Build a Robust Digital Marketing Strategy in 7 Doable Steps (With Specific Examples).
There are plenty of how-to guides to creating a digital marketing strategy, but only some have given no-nonsense advice that works. We care about campaign efficiency, so we have distilled an optimized roadmap to planning a strategy that delivers its promise.
The seven doable steps for a robust digital marketing strategy are:
- Clarify your goals
- Research your audience
- Benchmark your competitors
- Plan a roadmap
- Execute the strategy
- Evaluate and modify the strategy
No matter the type of marketing strategy, these seven steps cover all the bases. They work because we have tested and refined them. Read for specific examples of how actually to do these steps.
Step 1: Specify your goals
We cannot emphasize it enough: specifying your S.M.A.R.T. goals makes your campaign more manageable and effective. Most marketers must do this step properly to jump into a marketing campaign.
Steps 1, 2, 3, and 4 help you refine your goals so that they are S.M.A.R.T. Specifically:
- Specific and Measurable: KPIs and other metrics. Almost everything in digital marketing is trackable.
- Relevant: steps 2 and 3 are about researching and identifying the target audience, trends, and competition, enabling you to find your competitive edge.
- Achievable and Time-bound: steps 4 and 5 are about managing your campaign, including budgeting, people, and resources.
How to set S.M.A.R.T. marketing goals?
It is good to start with your business goals. Your marketing goals have to serve your business goals. For example:
Business goal: increase net revenue to $50,000 per month.
Business: assuming that you make $1000 from every 5,000 visits, to get to $50,000 net revenue per month, you’ll need to get around 250,000 visits per month.
Marketing: current traffic level is 140,000 visits per month.
Marketing goal: increase traffic (organic & paid) from 140,000 to 250,000 visits per month.
Two ways to raise this revenue:
– Spend 0 dollars (almost impossible – we’d be happy to learn from you if you succeeded)
– Invest in ads to bring in website traffic
How much to invest? Your positive Return On Ad Cost (R.O.A.S.) should be at a ratio of 2:1 gross revenue to ad spending, aka a 2x R.O.A.S. It is the minimum R.O.A.S. to justify ad spending. We recommend targeting a 4:1 ratio, however.
A 4x R.O.A.S. means “gross revenue from ad/ad spending.”
To reach a net revenue of $50,000, your ad spending comes to roughly $16,000, earning you a gross income of $65,000.
To raise monthly visits, you may:
- Run online ads for your web pages (from Google, Facebook)
- Run an email outreach campaign linking back to your web pages.
- Create “magnet landing pages” (web pages with engaging content like videos, infographics, statistics, or free tools/offers).
You will undoubtedly need a blend of strategies to reach this website traffic target.
Of course, other factors affect your calculations. Starting with a vague goal is okay, but use steps 2 to 5 to refine your goals – get as S.M.A.R.T. as possible.
Step 2: Define your target audience
Identify the precise target audience so that you can modify your goals to be more Relevant and Specific.
Types of audience
Company’s customers: Is your business B2B, B2C, or a mix?
B2B customers take their time considering your offerings. Give them plenty of reasons to choose you, using blog posts, white papers, newsletters, and trade shows.
B2C customers tend to be influenced by people with similar profiles with them. Personalize your campaign for different shapes to reach high-quality leads.
The campaign’s target audience: Among these customers, who exactly does this campaign target? Where are they on their journey with your company?
Consider the buyer journey below.
If you are a brand-new business searching for early-bird clients or launching an innovative product, your target audience is at the awareness stage: they need to learn about who you are and what you can do for them. Your campaign goal should inform or educate them about how you can improve their lives.
If your audience is considering your offerings, they need more specific reasons to purchase (conversion). Your campaign goal should include some incentives, such as limited discounts.
If your audience has made a purchase, they already know quite a lot about you and need to feel optimistic about their investments. Your campaign should involve some appreciation for existing customers, affirming your quality and their tastes. Don’t forget to include suggestions for similar purchases.
How to do audience research
Dig into your data analytics. Make full use of this fantastic advantage of digital marketing that you don’t get from traditional marketing.
