A winning digital marketing strategy can make or break a business. It doesn't matter how awesome your product or service is — if you can't market it, nobody will benefit from it.
Competition is rife in the digital space, with new innovative companies and products launched every day. Marketers need to stay at the top of their game to make sure what they share with their customers and audience is relevant and engaging.
The fast-paced nature of digital channels has forced marketers to become agile enough to implement cutting-edge trends in their own marketing strategies. With digital transformation taking a firm grip on the economy, now's the time to act and define or update your company's marketing efforts.
Digital Marketing Definition
Put simply, digital marketing is the use of internet-based channels to promote awareness about a company's products or services. Popular mediums include websites, search engines, mobile devices and social media. Generally speaking, the more relevant strategies you use, the faster your business can grow.
Online marketing began in the 1990s when the internet rose to prominence. However, in the past five to 10 years, the unprecedented rise of automated software and social media has opened up a new world of digital marketing to every business, large and small.
David Cohen, CEO at New York-based IAB, said in a news release, "According to the Census Bureau, 2021 saw the greatest business growth in history, with 5.4 million new businesses created."
He added, "Those businesses rely upon the ad-supported internet to attract new customers and provide products and services to the American public. We believe this small business engine will be a key contributor to fueling ongoing digital media and marketing ecosystem growth."
With more businesses vying to compete than ever, decision-makers must find creative, highly targeted ways of attracting customers. In other words, it's impossible to understand your target audience too much.
The key to devising a successful digital marketing strategy is knowing your market inside and out. Understanding what makes them tick gives you the power to devise effective campaigns and use the right channels to expand your reach.
What Is a Digital Marketing Strategy?
Digital marketing strategies make your business thrive. They enable you to create a clear, comprehensive plan for how to appeal to your target audience.
In today's informed, interconnected world, aiming to build a direct relationship with consumers is the best way to stand out ahead of your competitors. Digital channels provide an unparalleled solution, facilitating conversation, conversions and data-based analysis.
Marketing and forecasting were once largely based on guesswork. The digital world now provides real-time, actionable insights into customer behavior, so you can refine and improve future campaigns.
Martin Petrov, head of marketing at Denmark-based Morningscore, shared that a deep knowledge of your audience is a must for a successful digital marketing strategy.
"Every product we bring to market serves a specific purpose for a particular target audience,” he said. “Understanding the audience's needs and correctly positioning the product directly informs what tasks your whole team should engage with on a more tactical level.”
A digital marketing strategy is a plan to reach your customers through all digital channels. It's essential because it gives you a framework for how to use each channel and helps you measure which parts work best for your business.
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The Pillars of Digital Marketing
Anyone can post content on digital platforms and hope for the best, but to be effective, you need to take a holistic approach to marketing.
Customer experience, branding and content must be cohesive and aligned to inspire first-time and long-time customers alike. Instead of thinking of marketing as a separate entity to your brand, approach every interaction as a marketing opportunity.
Knowing the six pillars of online marketing can help leaders make the most of it.
Pillar 1: Planning
Every strategy must begin with a plan. When it comes to marketing, the following elements are essential:
- Knowledge of digital transformation
- Budget and return on investment (ROI)
- Structures, systems and processes
- Skills and resources
- Software and other tech
- Business and revenue models
- Strong branding concepts and documentation
Pillar 2: Goals and Analysis
The beauty of digital marketing, compared to any other type of promotional effort, is the ability to measure. You can set goals and use metrics across various digital channels to analyze results.
The internet makes the following marketing processes more accurate and relevant:
- Key performance indicator (KPI) setting and measuring
- Demographic insights
- Customer profiling
- Journey mapping
- Digital dashboards
Pillar 3: Media
There are more mediums out there than ever, with most falling into the following categories:
- Paid media
- Earned media
- Owned media
Pillar 4: Content
Content is the magic ingredient that bridges the gap between customers and your brand. Without content to inform them about your company's offerings, your target audience has no reason to make a purchase.
Compelling, optimized content should be crafted for each stage of the sales funnel to entice and convince.
Pillar 5: Customer Experience
The experience a consumer has with your company plays a significant role in purchasing decisions.
According to PWC's Future of Customer Experience report, there are four core elements to excellent CX:
- Speed: Make it as easy as possible for people to spend their money. People live fast-paced lives and can change their minds on a dime. Prioritizing speed when it comes to finding information, getting support and making a booking or purchase will increase revenue.
