Four steps to develop a digital strategy

Internet usage for business purposes is now commonplace but online selling still remains a challenge, with more than nine in ten small to medium businesses connected to the World Wide Web but only half of businesses taking online orders.

This is according to the annual Sensis e-Business report, which reveals that out of the SMEs connected to the Internet, only 15 per cent have a digital business strategy. More than 80 per cent indicated they did not have one and four per cent were unsure of what it meant. A digital business strategy is defined by Sensis as an Internet, website, mobile and social media strategy.

Together these various components help small businesses establish an online presence to drive sales and marketing. The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) indicates that such a strategy can also minimise the cost and effort of going online and better communicate the aims and objectives of your online activities to your employees.

Here are four steps towards establishing a digital strategy that's right for your business.

Align business goals with what you want to achieve online

The first step is to determine what your goals are for launching a digital strategy and if those goals fit with your business vision and plan, according to DBCDE. All too often, businesses jump into new technologies headfirst without careful consideration of the impact a rushed strategy could have on their brand and customer base. 

Carefully thinking through your goals will allow you to develop a targeted and more successful digital plan. For instance, if one of your business goals is to sell more products online than you do in-store, then a possible strategy would include e-commerce and website development.

Other goals can include:

  • Attracting more international or interstate customers
  • Increasing sponsorship activity
  • Cutting overhead costs of having a physical store
  • Improve feedback from customers
  • Brand awareness

Once you make a list of these goals, it's time to move on to the next step of selecting a platform that matches these goals.

Select the platforms that's right for you

Not all businesses need a Facebook page or a Pinterest account, and you'll quickly discover what you will and won't need by considering your target audience.

According to Macala Wright, head of digital innovation and strategy at US-based consultancy firm Group Partners, businesses must analyse their customer bases in terms of age, geography and lifestyle. Once you've narrowed down the platforms you want to use, you can proceed to building your message.

Be consistent

Ensure your brand message is consistent with your business vision. Avoid putting out information that contradicts your goals and any previous messages, in order to prevent any damage to your reputation.

For instance, if you're a community-oriented organisation wishing to increase participation in local events, some valid ideas could include tweeting statistics around corporate social responsibility and council news or putting out YouTube videos of your community. Think about the tone and style of your social media posts and the content of your website - you want it to resonate with your goals.

Engaging with customers on a personal level is key to seeing results - implement a brand message that is genuine and relevant to your target audience, rather than put out an impersonal, fake and overly advertorial message.

Ensure your strategy is measurable

Fleshing out your goals and picking the digital platforms that's right for your business don't mean much if the results aren't easily measurable and analysed.  Analysing the results will in turn mean that you can determine which component works and improve on those that aren't.

Danyl Bosomworth, co-founder of marketing consultancy firm Smart Insights says that some of the ways you can measure the impact of your digital strategy are measuring the number of fans or followers, the number of newsletter subscribers or VIP members, and unique visitor/click-through rates. Calculating the number of visitors or followers that 'convert' to sales is also another excellent measure.

Lastly, you should benchmark these statistics against the industry and communicate the results to the rest of your business (and key stakeholders).

You can get started with the Australian Government's free e-business planning guide here.

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