What is a digital marketing strategy? Do you even need one? How do you create a digital marketing strategy, and what should be in it?
We’ll answer the second question first. If you’re trying to grow your brand, increase sales, or generally grow your business, the answer is yes, you need a digital marketing strategy.
How do we know? Well, KWSM has been active in the digital marketing space since 2010, so we know the difference between a marketing plan that will work and one that won’t.
And as a Senior Copywriter, I’ve seen the results of marketing campaigns that don’t have a strategy to guide them at other agencies and organizations. (Spoiler alert: they aren’t great.)
- What is a digital marketing strategy?
- How do you create a digital marketing strategy?
- What should a digital marketing strategy contain?
- Who can execute my digital marketing strategy?
- How to identify the goals of a digital marketing strategy
- 5 examples of digital marketing strategy goals
1. What is a Digital Marketing Strategy?
A digital marketing strategy is a governing document that defines your organization’s marketing challenges, objectives, and tactics for achieving your goals online.
In other words, your digital marketing strategy is your most important point of reference for growing your online presence. It should identify and personalize your audiences, analyze market conditions, establish your brand’s message, and lay out a concrete plan of action for the future.
If that sounds like a lot, well… it is. But don’t be intimidated! For us, each step in the strategy development process builds on the step before until the entire path is complete. It’s like that old joke – “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Let’s take our first bite together.
2. How Do You Create a Digital Marketing Strategy?
The details of a digital marketing strategy will vary according to the business and the marketplace, but there are a few essential elements that every strategy needs. They are:
- Audience Identification
- Marketplace Analysis
- Web Health Analysis
- Brand Messaging
- Campaigns & Tactics
1) Audience Identification
The first impulse for companies investing in marketing is to talk about themselves. It’s the subject they know best, after all, and it’s the easiest place to start.
This is not the best approach.
Effective marketing, especially from a brand journalism perspective, is all about the audience. What they want, what they need, and what they’re struggling with.
That’s why our digital marketing strategies always start with audience identification.
Personifying the pain points, wants, needs, and motivations of your audience is crucial for presenting your offer as the solution they’re looking for.
“As an agency, we’ve always taken a brand journalism approach to marketing. I was a broadcast journalist for years and I’ve seen first hand the power of storytelling to engage an audience. Brand journalism empowers us to tell compelling stories – both our clients’ stories and the stories of their customers. When people connect to a story, they’re much more likely to engage with a business. We build on those connections to help brands grow.”
– Katie Wagner, Founder & President, KWSM
When you know who your audience is and what their trigger points are, you can create a more cohesive marketing story.
More importantly, you can position your audience as the main character in that story (which is how they see themselves already) and your brand as the guide that helps them overcome the challenges they’re facing with a transformational solution.
2) Marketplace Analysis
Creating a digital marketing strategy also requires understanding an organization’s position in the industry marketplace.
In one recent strategy, part of our plan to generate leads for a law firm included analyzing the marketing processes of competing firms in the same space. We also identified search terms and keywords that will bring qualified prospects into the marketing funnel.
Identifying your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses allows you to pick and choose what’s working for your marketing presence and avoid pitfalls that others have fallen into.
3) Web Health Analysis
Websites are still the hub of any organization’s digital presence.
To proceed with a digital marketing strategy, you’ll need an assessment of your current website’s performance, design, content, user experience, and optimization for search engines (SEO). This will include auditing metrics like conversions, clicks, time on site, bounce rate, and other measurements.
The results of this analysis will illuminate the best path forward for your marketing strategy by determining what you need to do to provide the best possible online experience for your audiences.
A comprehensive review of an organization’s online presence will also include a review of relevant Google results and social media activity. All of these findings will help shape the direction of your digital marketing strategy.
4) Brand Messaging
When you have a comprehensive understanding of where you are in the marketplace and who you’re trying to reach, the next step is to refine what you’re going to say to your audiences.
Each audience wants and needs something different from a brand’s communication. By tailoring messaging points to each group, your marketing team can craft custom content that appeals to them.
Further, establishing your brand’s messaging strategy helps to ensure a consistent voice and tone across your digital marketing presence. What audiences read on your website should also be reflected in social media posts, marketing collateral, and personal interactions with the brand.
5) Campaigns & Tactics
Again, every digital marketing strategy’s campaigns and tactics will vary according to the state of the marketplace, the needs of the audiences, and other factors.
Broadly speaking, however, most marketing strategies include a website update as well as either organic or paid campaigns or some combination of the two, all of which we’ll dive into below.
3. What Should a Digital Marketing Strategy Contain?
Now that all of the foundational pieces are in place, you can start to create a plan of attack.
When you’re planning campaigns as part of your digital marketing strategy, you’ll need to determine which tactics will be most effective for reaching your objectives within the constraints of the campaign.
(As marketers, we love it when companies walk in with a blank check and are wide open to every idea we pitch. Actually, we would love it – because it hasn’t ever happened.)
1) Website & Digital Infrastructure
As we mentioned above, your organization’s website is the hub for your digital marketing strategy.
