2020 has been the year of digital revolution. While bricks and mortar stores and businesses have been forced to close their doors, customers and consumers have shifted to buying online to meet their needs which in turn has meant businesses have had to adjust where they are focusing their efforts in order to compete.
The data supports this perception, a study by the Retail Sales Index time series (DRSI) shows that in the period from February to May 2020 online sales as a percentage of total UK sales went from 18.9% to 32.8%. It’s logical, given the lightened but ongoing lockdown and restrictions in the high street, to assume that that trend towards online sales will only continue. After all, given that COVID-19 is likely to be an issue well into 2021 it is safe to assume that at least a proportion of shoppers will continue to make the most of online flexibility and choice and avoid face-to-face shopping as much as possible. So, how can you make the most of this shift in focus for your business to ensure you not only stay afloat but rise above the rest?
The truth is there are a huge number of things you can do. In this piece we’ll look at a high-level breadth of options from the strategic to the specific. We have also included links to direct you to other resources for more detailed information on some topics. The main purpose of this piece, however, is to demonstrate that the businesses that will continue to thrive online are the ones that see the big picture and focus on growing their voice online. By fully understanding your customers, what they are searching for, why they choose your products, how they wish to be communicated with and by delivering an experience that delights them, you can deliver sustained sales growth, build your share of voice and stand head and shoulders above your competitors. Let’s look at where to start.
Steps To Consider When Planning Your Digital Marketing
Have a Strategy
Every marketer knows the difference between a strategy and a plan. Your digital marketing strategy will describe how your goals will be achieved using your resources. Your plan is the series of ordered actions you will undertake to actually achieve it. You need to know what you want to achieve with your digital marketing before you can start. It might be to increase online sales by 70%, it may be to switch the volume of sales from predominantly offline to predominantly online by a certain time. There are any number of goals but yours should reflect and align with your business objectives and above all be SMART.
Do Your Due Diligence
Once your strategy is clear it’s time to plan and to do that you need to have some basic information straight. It sounds obvious but being clear about who your customers actually are is key. There are a variety of ways to achieve this, including customer interviews and surveys but ultimately you should end up with a set of clearly defined customer personas that accurately represent your various online customer target audiences.
A well-researched persona will tell you what type of person you are selling to in terms of outline demographics, the problem(s) your products or services solve for them and how they are likely to try to solve that problem once they have recognised it.
Remember, don’t assume you know who is buying from you, you may discover that you have customers buying for reasons you aren’t aware of that could open up a whole new market for you.
Understanding your personas will not only help you target your marketing to new leads but also better understand your existing customers. Enabling you to segment your customer data and communicate with them in the way they prefer with the content they appreciate.
What Are Your Customers Looking For?
Once you know who you’re talking to you need to know what they are looking for. There are a variety of clever tools available that can help you determine the search terms that people most often use to find products and services like yours. Researching what queries your audience searches for and the language they use will ensure you create content that actually answers questions and offers a solution.
There are a number of different ways to find out what your audience may be looking for. Performing keyword research should be the first thing you do as this will be the foundation to many of your digital activities. Tools such as SEMrush or MOZ can be used to conduct in-depth research in different countries and these tools will return information such as the keywords themselves, keyword volume and difficulty and competitive density.
In addition to this, there are plenty of other tactics you can use to find out what is being searched for including Answer the Public, search engine mining and Google Trends. Actually, talking to your target audience and customers is also invaluable in uncovering information about what they want and need. More information on how to find out what your customers are looking for can be found by reading our insightful blog on using keyword research to understand your audience.
Understanding what problems your product/service solves and how your customers view that problem, through the search terms they use, helps you target your efforts and maximise your time and budget by focussing on the people who are most likely to buy from you and away from those who aren’t.
It also allows you to better refine your content to get the best results. Once you know the problem, it’s easier to define how you can solve it for your customer. You can also clearly describe your USPs (Unique Selling Points), why and how you do it better than your competitor. Be it in terms of price, quality, speed, results or efficiency. More subtly, once you know your audience you can write using tone, language and style that appeals to them more directly. Everything you do should be customer centric. Everything about your brand should be designed and evolved to appeal to your target customer.
Get The Right Toolkit In Place
To make the most of your data and to enable you to extract the insights you will need it is important that you have the right tools, set up in the right way.
