Where to begin? The vast world of digital marketing is everything from building a website to publishing ads on social media. And at the core of it all, there’s a strategy backed by market research to help businesses reach their goals.
If you’re asking what a digital marketing strategy is, then you’re likely already thinking strategically. Maybe you have a new business and want to hit the ground running. Or you have an established brand that uses traditional forms of marketing (Print, TV, Billboards) and you want to give your business a digital boost.
In any case, you’ve come to the right place. This digital marketing strategy guide will cover everything you need to know about crafting your own game plan. First, let’s start with a definition.
What is a strategy?
I love the definition of strategy by Roger Martin, author of Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works. According to him, “Strategy is a choice.”
A lot of companies feel as though they’re lost among a sea of consumers and competitors online. They don’t know what to do, so they take wild guesses, hoping they’ll be successful. What happens is they miss out on important insights and lose a lot of time and money in the process.
Martin breaks down strategy into a five-question Choice Cascade:
What is our winning aspiration?
Simply put, what are the biggest goals you want to achieve with your digital marketing strategy? Do you want to build brand awareness, sell more products, or get more people to visit your website? Goals are critical to any strategy. Without knowing what you want, you can’t choose the best way to get it.
Where will we play?
Digital marketing definitely isn’t a one-stop shop. You need to know exactly what platforms are optimized for your success, then go there. You get to choose the playing field. How? By researching your audience beforehand. Let them guide you where you need to be.
How will we win?
Now, it’s pre-game. You’re getting your strategy together by choosing the right methods to reach your goals. Let’s say you want to boost your follower count across all social media platforms by 20% in a month.
You’ve got the figure, now you need the strategy. Think about what types of posts you’ll need, how often you’ll have to upload, keywords, and engagement practices.
What capabilities must be in place?
One of the biggest mistakes companies make when they’re new to digital marketing is not gearing up for the game. They don’t identify specific skills they need, so they struggle and get defeated by one too many roadblocks.
Think about what you currently know, what you’d like to know, and what you need to know. Start building skills first, so you can put your strategy into practice.
What management systems are required?
Management systems in Martin’s Choice Cascade are the measures and structures that support your choices. In digital marketing, management systems include data analysis tools (like Google Analytics) and KPIs (key performance indicators).
What is a marketing strategy?
A marketing strategy is a plan to achieve a goal. Factoring Martin’s definition into the equation, we can define a marketing strategy as the following:
A marketing strategy is a series of choices you make to achieve a goal.
Your digital marketing strategy will be a plan based on choices that help your business thrive in the 21st century. While traditional marketing is still effective, you’re missing out on key opportunities and consumers if you don’t have an online strategy as well.
Strategy vs. Tactic
Another interesting point in marketing is the difference between strategy and tactic. Your strategy is your roadmap, and your tactics are all the steps you take to reach your destination. In our definition, the strategy would be the plan, and the tactics would be all the choices you make to achieve your goal.
What is a digital marketing strategy?
A digital marketing strategy is the use of technology and social media to achieve business goals. These goals are not fixed to the internet. In fact, it’s best to align your digital marketing strategy with real-world objectives.
For example, you may use social media to:
- Attract new customers to a local business
- Expand your business’s audience
- Break into new markets
- Spread brand awareness
- Nurture relationships with existing customers
What is a digital marketing campaign?
Digital Marketing Campaigns are at the foundation of the strategy. It’s the “why” of your digital marketing plan. The campaign comes before the strategy. During the campaign development phase, you’re gathering information, working through the Choice Cascade, and defining your goals.
Let’s Get Tactical
One helpful way to think of the digital space is that it’s an economy of attention. Clicks, likes, follows, shares – all are coins in this eyeball-grabbing currency. Everything you choose to share on digital media becomes ‘content,’ the substance that potential leads are looking for when they browse and are hopefully happy to spend their attention on.
It’s all content, whether you’re writing social media posts, setting up email drip campaigns, writing a blog, creating video content, or hosting a user forum. Therefore, in a sense, digital marketing is digital content marketing. You aim to satisfy your well-defined objective using the content you’ve created.
To do that, you have to compete with the vast ocean of digital content.
Competition in Digital Content Marketing
The Internet Live Stats site tracks the number of live websites on the web – at the time of writing, its count stands at over 1.9 BILLION. While the vast majority of those sites are irrelevant, there’s plenty to draw the eyes and index fingers of your customers, even within your industry alone.
