Everyone understands the value of a great strategy, right?
After all, every business person will at very least pay lip service to the idea that having a plan is pretty critical for success, whether in operations, branding or marketing.
But if we’re all being honest, the “strategy” part seems to have been overlooked for online marketing for a long time.
Take for example the statistic that just 39% of B2C businesses and 42% of B2B businesses have a documented content strategy in place. Instead, many jump straight to content production, publishing as much and as often as they can but without much of a framework to bring it all together.
Or consider how for years, SEO has been looked at like a group of tactics – a little link building here, some on-page optimization there, and poof – rankings, right? Well, in theory, anyways. Even new developments like Google+ Authorship tend to be looked at in terms of their immediate return (a little picture by your listing) instead of their long-term value (becoming a trusted publisher over time).
Even PPC hasn’t been exempt from this kind of ad hoc approach. Too often, businesses just choose the highest traffic keywords, set up their bids and hope for the best.
But maybe worst of all is that companies treat all the different online marketing channels as silos, each operating independently instead of combining to achieve a common, defined goal. Sometimes, the teams working on these different channels won’t even communicate with each other, creating enormous missed opportunities to share data and learn from the successes of the others.
It’s all a bit of a rat race, with parts moving in every direction. So, why has strategy been such an oversight for so many businesses?
It starts with perception.
For years, online marketing was pitched as a “silver bullet”; a cheap, fast and mostly technical undertaking that could yield big results without much sustained effort. Online marketing “packages” were sold – a one-size-fits all approach for a process that should have been custom tailored to the business being served.
Agencies also contributed to the idea of “Silos” by selling services separately instead of holistically, reporting on each different channel independently of the others. But as we approach 2014, the lines between channels are becoming increasingly blurred, feeding into and complimenting the activities of one another.
The perception of online as simple, push-button marketing is slowly changing as the web and digital marketing mature. Outside pressures are starting to force marketers to rethink their approach to the online medium, some of which include:
- Google algorithm updates have made it increasingly more difficult to succeed with tactics that were once quick wins. Now, success means catering to the user – and businesses are realizing they’ve never taken the time to define those users, their pain points or their buying cycle.
- PPC campaigns have become much more varied and complex with a dizzying array of potential extensions and options to exploit. While “just push play” is still an option, the sheer number of ways to spend your ad budget are giving businesses pause and making them question whether or not they’ve taken the best approach with their investment.
- The amount of content being published daily is skyrocketing, creating an avalanche of noise that sub-par content cannot break through. Companies that were outsourcing their content creation to the lowest bidder or guest blogging on shell websites for links are starting to see diminishing returns on their investment.
- The massive uptake of mobile (56% of the world’s population owns a smart phone, and there are more mobile devices on the planet than people) has forced businesses to reevaluate whether or not they are equipped to meet users on mobile platforms and highlighting the need for a multi-tiered approach to their online presence.
- More and more businesses have clued in to the potential of online marketing and are investing in it, creating a landscape far more competitive than in years past. The winners are really cleaning up, while the losers are further behind than ever before.
Only Fools Rush In…
Even as the processes become more involved, businesses are usually eager to get moving as quickly as possible. They want to see progress immediately and results yesterday.
This kind of “must-move-quickly” pressure can cause businesses to skip the most critical, foundational steps; the gritty but crucial jobs of research, planning and analyzing.
Slow Down. Think Critically. Action Carefully. Win big.
What’s missing for marketers in 2014 isn’t the ability to take action or the expertise to execute – it’s the time and effort invested in creating and documenting the underlying strategy before moving forward.
In 2014, I think we’re going to see this start to change – but mostly because it has to. Smart businesses will be the ones who don’t just pay lip service to strategy, but embrace it as an integral, mission-critical part of online marketing.
So what about your business?
Can you articulate your current strategy when asked? Do you know what’s working, what isn’t – and why? Have you taken the time to develop personas, map out buying cycles and plot out campaigns? Do you have a roadmap in place to guide how your budget is spent and rationale as to why your dollars are allocated the way they are?
If not, are you ready to change? If you are, 2014 could be your year – the year you helped strategy make a much-needed comeback.