Digital Marketing Strategy: Key Components & Tips to Get Started

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Concepts of different digital marketing strategies to help grow your business.
In 2000, 52% of Americans used the internet on a regular basis, according to Pew Research. The digital age was just getting started.

By mid-2019, 90% of Americans were internet users. A generation had reached adulthood knowing only a world shaped by digital technology.

The first 20 years of the 21st century have been a period of rapid digital growth. Computers and internet connections have gotten much faster. Smartphones have become must-have accessories. Social media has connected humans around the world like never before.

In 2020, for the first time, money spent on digital advertising in the U.S. was expected to surpass the amount spent on traditional advertising. According to an annual analysis by Ad Age and media research firm Zenith, online advertising was expected to account for 53% of all advertising purchased in 2020.

What does that mean for the field of digital marketing?

It means that advertisers recognize that to effectively deliver messages to consumers, they have to publish online where and when people are looking, listening, and interacting. To make sure they reach not only the most people but also the right people, organizations must deploy a well-conceived digital marketing strategy.

Business and marketing students who wish to pursue careers in digital marketing must take into account the steady migration of consumers to online platforms for shopping, entertainment, and information gathering. While traditional marketing remains an important part of doing business in the U.S., no organization can afford to ignore the reach and potential influence of digital marketing.

What Is Digital Marketing Strategy?

A digital marketing strategy is a cohesive plan to use content, platforms, and media available via the internet to support long- and short-term organizational goals.

The strategy is the plan. The tactics are the tools and methods used to implement the plan.

Digital marketing strategies are developed by organizations that need to ensure that they’re spending their advertising and marketing dollars wisely. However, the strategy isn’t only based on the budget.

A smart digital marketing strategy takes into account the market conditions as they relate to the product or service provided by the organization. The plan also demands identification of potential customers — their demographic information, their motivations for buying, purchasing habits, internet use habits, and more.

When devising the strategy, organization leaders must begin with the question: What are our goals?

Why Build a Digital Marketing Strategy?

A digital marketing strategy helps marketers use online resources to achieve the following goals:

  • Generate leads and potential new customers
  • Convert current leads and interested customers to sales (conversions)
  • Build brand awareness and authority through user engagement

Ideally, the strategy will achieve all three goals. Digital media provides many opportunities to generate leads, convert customers, and build brand awareness by informing, entertaining, and influencing people. The strategy is a means for an organization to leverage the many potential touch points available on the internet.

Fortunately, digital marketers also have tools that help them identify how and where to find their potential customers.

Identifying Customers to Reach

Google Analytics is one of the most powerful tools for helping digital marketers understand their audiences. Reports can be generated that reveal descriptive, behavioral, interaction, and attitudinal data in great depth.

This information forms the foundation for building buyer personas: A persona helps content creators form an image of the potential customer and cater messaging to the interests and needs of that “person.” The persona should take into account as much user data as possible, including the following:

  • Socioeconomic status
  • Demographic information
  • Habits
  • Values
  • Hobbies
  • Motivations

Consumer habits, values, and motivations can be discovered and measured by monitoring social media, conducting interviews and focus groups, examining buying habits, and online forums. Information that reveals motivations and values is referred to as psychographic data.

Identifying customers and learning as much about them as possible is an important step toward establishing related business goals that can be met using digital marketing tools.

How to Set Goals for Digital Marketing Strategies

Once potential demand is established for the product or service being provided by the organization, objectives and goals can be set. A digital marketing strategy is useless unless organization leaders know why they’re pursuing the course of action they choose.

However, raw consumer data alone isn’t enough. It’s a starting point that requires supporting data, including facts about the organization, such as:

  • Monthly, quarterly, and annual budgets
  • Strengths
  • Potential weaknesses
  • Internal and external challenges
  • Market conditions
  • Capabilities

This information can be found by conducting a SWOT analysis of the organization. The acronym SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Once this foundational information about the organization is revealed, the strategy can be developed to bolster the areas of weakness, take advantage of opportunities, and avert potential threats. Here are five potential goals of a digital marketing strategy:

  • Inform potential customers about challenges and solutions
  • Generate new leads and new customers
  • Activate existing leads and customers
  • Monetize currently activated customers
  • Build a community of organization advocates

Digital marketing enables a more-targeted approach to reaching these goals than traditional marketing platforms, such as TV, radio, outdoor billboards, and classified advertising.

