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“The phrase “digital strategy” gets thrown around a lot, but people have a different understanding of various meanings they associate with it, and many people aren’t even sure exactly what it means. So, what is it, and why is it something that your brand or business needs?

According to Wikipedia, “A digital strategy is a form of strategic management and a business answer or response to a digital question, often best addressed as part of an overall business strategy.” OK … anyone else confused? Now, let me give you my definition. A digital strategy is researching and auditing a client’s existing pain points and goals, creating a custom marketing strategy that not only addresses these points, but achieves the best ROI for them, while educating them on the digital tools being used and recommending best practices and future strategies that continue to elevate their business. Simpler, right?

The thing about digital strategies is that they are not one size fits all. Each client is different, each has different processes and infrastructures, and each has different short- and long-term goals. Therefore, a digital strategy that works for one client is not guaranteed to work for another. It is not a cookie-cutter formula, and it requires research, education, and nurturing. Some situations require a multilayered, or holistic, strategy, which means a team of experts may be required. These can include Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Strategists, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Strategists, Email Strategists, Social Media Strategists, Content Writers, Designers, Developers, and Account Managers.

Digital Strategy Defined

Below are a few tips that I live by, and that I also train others to use when developing a successful digital strategy. You’ll notice “educate” appears a few times — more on this later.

Before putting together any strategy: research! Research the client, their competitors, what industry trends are, and what they are forecasting future trends to be. Most importantly, be certain of what the client’s goals, short and long term, are. If the strategy is not aligned with the goals, it will never perform to the expectations of the client.

After you complete your research phase, audit what the client is currently doing. Are they running PPC ad campaigns? Are they utilizing SEO techniques to optimize their site? If so, are they performing well or showing positive results? Many times, companies will say they are utilizing a digital strategy but aren’t sure what the results are. Compare their strategy to their competitors to see how they are ranking. There are numerous software options available to conduct these audits. Some of my favorites are SpyFu, SEMrush, Moz, and Ahrefs.

Once you have compiled your audit results, share them with the client and educate them on the findings. Clearly walk them through what you found and be sure to speak in a language they understand. Try to stay away from acronyms. While, as industry professionals, we use them on the daily, most companies are not up to speed with many of them. Take the time to explain and ask if further clarification is needed. Always educate; never condescend.

At this point you are clear on the client’s goals, what you’ve found competitors are doing, and what the client is currently doing or not doing. Now is the time to develop the custom strategy for the client. Take into account short- and long- term goals and include future recommendations that can enhance the strategy. If the client is budget-conscious, break it into phases so the up-front cost is not as much. This also allows them to become comfortable with your team. And once they see positive results, they will be likely to expand the strategy.

Here we are again, educating. Just because you understand how the moving parts of the strategy will work, it doesn’t mean the client will. Be sure to set up a call, in-person meeting, or screen share to walk them through the strategy and how each part will work. Use this time to share your knowledge of best practices and future trends that may affect the direction of the strategy.

Test and Monitor
Once the strategy is set in motion, be sure to split test (i.e., test multiple versions) and adjust accordingly. For example, with PPC ads, try out a few different ad copies to see which have the highest conversion. If you are managing email campaigns, try sending the same email content but with two different subject lines to two test audiences. See which performs best and then send that version to the entire list. Like I mentioned earlier, digital marketing isn’t one size fits all, so it’s OK to tweak campaigns as needed.

And finally, educate … again. Each month put together an in-depth report on the results of each service included in the strategy. Take the time to review the report with the client. Again, remember, just because you know what CTR (Click-through Rate), CPC (Cost-Per-Click), and LTV (Lifetime Value) mean, it does not mean the client does. Take the time to clearly explain what the report defines and what everything means. Explain the changes month over month, good or bad. The client looks to you to be the expert and will appreciate your transparency and time.

The tech and digital marketing world are constantly changing. New buzzwords and acronyms are appearing online every day, algorithms are constantly changing, voice search is becoming the norm, and augmented and virtual reality are no longer a thing of movies. It’s important to stay abreast of not only these trends, but what is in the pipeline for the next five years. I’m constantly educating myself to expand my knowledge, whether it be industry blogs, webinars, meetups, or having conversations with colleagues in the tech industry. Education is not only power, it is mandatory to thrive in this industry and bring fresh, new ideas to your clients. While laying out a successful digital strategy is key, thought leadership sets you apart.