How Content Strategy Plays a Major Role in Your Branding Efforts?

content marketing

Does your business have a content strategy yet?

If it doesn’t, you are losing out on a wonderful opportunity to improve brand awareness, reputation and authority. It is important not to confuse content strategy with content marketing although both are connected.

While content marketing is the process of placing quality content in front of your target audience to build deeper relationships, content strategy is a ‘mindset’ that according to Kristina Halvorson, the founder of Brain Traffic includes “planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content”.

Without a content strategy in place, there is very little chance your content marketing efforts will succeed. Your content strategy helps your business create a framework wherein your business and the needs of its customers are constantly evaluated to improve content production and the content processes that help produce this content.

The whole idea behind drawing up a content strategy is to ensure that the content is able to drive your brand‘s engagement with its target audience and takes your brand interaction to the next level.

Content Strategy and Your Brand

84 percent of marketers who aren’t finding success with their content marketing efforts say they do not have a documented content strategy in place.

Learning – Content strategy is of critical importance to brands if they are serious about their content marketing efforts.

Think about content strategy as something that helps you maximize the potential of your content. There are businesses/marketers, who think just writing content (high quality content) will help you rank in search engines, enhance the reputation of your business and help people identify your brand.

They are wrong.

You need a content strategy in place to leverage the immense potential of this content. A well-defined content strategy gives your content a sense of purpose and its own personality and identity. You must know who your target audience is and the kind of content they are looking for. A strategy is also needed to ensure your content is aligned with your business, its products and services and still caters to the needs of your target audience.

Content strategy also determines your writing style, choice of content format and how you will market this content to ensure your audience finds it when they are looking for it.

Not Just Content Strategy but an Effective Content Strategy

Not Just Content Strategy but an Effective Content Strategy

A content strategy is as good as its comprehensiveness. The components of an effective content strategy include the following:

  • Defining the Objectives

What are your objectives with respect to your content? Are you using it to build your brand’s niche authority or as a means of boosting your search engine rankings or something else? Also, what is the content format you want to use; will it be videos, blog content, online magazines, tutorials or pod casts amongst other formats?

You need to pick a format that your target audience can easily access and consume.

  • Defining Content Creators

Who will create the content? Will you have an in-house content writing team or outsource your requirements. If you do choose to outsource content creation, you will need to ensure you zero in on the right writer/team of writers.

  • Who is your audience?

Identify your audience, but don’t just identify the audience, you also need to understand them and what they expect from your content. You must also make sure your audience doesn’t receive content that overlaps with your existing marketing communication.

  • Distribution Strategy

How are you going to bring your content in front of your customers?

There are plenty of channels you can choose from, but more often than not, it is the content format that determines the channel you use. Explore the various channels available; make sure you know the strengths and costs of each and also ensure that your customers are active users of these channels. This will help you make an informed decision with respect to the content channel you choose and guarantee you make the most of it.

  • Identify Content Performance Metrics

How do you know your content strategy is working or not? This is where content metrics enter the equation. You need to zero in on the performance metrics of your content that will allow you to measure your success or failure. You must know whether your content is helping satisfy the needs of your customers and if you’ll need to refine your strategy.

At the end of the day you also need to take strategic inputs from every important stakeholder in your business to come up with a content strategy that delivers on your expectations.

Benefits to your Brand

  • Brand Reputation

Your customers are looking for high quality content. The kind of content that is useful, relevant and actionable. They want information that helps solve a problem and if your brand can provide a solution that enables them to take informed decisions, they’ll become loyal followers of your content. What you are also doing is using content as a means to trigger personal interactions with your brand. If they’ve come across a content piece they like and feel strongly about, they’ll comment on it, which can give rise to interesting discussions on your comment feed.

Your content acts as a bridge between your brand and its customers. Your brand comes to be identified with its content and if you consistently produce and publish content that adds value to the lives of your customers, it will be reflected in the enhanced reputation of your brand. Your content will be the ‘go-to content’ for a target audience looking for specific information.

  • Taming Search Engines

Google’s incessant efforts in improving search quality for users have meant it is not business as usual for webmasters and SEOs. They cannot get away with everything that they could get away with, a few years ago. Quality is the name of the game now.

