How to Build a Digital Marketing Strategy and Action Plan

Written by
Sandy Diao
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8
min read

Consider any kind of business, from a store that sells model trains to a law firm that sells legal representation to a restaurant that sells its food and unique ambiance: each has a product or service it wants a consumer to pay for. 

Most companies employ a marketing strategy of some kind to sell their product or service. These days, that strategy almost certainly involves using digital channels to make the world aware they exist and convince consumer to buy their stuff. If they don’t have a digital marketing strategy like that, they should. 

Digital marketing strategy is a subset or one piece of an overall marketing strategy. The basic goal of digital marketing is the same but uses exclusively digital technologies to accomplish the goal. Strategic digital marketing is driven by data, and digital marketers rely on information they can collect that will help them analyze consumer behavior, their engagement rate with their audience, and in turn, tailor their tactics to their audience.

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What is a digital marketing strategy? 

A digital marketing strategy is a plan companies make to reach specific business goals using a mix of marketing channels. Before a company begins choosing its mix of paid, earned, and owned media, it needs to examine both its goals and its customer base. There are three important pillars in a digital marketing strategy:

  • The user. Some digital marketers call this first pillar the “User Journey,” as it describes a potential customer’s interaction with a brand from discovery to loyalty. Consider the marketing funnel, which describes the stages in customer engagement, from awareness, to interest or evaluation, to purchase, to loyalty.
  • Digital channels. Marketing channels are the different vehicles companies use to great touchpoints with their customers. Some examples of these are social media, referral traffic through other websites, organic searches (like Google), paid searches, and email marketing.
  • Creative and content. The content you decide to place on digital channels is strategically motivated by the first two pillars. Once you understand your customer and how they’re most likely to engage with your business, you can get to the brass tacks of creative format (ad banners, video ads, text ads) and content (blogs, videos, infographics).

 6 key tactics of a social marketing strategy 

While a marketing strategy is the plan to help achieve your goal, the tactics of the strategy are the concrete steps embedded in your strategy to help you reach the goal. 

Some tactics used in a digital marketing strategy include, but are not limited to: 

  • SEO. The idea behind search engine optimization is to get your content to rank high on Google (or Bing, if that’s your thing). Companies will incorporate certain keywords related to a search term or a series of terms onto their website, through the text on their homepage, or through a blog. Search engines find these key terms when a person searches for them, determine that the page will satisfy a user’s search, and will bump pages up in search order to the position the algorithm deems to be the most relevant for a search term. If Google robots decide your content is the best thing on the web for a specific term, then you get the number 1 spot.  
  • Pay-per-click marketing. This form of paid advertising allows marketers to buy traffic that will direct from other websites or search engines. They’ll pay a fee each time the ad is accessed. It’s similar to SEO in that you get your website at the top of the search results page, but rather than doing it organically, you are paying for that privileged position. 
  • Content marketing. By becoming a trusted source of information or a leading voice in their industry, companies can create loyal customers and build brand recognition. Content marketing is a long game—it may not have an immediate return on investment but can build long-term loyalty.
  • Social media. According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of Americans today use some type of social media as of 2021. 7 in 10 Facebook users and 6 in 10 Instagram users visit their sites at least once daily. A company can use social media to disseminate information about themselves, their products, or to simply connect with their customers. You can also attract more eyeballs to your page by paying for post promotion, which will push your content in front of demographics who might be inclined to buy what you’re selling.
  • Video production. In all the ways people consume media, video has skyrocketed most dramatically in the past two years. According to YouTube Internal Data, there has been an 800% increase in global watch time of ad-supported and purchased video in the last year. YouTube has over 2 billion active monthly users and streams more than 1 billion hours of video each day. A company can leverage those users and that time spent watching videos to their advantage by posting unique content, like behind-the-scenes tours of their operations or interviews with key employees. Similar to social media, video provides a way to connect with your customer base.  