- Convenience: If a customer feels like they have to work to buy something from your company, it will hinder their experience. Eliminate as many steps as possible between awareness and purchasing, and you're onto a winner.
- Consistency: Consistency is essential so that consumers can remember your company and stay loyal to it. It's also reassuring, demonstrating competency and intentionality, which make your brand look more professional and accomplished.
- Friendliness: People want to be treated with respect and care. If you can make them feel good, they’ll form a stronger emotional connection with your brand.
Pillar 6: Conversational Messaging
Have you ever walked into a restaurant, been greeted by name and walked over to your favorite table? Not only does it feel good — it's a powerful method of inspiring loyalty.
Digital marketing tools enable modern businesses to provide this high-level service to every customer. Some tools for having conversations with customers include:
- Mobile notifications
- Email marketing
- Live chat
- Customer relationship management (CRM) automation
Types of Digital Media Assets
Many people spend the majority of their day in front of a screen — about 11 hours for the average US adult (a number that skyrocketed to 19 hours per day during the pandemic).
When they aren't working on desktop computers, they’re scrolling through social media on a mobile phone or watching YouTube on a tablet. Therefore, the more devices and channels your content can cater to, the better.
To understand how digital marketing works, you need to know about owned, paid and earned media.
These channels are the ones your company owns and operates. Blogs, podcasts, websites, video channels and social media pages are examples of owned media.
Anything that's displayed by a third party in exchange for payment is a paid channel. Influencer marketing, paid social ads and paid search ads are a few examples of paid media.
Earned media is neither paid nor owned by your organization. It's third-party content that you've earned a mention in, such as user-generated content, reviews, awards, backlinks and sponsors.
Related Article: Social Commerce Is Finally Here
The Digital Marketing Strategy Cycle
The most important thing to consider when creating a digital marketing strategy is the fact that it's a cycle. Never go into it thinking you're solving a problem for good — just see it as a solution for now.
The landscape is changing fast, with new technology, platforms and best practices emerging each year. As such, taking a continual approach to strategic improvement is non-negotiable.
An effective way to kick off any marketing strategy is by conducting a SWOT Analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The first two elements are internally focused, while the latter two are externally focused:
- Strengths: If you know your company's strengths, you can play to them. What do you do better than your competitors? From strong branding to unique technology, unique selling propositions (USPs) help you target your audience more effectively.
- Weaknesses: In an ideal world, your company wouldn't have any weaknesses — but you have to be realistic. Every business has its kryptonite, and knowing yours is vital to preventing it from hindering success.
- Opportunities: Opportunities are the external factors that could help you grow. Shifting social norms, new legislation and removal of sanctions can deliver excellent returns for companies.
- Threats: Threats are the external situations that could prevent your business from making a profit. Supply chain issues, changes in the labor market and disruptions from new technology are prime examples.
Once you've taken stock of your company's position in the market and the market itself, it's time to set goals. All objectives should be closely tied to overarching organizational goals and have measurable results.
To set key performance indicators that deliver results, many marketers use S.M.A.R.T goals:
- Specific: Detailed, well-defined objectives are a must to ensure metrics are useful and actionable.
- Measurable: Quantitative numerical measurements are easiest to track and analyze.
- Attainable: It's tempting to shoot for the moon and hope to land among the stars — but it's not smart. Your team must be able to hit the goals you set for them.
- Realistic: Time frames, budget and staff must be available for objectives to be effective.
- Timely: Every goal should have a timeline to create a sense of urgency and prevent time-wasting.
Your company's digital marketing goals might include:
- Generate 100 more leads in a month
- Increase social media traffic by 50% over the next year
- Increase sales revenue by $500 per week
- Improve your website's conversion rate by 20% in a quarter
3. Market Segmentation
Customer segments break down your target audience into subgroups. As consumers become more savvy and spoiled for choice, companies must be highly personal when trying to reach them.
Some of the ways you can segment your audience include:
- Demographic: This type of segmentation involves grouping people based on age, income, marital status, background, family size, etc. Thanks to the digital sphere, it's easier than ever to collect this information.
- Geographic: Another boon for the internet is its ability to facilitate global reach. While small to medium businesses were once ring-fenced in their local area, digital marketing means everyone has the chance to go global. Useful geographic data for market segmentation includes climate, culture and language.