The Difference Between Digital and Traditional Marketing

The biggest difference between digital marketing and traditional marketing is the ability to segment the audience and provide detailed, personalized messages to specific populations. Digital marketing not only reveals who the customers are but also provides the means to reach them directly, such as social media and paid search campaigns.

Traditional media, on the other hand, relies heavily on broad definitions of consumers. For example, newspaper advertising is priced according to the number of readers the publication attracts. While general demographic identification is possible for a newspaper’s readership, an advertising organization has no concrete way of knowing who exactly is likely to seek the organization out based on exposure to an ad.

Targeting tools on social media and pay-per-click campaigns are game-changers in the marketing and advertising world. If an advertiser knows exactly who might be compelled to act based on a message — and exactly where to find that person — it reduces the potential for waste in ad spending.

Digital vs. Traditional Marketing Resources:
HubSpot: “Traditional Marketing vs. Digital Marketing: Why Not Both?”
Statista: “Change in Digital Marketing Spending and Traditional Advertising According to CMOs in the United States from 2012 to 2020”
SEJ: “5 Brilliant Ways to Combine Traditional & Digital Marketing”

What Is Life Cycle Marketing?

The sales funnel once dictated how marketing was implemented. The model went like this: awareness, interest, decision, action. Each stage required a different message, based on how far along the buyer’s journey a customer might be.

It was a linear, fixed path, with little room for a very human quality: indecisiveness. Emotion plays a major role in purchasing decisions, and the rigid construct of the traditional marketing and sales funnel failed to allow for the emotional twists and turns of the buyer’s journey.

Enter the marketing life cycle.

The lifecycle of marketing includes Introduction, Growth, Maturity, and Decline.

Life cycle marketing is built on engagement between a brand and a customer at every stage of the relationship. It takes into account the emotional and real-life factors that account for all of the buyer’s purchasing decisions.

Life cycle marketing is a philosophy that emphasizes the ability to make customer connections that are enabled by the advent of digital technology.

The life cycle includes the launch stage (introduction), growth stage (increased ads and marketing), maturity stage (awareness and profitability max out), and decline stage (sales and awareness begin to drop).

Introduction

When a product or service is launched, marketing efforts are aimed at increasing consumer awareness. This includes making potential customers aware that a problem exists — and can be solved by using the product or service on offer.

During the introduction stage, the customer base is identified, price points are set, and a go-to-market strategy is developed.

It’s at this stage that the digital marketing strategy should begin to crystalize. How will the organization reach its customers? What are the internet use habits of potential customers? How much do they know about the organization and the product or service?

The answer to these questions will determine the type and depth of engagement between the organization and the customer/internet user. For example, if it’s revealed that the customer base doesn’t associate the organization with the new product or service, an online thought leadership campaign can help spread the word and create brand awareness.

As the introduction stage progresses, the level of customer awareness and engagement should be measured. When enough people become aware and engaged, it’s time to move to the growth stage.

Growth

At the growth stage, an organization seeks to increase its market share. By now, if all has gone well during the introduction stage, the organization has built brand and product awareness among the targeted group of potential customers.

The growth stage is the time to consolidate the fruits of the relationship by building sales. During the growth stage, marketing efforts typically transition from brand awareness exercises to campaigns that encourage customers to become advocates for the product or service, with the goal of increasing sales through reputation and consumer confidence.

This stage provides a wealth of user data through the measurement tools made available with digital marketing platforms. In addition to demographic and psychographic data culled from new customers, details about online habits and other interests can be gathered.

This information can be used to cater a compelling message in support of any changes or expansion associated with the product or service. It can also be used to sustain the consumer relationship via social media, email, or other digital communication methods as the product or service enters the maturity stage.

Maturity

Once sales have begun to level off over a period of time, the product or service can be said to have reached the maturity stage. At this point, the goal of marketing is to extend the maturity period for as long as possible before it reaches the decline stage.

One way to extend the period of viability for a product or service is to increase marketing efforts toward the most loyal or reliable customers. A way to do that is to conduct an ongoing digital “conversation” that encourages engagement with the brand.

Another way to extend the maturity period is to use digital tools to identify potential customers. Marketers should ask themselves, “Are there people out there who might be able to use this product or service, but have not yet discovered it?”

Finally, there comes a time in the marketing life cycle when demand for the product or service no longer can sustain a profit. This is the beginning of the decline stage.