Gone are the days when they could just fill up content with keywords and build links from just about any source and get away with it. What’s more, there was every chance their website would be rewarded with high rankings on SERPs.

Things have changed.

The focus is now on quality and earning natural links from authority online sources. And the one thing that helps make this possible is great content. The more high quality content you publish, the more backlinks you can attract from reputed websites/blogs. And this results in higher search engine rankings, which in turn means more website traffic thus improving your website’s chances of conversions.

And all this because of content!

  • Content for an Active Social Media Presence

sm

Social media marketing is the buzz word these days and why not. Just about every brand is using social media to boost its branding efforts and it is shareworthy content that lies at the very root of every successful social media campaign. When readers like your content, they want to share it with the people they know so that even their friends and family can benefit from this content. This means your content is shared, re-shared and then shared some more. Your content represents your brand, which means it’s not your content but your brand that is essentially going viral.

It’s all about compelling content

Your content strategy will go nowhere if you don’t have a sub-strategy to create compelling content in place. Compelling content is the kind that readers love going through. It’s not about creative excellence but about content excellence.

You need a certain kind of mindset to produce such content. You need to say to yourself that you want to be the leading provider of niche related information to your target customers. If you aim to play a leadership role as an information provider, you will make the necessary effort to satisfy the needs of your customers.

Think of your content like a product and judge its usefulness.  It needs to be high up on the utility scale if you want it to succeed. For this to happen, you’ll need to understand the kind of information your customers are searching for. You need to listen to the conversations happening around your domain (social media networks are great listening posts) and create content that revolves around these conversations.

To create compelling content you must be in sync with what your customers want. So make sure you know everything about them.

Tips to Keep in Mind While Implementing a Content Strategy

When you work out a content strategy for your brand, the next step is to implement it. But before you do, you need to keep a few tips in mind:

  • Content strategy requires different sections of your business to work as a team. Whether it’s your web design team, copywriting team, web development team, the public relations team or your marketing team – every single one of them should work together to make a decisive impact.
  • Understand that you are in it for the long haul and immediate results might not be forthcoming.
  • Make sure your writing matches the understanding of your target audience. The literacy levels of different people that belong to the same target audience group are different. So choose a writing style that can address the least common denominator in your audience. Writing not only includes the way you write but also the ideas you come up with and the research you do.
  • Make sure you stick to your strategy and not veer away from it during implementation. Otherwise it makes your job more difficult.
  • Your style must be your own. The tone and voice you adopt to make your point must reflect your brand personality. Do not ape somebody else’s writing tone or style. Create one of your own and work towards refining it every step of the way.
  • Mix up your formats but make sure you focus on your strengths. If you do not have the expertise to come up with some solid video content, don’t.  On the other hand, if your forte is topical white papers make sure you get one out on a regular basis. The idea is to not make any half-baked efforts with respect to the content you publish. Your customers are looking for the best information available and which makes good use of its content format; you need to be able to deliver the goods all the time. So don’t take chances.

To Conclude

Content strategy and your branding efforts need to keep pace with each other. In fact, for many brands it is content that is acting as the main fuel of their marketing efforts. It is a purely content driven marketing strategy and more often than not it is delivering the results they are looking for. Content helps your brand come out looking like an expert and somebody who has the ability to deliver on the expectations of its customers. This in a nutshell is why content strategy needs to be a part of your branding efforts.

Image Credits: 1, 23

Building a marketing database: tips for small businesses and start-ups

database marketing, build a marketing databaseGrow your online prospects with a marketing database

Building and maintaining a marketing database is an absolute essential for any successful business – small businesses and start-ups included.  A good database should be the cornerstone of  your marketing communications, enabling  you to open up better, and consequently more productive communications with your customers and prospective customers.  It will help you effectively target your marketing communications to your customers – be it to gain new business, engage,  cross-sell, upgrade, inform, entertain or create loyalty.

When you are just starting out creating a marketing database your primary focus should be centered around:

  1. capturing and gathering useful information about your customers and prospective customers
  2. getting permission from your existing and prospective customers to contact with further communications.

This permission-based approach enables you to target your communications appropriately to achieve better response.