Fortunately, there are ways to determine the right content for your chosen audience, but we’ll get to that shortly.
Tactics in Digital Marketing Strategy Development
First, you must develop tactics to hone your strategy. These are specific actions you can take which contribute toward the objective you set. The good news is that you have a lot of options. The bad news is that you have many (many, many) options.
Some Digital Marketing Approaches
- Set up social media accounts and post regularly, hosting competitions, giveaways, polls, and other sweeteners to attract followers. You can do this on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, and more. Learn » How to Build a Digital Marketing Funnel to Automate Sales Outreach.
- Construct a blog offering helpful industry-specific articles and listicles. Inject your brand personality into this to make it stand out from your competition.
- Create an email drip campaign to reel in leads from a purchased list and LinkedIn (good for B2B sales). Get your salespeople to qualify these leads using this campaign plus cold calling.
- Open a YouTube Channel giving consumer tips and product reviews. As with the blog, the more charismatic, fun, and relevant you can make this content, the better chance it has of breaking through.
- Purchase targeted ads on social media channels and SEO search ads via Amazon. You’ll have to create some sparkling creative content first, of course.
- Have your CEO and Founders appear on popular YouTube channels and podcasts which your target audience might enjoy.
- Write a helpful white paper and make it available for free as a downloadable PDF, a kind of ‘loss leader,’ and a sample of your charged-for services.
- Revamp your website and concentrate on improving its SEO and pushing it up the search rankings.
There are many more, but you can see the problem – each of these tactics constitutes a lot of work. To help decide between tactics, you should first decide on your Buyer Persona.
What’s a Buyer Persona and How Does it Help?
Glad you asked. Like many of these points, it’s surprisingly straightforward.
A Buyer Persona is a biographical sketch of the type of customer you’re hoping to attract. This can be a valuable tool to help your marketing and sales teams zone in on the most promising leads and prospects.
It would be best to think about your Buyer Personas like a novelist would think about their protagonist – giving them challenges, flaws, and ambitions to make them fully rounded and accurate. This will help you get under their skin to offer a real solution to a problem they are facing by selling them your product or service.
By getting specific about your ideal customer, you’ll soon see the tactics to push your marketing content before their eyes effectively.
How do you Create a Buyer Persona?
One way to define a buyer persona is to look at your existing customer base and identify the most engaged buyers. You can do this by analyzing your CRM database.
However, it isn’t always the case that you want to attract more of the same type of customer. If you’re launching a new brand, line, or product, it may appeal to a subtly different demographic. Perhaps you’re even pivoting the business in a new direction. In these cases, you’ll be defining your buyer persona from scratch.
Here are three ways to close in on the right buyer persona:
1: Use Market Research
First, you may want to do a round of market research to determine to whom your product or service most appeals. The results may surprise you and lead to a subtle change in your offering or a pivot towards a new customer base. Online surveys, street surveys, focus groups, and other forms of opinion sourcing can help you decide what qualities your target buyers will have.
2: Try Sentiment Analysis
You can also use sentiment analysis, an AI-powered method for scouring online review sites and separating what users say about your products into positive and negative categories. Businesses offer these services to brands, and their site crawlers are becoming ever more sophisticated – some can even ‘read’ YouTube reviews and audio clips.
3: Remember Who’s Buying
Remember that B2B products may entail a subtly different approach since you’re probably selling to a Head of Procurement or similar executive, who won’t be the product’s end-user. Their wants and needs may not align 100% with the end-users, although they should be highly sympathetic towards their requirements.
Want to learn more about Steps to Define and Analyze your Target Market?
How to Present Your Buyer Personas
Present your Buyer Persona in a lively, precise, and concise manner. Please give them a name and consider even having graphic avatars created or stock photos allocated. Visualizing these characters and writing about them pushes their personality and key characteristics front and center. You’ll see that each example goes into a lot of creative detail about the characters they define. Key categories which are often cited include:
- Hopes and Aspirations
- Challenges / Pain Points
- Ideals and Beliefs
- Likes and Dislikes
- General demographics (age, gender, place of residence, industry, income, etc.)
Although most of these examples take the form of a list, you can also write a buyer persona as a sort of snapshot biography.
A Sample Buyer Persona
Bradford Ryan (48)
Brad is the CEO of a SaaS start-up that helps companies calculate commissions for large sales teams. He previously worked in software company acquisition and before that in software development. He describes himself as a “restless entrepreneur” who’s always looking for the next cost-saving improvement.