Decline

A product or service has reached its decline stage when sales diminish to the point that it makes no financial sense to continue with marketing. In digital marketing, this point in the life cycle is identifiable by using the same tools for measurement that informed the original strategy.

When marketing goals no longer meet key performance indicators (KPIs; for example, reach, conversions, sales), it might be time to allocate marketing resources toward a new product or service — at which point the marketing cycle begins again.

What Are the Components of Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing incorporates a wide variety of online platforms, tools, and techniques. Each requires specialized expertise in technology, communication, business, and marketing concepts.

The digital marketing strategy is implemented using the components tactically. Most of the components work best in combination with some or all of the rest of the elements of digital marketing.

The Organization’s Website

An organization’s website is a public-facing representation of its purpose and people. It expresses the organization’s values and mission.

Regardless of whether the website is simply a mode of communication or a portal for commercial transactions, it should be attractive and provide a compelling reason for users to consume its content.

Here are a few other important elements a website should include:

  • Organization’s contact information
  • Organization’s history and officers
  • Organization’s services or products
  • Links to the organization’s social media platforms
  • Images that reflect the organization’s culture and mission

A functional, easy-to-use website can be the difference between converting an online user into a customer or losing that customer to a competitor.

Search Engine Optimization

For a website to reach its full potential as a vehicle to inform and generate potential customers, it must be found on the internet. Search engines like Google and Bing serve users websites that match the criteria of the query terms.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the method that marketers use to ensure that the content on an organization’s website aligns with the topics potential customers seek information about through search engines.

Google offers SEO guidelines for businesses to follow, but the algorithm used to determine what articles and other content appear on the results pages changes constantly. Google engineers have long recommended publishing “useful, relevant” content as the most effective way to ensure a fair position on a search engine results page (SERP).

Major SEO factors that influence a website or an individual page’s relevance include the depth of information provided, the words used to describe the topic in headlines and within the written copy, the inbound links from other websites that share the information provided, the number of unique visitors a website receives each day, and the average amount of time users spend on the website or webpage.

Search Engine Optimization Tools

SEO specialists rely on online tools to measure search performance and find effective keywords, ultimately ensuring that their content is drawing traffic. Here are five of the most important SEO tools:

Paid Advertisements

The search engines that organically surface content based on user queries also provide advertising sales as a separate service.

Paid search, or pay-per-click (Google Ads), is one format. This uses the information from user queries to produce ads on the SERP. Advertisers bid on specific keywords or key phrases, auction style. Those who pay the most for certain keywords have their ads featured most prominently on the results page. If a user clicks on an ad, the advertiser has to pay the price of the winning bid.

Google and other search engines also administer banner ads on websites, serving them to a user based on targeting data specified by the advertiser. These ads are often used to implement an advertising tactic known as remarketing, or retargeting, which incorporates a snippet of code called a cookie and surfaces ad content to a user on a relevant website at a later date.

Social Media

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn are virtual gathering places for users to engage with others. Not surprisingly, marketing teams understand the value of using social media to interact with both current and prospective clients.

Engagement on social media takes place in two forms: organic and paid. Organic engagement is the “social” side of social media — it’s meant to be an exchange of ideas, information, and entertainment. Paid social media is the advertising component, with offers, ads, and product announcements presented as sponsored posts or ad panels beside the feed of posts by fellow users.

Some users rely on an organization’s social media accounts for customer service, but they may also visit an organization’s social media platforms to feel involved in the organization’s community of “fans.” Some organizations use social media to partner with a public personality designed to appeal to existing and new customers.

Social Media Management Tools

Running social media accounts on multiple platforms can be a challenge, both in terms of scheduling and posting content and tracking its performance. Here are some social media tools that can help manage content and monitor its performance:

Content Marketing

Content marketing is the strategic implementation of written articles, infographics, videos, and other creative content to support an organization’s objectives.

Note that part of the definition is “implementation.” This means that in addition to creating the blog posts, short videos, podcasts, and other assets, digital content marketers must cultivate an expertise in publishing and distribution.

A content marketing specialist analyzes the target audience to determine what form of content (written, audio, video, static images, or a combination) best conveys the intended message. Content goals primarily are built around brand awareness, but lead generation and customer conversion are KPIs that measure the effectiveness of content marketing.