How the digital marketing strategy process works

 As a digital marketer (or as someone who runs a small company and who wears many hats, including CEO, CFO, and CMO) you can understand the strategies behind digital marketing campaigns and tactics to employ, but getting started on actually executing the campaign is another beast entirely. Here is a step-by-step instruction checklist on beginning to create a digital marketing strategy. 

  • Create buyer personas. Knowing your customer is different in the digital age. These days, companies build composite buyer personas using research, surveys, and interviews to understand their customer’s age, income, priorities, challenges, and concerns of their customers. By using web analytics tools, you can identify where website traffic originates, which assists in where to direct your paid or organic content. Figure out who your customer is so you can better tailor your campaign. Part of this process is understanding your audience and evaluating their behavior in the market (does your customer typically buy your product at a certain time of the year or month, for example).
  • Set marketing objectives to identify KPIs. Digital marketing key performance indicators (KPIs) are quantifiable business goals that help companies set expectations and track their return. The metrics a company might track include sales or leads, or even indicators such as the amount of time a potential customer spent browsing your site. You should determine which KPIs you will use to measure the success of your campaigns before you begin. 
  • Develop a strategic plan. In formulating your plan, you should evaluate your existing digital vehicles—that is how and where you are going to place ads or content (on which websites or posted to which social media accounts). You can then figure out which combination of owned, earned, and paid media you’ll use across these vehicles to diversify your marketing portfolio. For instance, digital assets are the sites and profiles your company owns, earned media is the exposure your company gains through press mentions or positive reviews, and paid media refers to channels on which you pay to advertise. Figure out how you are going to use each of these levers to your advantage. For example, you could place ads on different news sites about your product (which is digital marketing) in combination with a press release and launch event to get articles written about that product so customers see both the ads and a (hopefully glowing) review of your new product (which is more traditional marketing). 
  • Implement the plan. You’ve done all of this work and research, and it’s time to put it all into action. This could take days, weeks, months, or even years to complete so get ready for a ride. You might consider starting up your channels and then cross-promoting. For instance, promote a new website over social media.
  • Evaluate and analyze. Once your channels are up and running, you can track their success. If owned and earned media are booming, you might be able to ease up on paid media. Work through your initial strategy and adjust as needed depending on how the market responds.

3 digital marketing strategies that worked

Here are some well-known digital marketing strategies that have been successful using owned and earned media and employing a variety of tactics. 

  • GoPro: Earned Media User-Made Video. The action camera company uploaded its first video to YouTube in 2009, but users surged during the Coronavirus lockdown. In 2021, its YouTube channel hit 10 million subscribers. Much of the content on GoPro’s channel was created by users, making it a wildly successful earned media campaign. GoPro encouraged its users to post their own adventures online and tag the company, which created a loyal community and promoted the product.
  • Wayfair: Owned Media Instagram Tags. The online home furnishings store created a digital marketing campaign in which Instagram users can buy products straight from the Instagram Shopping app. Consumers cut out the extra steps involved in leaving social media to go to a website, and Wayfair can boost its revenue right from Instagram. This is a quickly growing way of marketing to consumers, used both by influencers who make a profit on their referrals that sell through the shopping app, and by the merchants themselves who sell directly.
  • Red Bull: Owned Media Lifestyle News. As early as the 1990s, energy drink company Red Bull began sponsoring a “Flugtag” competition, a rally in which small teams build handmade contraptions powered by gravity and constructed of environmentally friendly materials, to see how far they can get over the water before they (inevitably) fall in. This fun and ingenious competition has been held in over 35 countries, and since the rise in social media, has been just one of Red Bull’s smart campaigns to sell buyers on a high-flying (literally) lifestyle, not just on the drink.
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Written by
Sandy Diao

Director of Growth at Descript. Former growth, marketing, and strategy at Facebook, Pinterest, Indiegogo.

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Sandy Diao

Director of Growth at Descript. Former growth, marketing, and strategy at Facebook, Pinterest, Indiegogo.

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