Book review: Build your digital marketing strategy by Steve Brennan

I like to review recent books with a view to offering recommendations to those people who attend my training workshops. Despite being published in 2018 (before the Covid pandemic pushed digital marketing into the stratosphere) and being pretty basic it has some good content. So here’ a book review: Build your digital marketing strategy by Steve Brennan. It is subtitled “The mindsets and methods of businesses that dominate their sectors online”.

It is focused on the strategy, resources and processes for digital marketing rather than the technology and platforms. It’s short, simple, down to earth and pragmatic. There’s a scorecard at the end of each chapter to help you asses your current position and identify areas of change. It isn’t specifically designed for professional service firms though.

There’s the life story of the author at the outset, showing how he tested and tweaked different approaches for music industry promotion. Then he established a digital agency and developed workshops for senior staff (not necessarily M&BD professionals) who needed to understand the potential impact of digital marketing for scaling up their businesses.

He starts by describing five mindsets with regards to digital marketing strategies (and the reasons why some businesses don’t have them):

  1. Lottery mindset (buys web site and creates social profiles without researching customer needs)
  2. Agency mindset (buys retainers and web sites)
  3. DIY mindset (hires staff to replace agencies)
  4. Strategy mindset (uses the STAR formula: Strategy, Team, Assets and Routines)
  5. Mastery mindset (refines existing skills, learns new skills, speaks at events and is in high demand)

Part One – Build your strategy

This section (covering 90 pages) provides a methodology to help you build your strategy with sections on know your customers and competitors, define your niche, choose your tactics and goals and roles.

He provides a simple process where you move from the current situation (focus on team) to the future situation (focus on routines) by developing a strategy (focus on assets). At this point there’s some guidance on achieving buy-in (share the purpose, gauge the response, involve key stakeholders, deal with resistance and reward ownership).

Know your customer starts with “Marketing connects when it triggers emotional responses in people”. He advocates a persona approach by suggesting you “picture one person” and use empathy to see the world through their eyes. A buyer profile template is provided segmented by personal, needs and digital behaviour. He advises you to stress-test the profile though online surveys, test events and by asking.

Know your competitors requires you to develop deep insight into their thinking and activity. He warns that you can get blindsided by newcomers or established competitors who re-position. So more research suggested – and outlines how to conduct a digital audit with a simple template. On web site audits he advises you look at site architecture, domain authority, page speed, calls to action, mobile compatibility, organic search, conversion rate and search console.  For content audits he proposes you look at content pillars (key themes and messages), readability, 7/11/4 (2011 Google theory that prospects need to consume at least 7 hours of content over 11 separate touchpoints across 4 channels before they reach the ‘zero moment of truth’ (ZMOT)), social media, paid search and video. There are some helpful questions to help you forecast the future and anticipate developments in your sector.

Define your niche He argues that your strategy needs to differentiate, win against strong competition, stand out and be memorable. Deep knowledge of clients and competitors means you can focus on clients’ biggest problems and competitors’ biggest weaknesses. He suggests 10 ways to win online (e.g. fastest, best feedback, service, delivery, payment terms, experience, pricing, trial opportunity, compelling story and free call back). He then offers seven steps to find your niche:

  1. We are
  2. We are a
  3. We specialise in
  4. We do it for
  5. When we speak to
  6. They say
  7. They love us because

Choose your tactics To guide your choice: Where is your customer (with all options graded on in, out and reserve), prioritise channels and tactics and add campaign details.

Goals and roles Pearson’s Law suggests if we measure something it improves. There’s a table showing supporting goals (and who is responsible) for different tactics and a mention of a hierarchy of goals. Face-to-face reporting is advised.

Part Two – Build your team

This section (covering 50 pages) explores team structures, hiring in-house marketers, contractors and digital agencies and developing a team mentality. Search for skills, experience and allies and the right mix depends on the size of your business, your skills in business and available resource.

Winning team structure He urges you to keep things simple with the fewest and clearest lines of communication – and single points of contact to achieve strong relationships, trust and understanding of who is doing what and why. The role of the leader is to monitor the overall goal and to make sure those responsible for delivering supporting goals are on track.

