Understanding the Elements of a Digital Marketing Plan
A digital marketing plan contains the same elements as a traditional marketing plan. These elements include the following:
- Executive Summary
- Situational Analysis
- Goals and Objectives
- Marketing Strategy
- Action Plan
The plan itself should cover a defined time frame, typically one year. That is, you plan all your activities one year in advance—and your goal is what you hope to accomplish in the coming twelve months.
Let’s look at each section of the plan in more detail.
The Executive Summary is a one-page overview of the major points in your plan—from your mission all the way through your action plan and budget. Even though the Executive Summary is the first section of your plan, it’s the part you write last, after you’ve come up with all the details in the other sections.
If the Executive Summary sounds redundant, it probably is—but in a good way. If your audience reads nothing but this one page (which is all some will read), they’ll absorb the salient points of what you intend to accomplish with your marketing activities.
The meat of your digital marketing plan begins with the Mission section. This section provides the general rationale for your marketing activities; it explains why you want to do what you want to do.
You can express your mission in the form of a short mission statement, or with a longer explanation of why you’re producing this plan. This section can be as short as a single sentence, but no longer than a paragraph.
The ideal Mission section should meet these criteria:
- It must define a clear direction for your marketing activities.
- It must define specific parameters for your marketing activities.
- It must be achievable.
- It must be measurable, in general terms—you either achieve your mission or you don’t.
Naturally, the mission portion of a digital marketing plan should specifically address the Internet as a marketing medium.
The Situational Analysis section of your plan presents a snapshot of where things stand as the plan is conceived. It sets a baseline against which future action is both dictated and measured.
What sorts of things are we talking about? You should include subsections covering the following situations, tweaked to feature web-related issues:
- Environment—The big-picture trends (economic, demographic, social, and technological) that affect your company and its marketing activities. In a digital marketing plan, the chief environmental issue is almost always technological—more and more businesses are the web to research and make buying decisions.
- Market—The current size and growth trends for the B2B market in which you compete—including key segments of that market.
- Competition—A description of your major competitors, including their size, market share, key product lines, and (particularly) online activities.
- Customer base—A description of your current or target customer base, including an analysis of customer wants and needs and how they utilize new technology.
- Products—A description of your company’s current products and services, including unit and dollar sales, pricing, and contribution margin, either by individual product or by major product line.
This section should be a mix of hard data and qualitative analysis and comment. You put together the Situational Analysis using internal data (for the internal items) and external market research (for the external items).
Opportunities and Issues
This section of your marketing plan analyzes the following opportunities and threats:
- External opportunities—These are market opportunities that your company is poised to take advantage of. Naturally, you should focus on online opportunities.
- External issues—These are market factors that present a threat to your company. Special attention should be given to Internet-related issues.
- Internal strengths—These are things that you do well, when compared to the competition, that can help you achieve the external opportunities you identify.
- Internal issues—These are inside-the-company issues that challenge the success of your marketing opportunities. (If you’re not yet fully exploiting the Internet, that’s an issue; you should examine why this is the case.)
After stating these individual opportunities and issues, you should then identify the key issues that need to be addressed by your company. These key issues will help you determine the strategies and tactics you pursue.
Goals and Objectives
This section builds from the key issues identified in the previous section. Here is where you set quantifiable goals you wish to achieve with your marketing activities.
These goals can be internal (a certain level of sales; a specific number of website visitors or referrals) or external (a particular market share; a defined search ranking on Google). What’s important is that they be numeric and pegged to a specific time frame so that you can objectively state whether or not they’ve been achieve.
For example, if you state as a goal that you want to have “the best website in our industry,” well, that’s not very quantifiable, is it? What exactly do you mean by “best website?” There’s no way to measure success.
On the other hand, if you set as a goal that you want to reach $100,000 in monthly website sales by July 1st, it will be easy to see whether you’ve achieved that goal. When July 1st rolls around, either you’ve hit that $100,000 mark or you haven’t.
In other words, your goals and objectives are those things you aspire to, and can thus measure your success against. This is the section of the plan you’ll return to in six or twelve months to see whether you’ve accomplished what you set out to do.
This section can contain a single goal or multiple goals. When talking about a website, for example, you might set goals for number of visitors, number of page views, average time on site, and search ranking. (Heck, you can even set a goal of when you want your site—or its redesign—to go live.) Product goals can include unit sales, dollar sales, profit margin, and the like. You get the picture.
Just remember to set a time frame to measure your progress—typically six or twelve months into the future. And make sure your goals are achievable; there’s no point in planning for the impossible.
As the title implies, this section of the plan sets forth your company’s overall digital marketing strategy. It refers to the preceding section, and describes how your company will pursue the identified opportunity. This section should include direction for each type of digital media, and how that ties into your overall marketing objectives.
I particularly like tying in each type of digital media to the five stages of the B2B buying continuum (Reach, Acquisition, Conversion, Retention, and Loyalty), as we’ve discussed throughout this section of the book (see Figure 8.1). You might want to devote subsections to each part of the customer life cycle; you can then discuss the digital media strategy for each of the life cycle stages, and how they’ll help you achieve the goals for each stage.
Figure 8.1. Define your digital marketing strategy for each stage of the B2B buying continuum.
The Action Plan section describes specific tactics you’ll use to implement the marketing strategy set forth in the previous section. This is where you get down to the nitty-gritty of which digital marketing activities you’ll be undertaking, and how much you’ll be spending on each one.
Think of the Action Plan as your marching orders, a set of step-by-step instructions you can hand to your staff to implement. It’s the most detailed section of your entire marketing plan.
When writing the Action Plan for your digital marketing activities, you should devote separate subsections to individual activities—website design, search engine marketing, social media marketing, and the like. You can then link each activity to the stages of the customer life cycle, as described in the Marketing Strategy section of your plan.
For each overall digital marketing vehicle, you should describe the exact activities you expect to undertake, along with a timeline (typically by month or quarter) for these activities. Describe each event, present its timing, estimate its costs, and then detail the event’s goals and objectives (page views, visitors, dollar or unit sales, market share gains, and so forth).
- “Think of the Action Plan as your marching orders, a set of step-by-step instructions you can hand to your staff to implement. It’s the most detailed section of your entire marketing plan.”
You can then roll up all your marketing activities into a master timetable and master budget—the latter of which demands its own section of the plan.
The final section of your digital marketing plan is the one that your financial people will pore over the most, so you have to make sure that everything adds up. This section is your master marketing budget, detailing how much money you expect to spend over the plan period—typically one year. This Budget section should include all the normal financial reports that accounting types like to see, so make sure you work with your finance department accordingly.