Albert Einstein once said, “Planning replaces coincidence by error,”. Though this sounds mocking, and certainly may have been meant in that way, it also sums up the dilemma of controlled project planning.
Without planning, projects of any kind remain under blind flight conditions in which one is cruelly at the mercy of chance. On the other hand, even the best laid plans can never fully meet reality, since they almost always contain assumptions about the future and these assumptions can be inexact or even completely wrong. So, is Einstein correct and it is better to be without a plan?
No, on the contrary, you cannot do without plans – but you should always be aware of the unknown and learn from your mistakes. They serve as an orientation and are the red thread for which a team and each individual should take responsibility for the goals and pursue the plan. The employees involved should be given the freedom to make their own decisions, because the great danger of any plan lies in restricting and forcing those involved into an executive role.
So, why all of this? Because through a structured approach, planning makes work easier in almost all areas. This applies to the next steps within digital transformation: from investment projects to the planning of the next marketing campaign and including online marketing. For now, let’s stick with the latter.
One might ask “Why plan online marketing, when there is marketing automation?”. It is precisely because automation can only be done once the foundational work has been completed. Those who are on the move in e-commerce need a plan and a strategy for themselves and their employees in order to not to lose track of things. For many, developing a strategy is tedious as it often involves a lot of work and can be complicated. But through a structured approach, it is possible to have:
- the employees involved act in a target-oriented manner
- better planning of resources and efficient use of budgets
- and defined goals that are controlled
The definition of a strategy is not that difficult. A perfect example can be derived from pilots. Before each flight they enact their plan and work through a checklist that is facilitated by the cockpit’s control functions and measuring instruments that are within view during the entirety of the flight. Now apply this to marketing: In addition to a strategy, control mechanisms are vital, employing a kind of marketing cockpit. There should also be checklists, measuring instruments and control mechanisms. Such a cockpit can be set up by the user with checklists that are first and foremost based on experience and with controls that can be carried out at every step and for every element.
As in classical marketing, an optimal online marketing strategy must cover several elements and functions. The focus should always be on the offer and the target group. If we assume that the product to be marketed corresponds to the wishes of the customers and is also in demand, this somewhat simplifies the marketing strategy. But it still consists of a number of elements, each of which has to be taken individually, taken seriously and considered in detail. If one element is missing from the strategy or if it is not well enough thought out, success will turn to failure. Therefore, it is important to approach the task in a structured way.
I will briefly outline the following 10 elements here. In further contributions I will discuss in detail one or more of the other topics.
- Goal definition
If you don’t know where you’re going, don’t be surprised if you don’t get anywhere. So, the first thing to do is to define the goal and where you want to go. After that, it is imperative that you outline it:
- how is the goal going to be achieved?
- by when and with what budget is the goal to be achieved?
Successful marketing begins with razor-sharp positioning. For this it is absolutely necessary to deal with one’s own position in the competitive environment. Therefore, it is essential to analyze which strengths and weaknesses your company possesses and where it positions itself. How does it differ from the competition? What is the identity of the company? What are its typical characteristics?
- Target groups
The watering can principle is becoming less and less effective and the personal approach is becoming more and more important. But where personalization is out of the question, it must be defined which groups are to be reached instead. Is it business customers (B2B) or consumers (B2C)? Is it a known target group, existing customers or is it a completely new group to be addressed? Are their needs known? If not, how do you get to know them?
- Choice of media
Even if classic print media is out of the question in online marketing, there are still enough media channels and instruments to choose from: SEO, SEA, Social Media (which channel or as many as possible?), or Amazon & Co. The question remains, which channels are really effective for the respective online shop?
- Customer Journey
The times when you had to concentrate on just one channel in online marketing in order to reach potential customers and lead them to buy, are over. The competitive pressure in search engines, social networks and on digital advertising spaces is fierce and customers want to be convinced even more today. Online marketing must therefore consider the customer’s journey across all touchpoints. The customer’s journey is divided into different phases before and after the purchase.
“The French writer and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry has said something right: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” That’s why I give the tip: A plan serves as a guideline, it should be detailed enough to provide orientation and rough enough to leave room for improvisation and creativity. Then goals can be planned.” – Bernd Zipper
- Content and message
Almost each of the addressed channels has its own peculiarities for which corresponding content has to be created. This means that a content strategy must be developed, and a weighting defined as to whether the message is transported via text, image or video. This can be critical in being able to reach consumers, as there is an influence on the address and the relevance of the message. Stories help to package a marketing message as emotional and interesting. Because marketing creates interest and convinces consumers through a benefit. At this point it should not go unmentioned that marketing sells through the use of refinement and not through flat advertising.
At this point one could actually stop because even if other and newer terms were used, the first six steps are classic marketing techniques. Regardless of the chosen media, the principles of marketing have hardly changed in the last 100 years. Over the following steps it becomes more specific.
- Permanent optimizations
More sales can be achieved through targeted shop optimizations. However, this also means that you must always check your own shop for its functions and user-friendliness, etc. It is especially important that the (potential) customer is supported in his decision and purchase phase. Here also payment models and the performance of a website etc. play an important role.
In almost all projects there are reoccurring parts that can and should be optimized and then automated. This also applies to the processes in online marketing but excludes the creative phases. Because creativity cannot be planned.
Finally, the goals set must be reviewed and, if necessary, recorded by controlling. But this is more than just checking budgets, determining ROI or evaluating Google Analytics. Controlling must be broadened.
- Correction loops
Controlling must also refer to the functionality of the shop. New goals can only be defined after their analysis – and the process starts all over again in all ten steps. The aim is to get one step closer to the ideal in every optimization round.
My take: Online marketing being done according to a plan and with the use of classical marketing methods? Isn’t that yesterday’s news? No, not by a long shot! Online marketing offers new, fast and perhaps even inexpensive channels to reach a desired target group. But it always gets really exciting when a marketing strategy combines old and new elements with media. And despite all the planning: the creative processes that cannot be planned still have a major influence on the success of a marketing strategy. Therefore, the management team must not make too nice of plans, but instead set the direction and create a framework in which top performance is possible.