Content Marketing Resources

Neil Patel, “15 Content Marketing Tools You Can’t Live Without”
Convince and Convert, “12 Time-Saving Tools for Content Marketers”
TechRadar, “Best Content Marketing Tools of 2020”
HubSpot: “How to Get Started with Paid Search”
Content Marketing Institute: “25 Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Questions in Content Marketing”
WordPress.com: Get Published
LinkedIn: How to Market on LinkedIn

Email Marketing

Email creates an opportunity for an organization to communicate directly with its most loyal followers or customers. A user must typically opt in — usually by filling out a form on a website — to receive an email from an organization.

Organizations use email marketing to share newsletters, product offers, product releases, and other relevant information. An email campaign is often used in conjunction with other forms of content marketing, such as a paid search or social media campaign. New blog posts are often shared via email, as well.

Here are some popular email marketing tools:

Market Research Tools for Digital Marketing

Market research is the practice of compiling data to inform decisions that shape a marketing strategy.

In the digital world, information is always only a few mouse clicks away. The connectivity that allows organizations to build virtual relationships with customers also provides tools to capture vital business data.

Research is required to formulate buyer personas, determine demand for a product or service, measure an organization’s reputation, find out what questions or concerns people have about the organization, and gather other relevant information.

Many businesses use primary market research tools such as surveys, focus groups, and social media platforms to collect these details. Other examples of sources that can be used to conduct market research include government agency websites (the U.S. Small Business Administration, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics issue periodic statistical analyses); ratings agencies, such as Nielsen; and credit reporting agencies, such as Experian.

Social Networks

One of the most useful aspects of social media is the ability to monitor conversations about the organization. For example, Facebook users who follow an organization will often visit its brand page to make comments (positive and negative), send direct messages to the social media team, learn about new products, and feel engaged in the community associated with the brand.

All of this interaction is public and can tell the marketing team a great deal about the customers: what they care about, when they’re online, how they speak about the products or services, and much more.

This goes for competitor research as well. Competitors’ public-facing social media posts are a window into customer sentiment and can help explain why those customers prefer to do business with the competitor.

Focus Groups

Social media serves as a large, virtual focus group. However, for open, unvarnished feedback from consumers, nothing matches an actual focus group gathered for in-person conversations.

A focus group, unlike a survey, allows for an exchange of ideas and in-depth discussion about motivations, likes and dislikes, and anything else that could influence whether a customer is likely to recommend an organization’s product or service.

The information collected via a small focus group is a good starting point for gathering information at scale using a survey.

Surveys

What surveys lack in the ability to personalize the questions, they make up for in the ability to reach a large, representative sample of potential customers.

Online surveys can be delivered through emails, websites, digital ads, and social media platforms. The questions should be direct and multiple choice, if possible. The goal of a survey isn’t to answer every possible question about a topic, but to gauge the response of a specific audience to a specific question or set of related questions.

Digital Interviews

A one-on-one interview can be held online using a videoconferencing software service or by phone. The object is to receive individual feedback on qualities of an organization, its product, or service.

Unlike surveys, a digital interview can be more open-ended, with questions building on previous answers. An interview is a good way to drill down on a topic that a subject might not feel comfortable talking about in front of others.

Market Research Resources:

SurveyMonkey: The Quick Start Guide on How to Conduct Market Research
Medium: “Modern Market Research Methods: A Comprehensive Overview”
U.S. Small Business Administration: Market Research and Competitive Analysis

Measuring Success Through Digital Marketing Metrics

The hidden power of digital marketing lies in its ability to measure user behavior at a granular level. Every action a user takes is a clue that can help the marketing team understand how to effectively convey a more compelling message.

Metrics such as Engagement, Brand Awareness, Share of Voice, Return on Investment, and Customer Care can help your strategy.

Google Analytics is the most well-known tool for revealing and reporting on important user data, but it’s far from the only resource. KPIs can and should be monitored and measured as widely as possible to truly understand what’s driving success (or a lack of it).

In digital marketing, metrics that matter include the following:

  • Follower counts on social media
  • Page views and number of unique visitors
  • Conversions through forms
  • Engagement (likes, shares, comments) on social media posts
  • Number of readers, viewers, or listeners for specific assets
  • SERP placement
  • Click-through rate
  • Time on page
  • Cost per click

Thorough, ongoing measurement of KPIs allows marketers to take action quickly if a campaign goes poorly. Or, if a campaign exceeds expectations, measuring the KPIs might reveal the key to success, which can then be duplicated in other campaigns.