- Behavioral: You can collect information about every interaction a prospect or customer has with your brand and group them accordingly. Instead of presuming how people behave on your website, social pages, app or in-store, you can glean real-time data-based insights and optimize CX based on what you learn.
- Psychographic: Thanks to social media and web analytics, it's possible to drill deep down into your target market's psyche. This type of segmentation is highly effective, as it provides insight into their personality, values, lifestyle choices, opinions, interests and motivations.
4. Buyer Personas
Buyer personas are fictional profiles of your ideal customer or customers. Most businesses have at least four buyer personas to ensure they reach as many potential customers as possible.
Personalization is the buzzword in marketing right now, and for good reason. In-depth knowledge of your audience can give you extraordinary inspiration and insight for creating marketing campaigns. Leading companies and marketers use buyer personas to help them understand the needs, wants and pain points of their ideal customers.
5. Owned Media Campaigns
You have the most control over owned media because you choose the content you create and post. To optimize owned media, begin by auditing your current content and identifying areas of improvement. Rank each piece according to how much engagement it generates, and develop a plan to create more similar content.
You can use buyer personas to identify new opportunities for content creation, based on the needs and problems you identified in your research. Use what you've discovered to populate your website, social media profiles, blog, podcast and YouTube channel with engaging, useful content to attract your target market.
6. Earned Media Campaigns
When analyzing which earned media channels bear the most fruit, assess where paid traffic and leads are coming from. Use this information to create a list of the most profitable earned media channels, and focus on the top three.
You might notice that a lot of traffic comes from the source of an industry award, guest post or shares via social media. This historical data is valuable because it paints a clear picture of where you should focus your efforts to reach your goals.
7. Paid Media Campaigns
Paid digital ads are a top method for getting your brand name out into the world and in front of your target audience.
Before embarking on a new strategy, be sure to analyze what's currently working and what isn't. For instance, if you've spent a lot of money on Google Ads but see better ROI from Facebook Ads, don't be afraid to pivot.
8. Analyze and Repeat
With every element of your digital marketing strategy planned for and implemented, you can step back from strategy and get to work. Be sure to allow each element enough time to take root, and track KPIs closely to identify issues and redirect efforts if necessary.
Use what you learn to continually update and refine your marketing strategy so that it's relevant and on-brand.
The Sales Funnel for Marketers
Also known as the buyer's journey, the sales funnel describes the process of snagging a customer's attention and gradually convincing them to buy. It's typified as a funnel because businesses attract more leads than they convert into customers — that's just the nature of the beast.
However, the more tightly you plan, the more leads you'll convert and retain as loyal ambassadors for your company.
Below is an example of the stages of the customer journey, but keep in mind that it can differ between companies and industries.
Every company starts its life as an unknown. The awareness stage is about getting your company's name out there. Strong keyword research, content writing, paid ads and a social media presence are top tools for this stage.
A buyer at this stage is actively looking to spend money in your vertical, and they know your business offers a solution. Pricing guides, case studies, well-timed email campaigns and webinars are great tools for gently convincing your audience to make a purchase.
Keep in mind that a hard sales approach can be off-putting to people in the consideration phase.
At this point, the prospect has narrowed down their options to two or three choices, and you're one of them. Congratulations, but there's still work to do. Use content such as testimonials, FAQs, free trials and discounts to reinforce confidence in your company.
With such a competitive business landscape, attracting new customers isn't enough for most companies. Repeat customers are the bedrock of a long-standing brand in most industries, and there is a lot that decision-makers can do to inspire loyalty.
Make sure customers get the most out of their purchases with follow-up communication, and send out feedback requests to demonstrate your dedication to continuous improvement.
Related Article: Connected Customers, Connected Data, Connected Journeys
Which Internet Marketing Tactics Work?
The exact digital marketing strategies that will work best for your business depend on a range of factors. Market research provides an in-depth insight into which techniques are likely to generate results based on the preferences and behavior of your audience.
A website is a must for any business that wants to go the distance in the modern world. As your online storefront, it's completely under your control. It's also a hub for data capture and lead generation that you don't want to miss out on.
Company websites should be optimized for search engine optimization (SEO), local search, speed, navigation, design and mobile-friendliness. A blog, frequently asked questions (FAQs), about us page, accurate contact information and location-specific landing pages can also help expand reach.
