How do we build a next generation digital marketing strategy?

Profile picture for user barb.mosher By Barb Mosher Zinck February 28, 2019
Summary:
Another year, another polish of that digital marketing strategy - perhaps with a new CMO in-house. But what should that strategy be? It's not as straightforward as it sounds, especially when you factor in the talent you need to execute.

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Like all things, digital marketing is going through significant changes. It’s no longer only about building brand awareness or delivering personalized, contextual experiences; it’s about extending marketing beyond the walls of the marketing department.

It's about serving the needs of audiences as they become prospects through to becoming customers that stick around and willingly speak as advocates. This is not a new story, but marketing has become such as a diverse activity that it’s difficult at the best of times to know what to do to achieve success.

When I downloaded a copy of Key Elements of a Next Generation Digital Marketing Strategy (registration required) from Altimeter, a Prophet company, part of me was hoping for some kind of holy grail. “This is how you must do digital marketing in the B2B world.” Of course, that was a silly thing to expect. Nevertheless, the report does make some good points worth discussing.

Omar Akhtar, a digital marketing analyst and author of the Altimeter report, offered six building blocks to a solid digital marketing strategy. I’m only going to touch on two of them.

Identify your primary goals and pick the right use case(s) to support them

What are you trying to achieve with your marketing efforts? If you don’t have a clear set of business goals, then your marketing strategy is likely going to be all over the map, and you’ll be lucky if you succeed at anything.

So first define your business goals. And as Akhtar points out, they will change over time, so your strategy will have to be flexible enough to adapt with the business. For example, are you trying to build awareness of your company? Or of a new product or service? Are you trying to fill the pipeline with potential customers? Maybe you need to develop a stronger salesforce or partner enablement program.

Akhtar splits use cases into two:

  • Awareness, consideration, and purchase
  • Efficiency and enablement

Can you do more than one use case at a time? Sure, but it might make sense to focus on use cases that have similar goals and requirements, so there’s a degree of reuse in terms of people, content, processes, and technology.

For example, if your goal is customer acquisition, then you can define your strategy around use cases for sales and partner enablement, along with brand building and product growth (or product launch). If you lay out these uses cases, you will see some proper alignment around account-based marketing and content development.

Now, you might say those use cases can be big on their own. Take some time to outline each one in as much detail as possible and then look at them all together to find the synergies. Once that’s done, you can start to draft a plan that incorporates elements of each use case. Then you will understand what you need in terms of resources, skills, technology, and key - investment.

Plan to re-evaluate your strategy regularly. A new product is coming down the pipe; you want to onboard a new set of channel partners for a line of products, you need to do an in-depth review and update of key content assets to align with organizational or product changes. Some of the activities you plan will cover a longer term than others, allowing you to adjust your plan accordingly.

Finding and growing skills and talent

A lot of time and attention is given to selecting and integrating the right marketing technology to support marketing strategy (it’s one of the six building blocks Akhtar writes about). But there’s an even bigger challenge in finding the talent needed to execute on the strategy.

Akhtar points to finding people who can work with the toolset, and people who can design and orchestrate cross-channel campaigns. Both critical talent gaps for many companies - because the tools are continually changing and cross-channel marketing is still relatively new for many.

There are two ways to get the right talent on your marketing team: go out and hire new people, or invest in your existing team to build up the right skill sets. It’s a mistake to assume you have to hire new people just because you want to implement a new technology or need to execute a new set of tactics you haven’t performed before. There will be times when you do need to go external, and times when you need to invest in upskilling the employees you have.

Investment in your current team should be a priority. Allison Kent-Smith put it simply in a recent article on Forbes:

The bottom line is that agencies and brands alike need to start putting more investment in evolving internal capabilities vs hiring, rehiring and replacing the talent that is needed. In 2019, we often assume that employees have digital skillsets required to do their jobs but that is often not the case. Give employees an opportunity to share what they know or don’t know with leaders. Without this knowledge, a spiral of inefficiencies and decline in overall competitiveness occurs.

The key to upskilling your current employees lies in figuring out the right way to grow the needed skills. You can’t take them away from their current roles and drop them into classes without disrupting business. And you can’t expect them to do their job and train off work hours.  Look for ways for them to learn on the job, by testing new tactics and programs in small portions.

We’ve been talking about the digital marketing talent gap for years. Marketing is changing so much in a short period that it seems almost impossible for the talent to grow at the same rate. And the best ones are often the hardest to get on board and keep on board. Investing in existing employees who are committed to the company can help you grow the talent you need for the long run. And remember, employees already understand your business, so you’re halfway there.

My take

The Altimeter report may not tell you a lot of things you didn’t already know, but it will make you think more carefully about how you define the right digital marketing. With so many directions to focus their attention, marketing needs to align their strategy with the goals of the business or risk wasting resources and investment in areas that aren’t important at the time.

That’s not to say marketing shouldn’t reserve some budget on innovation, but everything should be done with a defined end state that moves the business forward. Maybe that’s why we see so many CMOs moving on after short stints with a company – the alignment isn't there.