Google Analytics is by far the best one. Facebook and Linkedin can only share a little profile data. There are laws about digital confidentiality that prevent marketers from accessing too much precise user data on these two platforms.
For quantitative data:
Perform keyword research and analytics – capture all the relevant keywords, topics, and phrases throughout the buyer’s journey, from awareness to loyalty.
We must consider their search volumes and user intent.
Search volume: how many online users type this keyword on the search engine for a given country?
User intent: is the keyword informational, navigational, transactional, or commercial?
For qualitative data:
Go where your clients go: forums, blogs, platforms, events, or meetups. If you are B2B, attend trade shows and industry conferences. If you are B2C, keep up with popular trends and Key Opinion Leaders’ (KOLs’) activities.
Your competitors are also a wealth of information, especially the ones who have been in the market for longer than you do. They may have been taking advantage of a segment of your client base, but there are clients whom they have not adequately served. We will go into detail on benchmarking your competitors in step 3.
By doing all this, create a highly detailed and descriptive audience persona or profile. These profiles should have the essential details, such as age and household income, and their emotional landscapes, such as fears, egos, and desires.
A user persona should include the following:
- a profile
- online presence
Depending on the industry, we may need more precise info:
- salary range
- frequency of product/service use
Why audience research is important
Customers are getting more and more informed. They quickly compare brands, products, and prices. There is more competition, so being audience-centric pays off.
Brands must differentiate themselves with good customer service. Be curious and empathetic. Think like your audience, walk in their shoes, and see your business and offerings from their perspective.
Moreover, companies now know that retaining clients costs less than attracting new ones.
Refrain from assuming all your customers come to you for the same old reasons. There may be a new opportunity for you, and the best way to find out is to be open to the fact that your customers see a different way of doing business with you from how you envision it. Pivot when necessary.
Consider rational and emotional reasons that may attract your customers, even for B2B. B2B audience may be expected to make sound, well-informed decisions, but they are also human beings – acknowledge their professional obligations and address their concerns. They may be angling for a promotion, struggling to connect with their coworkers, or putting out fires for their staff.
Hitting the right note with your audience is the best way to leave a deep impression on them. The more granular detail you have about your target audience, the better.
Craft a dedicated strategy for each audience profile
Finally, modify your goal with the new audience insights.
We highly recommend crafting a dedicated digital marketing strategy for each audience profile. Sure, it is much work and may stretch your resources, but you know your money is well spent.
A well-targeted strategy is also easier to execute, allowing more accurate returns forecasts. It sets you apart from the competition. Customers are becoming savvier, so they know a well-targeted campaign when they see one.
A well-targeted strategy also supports the optimization process. When we segment the audience into small groups and apply a dedicated plan for each, it becomes easier to identify which strategies and audiences work best. This insight allows us to adjust, improve, or stop a non-performing strategy/audience segment.
Step 3: Benchmark your competitors
Who are your competitors?
They are the business competitors competing for the same market as you.
They are also the marketing competitors competing for SEO rankings, ad prices, and audience attention with you.
Depending on your campaign, your business competitors may differ from your marketing competitors.
Example A: the top 10 lists
You run a hotel. Your website and brand name may not compete with other hotels on Google but rather with the “top 10 hotels in AAA location,” which comes from blogs, travel agencies, or ticket booking platforms.
Example B: Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs)
You sell sports products. Your product pages may compete against KOLs, such as fitness bloggers and communities. Meanwhile, your products compete with other sports goods companies.
Next, shortlist the most relevant competitors to benchmark against:
– the top performers
– those closest to your business
How to benchmark against them?
- Choose the relevant metrics
- Choose the tools that track the metrics
- Compare the competitors’ metrics against your own and the market
- Keep track of time.
The relevant metrics depend on your goals and the analytics tools available on your digital marketing platform. It is worth learning about the tools on SEMRush or Ahrefs.
One tool often provides several metrics that serve different goals. A big part of what makes a good digital marketer is knowing which tool to use for what. Take your time learning these tools. Your effort will pay off in due time.
