Everyone wants digital bells and whistles. But too often, what a client really needs is a solid online strategy.

Do you have a comprehensive Web strategy? Or, if you’re in my business: Do your clients have one?

Let me lay out a few scenarios for you, and see if they sound familiar:

Scenario No. 1: Client A is running a Google AdWords pay-per-click campaign. In an effort to improve website-generated leads, the client spends several thousand dollars with a new design firm to give the site a facelift. After the facelift is completed, total leads decline.

Inspection of the client’s Google Analytics data reveals that most of the client’s leads were coming from free, search-engine-optimized listings, not from ads. And not only did the new design harm the client’s optimized rankings, but the firm that generated the new design broke the client’s content management system, so the rankings cannot be easily fixed.

  •  Lesson learned: Consult your Web analytics before you draw conclusions about the sources of your website traffic and invest in unnecessary “improvements.”

Scenario No. 2: Client B wants to “do a social media campaign.” When asked why, the response is “Because that’s where it’s at right now!” A quick survey of the client’s customer base, online marketing tactics executed to date, and analytics show that most of its customer base is not using social media–and that the client has not even touched marketing tactics that its customers already connect with.

  • Lesson learned: Don’t follow bright, shiny objects just because everyone else is.

Scenario No. 3: Client C hires three firms to execute three tactics: one firm to build the website; a second to manage pay-per-click ads, and a third to do SEO.

The client doesn’t bring the agencies together to talk or share any information, and the client doesn’t know what to ask each to gain any meaningful perspective. All three firms generate lots of great-looking reports (“We just bought you 10,000 clicks this month; isn’t that awesome?!”), but the Web analytics reveal that actual outcomes are less impressive; 95% of those 10,000 clicks led to visitors that came and left the website within seconds.

  • Lesson learned: If you don’t know what metrics to measure (and understand how to benchmark and measure them), don’t bother hiring someone to make changes. Why waste your money?

Why You Need Strategy

The famous quote by ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu applies well to marketing: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Clearly, we’re seeing a lot of noise in digital marketing these days.

Time for a refresher on what strategy does and does not do. Strategy does provide guidance and a validated rationale for executing the tactics you want to undertake. Strategy does not define the reason for a tactic in terms of number of leads, sales, or other goals: Those are called business objectives, and while your strategy needs to align with your objectives, they are not the definition of a strategy.

Think of marketing strategy as the map that gets you from Point A to Point B. When you plot your route, you can then use your map to consider the many variables: Do you want the fastest route or the scenic one? Do you mind paying tolls or do you seek to avoid them? Do you need a route with amenities like rest areas and hotels?

In other words, before you even get on the road, you have made many critical decisions in advance. If you had no map (or GPS system, for that matter), how well do you think you’d get there–and at what peril to you and your passengers?

Strategic Considerations

Here are a few considerations that should help you shape a real, actionable marketing strategy.

  •  Strategy needs to be realistic and achievable; otherwise, it’s a setup for failure.
  • Execution of a strategy requires resources; the more ambitious the strategy, the more resources it takes–even if that resource is just time.
  • All parties responsible for executing the strategy should be communicating with one another.
  • Everyone involved needs to understand precisely how the success of this strategy will be measured.
  • Smart testing will help you refine your strategy. I often learn more and faster from what doesn’t work than from what does.
  • Particularly in the digital world, strategy needs regular reviews and revamps. Why stay the course if something is just generating failure?

So the next time you go to spend some bucks on your next great digital marketing tactic, make sure you can articulate why you’re doing it and what your goals are. If you can’t, you ought to be thinking about developing a strategy instead.

Hollis Thomases is the President & CEO of Web Ad.vantage, which provides outcome-based digital marketing and advertising services to up-and-coming brands. She is also the author of Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day and a contributing expert to Social Media Marketing Magazine@hollisthomases