Brad, a native San Franciscan, was educated at UCal Berkeley but saw himself as a people’s man. Brad connects well with strangers and loves team sports as an inveterate practical joker. He’s very much a dog person.
However, you decide to create your buyer personas, ensure that the results give you a clear route to reach these ideal buyers via your digital marketing strategy.
Evaluate before you Create
There’s one more vital step to consider before selecting the best tactics to slot into your digital marketing strategy. You should first evaluate your current digital assets to see what can be improved, retired, and replaced.
Digital Media Assets
These can be divided into three categories: owned, earned, and bought.
Owned Media is what you have created from scratch, including websites, social media feeds, email campaigns, and customer databases. All these channels carry marketing potential and are unique to your brand.
Earned Media are mentions and appearances on other websites. If your executives have written guest blogs, published white papers, or appeared on leading business or consumer podcasts, count these as earned media.
Paid Media is external marketing activities that include a paid position, such as pay-per-click advertising, sponsored content, and display advertisements. Paid Media is essential for internet companies’ revenue growth and brand recognition.
From Existing Digital Assets to Content Creation
After performing a full audit of your digital assets, try to determine which assets are performing better than others. There may be opportunities to expand your social media ad spend or redirect towards having more of an online presence with blogs and podcasts. It may be the case that a complete restructuring of your digital marketing strategy isn’t warranted after all.
However, you may discover that you’re missing too many opportunities with your current strategy, or you need to build one from scratch. In this case, the next step after objective and goal setting, buyer persona creation, and asset auditing is budget-setting.
Budgeting your Digital Marketing Plan
Rather than start with a target sum and then attempt to divide it into the various campaigns you’d like to run, or the assets you’d like to create, it’s best to work the other way around.
How to Determine a Realistic Digital Marketing Budget
First, determine the tactics you’re planning to concentrate on. For each one, make a list of everything you’ll need. For each marketing tactic, you should consider:
- In-house person-hours to devote to each project strand.
- Any external contractors you’ll need to pay for, i.e., designers, writers, photographers.
- Any physical assets you’ll need to invest in (a new server, laptops, VPN devices, etc.)
- Any digital tools you’ll want to purchase for design, content creation, cloud storage.
- Any spend on ad placement or use of external marketing services.
Ensure your Resources are Properly Allocated
Once you’ve added up everything you can think of, you’ll have a realistic total for your tactic. You’ll quickly see whether you can afford to do everything on your wish list or whether it might be sensible to table some for future development.
You’re much more likely to succeed by limiting your marketing tactics than by trying to do everything at once, with meager resources for each project.
Once you’re shortlisted your tactics, with a marketing budget for each one, you’ll be able to move into the staffing and scheduling stages.
Your People are your Best Assets
Either you’ve got talented in-house creatives, or you’ve budgeted to outsource. Now’s the time to ensure you have enough people working on each item and that they do not have to squeeze these projects in around their day-to-day tasks.
Developing your marketing strategy must take top priority, even if you experience a dip in revenue or bring in less qualified leads during this development period.
Bring in Digital Marketing Specialists Where Needed
Ensure you have market research expertise and help with ad placement and website design. You may find your team expands significantly during the first year of implementing a thorough digital marketing strategy.
Also, ensure your creatives are ably provided with the technological support they need, especially if some of them are working remotely. You’ll want to ensure transparent reporting lines, regular team check-ins, and a simple means for communication, perhaps using Slack or another email alternative.
Top Tools for Digital Marketing Strategic Planning and Collaboration
You may find you need to buy a software solution to help you coordinate your strategic marketing projects. There are communication tools, project management tools, and data analytics tools, all of which may prove helpful at various stages.
However, it’s important not to overload your team with too many new systems. Pick one or two and make sure everyone is on board with using them.
Here are some of the best project management, communication, and data analytic tools currently available:
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ll already know about Zoom, but it deserves mention, nonetheless. By seizing an opportunity to help businesses continue to operate remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom acquired $1 billion of revenue in 2021’s second quarter alone. Although all-in-one collaboration tools allow video conferencing, few are as practical and straightforward to use.
Although thousands of project management tools are on the market, Asana is one of the most successful (valued at $1.5 billion in 2018) and versatile systems available. Asana allows you to visualize and prioritize your tasks, delegate responsibility, track progress, and decide priorities, all in one straightforward interface.
