Ellie Murphy, Chair, CIM Scotland give some insight into developing your strategy in a digital world... 

Voice search. TikTok. Augmented Reality. Proximity targeting. User generated content. Social listening. Bots. Paid social. Vlogs. It’s enough to make some of us want to lie down in a dark room. But, how do you work out what’s important for your marketing strategy and how do you build profile in a digital world when the options are seemingly endless and ever evolving?

“Develop the strategy first and do that properly: what are the challenges? What are the opportunities? – a good old fashioned, but much maligned SWOT” says Alistair Gronbach, Group Marketing Director for Stewart Milne Group. He continues “in the rush to create activities many people don’t do this. Once you know what you are trying to do, then there are endless new ways of getting information about consumers and communicating to them, influencing them and having conversations with them.”

This view is echoed by Neil Harrison, Head of Healthier Marketing for the Scottish Government, who emphasises the need to treat digital channels as part of your wider marketing strategy. He highlights the need for tailoring, both of channels and content: “Not every digital channel is right for every organisation or campaign. But if you do decide to use a channel, make sure your content is properly optimised and set up correctly for that channel. If you can test and learn, that is ideal.”

So, the message is clear. Draw breath first and get your wider strategy nailed, and the relevant opportunities to maximise the benefits of digital – for reach, targeting, penetration, brand positioning and insight gathering – will shake out from this.

One of the most noticeable features of marketing communication over the last five months of the global Covid-19 pandemic, has been how this has turbo-charged businesses’ engagement in the use of digital to reach their target audiences and build their profile. Again, planning how to do this effectively (but at speed for many) has been key. But what should we be focusing on?

- Kick off with a digital audit – more than a “back of a fag packet” assessment, but not an audit that takes six months to deliver. You want a clear, concise assessment of the digital health of your business, and your competitors, so you can prioritise your next steps – website reach, performance, search rankings for relevant keywords, gaps in digital profile compared with your business objectives, engagement with your social channels and an assessment of where your target audience hang out in the digital space

- Check in on your brand personality and tone of voice – if you’re wanting to build profile, your digital deliverables need to enhance your personality or give creative opportunities to get your brand message across in a way that feels true to your brand

- Think content strategy and quality content – a tip top content strategy, aligned with your wider business strategy, helps consumers remember your brand, builds trust and encourages personal engagement with your brand. It also has the happy side effect of increasing search visibility and authority on search engines. Magic. Alistair Hardy, Director, Craft 56 Ltd, an specialist ecommerce company showcasing Scottish craft drinks, is a passionate advocate of content, both owned and user generated: “Don’t forget social proof and, in particular, reviews. All reviews are a powerful tool for building trust in your brand and many consumers consider online reviews as trustworthy as a personal recommendation. They also present the opportunity for increased customer engagement which can increase satisfaction and loyalty. They're also great for SEO and collecting UGC too! How can you get across your personality in a digital world?”

- Measurement – for the analysis nerds like me, digital channels offer bucket loads of opportunities for trial and benchmarking (both internally and against a competitor set). Set a baseline, set some goals and then test different things. Some will work and some won’t but you can adapt and stay agile. Data is key and using the digital insights will strengthen approach for all wider campaign and profiling activity. Remember, the data is useless if you’re not using it to inform your strategy. And never stop listening to what your audience is telling you.

- Always-on – how do you gear up for the real time aspect of digital? And how do you keep ahead of customer expectations. Think about what’s practical for your business and how you can resource this. If you can’t support a live chat room on your website, then don’t have one; if you can only respond to facebook messages during office hours then say so. But bear in mind that we’re all getting more and more demanding about instantaneous responses, and those businesses that have evolved speedy response times  - like rail company twitter feeds which are often live 24/7 – will develop a closer relationship with their customers

And putting that little lot into practice to build profile in a digital world? Well, for Louise Hutson, Head of Fundraising at Social Bite, it looks a bit like this:

“Design for digital first. Let your website do the hard work for you, and make sure you’ve got mobile first designs. Remember that people have busy lives which can distract their concentration, so jog their memory about a task they were half way through using re-targeting to encourage conversions. Don’t be afraid to have a digital ad budget at least the same as your offline advertising budget, and once a campaign is live, track, reshape and improve as you go. Identify who are your key audience influencers, especially for targeting a younger online audience, and recognise the shift in PR to the digital space – people consume news differently so think short stories, blogs and video. Don’t kick email marketing out yet, but keep monitoring how it performs compared with previous years. And, crucially for us, focus on creating relatable, real experiences that people can be part of and share with their networks. Create your tribe.”

If you’re wondering how to improve your digital profile there are loads of tips and tools available at www.cim.co.uk – from expert blogs through to digital workshops and training courses. The CIM is there to support you at whatever stage of your marketing journey you’re at, working with both businesses and individuals.