The 7 Essential Digital Planning Ideas for Breakthrough Results in 2015

With budgeting and planning season upon us, the timing now feels right to go in-depth (a long form article…gasp!) on what will really make an impact on everyone’s marketing efforts for 2015. And more importantly, the leadership mindset needed to get you there.

My recommendations here come from nine months of countless meetings with the very smart folks running Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, WPP/JWT, Publicis/Performics, Disney, Cisco, and Amazon; time spent at events like ClickZ Live; many, many online learning videos watched; and preliminary data from the October 1 New Digital Life, Learning, and Skills Study. It’s all summed up and broken down here, for you to digest and then run with.

For the sake of scanning, I’ll list these major points here, so you can quickly skip to those that are most salient to your needs. But keep in mind that about 97 percent of businesses are not doing ANY of these points well, so be careful not to skip over those you “talk to” or “kind of do.” We’re here to go in-depth, which makes this a good time to explore things you’re doing, but could be doing better – not just new ideas you want to start fresh with.

7. Go Big on One Content Idea

6. Use Big Data in Little Ways

5. Make Time for Technology

4. Get Real: Re-Learn Best Practices

3. Target or Die an Irrelevant Death

2. Advertise More, Hope Less

1. Invest in Yourself, Invest in Your People

7. Go Big on One Content Idea

Content marketing is a no-brainer these days. But are you really using it as the framework for your digital and especially your social media efforts? Top-down planning based on major content will help you map out a great 2015.

If you plan for one big content piece that can act as your center piece for content marketing in Q1, and then map all the smaller components that can peel off from it, you’ll see much more success. Focus your energy on one big piece vs. 20 other small pieces – then the big piece can get broken up into 20 others with a bigger impact overall.

Example:

Budget for creating one really high-impact piece of content, like research or a high-end video that you can then cut up into smaller bite-size pieces like blog posts, webinars, branded content, and native ads. This will allow you to tease out all the major salient selling points, and highlight different features to appeal to new audience needs over time.

6. Use Big Data in Little Ways

“Big data” is code for using your CRM (and marketing automation for some), third-party cookie capturing platforms (like retargeting), and, when you’re ready, third-party data like reverse IP lookup (Demandbase, 6Sense). With tools like these, you’ll know which companies are visiting your site, and be able to backfill profile data on existing customers from big data warehouses like Acxiom or D&B. More information means you can start to focus on one area you’d like to better understand in the buying cycle.

Example:

For retailers, your new approach could be something like, “We’d like to serve up more relevant content or ads to users based on who they are when they visit our site.” This is known as behavior targeting, and it’s super easy and extremely effective. I’d recommend first looking at this in a big picture, more holistic testing/targeting way, and then getting into one specific use case as mentioned above.

For B2B marketers, this process would be about using more data to improve your lead scoring and nurturing programs. Try mapping big data into something as simple as the CRM and marketing automation programs you already have. New data sets are better able to tell you if this is a potential buyer based on, for example, the company IP address. Simple, right? And yet something so effective is so rarely used by most businesses.

5. Make Time for Technology

Today, the difference between those that gain market share and those that lose it is technology. This is true across all aspects of business, and particularly in marketing and advertising. The advantages of well-used technology are many: Being more time-efficient in building and launching marketing campaigns. Driving much higher engagement and return from every dollar spent. And going deep into improving the customer experience and relevancy (more on point two). These improvements are driven by technology today, so it’s time to get with it or get out (of your own volition or not).

That process starts with a little bit of baseline learning – just to get past the fear, and develop a foundation to feel confident about your decisions (and for all those meetings where you cower in hopes that no one will ask your opinion). Technology scares many of us senior marketers and agencies; we are steeped in being creative. Our focus has been coming up with big campaign ideas and, you know, building the brand. And for small companies, marketing and technology in the same sentence already has us confused. But you need to be brave. You need to find good people that can help you sort through the clutter, and simplify technology to business and marketing drivers.

Using technology to drive exponential gains is one of those no-brainers in this era of marketing. For big global brand ad spenders, that means programmatic. For B2B enterprises, that means marketing automation. And for small business, that means investing time in basic free or low-cost tools like Google Analytics or email marketing (like triggered emails – which you probably aren’t using, but should be!).

Example:

Going from a business that just does social media as an outlet for media and marketing, to a business (from the top down) that imbibes how we all live, communicate, and buy today “socially” is a great start. Many Fortune 500 companies that have done this are seeing major, significant gains across every aspect of the business (including marketing).

4. Reality Bites, So Bite Back on Best Practices

Sometimes the truth hurts. But ultimately, it will make us better when we face up to it and deal with it straight on. That means getting back to basic best practices. Nearly all of us have informal or NO formal training, credentials, or educational classes under our belt. We just learned on the job, through trial and error. And no, that one event you went to, that blog post you just read (including this one), or webinar you attended – those do not count for education. Remember that information is free and easy. Education is not.

So whether you’re a leader of a team or organization, or the one doing all the work, I’d like to throw the ice bucket of water on you: wake up to the fact that we really do need to go back to some digital fundamentals. It’s long overdue. Whether you’re a digital agency, global brand, or small business, you’re likely doing things in the way you learned, mostly by default trial and error. Start over with fresh thinking based on fundamental best practices.

