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Understand the customer journey and then plan, plan, plan

Identifying customer needs is paramount if marketers want to succeed with their digital strategy

No-one would consider formulating a telephone strategy, a pen-and-paper strategy or even a talking-to-people strategy, but digital is different. Or rather, it is and it isn't.

The variety of options that fall under the 'digital' banner often require strategies of their own, for search, social media, websites etc, or even an overarching digital strategy.

But at the heart of it there is, or should be, just one plan. “If digital is integrated then there is only 'the strategy',” explains digital marketing expert Kai Gait. “Everything else becomes a tactic under the strategy, especially with brands.”

Nevertheless, there remains a curious dichotomy where there is and there isn't a need for pharma marketers to develop a digital-specific strategy.

Kai continues: “A digital strategy can sit higher within an organisation and could cover websites, tablet detailing with sales force, etc.

“Understanding the customer journey and identifying their need is paramount if marketers want to succeed with their digital strategy. People are engaging in so many different ways and marketers need to understand how they fit in to the journey and deliver a successful outcome.”

Digital communications strategy

Andrew Widger, director of media relations (EMEA) at Pfizer, says: “From a communications point of view, I think you need a communications strategy. In the 21st Century there are a number of different tools to deliver that, and the digital elements are definitely a prominent part of that and actually deserve more attention because they are a two-way, or rather they are a many-way, street.

“Ten years ago, your communication strategy was about getting information out there, whereas now that information may not start with you. It may be being shared. It may be that information you send out that is shared by others or you are getting people to comment on that information,“ he adds.

Inevitably this can make the process more time consuming as people comment on the information you put out and the initiatives you launch.

“Things are said about you and others, and issues that you're involved in, so it does need to be part of that communication strategy,” notes Andrew. “But I do believe that the strategy is about the communication, not about the channel.”

'Localising' the strategy

Another consideration is how far to act locally and when to stick rigidly to global strategy. Merck Serono's head of eMedia and social media Gillian Tachibana says that deviating from the global strategy is not only necessary, it can also pay dividends for marketers.

“Before launching a global campaign, think about what that campaign will mean to the lowest common denominator in, say, a marketing or a research team in country x. Often they cannot support a global campaign, so we need to understand how our strategy can be broken down more locally for individual countries,” she says.

“Quite a few times I've noticed that local campaigns are much more successful than trying to launch one global campaign. Let's also not forget that the entire world does not really speak English!”

So, don't rush into launching a website that no one will visit. Get the 'big thinking' in place first and work out how your use of digital channels fits into this. Because, whether a strategy for digital or just a strategy is called for, marketers always need a plan.

4th April 2012

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