How (and why) to plan for interactive marketing

The exponential growth of internet adoption among businesses and consumers provides tremendous opportunity for marketers. According to Forrester Research, advertisers will spend $25.8b on interactive marketing in 2009, and that number is expected to rise over the next five years to $55b, representing 21 percent of all marketing expenditures. The primary reason for this massive growth is that interactive marketing can provide a more efficient way to reach prospective customers than traditional advertising vehicles.

Challenges always accompany opportunities, however, and interactive marketing is no exception. Here are five steps to successfully plan your interactive marketing for 2010:

1. Understand. Before you develop and execute your interactive marketing plan, embark on a mission to understand who your target market is and how they behave online. Create a few prototypical customers and create a quick model about the entire pre-purchase process. Consider how they become aware of the need for the product or service you provide. Discover how they conduct research to learn about their options. Explore which factors or people influence their evaluation process. Make a point to talk with some of your newer customers about their experience with this process, even especially if you’re an expert in your industry.

2. Prioritize. Choose the right tools for the job. Building a thriving Facebook presence has the potential for high ROI if you make or sell consumer products, while a strong email marketing plan will likely be more effective if you provide a niche service to a B2B market segment with a long sales cycle. Evaluate each marketing tool and consider how likely that tool is to help you reach, attract and convert your target customers. Tools you’ll want to consider and prioritize are Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Email Marketing, Blogs, Search Engine Optimization, Website creation/redesign, Search Engine Marketing and Display Advertising.

3. Plan. Armed with a solid understanding of your prospective customers and the most effective tools to influence them, you’re ready to develop a marketing plan with specific tactics, tools and timelines. An effective approach is to build micro-plans and budgets for each tool, starting with the highest-priority tool and moving to lower priorities. If possible, make sure your top three tools are fully-funded, then consider what minimum investment is needed for the remaining tools.

4. Measure. As you choose goals, make sure that you have a way to measure your marketing effectiveness against those goals. This enables you to understand which elements of your plan are succeeding and which elements are struggling. If your products or services aren’t conducive to online ordering or other activities that lead directly to trackable sales, consider quarterly tracking surveys that test your brand awareness or product familiarity. The key is to maintain visibility into the effectiveness of your marketing plans.

5. Adapt. Once you have visibility into your marketing performance, evaluate and implement options for improvement.  For example, by installing Google Analytics on your website and configuring funnels, you might easily learn that your home page effectively persuades your visitors to click through to your products overview page, but very few visitors are actually visiting your product detail pages. This information would empower you to update your products overview page without the cost or time involved with overhauling your entire website. Don’t forget to budget for the ability to adapt. You want to position yourself to capitalize on opportunities or respond to weaknesses as you identify them instead of waiting until next fiscal year.