The Benefit of Planning

SuccessWhen I first started out in the digital marketing world, there was a disconnect between the agency side of the business and the client side. The agency was frenetic, fast paced, and burn-the-midnight-oil intense because of deadlines (real or imagined) that HAD to be met no matter what (I still cringe at the concept of arbitrary deadlines). Clients seemed more relaxed, prone to leaving work at a luxurious 5 or 6 p.m. and less stressed (from our perspective anyway), even though they were eager to launch whatever it was we were launching. Back then, I used to dream about working client-side as much as I dreamed about working for myself.

Yet..even with the long hours, tight deadlines, and endless to do lists, there was always a planning process for each and every project. This involved long meetings, elaborate timelines and two levels of account management (the account executive and the project manager). Launch day was typically months away – even for online media – and everything was carefully coordinated to a painstaking QA process (you didn’t want your banners linking to a dead page, after all!)

Even so, the process of developing any type of online marketing deliverable (with the exception of an entirely new web site), was fast compared to the old fashioned offline marketing channels. The creative team could write and create banners, landing pages, white papers (for lead generation) and email copy within weeks, not months. My primary responsibility involved planning out the media – where would it run, when would it launch, how would it be tracked, and how much would it cost? This often involved doing extensive research into the online competitive space, pulling data, and getting a good understanding about what was going on in the client’s digital media universe right at that moment. We wanted to be prepared when we made recommendations to spend the client’s money – and that took time.

See what I just said there? It took TIME. Even online marketing and, in particular, building a new web site, TAKES TIME. If an agency takes three months to properly build and launch your web site – a site you’ll likely use for years – that’s okay. That’s actually pretty good. Yes, it is possible to launch a web site in a month (or a week, or a day), but, and I really don’t say this enough…just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

Seventeen years into my career as an online marketing strategist, I’m struck by the lack of strategy an thought that can sometimes go into developing and launching paid media, or even unpaid media like SEO and Social Media.

The first questions new clients often ask me is, “When can we launch?” I mean, if they ask at all. Many times they want to launch immediately, if not sooner. But a sixty minute phone call often proves that they aren’t ready for an influx of new visitors.

Ask yourself this question before you launch any new web marketing initiative:

Is my web site ready to welcome new visitors?

Here’s another one: What do I want them to do when they get here?

If you want to sell a product or service that’s not BtoC (easy breezy retail) like shirts or shoes, then is it realistic to expect sales from online media? What would a better strategy be? (Lead generation, email newsletter signup, Webinar signups, etc.) For a lot of B2B campaigns – or high end retail purchases (exercise equipment, travel packages, cars…) the best role online media has to play is in generating leads and building an internal email list.

What does the competitive landscape look like? Have you spent time researching where your competitors are advertising online, what their ads look like, what their landing pages (not necessarily just their web sites) look like and what the industry looks like as a whole? A great place to start with this type of research is Google Trends and a handy tool I love to play with called Keyword Spy.

Do you have web analytics in place? Nine times out of ten prospects will have some sort of web site analytics tool in place when they call me (great!), but then I ask another series of questions. Have you looked at your analytics? Where is your most valuable traffic coming from? Are they configured to track goals?

Even though I primarily focus on managing paid search campaigns – a tactic that can be launched within 24 hours – these questions are important. The only way to measure success is to define what success means. It’s also important to understand where you stand in the online landscape, how does your site or offer compare to your competitors? Where is the best place to spend your media dollars (maybe it’s okay to invest some offline too). Never underestimate the benefit of planning, even if it adds a month (or two) to your timeline.

The last question I ask my new prospects when they set a deadline for launch, particularly if it’s a very fast turnaround, the “we need it yesterday” approach is: Why? What’s the huge rush? Often there’s a reason, but many times there’s nothing more tangible than, “Well, we should be doing this particular tactic (*cough* search marketing) or (*cough* *cough* social media marketing). And, yes, most companies should – but the approach can still be thoughtful, and taking the time to plan, launch in a thoughtful way and properly QA every element of the media will pay off in the end with a more successful campaign.