Much of your content marketing efforts live on your website and are shared using social media and other channels. Examples include:
- Blog posts
- White papers
- Lead magnets
Lead magnets offer something in return for an email address, which gives you the power to re-target. Gated content is a strong example of a lead magnet and involves putting an article behind a contact form. When the prospect inputs their email address, you send the content directly to their inbox.
Search Engine Optimization
SEO is an organic way of growing your audience, and although it's a long-term strategy, it can be highly effective.
There's a myriad of techniques involved in search engine optimization, including on-page and off-page elements, such as:
- Keyword density and topic clusters
- Word count optimization
- Meta titles and descriptions
- Compelling calls-to-action
- Aligning FAQs with search intent
- Fast loading times
- Schema markup and other technical elements
- Correct formatting of headers
- Optimized images
- Pillar and cluster content
Social media has created a new type of celebrity, known as an influencer. They're not as famous as a superstar, such as Doja Cat or Kim Kardashian, but they have a loyal following of fans who look up to them.
When influencers post ads on social media, their fans are excited to try out what products or services they suggest. It's a targeted and effective way for brands to expand reach and boost revenue.
YouTube is one of the most ubiquitous social media channels in the world, with viewership across all demographics. People use it for a number of reasons, from learning to entertainment.
Entrepreneurs and companies have found great success in creating informative, entertaining videos about their specialties. It's possible to increase your company's global reach by investing in creating content for YouTube.
Email marketing is a tried and tested approach to digital marketing, and it's more effective than ever despite its status as a legacy tactic. As people's work and personal inboxes become increasingly blurred, more time is spent checking emails.
Marketers and decision-makers can cash in on this trend by creating subtle, well-timed and informative email campaigns. As well as nurturing prospects down the sales funnel, email marketing is an excellent method for inspiring customer loyalty.
Social Media Advertising and Paid Search
Other places consumers spend vast amounts of time are social media and search engines. While SEO and social media marketing are long-term tactics, paid ads deliver instant results.
If you have the budget for it, aim to deploy social ads across every channel your target audience uses. Because of the swathes of data social channels hold about users, social ads can be extraordinarily targeted and precise.
The above is by no means an extensive list of the digital marketing channels that deliver results; however, they're great ideas to start off with. Once you've mastered the basics, delve deeper into your customer profiles and identify smaller, niche channels to reach them.
Digital Marketing Strategy Best Practices
"Without a digital marketing strategy, an organization will not be able to consistently and cohesively connect with constituents online, compromising sales and revenue projections,” said Kent Lewis, president at Portland, Ore.-based Anvil Media. “Digital marketing should integrate seamlessly across digital and analog channels for maximum impact.”
Here are six tips to help tighten your strategy and get your marketing analytics moving in the right direction.
1. Do Competitor Research
"In order to stand out from your competitors, you need to study their digital marketing strategies and look for opportunities," said Cristian Ungureanu, senior growth marketer at Zurich-based QuickMail.
Think about which areas they're focusing on. What are they neglecting? It could be that they're investing heavily in SEO or paid ads but are very weak at webinars and podcasts.
2. Be Authentic
Organizations should strive to be true to their values and mission.
"Create messaging and marketing strategies that are authentic and based on core values, mission and vision instead of doing something because it's the latest trend," said Lewis.
3. Analyze Your Content
Performing a content gap analysis can reveal what types of content have performed well for competition. It can also show what hasn't performed well and may not be worth your time.
Kristien Matelski, PR manager at Irving, Texas-based Vizion, said, "Maybe there's a topic that performed really well for a competitor, and you have a fresh, updated take on the topic with newer data that could surpass your competitor's piece.
4. Leverage Different Channels
There are more digital channels than you can imagine — and new ones are emerging at a record pace.
Most marketers still think of social media and SEO as the best ways to connect with their audiences. However, there are exciting emerging technologies and channels, such as NFT drops, augmented reality and virtual reality, that marketers need to know and use.
5. Align Strategy With Goals
Doing this doesn't just open up tons of opportunities for practically executing your strategy through tactics. It also ensures that your tactics and your strategy are aligned at all times.
"From demand gen to lead gen, having a clearly defined problem helps make more potential customers aware of your solution with the right content," added Petrov.
6. Don't Be Afraid to Innovate
While most innovation is concentrated on products, you can innovate on your marketing processes. "There are also vast opportunities for innovation in your marketing," said Ungureanu. "One area of marketing innovation I've found to be particularly effective is visual identity and tone of voice. If you are able to achieve a particularly interesting visual identity on your website and product, and you can pair that with a matching tone of voice, you'll be able to capture the attention of your audience much more effectively and stand out from the crowd," he continued.