Whether you’re designing a website, an app, or a piece of software, it’s great to have a cloud-based, collaborative platform for wireframing and concept testing in a secure environment. Figma is just that, making life easy for remote-working UX/UI designers and executives to give feedback on the go.
Hubspot is the number one CRM solution on the market, and it’s easy to see why. It transforms your client database into a unified hub for sales, marketing, support, and research. Like all of these tools, it’s cloud-based for maximum flexibility and facilitates marketing automation, including creating blog posts and social media campaigns.
Both Google and Microsoft offer cut-price collaborative environments if you’re working to a tight budget. Google’s offering unifies its Gmail, Meet, Calendar, Drive, and Google Docs products into one suite. Cloud-based and providing collaborative commentary options for shared documents, it’s more sophisticated than you might think.
The problem with traditional email is that your inbox fills up with irrelevant messages, spam, and threads where you must endlessly scroll to find the bit of interest. Slack was designed to revolutionize inter-office communication by dividing workstreams into ‘channels’ where only relevant parties hold conversations. There’s a neat search feature, too, saving you time rummaging through your inbox.
Scheduling your Digital Marketing Strategy Rollout
So, you’ve done a lot of legwork. Let’s summarize the stages so far:
- Objective Setting – you know what outcome you’d like to achieve.
- Goals within Objectives – you have short, medium, and long-term goals.
- Buyer Personas – you know exactly who you’re attempting to reach.
- Digital Asset Audit – you’ve looked at what you already have.
- Budgeting – you’ve selected your tactics and priced them up.
- Personnel – you’ve made sure you have in-house and external support.
- Software Support – you’ve ensured you have project management systems in place.
Well done – you’re more than halfway there. However, now comes the tricky part!
Finalizing a Strategic Marketing Plan
The final two stages are scheduling and implementation.
You can use your project management tool or a simple Gantt chart on Excel to lay out all the stages that need to be undertaken, in what order, by what dates, and by whom. There are more agile ways of working, whereby continuous improvement replaces specific projects, as outlined in this Harvard Business Review article. Still, for our purposes, you do need to define tasks as ‘completed.’
What is a Gantt Chart?
A Gantt chart is simply a bar chart that lists each task on the vertical axis, and time forms the horizontal axis. As you complete each task, each task-line can be colored using a traffic-light scheme:
- Green – tasks completed
- Amber – Tasks in progress
- Red – Tasks not yet begun
As the weeks roll on, you’ll want to see as much green preceding the current date as possible, showing that you’re on target.
The Importance of the Critical Path
The Critical Path is the shortest possible time to undertake the whole project, allowing for all the stages which must be completed before another can proceed. Set a hard deadline for each launch (website redesign, YouTube channel, newsletter), then work backward, filling in the steps that must be undertaken in order.
This will tell you how much time you’ll need to enact the whole strategic marketing plan. Make sure you build in contingency time for unforeseen issues that will inevitably occur, for which you cannot plan. In other words, if you think something will take ten days, allow 12-14.
Sometimes it can help to have a paper version of the Gantt chart up on your office wall so that everyone can see it. You should also schedule regular progress meetings to update it and check whether you’re on target.
Executing your Digital Marketing Plan
Digital strategy planning may seem a cumbersome process, but, boiled down to the basics, it’s the exact steps you’d undertake for any large-scale project. You need to know where you are and where you’d like to be, then figure out how to cross the gulf between those places.
Implementation should be the fun part. Here’s where you get to be creative and build the brand-new digital assets you need. It may be a frantic time in your business’s development, but hopefully, you’ll emerge with a robust digital marketing plan and create content that will deliver your objectives.
Make sure you’ve left time to prepare for any launches and have the personnel on board to monitor the effect of any new initiatives. If possible, try to implement A/B testing on campaigns, running more than one version to determine which one drives the best results.
Don’t Forget to Have Fun
Lastly, make sure you enjoy it! This is your chance to tell the world how excellent your products and services are, build new business, derive new leads, and differentiate your offering from your competitors. If you’re lucky, you’ll see an increase in revenue, enjoy write-ups in marketing journals and perhaps even win an award or two.
Even if your digital marketing strategy development process stumbles at first before it finds its feet, the process will have taught you a great deal about your creative assets, your staff, and your uniqueness. You’ll be in a much better position to take on the competition and stand out in the digital marketplace.