How to develop a digital communications strategy

How to develop a digital communications strategy

10 minutes

The digital landscape is continuing to evolve at an exponential rate. From the age of home computing, to the launch of the internet in 1991, the first emails and the birth of social media, it is safe to say that digital is now an integral part of everything we do. Many businesses know that digital and mobile channels provide great potential for customer retention and acquisition, but lack having a plan in place to activate those channels effectively.

Why do you need a digital strategy?

Take a look at some of the most recent results from the Office for National Statistics which demonstrate the growth in digital consumption and online behaviours (UK).

When it comes to making purchases, just over three quarters of adults bought goods or services online, up from 53% in 2008.

Reading news, newspapers or magazines online has tripled in the past decade, from 20% of adults in 2007 to 64% in 2017.

While internet banking rose by 33 percentage points in the same period, with just over two thirds of adults accessing banking online in 2017.

As you’d expect the rise of the smartphone continues. Nearly three quarters of adults accessed the internet ‘on the go’ using a mobile phone or smartphone, more than double the rate in 2011.

According to GlobalWebIndex on average over 30% of the total time spent by 16 - 64 year olds online is on Social Media. That’s an average of 2 hours and 15 minutes per day on social networks and messaging apps, and an increase of 45 minutes per day, per user from 2012.

This data clearly shows just how important digital is when it comes to communicating with consumers and it doesn’t stop there. New technology is always emerging. Artificial Intelligence and the rise of chatbots is predicted to be one the most significant investments for brands in 2018.

Friendly chatbot


With this in mind I can’t help questioning whether the person on the other end of the live chat is real or not!

The way people consume information has changed as a result of this switched on activity. Attention spans are getting shorter. People are on multiple channels receiving many messages from employers, brands and importantly from friends and family. They actively seek out recommendations and referrals from their peers, valuing those opinions over the marketing messages sent out by brands, no matter how large or small the purchase.

And so for brands it becomes more challenging to retain and acquire customers, particularly if competitors are engaging with their customers more effectively.

Getting started

So where do you start? This can be the tricky part as developing a digital strategy can feel like a mammoth task and putting it off is often based on not knowing where to begin. Or feeling that a digital strategy needs to be a lengthy document.  I favour a lean digital and adaptable plan that includes a short, mid and long term view and there are lots of ways to break this down. The short term plan is ideally based on 90 day planning so that you can start implementation and seeing results quickly.  The long term plan should look ahead to five year objectives. The real danger is taking no action at all, so making a start is a positive step forward and it does get easier after that!

So to avoid procrastination about the task in hand, start mapping out the digital strategy and then, begin to integrate this into your wider marketing plan. A digital strategy should complement what you’re already doing and identify any gaps in the business that could be improved upon. It’s a good idea to involve as many people as possible in the development of your digital strategy early on to achieve a collaborative and transformative effect, so schedule a kick-off meeting with the wider team and start an open discussion.

Here are some of the key areas to get you underway:

  • What’s our vision?
  • What’s our purpose?
  • What are our values?
  • What is our offer?
  • Who are our audience?  
  • What insights do we have?
  • What data do we have?
  • What data/metrics do we want to get back?
  • Where are the gaps?
  • What do we need to need to do to address those? *
  • Who is responsible for elements of the strategy?*
  • Do we have the skills we need in house?

*Helpful hint:

Of the many digital strategy meetings I’ve attended, this is one of the key areas that you need to focus in on to drive real action. Often lethargy can creep in at this point as the task can start to become overwhelming. I find that a break here using collaborative and creative team exercises works really well for keeping team members engaged and energy high.

Define your audience

This is quite possibly the most important aspect of a digital strategy but often the most overlooked.

There are a number of ways you can build up a picture of your audience. Surveys, focus groups, one to one interviews and previously collected behavioural data are all useful. In addition, we use social listening tools to see who’s talking about your brand or interacting with similar brands online (especially important if you are a new brand). Our tools look broadly at news, media and forums which brings in a greater range of insights. As well as social channels where customers are often talking freely about their experiences both good and bad. This insight is valuable in identifying gaps in your service, or issues which you can then positively address. 

Once you have this insight you can start to develop personas which can give you a more in-depth view of your different audience groups, what motivates them and what content they engage with. By placing your audience at the heart of your strategy you can move forward positively with a customer centred focus which will drive results more quickly.

Choose your channels

Once you understand your audience and where they are likely to be you can start identifying the channels you need to be using. By identifying the channels where your customers are spending most of their time, you can dedicate your resource to this increasing cost efficiency. There are a variety of channels that can form part of your digital strategy. Use this opportunity to audit existing activity and explore what has worked well.

Channels may include owned and earned media across;

  • Web ecosystem (core website - microsites, applications)
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • Intranet
  • Social media platforms for internal and external use such as Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook Workplace
  • Email marketing
  • Search Engine Optimisation
  • Pay Per Click
  • SMS/text messaging
  • Video Marketing
  • Integrations/ Systems that will help to reduce administration

Your brand story

Once you have agreed your strategy and know what activity you want to put into action, it is important to consider your brand story and key messaging. Remember that attention spans are short and you have to demonstrate a brand story that is: 

Credible Compelling Distinctive Consistent


If you don’t already have guidelines for brand and tone of voice, creating them will really help to outline how you want to communicate. This will help you to form a distinctive online identity and can help to create standout, build brand loyalty and drive action.

Benchmark and measure your activity

One of the reasons digital is such an effective marketing channel is because it’s measurable. You can constantly monitor how your brand is performing online and adjust your activities and strategy as it evolves. But as mentioned earlier, before you launch your strategy you need to know where it’s going. Create a list of short, medium and long-term S.M.A.R.T goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely). What do you want to achieve? What KPIs will you measure for success? Having a clear set of goals will help you to create a more focused and streamlined strategy and will lead to better results.  

Ensure you benchmark your digital channels so you have something to refer to as your strategy progresses. It is easy to fall into the trap of focussing on the wrong metrics, for example, looking at the number of followers but ignoring the quality of the followers and the engagement levels.

Set milestones and review them regularly too. Milestones can consist of a number of measurable KPIs. This will help you to identify what’s working and what isn’t. It could even demonstrate some barriers you need to overcome like resource issues or in-house skillset. Measuring and testing your digital activity is fundamental to success, enabling you to adapt and discover new ways of reaching more people online.

After all, one of the most distinct advantages of digital is the potential to test, learn, adjust and repeat.

If you need help creating a digital strategy you can get in touch with us.

You may also like our article on social connections.

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Frank Whiffen
Frank Whiffen
Frank is in the fortunate position of looking after marketing for a marketing agency. He has been agency side for ten years working across a range of sectors, from investor comms through to food and drink. Before that he marketed chocolate (whilst resisting the urge not to devour the stock).
Get in touch with me