Hiring inhouse marketers “Businesses with turnovers of £10m or less achieve the best results by combining a small number of full-time in-house marketers with a small number of contractors or an agency to simulate the breadth of up-to-date skill and experience that a small internal team can’t realistically deliver on its own”. He notes that small businesses rarely attract those seeking a career move. The classic mistake is to move from agency to the DIY mindset – where a single inhouse person is unlikely to have the breadth of skills available from an agency team. A digital marketing spend of over £100,000 would justify an experienced digital marketing manager/director with at least four to five staff. Smaller businesses are urged to work with third parties to supplement a small inhouse team. There are useful questions to ask when hiring in-house marketers.

Hiring contractors and freelancers Different motivations for freelancers (lifestyle, side projects) are explored with a warning that some simply struggled to establish themselves in team situations. Upwork, People Per Hour and LinkedIn are suggested for finding independents. Upsides and downsides of freelancers are weighed up. Again, useful questions when hiring are listed.

Hiring digital agencies Three types of agency are described: full service, digital and niche. He suggests calling three clients of the agency to support your choice. He talks about the need to establish the right sort of relationship – starting with onboarding and embedding a relationship ladder.

Winning team mentality Five factors are: buy-in, leadership, ownership, face-to-face meetings and visible progress. There’s advice on how to make changes to the team if the expected results don’t materialise.

 Part Three – Build your assets

There are 40 pages on developing five types of digital assets which add value through multiplier effects, bottom line effects and knock-on effects. There’s a table of what each asset class should contain:

Insight assets

  • Buyer profiles
  • Competitor analysis
  • Keyword analysis
  • Hashtag analysis (
  • Expert audits (e.g. SEO, PPC, CRO)

Brand assets

  • Brand names
  • Brand guidelines
  • Positioning statements
  • Domain names
  • Social handles

Content assets

  • Content pillars (core themes including long form content)
  • Lead magnets (downloadable content)
  • Image library
  • Branded templates
  • Reviews & endorsements (trust signals)

Web site assets

  • Website sand microsites
  • Landing pages
  • Data capture forms
  • Content management (e.g. WordPress or Magento)
  • Web hosting

Data assets

  • Prospect data
  • Customer data
  • Campaign data
  • CRM system
  • Analytics software

Part Four – Build your routines

Around 30 pages on daily, weekly and quarterly routines and recycling, refining and reflecting.

There’s a reminder that campaigns need start and end dates within a digital campaign cycle:

  1. Kick off (vision, goals, roles and key dates)
  2. Deep dive (product/service, target buyer and competition)
  3. Implementation (begin publishing multiple variants and defined audiences)
  4. Reporting (costs and returns – goal v actuals)
  5. Refinement (monitor data, react quickly and check goals)
  6. Reflection (results, ROI calculation and lessons learned)

There’s a helpful example of the content pillars for a construction firm and illustrations of content pillar with subtopic clusters. And encouragement to develop evergreen content (such as “how to” guides, case studies, infographics, video, reviews and testimonials) which doesn’t go out of date.

“Incremental improvements are transformative” and he provides examples to back this up. Suggestions for refining campaigns include audience, ad variations (split testing), automation, landing pages and Calls To Action (CTAs).

And there’s a helpful five step campaign review process:

  1. Recap goals
  2. Create a campaign timeline
  3. Calculate ROI
  4. The Four Ls (Likes, Learned, Lacked and Longed for)
  5. Lessons-learned log

With a nod to Malcolm Gladwell and the need to practice a skill for 10,000 hours and a review of the four stage of competence he summarises the key points of the mastery mindset in his conclusion:

  1. They’re trusted
  2. They’re rewarded
  3. They speak at events
  4. They keep learning
  5. They love their work

And he reminds us of the five steps to mastery: implement, share with colleagues, enjoy the process, celebrate success and stay hungry to learn.

Build Your Digital Marketing Strategy: The Mindsets And Methods of Businesses That Dominate Their Sectors Online : Brennan, Steve: Books

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