When you're an entrepreneur, you've gotta think smart to get the biggest bang for every buck.
And when every tactical decision counts, the best place to start is at the foundation. With a winning strategy. A solid digital marketing plan.
Not many of us exactly jump for joy at the prospect of planning, but it's a critical first step toward success. And it doesn't have to be a painful ordeal. There are really just a handful of key questions to answer:
On Customers and Company...
#1: Who Is My Ideal Customer?
One really important part of modern marketing is that it is customer-centric. The very first step of every single marketing decision you'll ever make should be to put on your thinking cap and view the question from your customer's perspective. Clarity around your customers can make up for quite a few missteps- and even for a low budget!
So know your customers! Intimately.
- What do they value?
- What gets them excited?
- What problems do they need help solving? What are their pain points?
- What are their aspirations?
- In their words, how do they talk about the product/service I offer?
- What types of social media platforms do they use most? What kind of digital content do they share most often?
- How do they spend their waking hours in a given day? What are the major forces in their lives right now?
One of my favorite marketing activities is creating personas for target customers. A persona is a detailed portrait - a dating profile of sorts - that helps us marketers figure out the products/content/communication that's going to attract our ideal customers. Personas are super helpful when it's time to sit down and actually create content, ads, email messages...
#2: What Does My Sales Cycle Look Like?
Recently, I was in the market for a new dishwasher. My old one had been on the fritz for a while. One day it finally reached a deafening decibel while running, and I'd just had it. But I didn't go out that day and buy the first one I found. After all, it's a big appliance with a pretty hefty price tag. This was a high-investment purchase for me. So I did my research:
- I immediately thought of Home Depot, the home improvement store closest to me. Plus, after years of researching DIY projects and reading lots of helpful blog posts on the Home Depot site, it's safe to say the Home Depot brand was top-of-mind for me. I started there and took a look at their dishwasher selection. Woah- quite a range of options and prices.
- So I Googled around for dishwashers with features I knew I wanted. In the process, I found a few articles about other features I didn't even know were options. More to mull over.
- I talked over the options with my husband (#marriageadventures) and we asked a couple friends on Facebook about their recent kitchen renovation experiences. We eventually decided on the features we cared about.
- I did more research online for THE ONE. I found it.
- Then I did some price comparison shopping, to get the best price on the exact make and model I wanted.
- After all that shopping around on the Home Depot site, they noticed that I was probably ready to purchase. They emailed me a coupon for free delivery and discounted installation if I ordered online soon. So I did.
We've all gone through this process, many times- on a daily basis. really. Some purchase decisions- like where to pick up a cup of coffee while on a trip- are not neeearly as involved as my dishwasher example. But believe me, there's a process we use to decide on every purchase.
That process is called the buying cycle. And on the flip side, from the company's point of view, it's called the sales cycle.
The stages of the sales cycle generally follow a pattern:
- Awareness of the brand
- Interest & Consideration
- Loyalty (i.e.- repeat purchases from the same company later on)
As a marketer, you should be familiar with your product's sales cycle. Is it a high-investment decision for your customers? If so, you can expect it to take a bit longer from the time someone learns about your brand to the time they finally click the "buy" button.
Your sales cycle will help you figure out the content you'll need to attract your ideal customers and nudge them along to the next step of the cycle, toward purchase.
The sales cycle will also help you use the right tone in all your sales and marketing material. For example, to gain brand awareness with me, Home Depot had put out some really helpful, free blog posts about DIY projects to get my attention and reinforce their status in my mind as experts in small home improvement projects. The tone of those articles was not at all sales-y. The call-to-action in those blog posts was simply to join their email list or register for some other free DIY resources (which was both useful for me and allowed them to track my activity). Sneaky-smart, right? ;)
All of it- the blog posts, the shopping guide articles, the website product pages with feature filter options, and the email offer- all nudged me along my journey toward eventual purchase. BUT they didn't make a hard sell until the moment they knew I was ready to buy something.
Know your sales cycle. It will help you pull in your ideal customers or clients- without scaring them off.
#3: What's My Brand Story- And How Do I Tell It?
What's in a brand? Well, brand is not just your company's name or logo.