What’s the essential thing in benchmarking competition?
To outperform these benchmarks? No.
To deliver actual business benefits? Yes.
Comparison can easily slip into obsession – before you know it, you can’t stop thinking about how they do the things you can’t. But the point is to achieve your own business goals. Be careful when benchmarking leads you to change what you first set out to do thoroughly. Make sure your marketing goals align with your business goals.
Step 4: Budget
Your digital marketing budget depends on your goals.
It is possible to do digital marketing for free, especially when you are a solopreneur who does everything by yourself. It is free to post on the company’s social media accounts. Some tools are free, such as AnswerThePublic (for keyword research) and Google Search Console (for keyword ranking). For free, we can do a lot of excellent marketing stuff.
However, you are also limited in what you can do and the results you may expect. You may start off with nothing, but it is unsustainable to keep insisting on “free marketing.” Very quickly, having no marketing budget ends up with low performance and no scaling up (i.e., no more quality content). To grow, all businesses need to invest in marketing at some point.
A digital marketing budget starts with your goal. Lay out the components, break down each cost, and assemble a rough estimate (see examples in the table below).
Note that even ‘free’ social media marketing costs time and effort. It is when you do it all by yourself.
How to make your strategy cost-effective?
Keep the unit costs as low as possible.
Unit costs are metrics or KPIs such as:
- Cost Per Lead (CPL)
- Cost Per Click or Cost Per Conversion (CPC)
Monitor and optimize these costs as much as possible.
No matter your customer numbers, if your CPC remains low, then continuing the campaign is worth it. How low depends on the industry.
These metrics tell you if your strategy is going well or not.
Step 5: Plan a roadmap
We’ve talked about the money; now it’s the time and the people. What’s your timeline for this strategy? What are the milestones? What about the smaller steps to get to each milestone? Whom do you need for what tasks? Some actions take more time than others; some overlap. It’s time to use your project management skills to plan a roadmap.
The Gantt chart is a time-tested tool perfect for this. An Excel file or Google Sheets is enough to set up a Gantt chart. Or use this free tool to make a Gantt chart online.
Three critical items in a Gantt chart:
- Person in Charge (PIC)
- Deadline (aka ETA – Estimated Time of Arrival)
For each strategy, be it SEO, PPC, Social, or Email:
- Task: break down the project into smaller pieces
- PIC: for each task, assign to PIC, clarify how they will do it
- Deadline: when the task will be completed
Step 6: Execute
It’s time to put the plan into action.
Each PIC should be made well-informed about their tasks.
The manager should avoid micromanaging. Instead, assist the PIC in doing a good job.
It includes some of these things:
- Periodic support
- Deadline updates
- Reporting to upper management
- Find resources if needed
- Quality check
A wisdom we have gathered over the year: adapt. Despite all our talk of planning, execution never goes as planned. There will always be conditions, updates, and changing environments, so resist the urge to stick to the plan at any cost. Flexibility is essential when executing a strategy (or any project in general).
What if you run into roadblocks or have to adapt to a less-than-satisfying goal? Always move forward. In most cases, we would face challenges such as:
- No more budget
- Another team stole our resources
- Upper management decided to shorten the deadline for no reason
These are primarily out of our control. The execution must focus on execution, not blaming others or complaining about unfairness. Find a good enough solution and implement it. Once the execution step is completed, we can finally do a post-mortem: document what happened, extract the lessons and learn from them for a better future. That is step 7: evaluate and modify.
Step 7: Evaluate and modify
“Half my advertising spend is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”
Do you want to run a cost-effective campaign? We’d all say yes to that. Then we must evaluate and optimize our campaign. Make the best use of the available tools to track campaign performance and adjust accordingly.
In theory, we know what the tools can do and how powerful they have become. In reality, though, there are still discrepancies that we cannot explain.
Ultimately, it is about client satisfaction and cost efficiency.
A case study for effective digital marketing strategies
Let’s take a fictional jewelry brand for our case study. We apply the four strategies below: SEO, Facebook, Google ads, and email marketing.