“The permission marketing concept suggests that communications requested by customers have a greater impact and higher response rates than the many unsolicited communications which bombard us each day through print, mail and TV.” Dave Chaffey, Smart Insights

So where to start?

Database marketing has become so sophisticated (think Supermarket loyalty cards like TESCO’s Clubcard) that many small businesses and start-ups can be put off getting their database started. Worries over how  complex databases are to set up, the cost of sophisticated contact management software, concerns over outsourcing and maintenance can inhibit new businesses getting their database off the ground. However when you are just starting out you should just be focusing on what you need now and what you can afford.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with starting out with a simple excel spreadsheet. You can always decide to move to a more sophisticated contact management system or outsource to a database company at a later date. So don’t be put off building yours just because it isn’t going to be an all singing, all dancing database. Building a basic database with key customer information is still a worthwhile and cost-effective activity that will provide a solid foundation of prospects and customers for you to build upon as your business develops.

What information should you capture?

There is all sorts of interesting information you can capture about your customers, enabling you to learn more about their behaviour and needs. From basic demographics (age, gender, income) to  purchasing history such as products or services they have bought  from you or shown an interest in, lifestyle interests and so on. You can then use this data to segment your audience into related groups and target your communications more effectively.

However, when you are initially setting up your database focus on what information you actually need now.  This will depend on your business and what type of communications you are intending to send out – for example is it just email communications  or are you sending out direct mail promotions?  Spend some time deciding what customer information is going to be the most value to you. Basic  fields to start populating your database with  may include some or all of the following:

  • Email address
  • First name
  • Surname
  • Salutation
  • Job Title
  • Company name
  • Company Address
  • Home address
  • Mobile
  • Prospective customer / customer / lapsed customer
  • Date record was entered

 

How to encourage people to hand over their personal details and give you permission to contact them.

Once you’ve set up your database you need to think about how to get your customers and prospective customers to hand over personal information and give you permission to contact them with further communications. You may have a few loyal customers willing to pass over personal information just by asking for it, however the reality is that most people are only going to provide it if there is something in it for them.

The likelihood is that you’ll need to entice customers in with an incentive to reward for them for taking the time to handover their personal details. Long forms can be really off-putting so I would  suggest you consider focusing on getting their email address first – you can then get more detailed  information from them at a later date  – once you’ve built up more of a relationship.  If you need your customers to complete longer forms then think about an incentive that will motivate them to do so – of course you’ll get a higher uptake if you offer something relevant to your customer base and the industry you are in. For example:

  • 15% off plus free delivery and returns when you sign up to email newsletter
  • Download free whitepaper or ‘how to guide’
  • Free entry to a webinar
  • Free gift or e-voucher
  • Enter a competition

Quality data is worth its weight in gold so offering an attractive incentive is going to be cost-effective in the long-term.

Managing and maintaining your database

Having a up-to-date, useful database is essential. There is absolutely no point having a marketing database full of contacts who are completely disinterested in your business as not only will you annoy people by sending them irrelevant information, you are wasting money maintaining their records and skewing your response rates.

Keep your database clean, relevant and up to date and it will be far more efficient.

Make it easy for people to unsubscribe from your emails and make sure you remove them or suppress them from your database as soon as they request it.   Email database addresses decay by an average of 22.5% over a year  so this it important to keep information as up-to-date as possible. And of course the longer time goes on the more likelihood your data becomes inaccurate and this is when errors are most likely to occur.

And finally, don’t forget to make sure your are up-to-date on data protection laws, your contacts have opted-in and you are following good practice with regards to data privacy.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this post, so please do leave a comment.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Marketing Metrics for Modern Strategies: Three Basics for Measuring Your Marketing Investment

ROI Marketing Metrics

You know you should be measuring the value of your marketing, but youre not sure how to go about doing that, exactly. Fortunately, marketing is a science, not a guessing game. You can measure it like you would anything else. Heres how. 

 

Identify Your Revenue Attribution

Marketing companies, like Yodle.com, recommend that you focus on your revenue attribution when tracking and measuring sales and marketing investment. In other words, where do your sales come from? If you pump a lot of money into your Adwords platform, do you know whether its paying off? It is paying for itself? If you dont know this, you should.

