What do we mean when we talk about digital (marketing) strategy?

This outtake is from an hour of discussion recorded exclusively for our Pivotal Marketer Community on Facebook (where the full recording is available) sees Mike Berry, marketing trainer and consultant and MMC’s Rene Power discussing digital marketing strategy, what it is, what it isn’t, marketing involvement in the C-suite and key marketing strategy models.

It’s the first in a series of serialisations on marketing strategy, be sure to check all new posts as they publish (or see the recommended reading below).

Rene: So we’ve got these four little areas we’re going to go through in the next sort of 20 or 30 minutes or so. And we’re going to start with the big ones.

So when we talk about digital strategy, what do we mean? What sort of things do we think that includes? I’m going to kick that one over to Mike first, if I may.

Mike Berry: Yeah, a really good question Rene. And a lot of people are using exactly that phrase without the other word marketing. So actually it’s broader, isn’t it? Digital strategy, broader than digital marketing strategy.

Most of us are marketers by background and marketers at heart maybe. But remember of course these technologies have affected many more parts of a business than just the four Ps of marketing.

So when you talk about marketing strategy, it’s a very, very broad area. And I think it’s CEO level. It’s definitely about transformation of all your business processes and the technology affects production, it affects HR, it affects sales.

And I think the really big picture is the whole digital transformation piece. And again, that has become a bit of a cliché, a bit of jargon, hasn’t it?

Because I think some people originally thought, “Well okay, we’ll do digital transformation then it will be done. We can breathe a sigh of relief. We will be transformed and we get on with business.”

A permanent state of beta

Whereas of course, depending on how you interpret it, transformation never ends. It’s a continuous state. I think it was Gerd Leonhard, the futurist who said the future will be permanent beta, which is a great expression or maybe it’s beta.

But in other words, we’re never going to get there and the journey is what matters and we can always improve. And it also means that there’s always ways of testing new things and trying new things.

And we have to be ready to be surprised because the technology and the end users, the consumers or the business customers, they are unpredictable by definition. So the wild ride continues would be my analysis Rene.

Rene: Yeah, there’s a lot of great stuff in there to unpack isn’t there? And I think you’re right. I think looking at that kind of impact on a business or an organisation as a whole, in its totality, is one of the best places to start.

Like you said, as marketers we’re sometimes perhaps a little bit guilty of focusing on the promotional P and not perhaps forcing an involvement or an important some of the other things.

In some organisations the sales teams will set the pricing, but actually pricing is fundamentally a marketing thing as well isn’t it? Because it links so closely into the positioning and all the other things that fall out of good marketing strategy.

So I think you’re right, digital marketing strategy which is looking at your audience, your market, your competition, all that stuff that we would do as a conventional traditional marketing strategy, but obviously with a keen focus on that ever important online environment.

And I think we only have to look at the rise to prominence of things like the search engines, particularly Google and the social media platforms. And now even some of these apps that are coming along and taking share from some of these sites to see how fragmented this all gets and how having a strategy that can really start to maximise and play into some of that can help us.

So, I think you’re right. It’s really important to look from almost the top down in the business because I think like you said, that it’s very easy to think, “Hey let’s go digital or let’s start e-commerce site, and let’s sell more stuff online.” But there’s so much that has to go into making that work isn’t there? There’s so many other considerations.

Mike Berry: And I completely agree with your point about the four Ps and it’s something that I’ve been very vociferous about in the past, and I never tire of arguing that marketers should step up.

The colouring in department has a role and that’s the rude word that has often that rude term applied by departments like sales. “They’re just in an ivory tower these marketing guys spending our money, frittering it away, thinking of cool new things, but they’re not really “selling boxes”.

And particularly if the marketers do allow themselves to be put in that pigeonhole of just being the marketing communications people, there’s a whole lot of other things in the business where marketing could have a valuable input. I’m not saying that marketing should be in total control of pricing or of product formulation or distribution.

There are experts and specialists who do that stuff, but they should I believe be in the meetings or at least the senior marketing person, whoever she or he is, the CMO should be represented in those conversations because they can say something like, “Well okay, I hear that we want to put the prices up and sales are feeling that it might be alright but from our research or the customer, we think we’re going to have a major problem for that much a drift on price.”

And equally if the product is intangible, it’s a service and the distribution bit isn’t working the translation of that is the user experience isn’t good. Whoever is trying to get hold of the product can actually pay their money and still not actually access it.

Then that’s a modern day fail on one of the other Ps, the distribution bit, the Place, because the marketing people will know that, that’s all part of the brand promise. And if you don’t deliver it right at that early stage of someone becoming a customer for the first time, then that’s a very bad sign for the future.

So I think marketers should step up and CEOs should listen to marketers even if they personally didn’t work their way up through marketing. Often they’re finance people, aren’t they?

Rene: Yeah often they’re finance or sales.

