Growth engine and digital strategy

Growth engine and digital strategy

As a digital marketing consultant brought in to solve an immediate problem, I’ve arguably seen the worst of rudderless marketing strategies out there.

The sad part is that usually, it’s not some obvious flaw like lack of talent or laziness to blame. In fact, everyone involved is busy being busy. Yet, business goals remain unmet.

I’m then reminded of Peter Drucker’s wisdom

“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

A few retweets of a tweet, after a hundred man-hours on Twitter, may not move the needle on important business goals. Similarly, content for content’s sake is the ether of content marketing.

There’s no dearth of marketing tactics, channels, metrics, methodologies, and schools of thought out there. I understand that it’s easy to get distracted, overwhelmed even.

Marketing automation, account based marketing, personalization, social media marketing, inbound marketing, content marketing…the list of options available for deploying marketing activities are always growing. The fact that there is significant overlap between all these moving parts can make things confusing.

To complicate things further, the executive suite is often conflicted in the results they wish to see from marketing efforts. It’s not unusual to see the executive team differ on the important business information like the target markets, target locations, main competitors etc.

How does one get an accurate assessment of the business objectives under such conditions? As a marketer accountable for delivering results within specific timeframes, one also needs to conduct this assessment in the shortest amount of time possible.

I’ve developed a process that allows me to cut through the noise and get to solving business problems and meeting objectives with a winning digital strategy, in short order. Let me know what you think about this 6 step process.

1. Assess current digital assets and business metrics

Look into the brand’s keyword positions, traffic metrics, social traffic, referral traffic, paid search, and direct traffic. There’s sizeable insight to be gained by revisiting the main sources of your web traffic and activity.

Do the same for the competition. This is where you can rely on SEM intelligence using tools like SEMrush.

For example, insert the name of your brand or that of your competitor, into the search widget (disclosure: affiliate link) below,  to dig into relevant metrics.

There are many other ways to ferret out and leverage competitive intelligence.

Similarly have a look at some of the social media assets, content, and their analytics to assess their general health vs. the competition. Buzzsumo or Ninja Outreach could be of help here.

These activities will give you a fair idea of the overall standing of a brand in the digital universe. At this point, you may see indicators of the existing engines of growth.

  • Paid: Are advertising and marketing spend activity driving growth?
  • Sticky: Are product enhancements to an already established product and upsells a part of  growth? Usually, this kind of growth is common in businesses where the customer finds it difficult to switch to alternatives. A CRM that has to be replaced, for example
  • Viral: Are network effects driving growth? Facebook is one example where network effects are the main growth engine
  • A combination of some or all of the above

2. Identify the business metrics that matter

Then gather information about the brand in terms of revenues, gross margins, CTR, CAC, LTV, MRR, ARPA etc. if available.

The assessment from #1 and these metrics when combined, allow us to get an idea of the general scope of the marketing challenges. However, we still have to sync with the executive team to glean more business intelligence before building out the strategy that addresses these challenges.

Here’s the screengrab of a Trello board template (download link below) I use to align marketing activities with the executive team’s business goals. Some of the sessions in this discussion provide relevant, but perhaps previously untracked, metrics based on the answers from the team.


This discussion takes 2-5 hours depending on how much the team is in agreement regarding business metrics and objectives. As a moderator I focus the attendees on:

  • Top (Beacon) current/past products/services based on revenue and historical trends
  • Top future products/services. If future products/services are different from current/past products/services, I would want to know reasons (e.g: some discontinued product, a shrinking market for print books)
  • Confirm CAC, LTV, ARPA, CTRs, Conversion rates, Sales Qualified Leads (SQL) qualifiers, Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) qualifiers based on metrics and activities. I would seek to arrive at a consensus on MQL and SQL qualifiers if possible
  • Confirm target revenues by product/services for future
  • Check for additional (Satellite) revenue generators
  • Identify target location

Use this publicly accessible copy of my Business Session Template Trello board. Modify (copy it first) this board to suit your needs.

By the end of this session, the team is zoned in enough on the business goals to focus on the most important part.

3. Develop the customer personas!

Identify 3-5 ideal types of customers based on past revenues and/or future goals.

There are plenty of templates out there to help you along, like this customer persona template from HubSpot.

Once you have developed these personas, it’s time to request the sales/marketing team to match each of the current customers to the customer personas. You may have to create a new ‘Persona’ field in your CRM.

Do this ‘persona match’ for all customers from the past 3-6 months at least. If 80% of customers fall into one of the personas, you have done a good job. Else get to work on identifying and completing the missing personas.

All future ads, blog content, videos, infographics, social follows, etc. will be targeted at these personas. VERY IMPORTANT STUFF.

Ensure that all teams agree that future customers are assigned these personas.

4. Create a digital strategy document

This will be a high-level document that identifies the most pressing needs and devises a strategy based on the most challenging issues. This strategy should outline some tactics that will achieve business goals by focussing marketing efforts on the engines of growth.

You would mention how the existing engines of growth or newly identified growth engines will target your customer personas and help in customer acquisition and similar business objectives.

This document requires the buy-in of the executive team in order to go into budget development.

Check out this one-page plan for digital marketing strategy, the most popular post on this blog, for more insights.

5. Prepare the marketing budget

The budget should be

  • Focused on identified growth engines
  • Flexible and should allow resources to be reallocated depending on capacity, or lack of it
  • Scalable, so you can deploy it effectively based on the digital marketing feedback loop (explained below)
  • Adaptable, so it can allow you to accommodate future needs like an additional customer persona that your feedback loop discovered

The previous steps have ensured that your executive team has been a part of the process. So your budget has a good chance of being approved without much debate.

Then again, there’s always the chance you will need to negotiate some aspects of it. That’s for another post, though. Let me know if you’d like to see a marketing budget ‘how to’ post in the future.

6. The digital marketing feedback loop

Implement. Measure. Improve.

What is not measured cannot be improved.

Your marketing campaigns need constant monitoring so you can make improvements based on the most effective activities. This will ensure that you are constantly eliminating wasteful activities while focusing on the ones best aligned with your business goals.

E.g.: On a recent campaign, I found that some AdWords display ads on mobile apps were driving a lot of traffic but lowering my average session duration. I first lowered the bid percentage on mobile devices. That improved things a bit but then I had to manually exclude some kid’s apps.
I finally decided that the display ads on mobile apps were negatively impacting relevant metrics in spite of the cheap traffic. So I eliminated these ads completely from that specific campaign.

Apply the feedback loop to all your campaigns and tactics. Some feedback loops may require daily monitoring, like the display ads example above, while others like content marketing may demand a longer timeline.

The feedback loop is what allows you to optimize your digital marketing activity for  your engines of growth.

You’ll now be marketing your way to growth! Happy marketing!

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