Likewise, you should have an understanding of the weighted-average ROI for all marketing and sales initiatives. So, If 60 percent of your marketing dollars are spent on pay-per-click, you should have a system in place to measure the total efficacy of your marketing dollars, with 60 percent weight given to the PPC platform.

You’ll also need to make sure that your shopping cart software is capable of integrating third party tracking scripts into the order completed web page to pass back sales metrics to your Adwords marketing platform to accurately track ROI.

Does all of this sound complicated? It can be, and thats often why small businesses hire a marketing firm to do this for them. Marketing is a skill – a vastly under-appreciated skill. Its not something that most people can successfully do all by themselves.

Coordinate Your Sales Team

Sales and marketing departments rarely talk to each other, even though theyre on the same team. Heck, their jobs depend on each other. So, show them exactly how dependent they are on each otherssuccesses. Tie compensation and bonuses to their counterparts success.

Show the sales department the impact they have on their marketing brothers, and vice-versa. Once each department fully understands the impact on the other, you can then better coordinate marketing dollars between the both of them. Instead of competing against one another, they will trade off finite marketing dollars and work together to allocate those dollars for maximum revenue and profits, regardless of how much each department gets.

Use Data To Drive Marketing

Sometimes, its hard to know what the data is telling you. It is, after all, just numbers on a screen. But, with that in mind, there are some things you can glean from your data sets. One of those things is the click-through rates on links, open rates of emails, sales, and visitor flow.

Of these, visitor flow is the least understood, but possibly the most helpful analytic you could measure and analyze. Visitor flow means how visitors move through your site. So, for example, if a visitor lands on your homepage, and goes to your Aboutpage, and then stops at your order page without ordering anything, something between the homepage and the Aboutpage prevented the sale.

Of course, theres always the possibility that the price was too much for the customer, but that raises the question: why was the prospect not sold?Maybe you need to sculpt your Aboutpage and homepage to better anticipate shopping cart abandonment or bouncing on the sales page. Maybe you could take the links to the sales page off the Aboutpage, if theyre there. Or, dont allow people to click directly to the order page if theyre on the home page. Or, create a pre-sellon both pages or at least one of those pages.

Guest Author: Loretta Martinez Loretta has decades of experience in marketing. With innovations and trends keeping her busy, she often blogs about the basic tips and tricks to successful marketing plans.

How to optimise your landing pages and increase conversions

Apollo moon landing

Don’t underestimate the importance of a good landing.

Landing pages play an integral role in maximizing online conversions. Yet, a surprising number of small online businesses overlook their importance.  A good landing page should engage your visitor, generate a response, increase conversions, answer your customer’s information needs, reduce your ‘bounce’ rate and support your brand.

“Landing pages can be described as the entrance doors to a website that only selected customers are directed to” (Gay et al, Online Marketing, 2007)

Put simply, your landing page is the destination web page a customer arrives at when they click on a link – usually from a marketing communication or referring site. The landing page, the page on which your customer enters your website, is incredibly important as it is often the first impression that they get of your business.

Do you recognise this all too familiar scenario? You spend time putting together a fantastic offer and communicate it effectively to your customers via a great, targeted email campaign.  Your customer, enticed by your exciting offer, clicks on the link through to your website – then inexplicably exits your website immediately? So what might be going wrong? One possibility could be down to the web page you have sent your recipient to – the landing page.

Exit signBounce rate – how are your landing pages performing?

“In a nutshell bounce rate measures the percentage of people who come to your website and leave “instantly”. Thought about from a customer perspective rather than I came, I saw, I conquered, the action is I came, I saw, Yuck, I am out of here.” Avinash Kaushik

The bounce rate is a really useful measurement to use when you are evaluating the effectiveness of your landing pages. Your bounce rate is essentially the number of customers who arrive at your website then leave immediately – without looking at any other pages. The basic rule of thumb is the lower the bounce rate the better. A high bounce rate may suggest some issues with your landing page.

A good starting point is to look at your Google Analytics (or equivalent) Landing Page report and look at the landing pages with the highest bounce rate. From here you can visit those landing pages and review what might not be working so well – unrelated or irrelevant content, no call to action, confusing format and so on.

