How to build an effective marketing strategy with the cloud

A guide to using SaaS to build an effective MarTech stack

Digital marketing cloud

In the internet age, digital marketing is an essential part of any business, but it can be hard to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of social media, email marketing and online ads.

Thankfully, there is a huge range of tools you can call on to help build and execute an effective digital marketing strategy.

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First things first don't be lured into the trap of thinking that digital marketing is just something that you can pass off to an intern, or that it's as simple as putting out the odd Facebook post. In reality, it's a full-time job, and one that's more complicated than you might think.

The first step is to nail down who your target audience is. This can include demographic data such as age, location, job title and industry, as well as their broad interests. This will inform which marketing channels you focus your energies on, as well as the best marketing tactics to use. Ads for fitness gear, for example, are much more likely to be successful on leisure and lifestyle platforms like Instagram and Facebook, rather than a business network like LinkedIn.

You should also work out what your overall goal is. It may be as simple as increasing general brand awareness, but it could also include things like driving product sales, increasing visits to your website and boosting event attendance. Different outcomes will require different strategies.

Planning your content

Planning marketing activity in advance is essential, whether it be social media posts, email blasts or anything else. Not only does this allow you to structure your activity around business events (such as promotional offers or seasonal trends) it also means you can schedule your activity in bulk, so you don't have to worry about it. You should map out when you're going to put out posts and emails, as well as deciding on which copy and images you're going to use beforehand.

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Trello, a project management tool based on the Kanban system, is one of the best tools for planning marketing activity, as it includes a calendar view, as well as high levels of customisation and robust filtering systems. For teams that aren't planning to put out high volumes of marketing material, Google Calendar can also be a useful asset for tracking when it's scheduled to go out, although its comparative lack of filtration options make it less suited to organisations with large needs.

Your content plan should form the basis of your marketing strategy. Although you can respond to trends, current events and spikes in interest on-the-fly, you should take care to follow your content plan as well. Otherwise, your marketing activity runs the risk of becoming unfocused and scattershot, which will make it less effective.

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Publishing your posts

Once you've planned when you want to do your marketing activity, you'll need to actually schedule and launch it. There are a variety of tools you can use to do this, each with different advantages and specialisations. For social media, Buffer Publish works well as a one-stop-shop, allowing you to schedule posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn.

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Buffer does have some disadvantages, such as the fact that it doesn't always support the platform's full feature-set. For example, while you can attach an image, video or link to a Facebook post via Buffer, you can't use it to check into locations, publish polls or tag branded content. Similarly, you can't use Buffer to publish documents on LinkedIn.

Tweetdeck is worth consideration. Once independent but now wholly owned by Twitter, it's among the most useful and fully-featured tools for managing multiple Twitter accounts and allows you to create custom dashboards with columns for tracking mentions, hashtags, direct messages and more.

Email marketing may be a venerable practise, but its value and importance shouldn't be overlooked. It can be an excellent way to alert customers to news and offers, and for scheduling and automating emails, Mailchimp is one of the best tools around. You can create a variety of email campaigns, including automated emails for product retargeting, recommendations and abandoned carts. It also includes social media features, although currently only Facebook and Instagram are supported.

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These tools can help you execute your content plans quickly and effectively, automating the sending process and freeing you up for other tasks. Your content plan should be used as the basis from which you populate these tools, as it provides a consistent schedule and allows you to build a consistent "brand voice".

Analysing the impact

A fundamental (and often overlooked) part of digital marketing is the process of periodically analysing and refining the effectiveness of your strategy. It's no good spending hours crafting social posts and emails if they aren't offering any real-world benefit, but the only way you'll know if your strategy is achieving your goals is if you take the time to analyse the results.

The best tools for doing so depend on your primary marketing channels. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all have inbuilt analytics dashboards, which offer the largest and most granular datasets regarding the performance of your social media activity, but they can only show you what actions people have taken on that platform. That's fine if all you're interested in is brand awareness, but if your KPIs are based around metrics like conversion rates (such as people completing purchases or signing up for events and newsletters), you'll need additional ways of measuring them.

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If your goal is to drive people to your website, Google Analytics is the gold standard for identifying and categorising the behaviour of visitors to your site. Not only can you track how many people visited your site, what pages they visited and how long they spent on them, you can also see how they arrived on your site.