The process for creating a new website for modern marketing purposes could be a blog post of its own, but for the purposes of a digital marketing strategy, a new or refreshed website solves a lot of problems.
Updating your website not only improves your users’ experience but also helps to establish the digital infrastructure you’ll need to connect with your audiences online.
On the public-facing, or “front-end,” side of the website, you can revise or write new on-page content that reflects the updated brand messaging that you developed earlier in the strategy process. You can also address areas of expertise, service locations, social media connections, employee profiles, and more with refreshed content as needed.
Further, a new website calls for updated assets like photos and videos, and it’s also an opportunity to refresh an organization’s brand look or logo.
On the technical or “back-end” side of the website, your team should apply SEO best practices like meta descriptions, alt tags on images, site speed optimization, and long-tail keyword implementation to ensure long-term SEO success.
This can be a significant undertaking depending on the size and scope of the new website, but the rewards are substantial. Specifically, a new website usually collects leads more effectively and is rewarded by search engines with improved search rankings based on better performance across a variety of technical metrics.
If your website is more than three years old and you’re serious about digital marketing, a new website is a must-have.
2) Organic/Inbound Marketing
Organic or inbound marketing includes tactics that aren’t promoted with paid advertising.
This type of marketing relies on SEO, word-of-mouth, and other natural connections to reach audiences. Inbound marketing campaigns can include keyword- and link-rich blogs and videos, social media posts, email campaigns, lead magnets like eBooks, and much more.
From a strategic perspective, the two most important factors in organic marketing campaigns are cadence and quality.
First, if you’re going to rely on organic reach and rankings to generate leads and build your brand, creating a content calendar and publishing regularly across channels will be vital. Maintaining a regular publishing schedule of value-laden posts will show audiences that you’re credible and search algorithms that your posts are worth boosting.
Secondly, those regularly-scheduled posts need to maintain your brand voice and a high standard of quality.
“High-quality” isn’t always the same thing as “professional,” of course – if you’re marketing to teens and 20-somethings on TikTok, a user-created video may get better results than a professionally edited commercial that looks like it belongs on television. In this case, quality means that the content is easy to consume and represents your brand effectively and appropriately.
Finally, organic marketing campaigns usually work best as a long-term play. Even after you’ve updated your website and established a content calendar, it often takes months to start ranking for the keywords and searches you’re targeting.
But the benefits are long-term as well – if you can establish yourself as an industry leader in your niche, your organic content will continue to draw and engage your target audience as they proceed down your marketing funnel.
3) Paid/Outbound Marketing
In contrast to organic, paid or outbound marketing campaigns are exactly what they sound like.
This form includes buying ads on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Google, and YouTube. Outbound marketing can also include “traditional” media buys like billboards or TV commercials, although those outlets have fallen out of favor because their results aren’t as measurable as social media or search ads.
When a sales funnel that incorporates paid ads performs well, it can be transformative for a business – especially if that business is prepared to scale and take on higher levels of business.
The downside, however, is if those campaigns don’t work, there are no long-term benefits to the brand. Once that ad budget is gone, it’s gone for good, unless you profit or at least recoup the cost of your campaign with new leads or sales.
4. Who Can Execute My Digital Marketing Strategy?
Organizations can choose one of two paths for executing a digital marketing strategy.
- Expand your existing marketing department or hire new employees to do the work in-house.
- Hire a marketing agency to execute the strategy on your behalf.
There are pros and cons to each approach.
Pros & Cons of Hiring an In-House Marketing Team
If you choose to build out your in-house marketing team, one of the top benefits is the fact that your business is that team’s only client. As a business owner or CMO, you have more transparency into the work being done and immediate accountability from your team members.
All that said, there are some drawbacks to keeping all of your marketing in-house too.
If your in-house marketers become experts in your business and they leave, for example, you’ll have to teach new hires what you do from scratch.
Further, an in-house team may be more convenient to manage, but you’ll be limited by the capabilities of the marketers you hire. If it turns out that your business needs a new website but the marketers on your team don’t have that experience, you’ll still have to hire an outside vendor to provide those services – in addition to paying your staff.
Also, hiring in-house means that your marketers may offer fewer candid opinions. If someone is forced to choose between agreeing with the boss to keep their job and saying something that will ruffle feathers but get results, most people will go with the first option – even if the campaign suffers for it. (We’re all human, after all.)
Pros & Cons of Partnering with a Marketing Agency
Choosing to partner with an agency eliminates many of the headaches that come with overseeing an in-house team.
First, the cost of a marketing agency’s services will be lower than the expense of hiring multiple employees, training them, and relying on their skills to get results. Further, hiring a full-service team means that you won’t have to worry about any “skill gaps” that will hamper your marketing efforts.
“As someone who has worked for both in-house and agency teams and seen the results, I believe that most organizations get more bang for their buck with an agency. Maybe I’m biased, but building a team from scratch to achieve your marketing goals sounds like a lot more work than hiring a partner who already knows what they’re doing.”
– Julia Chanterrwyn, Web Designer, KWSM
To be fair, there are some drawbacks to working with agencies as well.