So what is an average bounce rate to measure your performance against? Actually, an average bounce rate is difficult to pin down as it will differ for industry and web page type (for example a contact us page is automatically going to have a high bounce rate due to the nature of it use – in fact a high bounce rate in this case would indicate your contact page is doing its job). However to give you a ball park figure , Google put the average around 40%-60% so this is probably a good starting point to begin with.

“According to Google the average bounce rate for most sites falls in the range of 40% – 60%.  If your site bounce rate is below 40% you are doing well and if it’s above 60% then you definitely need to find out why”. Anders Analytics

Welcome mat imageWhat makes a good landing page?

So, your hard work has paid off. You have successfully grabbed your customer’s attention and they’ve clicked through to your site. How then do you make sure you don’t lose them? The first thing to remember is that the page your customer arrives at may be the first experience they have had of your website. You need to make them feel welcome and reassure them they’ve arrived at the right place.

1. Create different, campaign specific landing pages

Often the first place that visitors are automatically directed to is the home page, and sometimes this is appropriate. However, the problem with the home page is that due to the broad  job it has to do, it can’t be very message specific. This can make  it difficult to develop a customer’s interest and elicit a particular response.

You need to consider where it is the customers is coming from – be it an email newsletter, search engine, social media site or a specific marketing promotion – and direct your customers to a landing page that is appropriate to the message being communicated. For example if your customer has been enticed by a special promotional offer, then you should have a specific landing page dedicated to that offer. The landing page should enable the customer to easily find out further information about the offer and there should be a clear call to action.

2. Think about it from your customer’s point of view.  

Before you write the copy for your landing page, think about what it is that will drive your customer to click-through to your website. What link has bought them to you – what are they expecting to find? You then need to write your copy accordingly. Your landing pages should provide additional, relevant information to your searchers based on the offer or referring site that they have just clicked through on.

3. Have a clear and specific message

Make sure that the message you are conveying to your customer is clear, targeted and specific. Don’t get distracted and try to be all things to all people. Keep your message concise, relevant and to the point.

4. Have recognisable and consistent branding

Make sure your landing page reflects your brand and is consistent with the rest of your website – even if your landing page is just temporary for a time-specific promotion. Remember, even if your ultimate objective is conversion, you must try to ensure all visitors (even those who choose not to convert at this time) have a positive experience. As we mentioned earlier, this maybe your users’ first time on your website and so you need to create a good first impression if you want them to come back.

5. Clear and easy call to action

Make it as easy as possible for your visitors to convert. Your call to action should be obvious and it should be easy for your customer to respond to. If you’ve got them this far, you don’t want to put them off with a complicated call to action or a request for too much information. The more straightforward it is, the more likely it is you’ll get that conversion.

6. Well thought out page design and layout

As with any other web page, think carefully about page design and layout. It should be easy to navigate, user-friendly (for example how easy is it for your user to complete an action?) and visually appealing.

I’ll leave you with some solid landing page advice from Web Analytics guru Avinash Kaushik on improving your bounce rate:

“If you want to have high performing web pages make sure that you:

1. Have a clear understanding of what the purpose of that page is and

2a. a clearer understanding of what drove customers to the page and

2b. what they want to accomplish to ensure that

3. #1 and #2 are in alignment.”

We’d really love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic, so please do leave a comment.

Exit sign image courtesy of cbenjasuwan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Welcome mat image courtesy of John Kasawa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Small Business Guide to Marketing Planning Part 4: Tactics

Soccer tactics on chalkboardOur Small Business Guide to Marketing Planning has been looking at how using a simple marketing framework like SOSTAC can help guide you through all the elements needed to make a marketing plan a useful and relevant tool for your business.

  • Part 1 discussed the value of marketing planning for small businesses and looked at SOSTAC as a planning system.
  • Part 2 examined situational analysis and the importance of understanding where your business currently stands.
  • Part 3 talked about how to write SMART objectives and formulate your marketing strategy.

In Part 4 of our marketing planning guide we look at tactics and the communication tools we can use to achieve the targets we have set our business for the year ahead.

Tactics: How EXACTLY are you going to get there?

So, the market analysis you’ve undertaken means you know where your business currently stands and consequently, you have formulated your goals and objectives. You should have good idea of where it is you want to be. Your strategy has looked at how you are going to achieve your objectives. So the next step is tactics – how exactly are you going to get there? What digital communication tools are you going to use to support your strategy in order to achieve your objectives? The tactics element of your marketing plan is really the detail of your strategy;  it is here you outline the tools you are going to use.

