Spring’s arrival is as good a reason as any to review your existing programs, figure out what is and isn’t working, and realign your programs with your current objectives. An added bonus: When budgeting comes along in Q4, you’ll be fully prepared with tried-and-tested programs and logical justifications for your proposed budget.
Our industry and opportunities evolve too quickly to review programs only once a year. We should regularly challenge all our assumptions, especially during times of economic and budget strain, to create the most effective programs we can.
Look Ahead and Back
Start by reviewing your past online marketing programs against expected outcomes, but in the context of how your markets and audiences have changed during the review period. Likewise, consider what the months to come may bring. What changes do you see or foresee in your customer base?
The economic situation has likely changed behaviors, and thereby changed the rules of how you communicate with your customers. Are you projecting the right value message to them? Do you have a realistic and respectful approach to your communication?
Look at New Behavior Patterns, Communication Channels
Economic changes aren’t the only catalyst to consumer behavior shifts. The availability of, and access to, ever increasing technology options has made choice, immediacy, and relevance top priorities for many consumers.
Communication overload is a common issue for some. For others, hourly or more frequent updates are the norm. You must know your audience and its preferences to serve customers in the right channels, voice, and frequency.
Social networks and Twitter are rapidly expanding as communication tools and tools for consumer research. Twitter search has become an increasingly utilized as consumers search for info in real time.
At a minimum, you should use these channels as a listening post to understand your consumers and their relationship with your brand. Review consumer language against what’s used in your site and in your marketing materials to see how close they match. While your marketing materials and the social stratosphere are very different things, an effective social media strategy that focuses on productive and engaging interactions should connect them.
Closely Review Your Web Site
If, like many marketers, you’re facing a reduced marketing budget, the best place to expend resources may be on your Web site. Making sure that your site meets audience needs, matches all corporate and brand messaging, and is optimized for conversion will buoy the results of all efforts and maximize the value of paid media online or off.
Your content should be up to date in terms of your current messaging, product and service offerings, and should meet the needs and functionalities demanded by today’s audiences. This includes an intuitive navigation, streamlined shopping cart function, and graphics and layout that consider the possibility that they may be viewing your site from any number of devices or browsers. It also includes appropriate landing pages for all marketing efforts and promotions.
Your site should be fluid and constantly refreshed to ensure that your visitors and the search engines are getting updated information while matching the tone and technology of users.
Check in With Your Customers
If you’re running a regular and robust e-mail program through most current technologies, your e-mail lists should be scrubbed fairly clean through their automated programs. However, if you do little testing or only send e-mail periodically, you may be wasting broadcast fees on habitual non-responders.
Make sure your list members have expressed interest within a reasonable amount of time, and segment the list into specific categories to tailor messaging to audiences. Challenge those segments — if your customers have changed, the segments might need to as well.
It’s also a good time to take the temperature of your customers. If you have decent site traffic, consider an online survey to test some assumptions long held or to get some trending data to help drive better decision making.
Do a Comprehensive Competitive Review
Web site, messaging, partners, promotions, channels, spending — the whole works across all digital channels. You may uncover areas of opportunity or risk. Make sure you’re defining the online competition appropriately and not as you would in the traditional sense.
Check Your Numbers
Reporting and analytics are an integral part of your marketing program but must provide you with actionable information that will help you make better decisions for your business. At least twice a year, produce a dashboard that will help you align resources as productively as possible and challenge the old reporting formats and approaches. At the same time, maintain enough consistency to preserve critical trending data.
There Are No Sacred Cows
When you’re doing this work, ensure your team aligns on the notion that this is truly a fresh slate look at your environment and opportunities. If you start with the mistaken notion that some things are a given, then you’ve already narrowed your options. Once you have new insights into your customers, your competitors, and your business, you can hardly fail to have new ideas.
Make This a Priority
If this effort doesn’t have executive support and specific due dates, then it’s likely to drop in favor of the fires we all fight every day. There is true opportunity cost to delaying this critical review and tremendous potential value waiting for you.
Meet Robin at Search Engine Strategies New York March 23-27, 2009 at The Hilton New York. The only major search marketing conference and expo on The East Coast, SES New York will be packed with more than 70 sessions, including a ClickZ track, plus more than 150 exhibitors, networking events, parties, and training days.
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