Mike Berry: And good finance people respect marketing, and let’s face it marketing doesn’t need to be restrained sometimes and finance people have got a perfect instrument for that by saying, “No, you can’t have the money.”

Marketing strategy models

Rene: Great. So we’re thinking about digital marketing strategy as being some kind of structured process that maybe helps a business or an organisation to create a long-term plan of how to use digital technologies to ultimately deliver on business goals I suppose. So when we start thinking about models and approaches and ways to do that, I know I’ve got my favourite. What sort of models do you teach or recommend to clients that you work with, Mike?

Mike Berry: Well, digital marketing strategy we have to remember it’s still marketing. And I teach general marketing to undergraduates as well as digital marketing to CIM students for MMC for instance.
And we shouldn’t imagine that when Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, all the models of the 20th century became obsolete at a stroke.

So my answer would be maybe the answer that someone would have given you in the year 1990 to start with, the basic four Ps of marketing, if you want another three to make it seven also PESTLE for the macro economic, the macro factors, the environment that every business operates in.

Porter’s Five Forces is a great way of making sure that you are considering every source of competition. The end of your situation analysis would be SWOT and that I think will last forever, certainly longer than me. It’s so logical and so memorable. And everywhere I go in the world, people say, “Oh yes, walk, you’re not going to try and teach us that.”

So it seems like every marketer was born knowing SWOT. Presumably there is a class or a course when they first ever hear it, but I’ve never been able to teach that course. Everyone’s always heard of it before me.

Rene: But it’s all to do I think when it comes to something like SWOT, which is a very well established model and for the new students or the new aspiring marketers watching this, it’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats matrix, really simple four boxes. And you’re analysing your business in lieu of those four things.

It’s as simple as that but actually I know when I’ve run sessions with some clients, you can get really deep and really unearth some quite powerful insights that have been sat almost dormant and not understood that can really shape a defining future for an organisation if you really give into the process.

Mike Berry: Exactly. And that’s the beauty of SWOT in that it’s so simple but can contain so much complexity. And of course the other acronyms which I meant PESTLE is about the external factors.

And you can spend a whole class easily on each one of these, a whole session, but just to answer your earlier question Rene, I would say that digital marketing is still marketing, but of course things are changing and new models come in. And I particularly like for instance the

RACE framework from Smart Insights, I also like SOSTAC from PR Smith.

And you could say that all these models represent common sense. You start from where you are, you set your objectives where you want to get to. And then we would use SMART as an acronym, which also everyone seems to have heard of S-M-A-R-T objectives-

Rene: There’s a lot of acronyms

Mike Berry: There are so many, you shouldn’t have asked me Rene. How long have you got? And then you set your SMART objectives, which has of course it would be O of SOSTAC. Then we have the strategy and strategy might include personas, segmentation, targeting, positioning, all that good stuff. And then of course tactics, actions.

And lastly with SOSTAC, it would be C for control which means measurement. So we get to analytics and I think we should always get to analytics. Analytics my short definition is data, insights, action. You’ve got your data, the good data analyst is able to interpret it and add value and then you ask the data analyst “Great. So what should we do?” And we need that answer as well. It has to end up with action. And the SOSTAC framework is a great way of just making sure you are following the whole process and you haven’t forgotten anything and you stay in control as the great man said.

Rene: I’m a big fan of the SOSTAC model as well. And I know it’s often heralded as one of the CIM’s most important business models of the last 100 years or so because of it’s all encompassing, comprehensive approach to analysing current position. Like you say setting strategy and objectives for reaching a defined and point that gives you the success that you’re looking for. And then the step-by-step process by which you’re going to hopefully achieve that. So SOSTAC (S-O-S-T-A-C) is definitely worth something looking up. And I think for most of you studying or having just completed your course of study I’m sure that’s a model that you will have come across.

And the RACE model too which is something that at MMC where we’re big fans of. We’ve got a current series of posts up on the website, which is exploding that model in quite a lot of detail with video interviews from, Dave Chaffey who created that model as well. It’s definitely worth going and looking at that up on the website as well.

Mike Berry: What I’ll add Rene is that you can find more models forever and every pair it’s normally two, isn’t it? Every pair of academics who want to make their name come up with another number of Cs or another number of Ss or something.

And there is a time when you stop and you say, “Actually I have enough models, thank you.” Now the key thing is to contextualise them. So particularly if you’re writing assignments for a study for an awarding body like CIM, they want to know that you are putting stuff in context.

You understand the model, you’ve memorised it, but also you’ve internalised it and you know what the author of the model was actually thinking when he or she created it. But crucially you can then apply it to a real organisation. So there’s a contextualization bit and there’s a limit to the number of models we need.

The ones that we have, if you’ve got one that’s good for planning, one that’s good for media selection, one that’s good for structuring your analytics.

Then you may well have enough models. Then as I say the challenge is to really apply it so that you are in control of what your business is doing in your own particular world with your customers and your marketing environment. And every company is of course different.

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