Example:

Getting a grip on real best practices will bring you some amazing results. We’re not talking just small gains in conversion rates or click-through rates (CTRs). It’s high time you stepped back and evaluated true best practices from fundamentals of, say, Web analytics now with all this new data ideology. Or, for many leaders, it’s important to take a step back and get a renewed grasp on the entire digital/social ecosystem in learning. And yes, even using some of the latest technology to address my targeting point in number five.

3. Advertise More, Hope Less

I know it sounds crazy to say this in the “Internet age” and with all the talk on content marketing. But if you make it happen right now with some fundamental data strategies that use retargeting and programmatic, every size of business will see great results. Start by weighting your spends on areas like retargeting. Compare this to some of the bigger universal campaigns, when we’re “branding” and broadcasting our way to results without specializing.

The same goes for programmatic. It’s just simple: ads that work and are relevant based on success metrics will get more budget. Those that don’t will get less programmatically (i.e. automatically). So, now you don’t have those moments of saying, “I hope this ad works since we’re spending lots of money on it.” Instead you’ll be able to really test, target, and optimize your way to glorious returns. Spend more on advertising that works and hope less on advertising in general.

Example:

Instead of broad advertising buys, you’ll be targeting your spends on folks who have visited a page, areas of Facebook, or your site, which is highly relevant to your offering. You’ll be sending great ads related to those pages they’ve visited, designed to get them engaged.

2. Get Targeted or Become Irrelevant

It’s crucial to stay highly focused and targeted, since nowadays folks expect ads, messages, and content marketing to be relevant to them. Without this tailored approach, your brand will suffer, and you’ll have big issues with click-throughs, conversions, and even open rates and unsubscribers for email.

In the practice of targeting more, you’ll be forced to re-think your personas, target your audience by psychological profiles (e.g. what are their personal interests as shown by page likes on Facebook), and really address the digital user holistically – not the anonymous 45-year-old soccer mom with that $120,000 salary. This process actually takes some thinking work in the planning stages, so if you’re not up for the hard work and just want to take it easy this fall, skip this step.

Example:

You should be targeting and retargeting your ads on Google and Facebook to specific folks who have a) clicked on your website (thus they have an inherent interest in your site), b) have specific Facebook activity, like “women who are interested in environmental cause pages on Facebook,” c) have clicked on children’s apparel advertisements in Google Display Network or Facebook, and d) show continued interest in green sustainable farming. Now you have a filtered, specialized customer to sell your new environmentally friendly clothing line to!

1. Start Investing in Yourself and Your People

Every study you’ll read shows that “your staff,” your talent, your people are the most critical aspect of the business. And we don’t need a study to tell us that; good leaders already know it intuitively. The problem is that we really don’t do a hell of a lot to actually prioritize this. It all starts with the investment of both your time and other leaders’ time, and, of course, your budget. Unfortunately, the most common response to this issue is, “We have an education program,” which in reality translates to, “Since HR has submitted their plan and budget and so, I, the leader of organization/marketing/team/HR have checked that off the list.” But there’s nothing worse than “having something” that doesn’t work – better even to have nothing and be aware that you need to address it!

The most common forms of ineffective “list-checking” and “budget line item” education syndrome are:

  • Individual Budget Allocation – where employees can spend $500 to $3,000 on something education-related. This is usually an event where more cocktails then best practices are consumed.
  • Licensing to Allow – where we get a license to some library of content and tell staff to use it for development. From tons of experience I’ll tell you, it won’t get used, nor is it helping anyone advance their career or ensure proper best practices are being followed.
  • Internal Experts Lunch & Learn – Your team members are not educators, even if they are experts. Your best hope is that they can disseminate some information to others. But this is not sustainable, great learning that impacts the company. I like the idea in general but it is NOT an education program.

For those not in leadership positions, this type of list-checking means investing your time, weekly or monthly, to learn and improve in social media, mobile, etc. in low-cost ways to advance your own career, while leaders get their act together. Or of course, as my friend John Battelle likes to say, “vote with your feet” and move to an organization that does invest in and value you.

The solution is to really look at what’s needed. The brand badly needs to stay current with trends and have a social and mobile up-skilling program (and analytics) to really execute and properly plan for the way folks now buy and consume their content. And small businesses are in desperate need of executing a simple “Digital Starter” program, laying out essentials like how to use search, email, social, and website in one thoughtful, connected manner.

Example:

In short, the process will be to go through a proper “Digital Skills” assessment, then spend the time to plan it out across the organization from HR to digital leads, and then start with a pilot program to hash out the good, the bad, and the ugly. Then you can roll it out to your entire organization…and yes, you’ll need to spend some money doing all this.

In this ever-fluid job market, our talent acquisition and retention – our most important resources – will depend on it, and increasingly those folks will expect it. This is all a perfect way to say that it will clearly be key in separating the big winners from the painful losers in 2015, and digital smarts, thoughtful planning, and investment in training our people will make its mark, in the short-term and the long-term.

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