Engagement Metrics

Engagement in digital marketing usually refers to interaction on social media.

To engage on social media, a user clicks on a shared link, shares a post, comments on a post, or pushes a virtual “button” that expresses an emotion — usually called a like. Engagement might also mean filling out a form to receive information about a product or service or making an online purchase.

This metric is expressed as a rate based on the number of engagement actions divided by the number of times the post was viewed on its platform. A high engagement rate indicates that the content is compelling.

Metrics That Can Be Used to Gauge Brand Awareness

Measuring brand awareness — i.e., how familiar consumers are with a particular brand’s products or services — is important because it’s an indication of whether the organization’s message is reaching the right people at scale. Poor awareness can derail a product or service launch before it even gets started.

Awareness can be measured by the number of people who see, hear, or listen to a message.

When a post on social media, blogs, and other digital platforms is seen by an individual user, it’s assigned an impression. The number of impressions is an indication of brand awareness — the more people see a post or an ad, the more aware the general population is about the brand’s product or services.

Another metric marketers track to measure brand awareness is reach. This is the theoretical number of people who are exposed to a piece of content. This number is derived from the follower or subscriber count on the publishing platform, plus the follower or subscriber count of those who shared the post.

While impressions and reach are important components of measuring brand awareness, they only tell part of the story. Being aware of a particular brand doesn’t always inspire consumers to make a purchase or form a favorable opinion, so savvy marketers use a number of other metrics and tactics to gain deeper insights on their customers, campaigns, and competitors.

Share of Voice Metrics

Share of voice refers to the relative awareness the organization can claim in the market as a whole or throughout the industry. It’s a measurement of the total impressions an organization draws over a period of time compared with competitors.

It’s an important element of competitive analysis, but it’s also only a snapshot in time: Brand influence and share of voice shift all the time, based on campaigns, product releases, social trends, and economic conditions. Measuring share of voice is an ongoing exercise that can be useful, but shouldn’t dictate long-term strategy.

ROI Metrics

Return on investment (ROI) is the king of marketing and sales metrics, the bottom line for most members of an organization’s C-suite. ROI in digital marketing is a measurement of potential customers created (leads generated) and potential sales created (conversions).

For example, inbound traffic to a commercial website is an indication of the influence of the referring website. If a piece of content from a social media post drives a user to a webpage that presents the option to learn more about a product, that typically is measured as a lead generation.

If a blog post or a YouTube video convinces a user to fill out an application for admission to a university, that’s considered a lead conversion.

The ROI in the digital marketing effort is the value of the lead generated or the conversion minus the cost of marketing. The value of the lead or conversion will vary by industry, as will the cost associated with marketing the product, service, or brand.

Customer Care Metrics

Social media platforms can be customer service platforms. On Facebook Business pages, the time it takes for a representative to respond to a user’s inquiry is estimated based on past response time.

The average response time is recorded and shared with users. Facebook also measures response rate, which shows the percentage of users whose comments and messages receive an answer. A poor response rate reflects poorly on the organization’s customer service skills.

Keeping up with the response rate and time will help organizations monitor how well they’re protecting their reputation by serving their customers in a timely, consistent manner.

The Future of Digital Marketing

In less than a quarter century, digital marketing has become a cornerstone of the marketing and advertising industry. Technological advancements and the buying public’s embrace of faster internet connections don’t appear to be on the wane.

For the first time, more money is being spent on digital ads than traditional forms of marketing. Today’s consumer is online — looking for more information, more entertainment, and more things to buy.

Organizations with a sound, forward-looking digital marketing strategy are well positioned to provide consumers the online experience they seek.

Additional Sources
CXL, “Product Lifecycle Marketing: What Matters Most at Every Stage”

Digital Verge, 8 Key Components of Successful Digital Marketing Strategy

Forbes, “How Digital Marketing Can Help Your Local Business Grow”

Forbes, “How to Augment ROI with These Five Digital Marketing Strategies”

Houston Chronicle, “Tools Used in Market Research”

Social Media Today, “2019 Key Digital Marketing Growth Stats”

SocialSEO, Digital Marketing vs. Traditional Marketing

Sprout Social, “How to Build Your Social Media Marketing Strategy for 2020”

Sprout Social, “The Most Important Social Media Metrics to Track”

HubSpot, The Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics for 2020

Ad Age, “In a New Milestone, the Internet Will Account for Half of Ad Spending in 2020”