind. They’ll want a top-line view of the plan and how you’re going to execute it. They will not appreciate being expected to read a 100-page document containing a full breakdown of all tactical details.

Step five: Set a budget

While on the subject of your chief executive, you’re going to need to provide them with numbers. How much is this going to cost?

Include it all – internal costs, staff time, media spend, agencies. The total’s unlikely to be a small number, but you’ve done your extensive research and plan: there are strong reasons for what you’re recommending. A budget argument based on evidence is going to hold much more sway than on gut feel.

Takeaway: Create three tiers of budgets and set expectations. For example, minimum spend will update and optimise key pages on your old website, while maximum spend will provide a modern and fully-optimised site.

Step six: Targets and KPIs

Set ambitious targets, but remember that they are just targets. They’re where you would ideally want to get to, if everything goes well.

Ideally, you’ll want to set overall targets as well as some against your tactical activity. For example, you might want to set a target for Adwords of 100 fresh leads per month but you want to retain your Return on Ad Spend.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are how you’ll be monitoring progress against those targets. For example, if you want to increase the amount of organic traffic sent to your site then rankings for search terms would be a KPI.

Takeaway: Align targets with your budget tiers to set realistic expectations.

The world of digital marketing can be a daunting place, but following the steps outlined here will make your task more manageable.

And you’ll learn a lot about your business and your industry along the way.

Want to be more strategic? Read our article: The simple way to create a strategic digital marketing plan.

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