As a marketer, I think of brand as the whole set of experiences your ideal customers have with your company. From design (including logo) to your content, from your communication style to your product itself, from your customer service to your partnerships -- all these brand elements combine to paint a picture of your company's personality.
Tying these elements together with a compelling brand story helps reinforce your company in the customer's mind- who you are, what you do, what you stand for, and why you do it.
So what makes for a good brand story? The same things that have made just about any story throughout history a juicy one. You need a few basic components:
- A hero character
- A problem to solve / An antagonist to defeat
- A struggle / Self-doubt
- A helpful guide / Restoration of the hero's confidence and determination
- A victory / Resolution
Your brand story should also be truthful and genuine. There's no need to make shit up just to be interesting. Believe me, these dramatic elements already exist in your story of building your own company. You know it, I know it. But you might need to dig deep - and be brave - to share it. :)
#4: What's My Content Strategy?
Your content strategy maps out the different kinds of digital content you'll need to create in order to engage your ideal customers at each stage of the sales cycle.
Now, there's a lot involved in actually mapping it all out.
You'll use what you've learned about your customers (their needs, their preferences, the stuff they respond to) and about your company (your product's benefits, your sales cycle, your brand identity and brand story) and about your conversion goals and constraints .
(speaking of which...)
#5: What Does My Conversion Funnel Look Like?
A conversion is simply a completed action you want your customers to take. It might be a successful signup for your newsletter. It might be a download of an e-book or a freebie resource. Or it might be the ultimate conversion action- a sale!
A conversion funnel is basically just a visual way of understanding how people flow through your content toward that conversion action.
Here's an example: I want people to subscribe to my newsletter. That's my conversion action. A funnel toward that action might look like this:
The tricky thing about conversion funnels is that most of them have holes along the sides, and prospects frequently "escape" through those holes before they get to the bottom and convert.
Our job as digital marketers is to figure out:
- Where are people falling out of my funnel?
- Why are they falling out?
- Can I plug the hole somehow?
- Can I catch those fallen prospects in another funnel that they'd like better?
- If those people are just not my ideal customer, can I keep them out of my funnel to begin with?
It's also super important to track those funnels with some sort of analytics package.
(speaking of which...)
#6: Which Metrics Should I Track?
Depending on your business goals, you should choose the right KPIs (key performance indicators) and performance metrics.
For example- if your business goal is to earn revenue from an online course, you'll obviously want to track how many online course sales you make (and ideally, where they come from).
But you'll also want to pay attention to the intermediary behaviors that often eventually lead to a sale. Behaviors like:
- Visiting your site at least three times in a week
- Reading a certain type of blog post
- Subscribing to your newsletter
- Downloading a freebie resource
- Clicking on a call-to-action link in an email
- Liking or sharing a particular resource on social media
These are all valuable KPIs. They all give you insight your prospects, and how close to conversion they are.
Once you track these metrics, you can start to notice patterns that lead to sales, and then you can start to automate the kickoff of conversion funnels based on behavioral triggers. Sounds pretty sweet, right?
It all starts with tracking, my friend. :)
#7: What Resources Do I Have?
So. Reality check. How ya gonna make all this shit happen, ma'dear? ;)
I don't know about you, but when I first started my company, I was self-funded. No investors. No piles of cash lying around to ramp things up.
So I had to be realistic about my resources and prioritize.
If you have graphic design skills, you can check that off the list and DIY. You go! If you're like me and PhotoShop makes you stress-sweat, then check out a dumbed-down and cost-effective tool like Canva. :)
In some cases, it's worth it to invest in outsourcing a task to a pro.
In other cases, it's worth it to invest in learning the skills you're missing.
Take The Next Step...
As an entrepreneur, it's never too early (OR late!) to sort out your digital marketing plan. Now, I know planning ain't sexy. But a winning PLAN can bring you more PROFIT, free up more TIME, and amp up your CONFIDENCE as a successful entrepreneur.
Ready to craft your magic strategy? Lucky for you, I've created a comprehensive, step-by-step online course called The PROFITABLE Digital Marketing Plan.
It will save you a ton of time, hold your hand through the planning process, and leave you with a digital marketing game plan that DELIVERS.