As a digital marketer, you will rarely find a point in your career when you’ve reached the limits of what you can do for your client. However, many DMMs often do not understand the difference between tactics and strategies. They often embrace up to three marketing tactics and force them on each of their clients, no matter their audience, users and/or customers, resulting in missed goals and breached milestones.

Tactics differ, they are a means to an end. It’s the strategy that matters.
A strategy is the who, why, where and what that defines your tactics.

Let’s go through some basic digital marketing tips.

Step one: Research your market and find your target audience

A dart board

There is no such thing as too much data. Gathered data helps you understand your market and your target much better and in more depth. It’s a vital part of any marketing strategy to know them.

Split your research into two categories:

  • Primary
  • Secondary

There are two types of primary research – exploratory and specific. Exploratory research is the first you’ll employ. It focuses mainly on gathering long answers to unstructured questions in small groups. It’s sort of a testing field to prepare your specific research – specific questions which will be put to big groups with short answers that will give you the necessary data to move on.

Primary research can be run in more ways than one, depending on your initial assumptions about your target audience, based on your understanding of your client’s product/service. Research methods can be costly and not so effective.

A direct approach

This is the cheapest method but time consuming. Go to the nearest ATM, take out $20, visit the nearest coffee shop and buy someone a coffee in exchange for a few minutes of their time to answer your questions.
This method is mainly used as exploratory research, though this type of data-gathering can be done through group surveys (organized brainstorming sessions) or in-depth interviews (one-on-one sessions).

Online surveys

Without an existing base of people to interview (social media acquaintances, email contacts) this method is costly, but less time consuming. You can always employ survey platforms for expanding your reach, but that doesn’t guarantee proper feedback. You may get a ton of false positives as you cannot see the person on the other side, and if they are really going through your questionnaire or just clicking random things. This is why online surveys should be employed for specific research with short questionnaire and specific answers.

Some methods worth mentioning are phone, direct mail and event surveys. These are not as important for your digital marketing strategy, however, keep in mind that some of your client’s potential customers may not be active internet users. And that word of mouth, both traditional and digital, is and omnipresent referral method.

Secondary research is done by gathering industry and market data from 3rd party sources – public, commercial or educational. If your client has already an established online presence with audience monitoring, use that data! If not, you can turn to public resources such are Statistical Offices/Institutes, Google Consumer Barometer, Google Trends or any other trusted source that provides open data relevant for your market and industry. The second method is to find whitepapers, studies and surveys from universities and libraries to confirm your assumptions. These are time consuming but are cost-effective and, backed with your expertise, leave less room for error.

Another option is to buy statistical data gathered by agencies whose job is to specifically do that.
However, you need to be careful with this data as you are not in control of where it came from and if it’s 100% true.

Jamie Oetting, Content Marketing Strategy Lead at HubSpot, prepared an in depth article on market research tools and resources you should definitely check out.

Step Two: Define your target personas

Based on your research and the data gathered from surveys and 3rd party sources, you can expect to see a pattern. A pattern in the answers and demography of tested users. Use these patterns to create up to four target personas that vary in age, sex, behavior, as well as their needs and goals. These are the people that, based on the data sample you’ve collected, represent your target audience. Give them names, create a short story about them. It will be much easier for you to connect with your audience later on, and much easier to find the same audience across all the distribution channels you employ.

target persona table example

It’s best that you optimize your digital marketing strategy for one persona at a time, as you will have to invest less in terms of both time and budget in order to perform effective customer/user acquisition. Later on, once you’ve established a solid connection with your main target personas (target audience), you can start expanding and test out new strategic messaging and acquisition channels to attract more specific, smaller segments to fill your potential client pool.

Kevan Lee, Marketing Director at Buffer prepared a constructive and in depth guide to defining customer personas you should bookmark for future references.

Step three: Research the evolution and impact of your industry and target audience

This is best done for the period of the last five years. Questions to answer through this research include:

  • What digital technologies is your target audience using? Name up to five (devices, software, online platforms)
  • How did those technologies evolve in the past five years and what impact did they have on your audience? Name both positive and negative ones.
  • How did this affect your industry? Did new technologies appear that will improve their effectiveness and expand their reach?
  • Are there any emerging trends in the digital industry that will both challenge and give opportunities to your industry? If so, name them.

