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10 ways to ensure your digital marketing strategy actually gets implemented.

Most businesses know how vital digital marketing is for attracting, convincing, converting, and retaining audiences. And – I’m sure it’s safe to say – most would agree that having a good strategy is a critical component of successful digital marketing.

Now, before I go any further, if you are looking for an article about what a digital marketing strategy is, what goes into it, or why it’s important, then you might want to stop reading about now. While these are all important topics, there are plenty of these types of articles out there already.

Instead, this article focuses on a common flaw with many digital marketing strategies I have seen in the past: When the strategy gets created and celebrated, but quickly becomes irrelevant. It is merely a paper exercise. Weeks of research and analysis, followed by a fancy document, but nothing comes of it. The strategy is filed away, never to be referred to again.

What a waste.

So why do some digital marketing strategies die a quick and painful death? Well, it could be down to one or many factors. Here are ten I have observed. My hope is that whether you are about to embark on the creation of a new digital marketing strategy, or you are in the midst of trying to successfully implement an existing one, you will consider the following reasons why many strategies fail, to ensure you approach your project differently.

1) It doesn’t address the challenge at hand.

It’s sad, but many strategies I see just follow a standard template – vision, mission, values, strategic objectives, etc. followed by a big list of tactics. All interesting to the people creating them, but they only provide a starting point. And, most importantly, they fail to address the specific challenges that the organisation is facing. If you don’t address your challenges, there’s no way you are going to create a successful strategy. You will just end up creating a list of actions, without much thought into why those actions are necessary.

What to do instead:

Start by analysing your current state. Be brutally honest. Where are you strong vs weak? What are the opportunities in front of you, and what may threaten your position? A good ol’ SWOT analysis is a simple tool to give you this valuable snapshot in time, but you don’t have to follow that format. At a minimum, you need to list your challenges. These are important as they are going to form the foundation of your strategy, giving you a clear guide to where you need to focus. Which brings me to…

2) It’s too complicated.

Comprehensive strategies have their place. But strategies with too many focus areas provide the opposite of clarity. If you have ever delved into, The Secrets of Consulting, by Jerry Weinberg you are probably aware of his Law of Raspberry Jam, “The wider you spread it, the thinner it gets.” The same principle is true for digital marketing strategies with too many things to focus on. They cause organisations to spread their efforts too thinly. A digital marketing strategy with too many areas of focus will ultimately make you feel like you are achieving nothing well.

What to do instead:

You will remember in my first point I said to list down your challenges.  That will provide you a wider context of the problems your whole organisation needs to face. Now, you probably can’t tackle all of them at once. So break them down to create a narrow focus for your activities. One way to do this is to prioritise the top five challenges (three is even better). Order them based on where you think you can have the biggest impact, then align your strategy around those. Remember: if you have too much to focus on, then you’re not really focusing at all.

3) It’s just a ‘shopping list’ of potential tactics.

It’s going to appear harsh, but you need to be honest about whether you are busy – or simply a busy fool. Ask yourself whether you have a digital marketing strategy, or a list. Because a project that’s simply a ‘to do’ list is going to keep everyone busy, but is that the goal?  I can’t emphasise enough the need to narrow your focus and utilise your time effectively. And this can mean calling out areas to avoid so you don’t just keep everyone occupied, without achieving the desired results.

What to do instead:

When it comes to digital marketing strategy, it is just as important to call out things that you will not do. If you’re a B2B company and you spend an hour each day posting on Facebook, ask yourself: “what is this achieving?” Do the results directly correlate to the time spent? Or would you be better placed doubling your effort on LinkedIn? Or something else entirely? Remember, you need to focus on the most important challenges to ensure you get the biggest impact. Call out the actions that are not working. And give your team time to focus on improving on the areas that matter – anything else is simply a distraction.

4) It’s entirely outsourced.

Outsourcing your digital marketing strategy to specialists is often a good idea. It provides insight, external knowledge, and clarity. Of course we’re possibly slightly biased on this one, but we know one thing that doesn’t work: this is not something that can be handed over and conducted in isolation. I can’t tell you how many times we see failed strategies that have been entirely outsourced to an external consultant/agency. The chosen agency, happy for the project, will work away in the background for weeks. They return to present you with your final strategy – the ‘big reveal’ and… disappointment. They didn’t hit the mark. Sound familiar?

What to do instead:

If you do decide to outsource your digital marketing strategy, insist you are a part of the process. This doesn’t mean you should take over and run the project – you’re outsourcing to experts for a reason. But make sure you are involved in what’s happening and can provide feedback, guidance, and context wherever it is needed. It’s easier to pick up problems when they are small – in their infancy – and correct them. Left alone, they can magnify and before you know it, you are weeks down the line – and lots of work (and expense) has gone into the wrong areas. Making it a joint effort will ensure the strategy hits the mark – and it’s more likely to be successfully implemented.