Social media plays a huge role in the ever-increasing impact of digital marketing. For many companies — especially smaller ones — social media alone has facilitated exponential growth. As such, it's often the most invested in element of any marketing strategy.
In the final section of this digital marketing strategy guide, you'll learn how to maximize ROI on your digital marketing strategy with social media marketing.
Related Article: Providing Experience in an Omnichannel World
Social Media Marketing Platforms With the Furthest Reach
When devising your digital marketing strategy, a key consideration is which social media channels to focus on. It's a space to share content, build a sense of community and reinforce brand values, and the impact of social media can't be overstated.
Market research will uncover where your audience spends their time, but you can use the following as a guide to help you understand your options.
Facebook has nearly 2 billion daily active users around the globe, with Boomers, Generation X and Millennials making up the core demographic of its user base.
The social platform’s paid ads are super targeted, and it's the perfect place for local businesses to generate awareness. In addition to hosting a popular online marketplace, Facebook has highly populated groups marketers can leverage.
Instagram has 2 billion monthly active users, and it's most popular with Millennials, although Gen Z uses it, too. When it comes to user-generated content and personal reach, there's no better platform, making it a hub for influencer marketing.
Brands can make a visual impact and showcase their products and services, in addition to using the channel as an online marketplace.
YouTube has more than 361 million daily active users and is popular for how-to content, long-form entertainment and informative videos.
In addition to being one of the most popular websites in the world, it's a place where people tend to spend time. If you've got the resources to start a podcast, create informative videos and build a community, YouTube can be a valuable promotional tool.
Twitter has a reputation for being a place of conflict, but it's an awesome tool for marketing decision-makers. With more than 200 million daily active users, it's one of the best places online for customer service, public relations and building a community around your brand.
TikTok is Gen Z's preferred platform, and it boasts over 1 billion monthly active users. Its short-form video format and excitable algorithm make it one of the easiest places to go viral and make an impact on your audience. It's also a great place to work with influencers, generate user-generated content and increase brand awareness.
Creating a Successful Social Media Marketing Strategy
Every business must tailor its social media strategy to its organizational goals and audience. However, there are some non-negotiable elements that are common across all successful campaigns:
- A strong knowledge of your target market, including the channels they use, their style of communication and who they follow
- Imagery, text and content that's aligned with your brand and audience expectations
- A content strategy and calendar to ensure you post regularly and at optimal times
- Analytical data to provide quantifiable insights into who your content reaches, how much it's shared and the time of day your posts get the most engagement
- An understanding that social algorithms work in real-time, which means they prioritize accounts that post more regularly
- Successful campaigns don't use social media to canvas for customers — instead, you harness it to respond to customers and share content
Benefits of Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is often one of the most powerful tools a company has to expand its reach. It works in combination with your website, influencer and content marketing efforts, and it contributes to SEO. What's more, your social media pages offer social proof at the awareness stage of the sales funnel. Think of this as online word-of-mouth.
Let's look at the top reasons to prioritize your social media presence within your digital marketing strategy.
Humanize Your Company
Social media lets you create a persona around your business, giving it a vibe, purpose and other human characteristics. The more personality you can inject into your social pages, the more engaging it'll be for users — and the more they'll trust it.
Turn Leads Into Loyal Customers
It's possible to generate and convert leads with social media alone, making it a valuable tool. Social media has functions, such as appointment booking, calls to action, direct messaging and online marketplaces, to make it as easy as possible for you to inspire purchases.
Build a Community
The best brands are experts at building a community around their products or services. People want to feel a sense of belonging, and your company has the ability to fulfill this need using social media. Forums, such as Reddit, and communication servers, such as Discord, can help you foster conversations and connections between your followers.
Master Competitor Research
Social media is ideal for engaging with customers — and them engaging with each other — but it's also a hub for competitor research. Follow your closest competitors and pay attention to what works and what doesn't. Use what you learn to inform future digital marketing campaigns and refine your social media strategy.
Digital marketing is a powerful tool for every business. It enables leaders to create clear and comprehensive plans for reaching target audiences and building long-lasting relationships. The internet continues to be increasingly pervasive across all platforms and areas of daily life — and your digital marketing efforts must shift in tandem with these changes.