Knowing what is going on with your website is essential and tools such as Google Analytics can help you with that, though ensuring it is tracing everything accurately and in the way you need is something worth taking care over as it can be complex. Before working out what you want to track, take time to define your business and marketing objectives and be clear about what you want to measure. The data that you can extract from Google Analytics can give you accurate insight into how well content is performing and how traffic moves around the site as well as valuable data around sales, conversions, traffic numbers and demographics, to name just a few. Installing Google Tag Manager on your website can add a further layer of data collection and help you to track micro-goals such as newsletter sign-ups and video plays. Uncovering the data and turning this into actionable insights can help you to grow your business successfully online.
Technical Website Health
You wouldn’t build a house without laying the foundations and this applies to websites too. If your site isn’t in good technical health, the great content you add to your site won’t be as effective at being surfaced as it should be. If you want your site to perform, ensure you analyse the technical health of your website and make a plan to improve it. This can be done through a number of tools such as Google Search Console or SEMrush where a full site audit can be performed. If you would like to claim a free SEO review of your website with report, then please get in touch with us and one of our team will be glad to prepare your report. By doing this and fixing errors, your site is far more likely to deliver at effective SEO.
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Search Engine Optimisation
Search Engine Optimisation involves developing your website to be a source of relevant information for your customers. The aim is to develop content that gives the highest quality response to your customer’s searches, so that search engines see it as a trustworthy, useful source and deliver your content to your customer high up in their SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
Effective SEO, focuses both on your website (on-page) and how the rest of the internet interacts with your website (off-page), both elements are important and can have a huge effect in getting the right people to your website.
Customer Relationship Management
You’ll also need a suitable way to manage your data in order to be able to gain insight, segment efficiently and manage your customer interactions and relationships effectively. Spreadsheets are fantastic but when it comes to managing customer data, website insights, sales, communications etc a good CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system can be worth its weight in gold. A great CRM will not only manage your customer data, making your life easier and your outputs more accurate but can help you communicate with them in a way that is personalised, offering real value in developing your customer journey. There are a variety of platforms to choose from, both free and paid for, HubSpot is a great example of a fully integrated CRM that can support your full marketing strategy but it is essential, however you do it, that you have a way to collate, interrogate and gain insight into your data in order to help you make the right decisions for your business. It sounds glib but having the data isn’t enough, you have to actually interpret and use it to guide your planning and decision-making processes.
Once you have the basics in place, you know who you need to talk to, how to talk to them and how to measure and track those conversations. It is important to make sure that you are making it as easy as possible for your customers to interact with you. Customer journey is all about understanding your customers and being aware of what they are looking for from you, depending on the stage they are at in the buying process. By documenting the touch points that your customers interact with both online and offline can ensure you create a seamless experience. The three key stages of the buying process are Awareness, Consideration and Decision. It is important that the content you deliver to them matches their stage in the buying processes and answers the questions they have at that stage in order to help them along the buyer’s journey, ultimately towards purchasing from you. You can find out a lot more about customer journeys in our detailed guide.
Making sure your website is aligned with your company’s buyer journey is also key. User Experience (UX) is all about how your users interact with your website and the ease at which they can navigate round your site to find the information they are seeking. Focusing on delivering a great user experience has countless business benefits as visitors are more likely to convert and return to your site again and again. Whatever you want the visitors on your site to do, well planned UX will guide them along that path. The important thing is to reduce hurdles and make it as easy and friction-free for your customers to do what you want them to do.
Successfully aligning your customer journey with your customer needs by definition will also mean aligning your content. Content is any material you publish for the benefit of your customers and stakeholders and includes web pages, blogs, social media posts, white papers etc.
Keeping your content relevant, timely and most importantly helpful will help with your organic SEO but can also be used across your social media channels, as part of lead nurturing and paid advertising campaigns. However, it will also be useful to your potential customers, helping to solve their problems and establishing your brand in their minds as a helpful resource and a business to trust. Think about it as conversation with each customer.
In holding that conversation, you need to be aware of the intent of your customer, in order to be able to deliver the type of information they are looking for when they are looking for it. Search intent is the term used to refer to the ultimate goal of the person using a search engine. There are three primary types of search intent, they are:
- Informational – i.e. searches that indicate the user is simply looking or information on a topic or query.