5) It doesn’t have management buy-in.

Who are the cheerleaders for the digital marketing strategy? Is there complete buy-in from the people that matter? Namely the management, owners, or board? Because if you are flying the digital flag alone, you will struggle to effectively get it off the ground. It will be pushed out by other projects that are deemed more important. Time, consideration, and resources will be stretched. Even the best strategy needs work to help it succeed.

What to do instead:

Make sure the people you are reporting to understand the importance of the work. Demonstrate the reasons for the project. Explain the expected outcomes. Help them to understand why this is important to the organisation. For example, how it will benefit in sales or in other areas. If you are still getting nowhere, then this might not be the right time to implement the project. They may have their own priorities, and digital marketing strategy may not be one of them right now. But don’t give up; there’s a way to increase your chances of getting buy-in. Which brings me to…

6) It’s not aligned with the organisational strategy.

Too often we see different departments in an organisation working in silos. With their own objectives to meet and targets to hit, it’s easy to see why marketing and HR are focused on totally different areas of the business. However, in the most effective organisations, every department should work under and feedback into one overarching plan. The organisational strategy. But often this doesn’t happen. The digital marketing strategy is created without any consideration of wider organisational goals. Imagine your digital marketing focus is to deliver an increased quantity of new customers, but the organisational strategy’s focus was on retaining and nurturing existing customers – you’d be focusing on something that doesn’t contribute to the organisational goal.

What to do instead:

One sure-fire way to get buy-in at board level – and a successfully implemented digital marketing strategy – is to support the work the management team has been focused on. This usually means the organisational strategy. Make sure you read it. Take the key points and see how you can map them back to the work you are doing with your digital marketing strategy. Share it with your agency (they should be asking for it) and make sure everyone is working towards the same outcomes. It may seem like an obvious solution, but it is often overlooked.

7) It doesn’t address your capacity to implement.

Imagine you’ve done all of the above. You’ve identified your challenges and things to focus on vs not. You have buy-in from the right people. It maps to the objectives of the organisation. You’re all set, right? It’s amazing how many strategies fall at the final hurdle – when you realise the great plans you have simply can’t be implemented. Maybe you don’t have the skills internally. Or the timescale is not achievable. Or you don’t have the budget. Digital marketing strategies that don’t address an organisation’s capacity to implement are doomed to fail.

What to do instead:

When developing your strategy, make sure you assess how realistic each initiative is. Does it map to the resources you have? Are the timescales realistic? Do you need to outsource some of the elements? And do you have sign off on the budget to achieve these? The truth is, the investment of time and money will dictate the success of your strategy. If your organisation has the culture to sustain the initiative, you’re off a great start. But, to ensure success, the strategy you produce needs to match up to the necessary capacity.

8) It’s not measurable.

What does success mean? How do you know when you have achieved it? Too many strategies contain goals that are impossible to measure. Think “we want to become the best blah blah blah…”. How do you measure that? What does it mean to be the ‘best’ at something?

What to do instead:

Provide real and achievable targets that you can report against. And make sure you share them – often. If the board can see your measurements, they will understand what you are trying to achieve – even if they don’t fully understand any other part of the project. Make them facts and figures. As long as your measures are – erm – measurable, then they will be understood.

9) The strategy is clear, but the plan is vague.

You have no doubt heard the phrase, “a goal without a plan is just a wish”. Being clear about what you want is a great place for your strategy to be. Signed off by all the people that matter, you set off back to your desk to put it into practice. But unless you understand your route to get there, you will struggle to achieve your goals.

What to do instead:

You have now moved from goals and structures to more practical measures. The next step is to outline your plan to achieve that strategy. You don’t need to go into a huge amount of detail in this area – this is often why ‘strategy documents’ end up – unnecessarily – being dozens (sometimes hundreds) of pages long. But do put some thought into how each of your major initiatives will be implemented. Who is doing what? When? Do they have everything they need to achieve this? Where can you support them to succeed?

10) It’s too future focused.

Digital is an incredibly fast-moving field, and it is hard to predict what the world of digital looks like any more than five years in advance. New platforms pop up, organisations change their rules (remember the ‘death of organic reach’?), and even legislation can change (e.g. GDPR). So if you are creating a strategy that contains something you’re going to focus on five years from now, you might find in a couple of years that thing you thought you were going to be doing is no longer relevant. Or maybe no longer even a thing.

What to do instead:

Some may disagree with me here, but I don’t think a digital marketing strategy should focus any further ahead than three years. Your organisational strategy might (and probably should) be looking further into the future. But when it comes to your digital marketing strategy, if you look any more than three years into the future, you’re really just guessing. That’s not being strategic, that’s just blind hope. Instead, keep your focus somewhere in the 18 months to 3 years range. Then revisit it again, with fresh eyes and a clearer understanding of where to focus for the next stage.


That’s it! Have any more tips of your own? Connect with me on LinkedIn and let me know.