A failure to plan, is a plan to fail. Conscious planning is an integral part of every successful enterprise. Whatever the objective of a campaign, a product or a business, not only are long-term and daily goals needed to help conceive and visualize success (and the challenges that will be encountered), but they also need an intricate plan to follow along the way. Without planning, it's difficult to realize goals and achieve success.
It is essential to know how to get from point A to point B in a way that does not burn through available funding or allocated budget (not to mention personal bandwidth), with reputation intact and positive performance metrics to show. Planning requires not just considerations for the high-level strategic side of a digital business, of course, but the tactical and operational side as well. Failure to address any of those needs within a formal or informal plan results in a great number of inefficiencies and an inability to perform at a level required for optimal success in general.
Fortunately, in this month's feature of Website Magazine, readers can explore some key aspects of digital business planning and how addressing design, marketing and measurement needs will help enterprises chart a course for 'Net success. Investing in the process of planning has been shown time and again to yield positive results for brands willing to take the time to do so. 'Net professional can begin by thinking about the "big picture" of their enterprise or specific digital initiative.
There are key elements in a digital business plan that must be included, such as the presence of clear objectives, a statement on the viability of the particular initiative based on an outline of the assumptions on which the effort relies, projections based on assumed sales, expenses, market data and competitive analysis, and finally, a Plan B - a reference to some alternative business and market strategies that can be employed in case of technical limitations, internal setbacks or adverse conditions.
Often enterprises launch their product or campaign without any formal plan whatsoever, but it has not put a damper on their enthusiasm. A recent survey from First Round Capital of 700 startup founders, in fact, indicates that 18 percent are certain their companies will be a $1 billion "unicorn," but just as many were forced to lay off staff this year.
The truth of the matter is that 9 out of 10 startups will fail and over time the technology industry has embraced the "fail fast" mantra and it has encouraged scores of businesses to quickly admit their failures, missteps and misgivings, engage in an examination of it, and get back to work on whatever track or approach is most likely to lead them to success. Whether starting a business or optimizing a campaign, the pressure can at times be overwhelming, but a plan provides some structure in which good ideas and best practices can grow.
The number one reason those surveyed believe their company could fail is an inability to raise follow-on capital (subsequent, later-stage investments). Not bad execution, not a lack of product-market fit, not burn rate. These founders are focused on the wrong things (profitability instead of growth), which explains why a majority (51 percent) said their burn rate is higher than it was a year ago - they are chasing something they will likely never attain.
Often planning for digital success comes down to ensuring that internal teams have the information they need and the tools required to collaborate with key stakeholders and decision makers. While it is certainly easy enough to email around a spreadsheet, enterprises are turning to business intelligence (BI) solutions like those provided by Microsoft or Tableau for their data needs and collaboration solutions including Slack for communication (access a list of alternatives at wsm.co/slackalt). Making sure development teams also have access to premium operational tools for tracking issues, ideas and errors is equally important and there is no shortage of offerings available to do just that.
Solutions like Asana for example, can be used not only to track software development issues but to also organize them and plan for future releases. The solution is quite scalable in nature, making it easy to bring in other departments and teams into organization efforts. It's even possible to integrate existing issues from others through a cloud-based helpdesk solution like Freshdesk by participating in the comment threads for feature requests and suggesting information as administrators see fit.
Solutions like Asana keep teams organized and focused, progressing more quickly to their goals. There are, of course, solid alternatives including Trello, Basecamp, Slack and Podio along with the many others listed in this month's "Top 50 Software Solutions for the Modern Enterprise."
The software used to help brands run their operations can only take them so far. At some point, it's necessary to address those who ultimately support the underlying business - customers - and the best way to do that is to design a truly engaging experience.
Web design and development receives its fair share of attention because it is such a critical part of the digital experience, impacting nearly every step of the buyer's relationship with a brand - from awareness to conversion. For this reason, a formal design plan proves useful as it eliminates the uncertainties that exist in these types of projects.
The first step of any design project is to determine the objectives, highlighting the purpose, target audience and what features are required.
Only at that point should stakeholders finalize a formal agreement on the budget, scope, timeline and ownership/rights.
Perhaps the most fundamental step in design planning, however, is to create and plan for various user personas. Engaging in this practice is useful in terms of design as it provides some guidelines for creating experiences that satisfy target users wants and needs. For example, let's say that one of the personas of a website audience is going to be aged 65-plus; including numerous social sharing features as a primary element of the design may not be the best course of action if they are not active on those networks included. Access some example personas at wsm.co/segperson.
The point is that it is necessary to think through possible personas so that the optimal design can be developed. That persona data can even be used to optimize the marketing experience as well.
With internal teams operating at peak efficiency and the digital experience ready to engage consumers in a personalized, conversion-optimized manner, enterprises can turn their attention to attracting new business (as well as retaining those they acquired).
Search: Natural or organic search has long been the primary source of customer acquisition on the digital landscape. With a strong technical presence, a dedication to developing an engaging experience and an ongoing commitment to sharing and establishing their brands as authorities, the rewards of search can be immense.
Search engine optimization today requires much greater concentration on semantics (the context) and the optimizing for algorithms that are better at interpreting user intent signals than ever before. To achieve success in the organic search results, a plan that outlines market opportunities, keyword targets, content development (see sidebar), link building and more is essential.
As the experience of "search" changes (upward of 20 percent of Google search are now voice-related), the savviest enterprises will approach the science of brand and product discovery in innovating and useful ways. Access a five-point natural search optimization plan.
Done well, search is a digital blessing, but it is far from the only way to acquire new leads, prospects, customers and clients.
Advertising: Brands don't have to put forth too much effort to find somewhere to spend their advertising budget, and the channel is complicated to say the least. The reason most shy away from the practice is not because they can't afford it, but rather because they lack a plan. Website Magazine has put together a list of key considerations for digital ad campaigns.
Email: Experts have long suggested that email was no longer the best way to reach consumers, but study after study suggests otherwise. When senders/marketers deliver messaging that is useful and personalized, timely and relevant, there has been a consistent return shown.
Social: While some brands approach networks such as Facebook (as well as Instagram) and Twitter as passive marketing channels, others take a very active role in community development, fostering engagement and broadening the conversion opportunities through a modest level of participation alone. Read our November 2016 feature to learn more about a collaborative and curated approach to social media.
The most valuable part of engaging in omnichannel marketing is that brands can use the personas previously developed to identify the ideal customer, the information they will most likely seek and the triggers that will motivate them to convert - powerful factors in the realm of planning and strategy.
It is unlikely that there has ever been a successful digital business that did not give analytics the attention the practice requires and deserves.
Establishing a formal measurement and analytics plan is actually rather straightforward, and most of the work has actually already been done if other plans outlined here have been followed. For example, analysts will need to track specific business objectives, choose key performance indicators to monitor, establish processes to implement new goals and strategies, set targets and benchmarks, and determine reporting and segments, etc. Analysis is ultimately the process of collecting and understanding information, making adjustments and improving failing processes.
The important thing to know about analytics, and conversion analytics specifically, is that it must be a core component of your broader digital plan. Without emphasizing the role of analytics, it's impossible to close the loop and stay on course to achieve growth and profitability.
Enterprises that consider planning as essential as execution are poised for great things in 2017 and in the years to come. Planning for success may not be the most exciting part of being a Web professional, but those that recognize its importance and take the steps to establish a plan for their own efforts will be those with a stronger business foundation and a better handle on what motivates customers and employees.