Benefits of digital marketing tools

Digital marketing has brought with it a number of benefits for small online businesses, making it possible (with a bit of investment in both time and effort) to market on a more level playing field with some of the bigger competitors. Digital marketing offers SME’s the benefit of:

  • Lower costs: there are a number of digital tools that small online businesses can utilise without the cost associated with some of the more traditional marketing methods. For example social media, SEO and email  are all tools that smaller business can use without having to incur high marketing costs.
  • Creativity: digital marketing has made it easy to be creative with your marketing – social media, video, games etc. can all be used to pull in potential customers through engaging online content.
  • Interaction with customers: the interactive nature of the web has provided an excellent environment for developing customer relationships. For example, blogs, discussion forums and customer reviews have all made two-way dialogue with customers far easier. Rather than just throwing out messages,  digital tools enable you to pull customers into your site and engage in more meaningful communications.
  • Easier measurement: the digital environment has meant the introduction of online tools like web analytics that can help you measure your performance with more accuracy. Web analytics are simply the tools we can use to measure, collect and  analyse data to better understand our online presence. By using metrics such as traffic source, conversions, bounce rates and so on, small business can more effectively measure the performance of their marketing activity.
  • Immediacy: if you’ve got something exciting to say, you don’t have to wait to shout about it to your customers. Email and social media can be instantaneous. For example if you have something that is time sensitive sending an email promotion to a customer is far quicker (and lower cost), then its offline direct mail counterpart.

Digital Marketing Tools

Obviously the digital communication tools you decide to use will depend on your objectives and strategy alongside available budget and resources. But as a small online business, the key digital tools you may want to consider are likely to include:

  1. Search Engine Marketing (SEM):  the process you go through to increase your page ranking on search engines in order for you to increase you business’ visibility and drive traffic to your site. SEM essentially divides into two,  increasing your ranking through SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and through paid advertising (PPC). Search engine optimisation requires time, effort and commitment but is an essential part of building your business’ presence online.
  2. Online PR: sending out press releases to relevant media can be a great way not only to promote your latest news and developments, but also keeps fresh content coming into your website for SEO purposes, increases inbound links to and builds brand awareness.
  3. Online advertising: interactive online advertising essentially means you advertise your business on a third-party site through a banner ad. Although there are likely to be costs associated with online display advertising, it can be a useful way to increase awareness of your brand and generate direct response from potential customers.
  4. Email Marketing: email is an essential channel for both acquiring new customers and retaining existing customers. Despite worries over the increase in spam, email remains an effective marketing tool. The costs are low (in comparison to direct mail), response can be immediate, it can be quick to deploy, and can be tailored to specific customer segments easily.
  5. Social Media: Engaging with your customers though social media is a great way to give your business and brand a personality. Used thoughtfully, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social media sites can help promote your products, help you gain valuable customer insight and help drive new traffic and increase inbound links to your site.
  6. Online sales promotion: Online vouchers, discount codes and e-coupons can be a great sales promotion tool. They can help increase sales, drive traffic and reward customer loyalty.
  7. Content Marketing:  We’ve mentioned it over and over again in previous blogs, but content is the cornerstone of online marketing – it is absolutely central to everything you do. Think about ways to keep content on your site fresh, up-to-date, relevant and interesting. Perhaps look at ways you can increase your content such as through blogging, video demonstrations, customer reviews and competitions. For ideas, I suggest you take a look at a The Content Marketing Matrix from Smart Insights.
  8. Online partnerships: Identifying ways in which you can work in partnership with a third-party to promote your online services can pay dividends by opening your business up to a stream of new and relevant customers. This could be with affiliates, suppliers or complementary businesses and associations.

The final part of our marketing planning guide will be looking at Actions and Control the final two elements of the SOSTAC marketing planning framework.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment.

Soccer Game Strategy image by Kromkrathog at FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

Small business guide to marketing planning part 2: situational analysis

SWOT signpostIn Part 1 of our guide to successful marketing planning we discussed the importance of putting time aside to plan your marketing for the year ahead.  We looked at the SOSTAC model as a simple and effective framework to follow when creating a marketing plan for your online business.  Part 2 of our guide looks at situational analysis in more detail. Situational analysis is the  first step in putting together a useful and relevant marketing plan.

