There’s no better time to take a fresh look at your digital strategy than the start of a new year. After all, your digital strategy should be a living, breathing part of your marketing plan that changes as your organization evolves — not a rigid, static structure into which you try to fit new trends and ideas.
So, in the spirit of renewal, let’s take a look at the underlying principles of a successful digital strategy. The specific and technical ways you go about crafting it will change, but the understanding that guides it always arise from the same set of questions.
When evaluating an organization’s digital strategy, those questions always come down to what I like to call the 3 Ms: meaningful, manageable, and measurable.
1. Is your strategy meaningful to your organization, or are you simply going through the motions for the sake of checking off a box?
2. Is your strategy manageable, given your organization’s staff and resources, or are your goals aligned with a different kind of organization?
3. Is what you’re doing measurable with hard numbers that turn into insights you can act on, or are you feeling your way through success?
I’ve found that many organizations fail to create a strategy that adheres to these principles. The wheels spin, and if they’re lucky, something sticks. But a successful strategy with these core values at its center will be both strong enough to support a bulletproof marketing system and flexible enough to pivot as the data changes.
Is It Meaningful?
The most crucial part of any marketing action you take is that it has meaning. How do you know if something you’re doing is meaningful for your organization?
The first and most important piece of information that will guide meaningful marketing is knowing your brand story. A brand story is not simply a mission statement but, well, a story. You can get at your brand story by being able to clearly identify a few things: your organization’s core belief, how your organization serves that belief, and what the results are of those efforts (see Simon Sinek's TED talk here).
A meaningful brand story for an organization that advocates for the rights of young girls across the globe might look something like this: We believe that if girls have more opportunities in developing countries, the world will be a better place. To that end, our organization strives to provide resources for girls in the places that need it the most. To date, we have raised $10 million to implement programs that stop the cycle of oppression through education, training, mentorship, awareness, and more. Will you consider adding your name to the list of advocates for girls around the globe with a donation?
Knowing your brand story inside out will help you evaluate whether the channels you’re on and the content you’re publishing is meaningful.
Some questions to ask:
- Are you carefully selecting where you’re active in the digital space so that you maximize the reach of your message?
- Is your content consistent with your brand story and personality?
Understanding the meaning of your brand will make answering these marketing questions much easier and more organic.
Is It Manageable?
Once you’ve identified what, exactly, is meaningful about your organization’s strategy, you’re going to want to make sure that it’s appropriate for your organization in more practical ways.
It’s easy to look at a large organization’s digital strategy and say, “Let’s do that,” but for small- to mid-sized organizations, a plan like that almost always ends in disaster.
Whatever new tactics you decide to employ— whether it’s partnerships with influencers, revamped email campaigns, or a serious video strategy — it must be appropriate for the number of staff you have on hand, the kinds of software resources you want to invest in, and the amount money you’re putting behind it.
Not every brand can — or should — emulate the large-scale moves of, say, an international organization with a huge endowment. Instead, think Goldilocks: there’s a strategy out there that is the just the right size for your brand’s particular needs. And knowing that you have the resources to actually own and execute your strategy will only strengthen it.
Is It Measurable?
Now that you know the meaning and scope of your strategy, you’re going to want to make sure what you do is measurable. It’s all too easy to feel your way through a digital strategy.
But CEOs and executive directors don’t typically respond to vague feelings that a campaign was effective. You’re going to want numbers, not only to deliver to the higher-ups, but to be able to evaluate what really worked (so you can do it again) and what didn’t (so you can do it better – or not do it at all).
We’re at peak data right now in the industry, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. A good way to approach analytics is to first think about the goals and business objectives, and read the numbers with that in mind. If, for example, one of your goals is to grow your email database, you’re going to want to look at the effectiveness of your persuasion tactics.
Did a whitepaper download yield more or less sign-ups than an incentive to join the mailing list? How often was that downloaded whitepaper shared? How many who joined the mailing list eventually converted? Knowing what you’re looking for makes any metric meaningful.
I get it: we’re living in a digital age that asks us to move faster than our brains can process, and it’s easy to become complacent in our digital marketing. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and if you look around, the organizations that are standing out in the noise are those that have struck a chord with the meaning behind their brand, the way their strategy is executed, and their dedication to evaluating what worked and tinkering with what didn’t.
I invite you in this new year to pause and see if you have good answers to the 3 Ms of digital strategy. Is it meaningful? Is it manageable? Can you measure against it?
And if you’re local to the DC metro area, I hope you’ll join our workshop, “Building an Effective Digital Strategy,” on January 28th, geared toward purpose-driven organizations. There we’ll talk user journeys, segmentation, channels, and more, and you’ll leave with a template to create your own digital strategy.