Keep calm and carry on (investing)
Last month the Treasury announced that Britain’s economy had returned to growth. Although the figure was a small 0.5% this statistic suggests hope for the future. So, good news all round?
Well maybe, but the impact of the recession can still be seen across many businesses; the public sector is bracing for the impact of wide-ranging cuts, and the effect of this is expected to be felt in private businesses too. What does this conflicting information mean for your business? I think one of the key things to consider is where your budget is being spent; with both consumers and businesses cautious of every pound they spend it’s important to invest wisely.
It’s not surprising to discover that internet usage is on the rise; according to ONS statistics, 30.1 million adults in the UK accessed the internet everyday or almost everyday in 2010. However, the fragmentation of the online experience through developments in mobile and social media has accelerated a wider change in user behaviour. People are turning to the internet more and more often, with it being a preferred channel for many. Established offline brands now account for more than half of the UK’s top 50 web brands, and when shopping for something which can be bought both online or in store, 34% of UK shoppers would prefer to buy online. Expectations are changing too, with a recent survey revealing that over half of mobile consumers stating that a mobile transaction should yield a better shopping experience than making the same purchase in store.
In light of these figures, it’s no longer enough to simply maintain a presence online, and digital strategy is becoming a priority concern for both B2B and B2C companies. Econsultancy’s latest Marketing Budgets Report reveals that nearly three quarters of companies are increasing their digital marketing budgets this year, reinforcing this message. However, despite many companies acknowledging the importance of digital there is still confusion around how to use budget most wisely. Multiple, fragmented channels, the rate of change in technology and trends, and the need to deliver tangible ROI all complicate the digital landscape. I want to look at some of the areas in which companies should be investing in today’s climate, and why.
It makes sense to ensure what you already have is working as hard as possible before spending on new development, doesn’t it? It seems these days that SEO is often considered the be-all and end-all of optimisation on a site; although it is incredibly important (if people can’t find you they can’t buy from you after all) there are many other ways you can optimise your site for maximum impact.
It’s vital that everything that goes on your site balances your business objectives with the needs and expectations of your users. User Experience Design (UXD) ensures that users are guided to the information they need, by optimising accessibility, navigation and layout. The user journey can also be optimised to encourage visitors through the process to achieve sales, downloads or lead generation. Online shopping in the UK has grown by 25% to £4.4bn, and consumers spend on average 20% more than they would offline, yet these crucial processes can often have a high drop-out rate (sometimes as high as 90%). Making it easy for users to complete these processes is potentially one of the most valuable changes that can be made to a site, and UXD can provide other key benefits for your business such as improved brand perception and greater reach as well as increased conversions and expand your customer base.
Content and functionality
Beyond technical improvements, it’s important to consider other aspects of your site. A key advantage of digital is the wealth of content that can be provided quickly and cheaply, but you should always consider why you’re adding these before you push the ‘publish’ button. Everything on the page should add to the user’s experience, including text, images, videos, audio and links; a content strategy can make sure that users return to your site, and are directed to the most valuable areas once there.
Users are being offered a greater range of digital spaces than ever before, and as social media and news sharing sites continue to gain popularity and influence, the company website is becoming less of a go-to destination. It’s more important than ever, therefore, to offer users something special to encourage them to your site. This could be a blog, member area, app, widget, integrated tool… combining your specialist knowledge and skills with the latest technologies opens up a wide range of possibilities for your website’s unique selling point.
Be where your users are
Of course it’s also important to reach out to users in their own spaces, and recent advances in social media and the mobile web mean it’s vital to consider how the user will be interacting with your brand. There is a lot of debate around the ROI effectiveness of social media, but if the majority of your audience are using it in some form there is certainly value in leveraging its influence to raise awareness of your brand.
Despite the buzz surrounding social and mobile, reaching out to your users isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. Old-fashioned email (and even older-fashioned direct mailing) can also be considered in this way, and you should apply the same principles to these that you do with newer channels – relevance, engagement and consistency. One of the key benefits of using email in this way is the ability to track where a user has come from as this can help you develop a better view of the buying cycle. You can then craft your message accordingly, making changes quickly and cheaply (unlike traditional print).
You can also reuse content across multiple channels, with the help of a sophisticated content management tool (now, where would you find one of those…!). Published a great new blog post? Automatically update your facebook page to let your fans know. Advertising job opportunities? Post them on twitter to increase your applications. The possibilities are limitless.
As I said at the beginning of this post, the need to deliver tangible ROI can complicate investment in digital strategies. Thankfully, there are many ways of making this kind of content and functionality pay its way. Getting users to pay for content like white papers and apps is an obvious way to generate revenue, but there are more indirect ways to achieve this. For example, you could leverage your content to make your site a go-to online resource, or increase your reputation as industry experts through the power of social media. These ‘fringe benefits’ can actually offer a great deal of value to your business, and should all be taken into consideration when planning your investment.
Additionally, many users are happy to exchange their email address and other details for access to premium content. This feeds in to one of the key benefits of digital which we keep returning to: traceability. With the right analytics in place, you can track your user through all the interactions they have with your brand and develop a clearer picture of the buying process, offer better customer service and, ultimately, be able to prove the definitive in ROI, the generation of a sale. In today’s climate the importance of this kind of data shouldn’t be underestimated.
So, what does it all mean?
The recession has cast a long shadow over many businesses, and it’s obvious that we aren’t out of the danger zone yet. However as you look at maximising your budget’s effectiveness don’t forget that digital strategies can offer you reach that simply can’t be obtained through traditional channels. With the right tools and analytics in place, and used well, digital has the potential to make a real impact on your commercial aims.
More than business objectives though, these strategies also help improve the user experience – by ensuring you delight your users at all stages of the user journey, yours is the brand that is likely to stay with them, and in today’s crowded marketplace that can be a very valuable asset.
Do you have experience of making the most of reduced budgets? Have we missed a golden opportunity? Let us know in the Comments section below.