- Navigational – i.e. searches that are looking for a specific brand or website
- Transactional – i.e. searches that use words that indicate a desire to buy.
Obviously transactional searches are of the highest immediate intrinsic value as the user is ready to buy. However, if they haven’t already engaged with you, the chances are they may not choose to buy from you. That is why searches with other types of search intent should not be dismissed and it is key that you develop information relating to your product(s) or service(s) that cater to all the different types of search intent in order to draw potential customers/leads to your website and being the process of building a relationship with them and drawing them into your funnel to continue their customer journey. You can find out more about search intent in our article, ‘The Importance of Understanding users Search Intent for Better SEO’.
Auditing your existing content to assess its value, to keep it relevant and to make sure it is being used in the most effective way is a great place to start. Once you have a clear picture of the content you have already you can look ahead and develop a plan to fill the gaps and improve the quality of your offering. Developing a content strategy and plan that is guided by your customer personas, their stage in the buyers journey and your keyword research will ensure that you continue to produce the type of content that your customers are searching for, when they are searching for it.
Making sure the content you produce is properly optimised will help search engines find it and understand what it’s about more easily. The easier you make it for search engines, the more likely they are to deliver your content in relevant search results.
Choose Your Channels
Your customer personals will have given you a really good picture of where your customers are online, by that we mean the platforms they use, the methods they use to search for products and services and the channels they prefer to be interacted with via. The onus is on you to meet your customers where they are.
Each of your customer personas may have different preferences, use your research to guide what channels you choose to interact with each one as there’s not a one size fits all approach. While organic search is a long-term strategy, tactical paid advertising can help you deliver growth in the short-term, but the right channel should be used. For example, if you are marketing to the youth market (i.e. 16-23) you may consider exploring the business advertising potential of Tik Tok, Instagram or even Facebook advertising. As a B2C (Business to Consumer) e-commerce business, you may also want to consider marketplace advertising such as eBay or Amazon. However, if, at the other end of the scale you are looking to speak with senior B2B (Business to Business) customers you might focus instead on Google advertising and LinkedIn. Alternatively, a combination of platforms may be considered depending on your various customer personas.
Of course, advertising isn’t your only option, especially via social. Actually, taking part in relevant conversations, being personable, offering information and interacting online is also a great way to build customer relationships as well as brand awareness. Your strategy to engage each persona audience will be tailored to how that audience operates on the internet and how they want to consume your content.
Being part of making sure your business stands out isn’t just down to your marketing team. The ideas and activities we have been talking about in this piece are all part of a customer-centric Inbound Marketing Strategy. Inbound Marketing is a methodology designed to use your expertise to attract the right customers to you when they are ready and so already ‘warm’, rather than outwardly pushing your brand towards an audience at a time and in a place they may not be searching for you, and so interrupting and possibly irritating them. Inbound is all about being in the right place, at the right time, with the right information for your customers.
Inbound marketing centres around attracting, engaging and delighting customers. By delighting your customers, you not only ensure that they remain with you but will also tell other people about you and so your delighted customers become part of your sales force, attracting new customers to you. Arguably, delighted customers are your business’s greatest asset.
That is why everyone in your business should be involved in delighting customers. Not just Marketing, with well-chosen and effective content and messaging, not just sales with excellent information, support and guidance and not just customer service, with service excellence, post-purchase support and resources for answering customer questions. You should also involve your back office teams, ensuring that they understand that their interactions with customers and stakeholders all contribute to how your business is perceived, how delighted your customers are and how they will talk about your business to their networks of friends, colleagues and acquaintances.
You can measure how well you are performing in delighting your customers in several ways. Customer surveys are the most immediate and useful. They can also be used to help asses and determine your NPS (Net Promoter Score), a metric to measure customer experience. Customer reviews are also a valuable source of both feedback to you as well as reassurance and information to your potential customers. Additionally, reviews - even bad ones - offer you the opportunity to interact with your customer and address their concerns and fix the problem, showing them you care about them and will go the extra mile to make sure they are delighted, even if something did go wrong.
The takeaway from this guide is hopefully clear, online competition is fierce and the consumer is king, not least because online they are not limited by geography in how they spend their money, the world is their oyster. By using this guide to audit your processes and resources as well as to educate your teams you will go a long way to stepping ahead of your competition and drawing your customers to you.
Then you can focus on delighting them!
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