Google Analytics can show you what proportion of your visitors came from LinkedIn, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, email newsletters, and so on. This will allow you to focus your social media strategy on the right channels, either focusing your attention on the ones which are most successful, or investing effort in increasing your presence on the channels which have the most room for improvement.

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Be careful though: while Google Analytics can segment traffic by source, it can't identify which traffic has come from posts on your account versus other accounts on the same network. For example, if your Facebook page posts a link to your blog post on cloud storage, and a large number of fans independently post the same link without having seen your original Facebook post, Google Analytics will lump any clickthroughs from any of those posts together under the same banner.

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Whichever analysis tools you use, the key is to regularly audit how well your planned social activity has performed, and then use the data from that to inform the planning of the next phase at which point, the whole process starts all over again.

Automation

All of the tools discussed above work exceedingly well together, and should be used in conjunction with each other to build a marketing tech stack which makes creating, executing and maintaining effective marketing campaigns much simpler than doing everything on-the-fly. However, these tools can be made even more powerful by using workflow automation tools to integrate them all together.

Various products exist to perform this function, but few are as accessible, as powerful or as widely supported as Zapier. This easy-to-use but surprisingly deep tool lets you use rules-based conditional logic to construct powerful integrations between different applications. For instance, you can create a rule that means when an event is added to a specific Google Calendar or a card is added to a specific list in Trello, Buffer will automatically create a social post based on the details within that card or event. You could also create an integration with MailChimp which posts to Buffer any time a new subscriber joins your mailing list.

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When used correctly, automation can be the most effective tool in a digital marketer's arsenal, helping you to create seamless marketing workflows that semi-autonomously build rich, multi-channel campaigns with minimal oversight required.

CRM, lead generation and paid ads

Ultimately any marketing initiative is implemented in order to fuel sales, even when the target is simply to raise brand awareness. Customer relationship management (CRM) software is the most effective way to more closely align the sales and marketing departments, ensuring the necessary collaboration for this metric to be fulfilled. 

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CRM systems maintain a comprehensive record of sales, allowing users to keep track of their customers, be they companies or individuals. Profiles are built to list contact details, recent purchases, and what products they are interested in purchasing, blending together key information to form an overview which improves the customer experience. For instance, emails can be sent to previous customers offering similar products or services to what they have already purchased. Using a CRM system also allows your sales team to track which marketing materials customers have previously engaged with, allowing for a more defined strategy. 

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A number of cloud-based CRMs are available, the big-hitters being Salesforce and Hubspot, with less well-known providers including Zoho and SugarCRM.

Once a CRM system is in place, lead generation can be actively pursued. Lead generation refers to a branch of digital marketing which involves providing customers with a resource, such as a free trial of a service, early access to a product or service, or even a technical whitepaper, in exchange for their contact details. 

Details can then be used to contact customers with pitches or promotions for products they may be interested in, assuming they've explicitly consented to being contacted for this purpose.

Leads can be processed in a number of ways depending on the functionality of your chosen CRM system. Some include tools for building lead capture forms or integrating with third-party form providers, while Facebook and LinkedIn both include built-in lead capture capabilities as part of their advertising toolkits, allowing you to quickly and easily begin gathering new leads.

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This kind of paid-for advertising can be an excellent marketing method, too. All of the major social media platforms allow businesses of any size to quickly and cheaply set up ad campaigns on their platforms, pushing them out to a wider number of users than their organic posts would reach. This can be a great way to quickly boost visibility of campaigns, particularly ones that align well with specific social network users.

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Outside of social networks, Google also offers advertising across many of its products most notably YouTube and the core search product. You can pre-set your budget, and will only be charged when customers take specific actions such as clicking through to your site.

Judicious use of paid advertising can be used to highlight the most important elements of your marketing campaigns, used in conjunction with the data from your organic marketing activity to maximise the effectiveness of your key messages.

Building an effective marketing strategy is no overnight fix, and for the uninitiated can appear a daunting process. Integrating cloud technology, its wealth of tools, strategies and resources, can be the key to getting more for less. Not all the approaches outlined above may be necessary at first. Capabilities can start out small and simple then expand organically to build a MarTech stack that integrates planning, publishing, tracking and analysis tools, subsequently increasing the ease, efficiency, and effectiveness of your digital marketing capabilities.

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