Step four: Perform competitor analysis and setup early monitoring

With all the previously gathered data, you’ll already have enough insight to perform thorough competitor analysis. And yes, you can just google short-tails describing your client’s product/service. This will give you an insight on who your competitors are. However, with the data gathered, you can compare their current marketing status and get more insight on their marketing efforts.

It’s important that you set up early monitoring of your competitors, so you get streamlined data on their digital marketing strategy, as well as find your target audience.

Step five: Perform SWOT analysis

The SWOT analysis will give you both internal and external insight into your client’s company/organization, and help you uncover new opportunities to capitalize on.
Not only that, it will also give you insight on threats both internal and external, which can damage your client and help you improve.

Here’s an example of a SWOT analysis and questions that need answering.

SWOT framework with questions

And a more in depth guide on how to use the SWOT framework, with examples.

Step six: Compose consistent strategic messaging

Now that you know your client’s company inside out, alongside your competitors, your industry and the state of the market, as well as your target audience, you can face the hardest part with more ease. You need to compose strategic messaging, one that triggers your target audience into converting, one that will be unique through all your distribution channels. These messages will be used everywhere – from your landing pages, across PPC and display ads, all the way up to your targeted emails.

the "Why, how, what" framework

You need to asses all the data gathered from your research on target personas, draw a line to define the unique value they search for in your client’s service/product, and design proper messages that will trigger them to convert.

This is the end result:

final messaging example

There’s a whole science behind strategic messaging and positioning. Myk Pono, Head of marketing at Aptrinsic has written an in depth article on the topic.

Step seven: Opt for primary acquisition channels

Now that you know who and where your target audience is, your client’s needs and goals, you need to ask yourself two more questions:

  • What are we optimizing for? (i.e. increasing the customer/user base)
  • What are our restraints? (i.e. tight budget)

These are essential to defining what main acquisition channels you will be opting for. Here’s an example of how you should make a decision.

acquisition channel comparison table

To elaborate

Define your perfect world acquisition channel based on the following factors – cost, possibility of targeting, distribution control, input &output time and its ability to scale. Then compare that with all the acquisition channels you can employ and choose up to two that align with your vision of the perfect world acquisition.

Why up to two?

Because in the early phases of digital strategy development, you will be mostly testing out the efficiency of acquisition. This can burn through your budget more quickly than you can imagine without giving you the desired ROI. That’s why you need to optimize your campaign for up to two primary channels. Basically, double down on what worked.

Brian Balfour, former Vice President at HubSpot described in detail the flow and framework you should be using to choose the right acquisition channel for your digital marketing strategy.

Step eight: Creating a roadmap and assigning a budget

Digital marketing strategy often employs several marketing tactics across the chosen acquisition channels. This means that you will be working with several teams or dozens of people that need to be in sync with the deployment. This is why you need to create a roadmap that will be transparent, with defined KPIs, milestones, and budgets for the following period. Changes to the strategy are completely normal, as you will be constantly getting new feedback from your users/customers as well as from changes on the market. Your strategy will evolve and adapt to these changes.

Nevertheless, by creating a roadmap and clearly assigning budgets for each tactic and channel you employ, you will be in control of its deployment and development.

By structuring funnels that reflect the users journey from the point of first awareness about your client’s product/service to the point of referral, and by properly setting up early monitoring of their journey and actions through those funnels, you will get insight on actionable metrics that will help you optimize your cost per user/customer acquisition.

Final words

This is a process that can and should be reflected upon when composing any digital marketing strategy – both for SMBs, large businesses, startups and even traditional brick and mortar companies that haven’t seen the light of the web. This playbook was meant for both senior DMMs and enthusiasts starting out – it’s easy to skip steps and devise strategies based on “proven tactics” without any data but the empirical to back it up. In time, thinking strategy rather than tactics will become a part of who you are and how you work.


Posted by Keith Coppersmith

Keith is an Adelaide based business journalist with a degree in Media Management. He enjoys writing and providing insight into the marketing industry based on both practice and theory.