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I believe the single most important thing you can do in your digital marketing efforts is to develop a sound strategy. I know that may sound obvious, but it is surprising how many people want to skip the strategy stage and shoot right on into developing a Web site design or setting up a Facebook fan page without having first stopped to think about where it is that they want to end up. I’ve encountered this in past conversations with clients at the start of a project or engagement. And while I understand the competitive desire to “do something” to keep up with your market, failure to consider a guiding strategy is almost a guarantee that you will struggle in your efforts.

So, you might ask, what goes into a creating a good digital marketing strategy and how long will it take? I believe you can create a solid digital marketing strategy in 2 hours or less by focusing on three things:

1. Deciding what you want to accomplish/how things will be different once you are finished.
2. Defining what will constitute success in your efforts.
3. Determining what tactics and resources you will use.

Now, if you really like lengthy strategic planning documents, this may not be the best approach for you. However, if you want to focus on developing a strategy and getting down to work as quickly as possible, let’s take a closer look at these three steps and what’s involved.

Step 1: Deciding What You Want to Accomplish (30 minutes)
As you start your planning process, ask yourself a simple question: “what will be different if this plan is successful? “ By spending a few minutes on this question (don’t be afraid to let your mind wander), you should imagine the end of your project. I know this is hard for some, but trust me, if you can provide concrete statements on what you want to accomplish, you will be well on your way to defining your digital marketing strategy.

Sample concrete statements:

  • We want to change the way people watch video on the Web
  • We want our audience to freely share vacation tips and suggestions with one another in a social media setting.

Step 2: Defining Success (20 – 30 minutes)
Once you have decided what things will look like when your project is completed, you need to define success. In this instance, defining success is writing down measurable number targets (metrics) to your objectives so you can figure out if you moved the needle to reach your overall goals. In my experience, this is a step that a lot of people skip because they are afraid of putting down targets for the fear that they may not actually reach those targets. Again, that’s unfortunate because setting measurable targets is about letting you know how far you need to stretch and in what direction so that you can be effective.

Sample success metrics:

  • We will average $10,000 per month in pre-roll video advertising sales in Q3 and Q4.
  • We will maintain an audience engagement rate of 35% for all subscribers on our e-mail marketing list.

Step 3: Determining What Tactics and Resources You’ll Use (60 minutes)
You will spend the largest amount of time in this final step as you explore the tactics that will help you accomplish your strategic goals. In this step, the sky is the limit. You should take all the constraints off and explore all options. I typically recommend doing this with the aid of Post-It notes on a wall or a more sophisticated tool such as MindManager to help you capture all possibilities. This will keep you from discarding any options too early and help you see any potential connections between ideas.

If you are working with a team, be sure to create an environment where everyone can offer up an idea, not matter how off-the-wall it may seem, because it just may be the next great idea that will help you achieve your goal. However, once you are finished, you will need to summarize the options you discussed and be prepared to rank-order them so you can turn them into actionable items for your digital marketing plan.

Sample tactics:

  • We will setup a YouTube channel to host our product videos and improve our organic search rankings. The videos will live within the YouTube platform and we’ll use the embed code to place the videos on the product pages within our site.
  • We will use our e-mail marketing platform to develop a triggered e-mail series to introduce our products to new and current customers.
    • We will reach new customers through Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising.
    • We will connect with our current customers by sending an initial e-mail announcing the new product line.

Clearly, you can do a lot more to make your digital marketing strategy quite sophisticated, and in some cases that may be required. However, the above framework will work in most cases as it provides the basic “blocking and tackling” you’ll need to do to get your project or company up and running in the digital space. And best of all, you’ve only spent about 2 hours to do it!

Photo courtesy of Dalo_Pix2 on Flickr.