It will probably take more time for an agency to learn the nuances of your company, for example, and collaboration may take longer. It’s usually more difficult to coordinate schedules with multiple stakeholders than it is to just walk down the hall to talk to your marketing team. Also open, detailed communication from both sides is necessary to make the relationship work and achieve organizational goals.
And speaking of goals…
5. How to Identify the Goals of a Digital Marketing Strategy
In addition to identifying who you’re marketing to, you also need to know what you want your audiences to do.
This isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
eCommerce sellers and direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands, for example, typically want more sales. But for strategic purposes, that’s just the starting point. Where will those sales come from? Will you target new customers or repeat buyers to increase lifetime value? Should you build a community around your brand or simply target conversions?
Business-to-Business (B2B) organizations that want to generate leads have to answer similar questions. Are you interested in lead volume or lead quality? What makes a lead qualified in the first place? And how can we present your offer in a way that will engage those prospects?
“Identifying client goals is one of the most illuminating parts of any digital marketing strategy – for clients and for us as an agency. As an example, a client recently came to us because they thought they needed help with their Instagram account. After some digging, it turned out that they really needed an employer branding campaign that highlighted their differentiators as a people-first organization. Thanks to that exploration, we were able to generate the results the client wanted – even though they didn’t know that was what they wanted when they came to us.
– Jeff Soto, Vice President of Strategy and Client Relations, KWSM
Clearly defining the goals of your digital marketing strategy is essential. If you don’t define success for your strategy and campaigns, you can’t measure performance effectively, which means you can’t improve.
6. 5 Examples of Digital Marketing Strategy Goals
Most organizations’ digital marketing strategy goals fall into one (or more) of these five categories:
- Thought Leadership
- Audience Education/Public Service
- Recruiting & Employer Branding
The goal of your strategy will dictate the tactics that we use to achieve what your business needs. And let’s be honest – most of the time, what your business needs is either more leads or more sales.
Increasing sales is one of the most common and important goals of a digital marketing strategy, especially for eCommerce and DTC companies.
The specific marketing tactics for driving sales will vary depending on each brand or product’s target audience, as well as the company’s existing infrastructure.
New DTC brands, for example, often need help with the systems and processes necessary to support marketing campaigns. When we work with these companies, we typically create a new website that integrates with their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform, shoot product photos and videos, and write SEO-focused blog posts.
When the infrastructure is in place to collect user information and support their buyer’s journey, we may launch paid campaigns on multiple social media channels or other ad placements in relevant markets and locations.
And when eCommerce or DTC companies already have existing brand assets and marketing collateral, we use that content as a jumping-off point for the new digital marketing strategy. We may update the brand’s existing website, refine the company’s messaging or target audiences, introduce new sales channels to the marketing mix, or some combination of these tactics.
Lead generation follows closely behind sales as a top goal for most companies’ digital marketing strategies. This is especially true for organizations that are service-based, B2B, or have a long sales cycle that requires multiple touchpoints.
While many of the strategy elements will be the same – new or updated website, refined brand messaging, photos, videos, etc. – this goal is usually better served by an organic approach. Tactics can include blogging at a more frequent rate, owning and publishing on your social media channels, and reaching prospects through organic search results.
For some marketing clients, generating leads or sales is less important than establishing their brand or persona as an expert or thought leader in their field. These digital marketing strategies are designed to raise awareness, effect change, and increase credibility for businesses and personal brands.
Creating organic content like social media collateral and blog posts will be important components of this strategy, but we’ll often take it a step further by looking for influencers and podcasts to partner with in your relevant niche.
This strategy is all about building an engaged audience that comes to you for answers and updates – opportunities to monetize this audience will come later.
Audience Education/Public Service
Public service organizations and nonprofits need marketing too! Digital marketing strategy goals for these groups often center on educating the audience on the nature of their mission and raising donation money to keep operations going.
To achieve these goals, our work includes website updates and optimization, organic content like blogs and social media posts, as well as more targeted efforts like email newsletters and “drip” campaigns that encourage charitable contributions.
Recruiting & Employer Branding
Employer branding has become a more popular goal for digital marketing strategies as companies struggle to find, hire, and retain top talent in the workforce. By presenting a company or brand as a “people-first” organization, employers can connect more effectively with candidates who will be a good fit for their culture and positional needs.
In these cases, KWSM works with the company to bolster retention by creating content that recognizes team members, showcases personalities, and excites clients and prospective employees about working with the business.
In addition to the standard tactics listed above, assets for these campaigns can include collecting and publishing internal testimonials and case studies about employee satisfaction and growth. That information can be leveraged as blogs, social media posts, email newsletters, and other deliverables.
Getting Started with Your Digital Marketing Strategy
Doing all of this research and planning usually takes about six to eight weeks, and typically, sustainable results from your marketing campaigns don’t start to appear until a few months later as your efforts gain traction.
But remember what we said about eating the elephant, up at the top? If you take it one bite at a time, your digital marketing strategy goals won’t be dreams for long. They’ll be the benchmarks you use when you set your next goals.
Fill out the form below for a free consultation to discuss your digital marketing goals and strategy with KWSM.
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