A colleague recently asked me, “What are your top 5 digital tools?” I started jotting down notes on the essentials, and came up with a top 9. While five would be lean, and a top 10 would be a nice round number, I really wanted to focus on the essentials—the must haves for the current state of things. And, while there are many other successful tools for effective digital communications, I feel that these nine should be required.
Have one, or build one. At least have a brand for your product, if not your company. A brand is not a logo or a business card. A website is not a brand either, but these tools should reflect your brand and strategy. A successful brand provides a platform for all communications and allows customers to more easily relate to the personality of the offering. Not having a brand could lead to confusing and inefficient communications and loss of customers.
- Business/marketing plan
I find myself often saying that a website is a reflection of your business plan. If you don’t have a business plan, your website will take longer and be more expensive to create. The business plan doesn’t need to be elaborate, but know where you’re going and how you plan to get there. Most importantly, know the relationship of how you expect to serve your customers and how their engagement will help your business.
- Audience Research
If you’re asking customers to care about you, you need to care about them first. Invest the time and money on research to really understand their wants and needs, how they approach your vertical and type of offering, how they use technology, and their lifestyles. Have a fundamental and real (not suspected) understanding of your key audiences; this can often be produced by developing persona research.
- User Experience Design
Users and their experiences are the foundation of a website. Websites are for users, not your business. Just because you, your boss or CMO uses a tablet doesn’t mean that your customers do (See #3). Save time and money designing experiences for how your customers will consume content, make decisions and purchases (or convert). Don’t design content exclusively for your business’s needs either. Design workflows, content strategy, and user interfaces to help your audience with their needs. Your business will ultimately be better served with this approach.
- Social Media
If your website is your voice, social media is your customer’s voice. Care enough to engage them where they are. And you don’t have to be everywhere they are all at once; we all have to make decisions about capacity. Research will help here too. Your customers may only “live” online at niche social media microblogs. Don’t waste time and resources on Facebook and Twitter if your customers aren’t there. Also, some social platforms provide efficient tools for customer relationship building with real-time feedback. And, you can use them for traditional business activities like a help-desk, among a multitude of other business and marketing needs.
Responsive design is one way to provide a mobile experience of your website. But no matter how you deploy for mobile, the reality is that your customers are there—for every category and industry. It’s suspected that there will soon be a larger smartphone audience than PC audience, so you may want to consider building for mobile first.
- Content Strategy
Content should be appropriate for the channel, user-centric (time, place, workflow, call-to-action), and be on brand. Content must support users in achieving workflow goals, and continually building engagement and brand affinity.
- Measure and Optimize
Digital marketing is not “set it and forget it”. To really ensure your marketing effectiveness, measure your customers and tactical effectiveness. There are plenty of free tools for measuring traffic on your website, or measuring share of voice in social media. Determine a set of key performance indicators by channel or tactic, and track your results. Don’t forget that qualitative research is just as important as quantitative. Periodically ask your customers, literally, about their needs and the effectiveness of your marketing. Set aside budget and resources to continually refine your approach in meeting their needs, as well as the content and planning of your communications.
- All that glitters…
Be aware of new technologies, but don’t chase them. Chase customers, not shiny new tools. Again, start with your business plan and customers; find out who and where they are, and what technology they use – then deploy the right mix of strategies and tactics, some of which might be new tech and some that might be more established.