Case study 1: improve the SEO rankings of a list of keywords
We should aim for ranking keywords related to various types of jewelry, moving from general keywords (e.g., ‘silver earrings,’ ‘diamond ring’) to more specific ones (e.g., ‘silver hoop earrings,’ ‘1-carat diamond ring’).
You may want to:
- optimize the website
- create category pages with product pages (1 web page for each specific product)
- rank for relevant keywords
Online users looking for the above keywords will find your web pages on Google and other search engines.
Case study 2: run a Facebook campaign to increase awareness
Raise brand awareness by implementing jewelry carousels or product video showcases. Feature the jewelry pieces on their own and are worn by models.
Run conversion ads by:
- selling products directly from the Facebook store
- running custom Facebook ads promoting the products with a Call-to-Action (CTA) button redirecting to the product page on the website
Case study 3: run a Google ads campaign to retarget potential clients
Supplement SEO ranking by running Google ads, so your webpages appear above the fold (i.e., above the organic results controlled by SEO).
We can also ‘retarget’ leads who have visited the web pages but have not purchased yet. Run a remarketing campaign with a specific ad copy for these leads. It usually generates a much higher conversion rate than a classic custom ad.
When we have some customers (those who have purchased), we find non-customers who share similar profiles with our existing customers but have never seen our ads. We can run lookalike ads to target these people.
Case study 4: run an email marketing campaign to nurture loyal customers
Email marketing is very cost-effective. We can nurture loyal customers with unique offers, such as a loyalty program or a seasonal (or birthday) discount.
We can also reach new ones by email. But to do this, we must build an email list first – which is hard for small and new businesses.
How not to plan a digital marketing strategy: common mistakes and fixes
When things get messy and confusing, because they will, here are what to do.
Not having a clear goal
Most businesses have no idea what they want for their marketing campaigns.
“More revenue” is not a goal.
“Increase lead volume by 5% within a month” is a goal.
We must think of S.M.A.R.T. goals.
Not identifying the proper channels to focus on
Too many businesses waste time and money on the wrong channels. Facebook is not necessarily a must by default.
With a generous budget, everything is possible in marketing. But most businesses are under budget constraints. Usually, it is impossible to do it all.
Consider the target audience, the market, the service/product, and the trends when choosing the proper channels for quality, not quantity.
Not having realistic expectations
A few facts:
SEO will never get traction for you in only three months – this is a long-term strategy.
Neither can you get a 4000x ROAS in one month with merely USD$100 for ads.
When your brand is unknown, no one will buy your product.
It is the reality for most businesses. Keep realistic expectations so that you can run an achievable campaign.
Not A/B testing
No A/B testing means no optimization.
A/B testing is a significant advantage of digital marketing versus traditional marketing – why leave it out? You will miss opportunities to gain better performance. A/B testing must be done.
Not leveraging data & measuring performance
Yet another great advantage of digital marketing that too many people miss out on. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your confirmed sales will last. It can end anytime if you don’t know how to reproduce the result.
Outsourcing versus in-house digital marketing
Here is a comparison.
- Fully dedicated team.
- Domain expertise
- Full suite of tools
- No in-house staff turnover or headcount.
- More time to focus on core competencies
- Often more expensive
- Potentially inconsistent branding
- Need caution in confidentiality & access/permission
- Communication issues may cause delays
- Consistent branding
- More control over processes
- Exorbitant costs for short-term projects or small-to-medium businesses.
- Hiring a ‘full-stack digital marketing manager’ may cut costs, but performance ultimately suffers.
- Lack of expertise when expanding to new market
Ultimately, it depends on your needs. Outsourcing is best when you have a short-term goal, or your business needs to be more significant to afford a whole marketing team. It also applies when entering a new market where local expertise is essential. You will have access to the full range of talents and solutions. Then you can focus on developing your competitive edge.
Your goal sets the stage for your digital marketing strategy
An excellent digital marketing campaign ultimately involves setting S.M.A.R.T. goals and tracking and optimizing your performance. Whether in-house or outsourced, you need the same deliberate focus. Then, a cost-effective campaign that delivers satisfying results is within your reach.