Situational Analysis : Where are you now?

Before you rush headlong into creating your marketing plan for the year ahead, you need first to have a thorough understanding of where your business currently stands. Without this knowledge you are unlikely to be able to formulate a successful marketing strategy or steer your marketing activity in the direction it needs to go in order to support your overall business goals. Carrying out a situational analysis will provide you with a solid base from which to build the rest of your plan around.

Situational analysis essentially involves reviewing your internal and external environment through carrying out various useful analysis exercises. Including:

  • Customer Insight
  • SWOT
  • PESTEL
  • Competitor Analysis

Customer Insight

Customers should be the central focus of any marketing. Understanding your customer’s characteristics, behaviours and needs is fundamental to whether your business succeeds or fails long-term. Only through having a thorough understanding of your customers can you deliver what they want and achieve customer satisfaction.

Gathering as much data as you can about your customers is important. This could be through quantitative data such as demographics from registration forms, online behaviour from web analytics or more qualitative research such as feedback from social media interactions or lifestyle questionnaires. The more information you have the more you will be able to segment your customers into target markets with shared characteristics and offer more relevant and personalised communications, which in turn is more likely to lead to a higher conversion rates.

SWOT

A SWOT analysis involves looking at your internal environment by  identifying your businesses strengths and weaknesses and the opportunities and threats provided by your external environment. A simple SWOT matrix like the image below  is a useful way to list them : 

SWOT matrix

Performing a SWOT enables you to identify and compare your key strengths and weaknesses alongside opportunities and threats from the external environment. This way you can ascertain the areas you are strong, the areas you can potentially improve, opportunities to exploit and threats you need to manage. Essentially it is about taking advantage of the strengths and opportunities which are going to help you achieve your objectives and identifying and managing any weaknesses or threats that may hinder you achieving your objectives.

PESTEL

A PESTEL analysis looks in more detail at the influences of the surrounding external environment and is a great exercise to get you thinking about external factors you may not have previously considered. PESTEL stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal – obviously some factors will have more of an impact than others:

  • Political – monitoring legislations from national and international governments is important. For example Government’s approaches to the Internet and its use could have a huge bearing on how online businesses operate.
  • Economic – economic factors from different countries can have a wide-reaching impact on the spending power of both individual consumers and organisations – for example what effect might a steep rise in interest rates or changes in exchange rates have on you or your customers?
  • Social – What social trends are occurring? For example the last few years have seen a significant growth in the older generation going online – what opportunities might that offer your business?
  • Technological – changes in the technological environment are often rapid and can have a knock on effect on your business. For example the massive rise in m-commerce has made it imperative that online business are multi-device friendly.
  • Environmental – Ecological and environmental factors may affect how a company operates. For example consumer pressure for fairtrade, sustainable and ethically produced goods may offer opportunities but could also drive up costs?
  • Legal – changes in law can effect how  your  company has to operate. For example how would changes to the data-protection act change how you collect and store customer information?

Once you have brainstormed all the relevant external factors, you can then classify them as high, medium or low impact and identify whether they are a potential opportunity or threat that needs to be managed.

Competitor Analysis

Keeping abreast of what your competitors are doing is of paramount importance as it enables you to gain competitor intelligence that can be fed into your strategy and planning. Competitor analysis is simply the  process of monitoring assessing your competition. We’ve examined competitor analysis in detail in our posts Getting To Know Your Competitors and Competitor Benchmarking – How to Compare Competitors Online, so take a moment to look at these posts as they’ll help you identify your competitor landscape and show you how to gain competitor insight through digital analysis.

Spending some time thinking about and indeed, carrying out some of the analysis we’ve discussed will help ensure that the foundation of any strategy or planning you are undertaking is an accurate reflection of you businesses current situation. It will make certain that your marketing objectives and strategy  are all pointing in the right direction to grow your business and support your business goals. In Part 3 of marketing planning we’ll be looking at  SMART objectives and formulating a marketing strategy.

SWOT signpost image courtesy of Scottchan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment