Marketing 101: How to Create a Digital Marketing Strategy

Matthew Taufa'asau, Senior Client Partner

Updated July 20, 2021 to feature new information and best practices.

Creating a digital marketing strategy from the ground up is an exciting proposition, even if it may seem daunting at first. Fear not, though. I’ll walk you through some of the important questions and answers you’ll want to have on hand as you begin crafting your marketing strategy.

The Marketing Basics

Before you start thinking about your marketing strategy, you’ll want to create a marketing plan. There are a few pieces of information you need to gather first.

  1. Take a moment to think about your offering. Depending on your organization, you may have a product manager who can tell you all about your company’s products: their features, advantages, and benefits (FAB).
  2. Once you have these in mind, see if your company already has vision and/or mission statements. These are the lenses through which your company has chosen to view its position in the marketplace.
  3. And before you go any further, define the problem that you’re trying to solve for your customers, and make sure you’re solving for the right problem! Do the research.

What Is a Marketing Plan?

Think back. When you and your company set about creating something, you likely ran some level of market analysis. This should have identified an opportunity to create something new or a way to do it better than existing products, services, or companies. Your marketing plan is how you’ll take your brand and its solutions to a group of potential customers.

It starts when you set a target audience for your product or services. Next, you will determine who would most benefit from your unique proposition. Lean in hard here. Learn as much as you can about these customers (do the customer research and find out the questions they ask—more on this later) and craft a message that gets to the core of why you believe you are unique in the marketplace. Be genuine as you match your mission to your customers’ needs. If you do it right, they’ll buy into your vision before they’ve even purchased a single product.

What Is a Digital Marketing Strategy?

With your mission and unique solution in hand, now it’s time to determine how you will take these to the right customers. First off, be sure that you have an idea of who your customers are and what a typical user journey looks like for them.

Once you know this, you can start to research where and when to target your customers. You’ll need to find out where they spend their time; what social media platforms, forums, and video sites do they frequently visit? What questions are they asking once they’re there (remember: solve for the right problem)? From there, you will determine if the business requires brand awareness building, a quick-close once they land on your site, or more likely, a bit of both! Keep in mind that you may need different campaign strategies for different customers/personas.

And if you’re looking for more information, we’ve got a ton of marketing strategy resources to help you out.

What Makes a Good Digital Marketing Strategy?

A good digital marketing strategy is built on a variety of components that allow you to define, track, and evaluate your efforts. Let’s dive in.

1. Start With the Marketing Stack

Whenever I bring on a new client at our agency, I try to ensure they’re familiar with Portent’s Digital Marketing Stack. It’s broken down into a few key components that you should familiarize yourself with. I highly recommend reading our guide in-depth, but I’ll also give you a quick synopsis. To start, I’ll begin at the top of the Stack. Keep in mind that we’ll need a solid base for all of these channels to lean on, so please don’t skim past the infrastructure or analytics sections. So let’s start with the areas that most people think of when it comes to Digital Marketing.

Marketing Channels

At Portent, we break these down into three main areas: Paid, Owned, and Earned. These channels are where you will interact with your customers. Having the right channel mix is important, as is having a message and relevant content that advances them along their path as they transition through the marketing funnel stages.

Paid channels include platforms where you’ll spend money to inform or attract users to your site, like:

  • Search Advertising
  • Remarketing
  • Display
  • Programmatic
  • Social Advertising

Owned channels are those that you wholly control, including your:

  • Website
  • Social media accounts
  • Customer email lists

Earned media are the fruits of your digital labor and/or passive attention that you may garner (be intentional on how you present or outreach yourself to these outlets):

  • Organic search listings (SEO)
  • Digital PR through news media outlets
  • Social media mentions, interactions, and comments
  • Citations and links from other websites

Site Infrastructure

If you’re starting from scratch, it’s vital that your website infrastructure is robust and fast! If you’re creating a new marketing strategy that will rely on a legacy website, do your best to ensure that it can be brought to a place where it’s not hindering your user journey; slow, unresponsive sites that don’t quickly provide the right experience will cost you customers and will rank behind competitors who do. To excel here, you’ll need a site that is:

  • Speedy
  • Stable
  • Secure

Analytics

Once your infrastructure is in order, it is vital that you are tracking all of your digital marketing efforts. You’ll need an on-site analytics platform, something to track off-site data, as well as a big ‘ol data warehouse to store it all. You’ll get bonus points from me if you’re combining all of the data into an interactive dashboard like Google Data Studio, which should allow you to succinctly track the efficacy of your efforts. Having your analytics properly tracking all of the right metrics allows you to make a plan, measure your work, and adjust your strategy.

2. Understand Your Business Goals

With your amazing website and analytics tracking in place, where should you start when it’s time to create and maintain marketing goals? Start with a North Star. Just as your campaigns will have a universal truth that customers will identify with, you need a guiding vision for your strategy. What business change are you looking to make? Are you looking to drive sales volume? Consider goals that measure visitors or changes in revenue. If you’re looking at increasing campaign efficiency? Your goals should focus on improving conversation rates or driving down your costs per acquisition. Be sure to identify and track any secondary or assisting KPIs that underpin the primary ones.

Re-Evaluate Any Pre-Existing Goals: Do They Need to Be Changed?

Things in the marketplace can change at a rapid pace. Business objectives can also shift as your organization’s priorities change. An emerging business that may once have sought to push sales as they fought to capture market share may eventually find that their niche product has been commoditized. In this instance, it makes sense to consider switching from lead or sales KPI to one that measures profitability. We see leadership changes all the time at our companies that bring new goals. Embrace these opportunities and consider pivots to your marketing strategy.

3. Define Your Target Audience

While sitting down to consider who your audience is, don’t fret. You or members of your organization already know who you’re trying to reach. Check with your product managers and sales managers. As I mentioned earlier, they should already have loosely identified a customer type and defined what problem you’re trying to solve for them. We highly recommend creating user personas and identifying what their user journeys may look like.

Who Are You Trying to Reach?

You’re trying to reach customers who would stand to benefit from your unique solution to a problem. Keep in mind that while your solution may not be unique in the marketplace, your connection to the customer and their affinities should be. You can gain insight into what messaging and content will appeal to potential customers by determining what data you have access to that tells you who they are, what their problems are, what they search for, and how they search for it.

What Do You Know About Your Target Audience?

Take anything you may know and throw them together: demographics, age, technology preferences, buying habits, and websites they shop or visit. Take this data and combine them on a visual “Customer Persona” board.

What Don’t You Know About Your Target Audience?

You know who your customers are, but do you know what questions they’re asking about their problems? Have you already done target research or focus groups? If you don’t have the resources to run these, you may have to rely on some informal sources. Check your reviews on Amazon or those for similar products and see what customers are loving or wanting. Amazon also allows customers to ask questions about products. If you’re in the B2B or SAAS space, check your forums or those of competitors. Sales managers also have a great handle on who your ideal and highest converting customers are and what questions they’re asking every day. Heck, do some old-fashioned keyword research to find these questions. AnswerThePublic and Google can tell you what people are asking about, and they also provide related queries.

4. Reach Your Target Audience

It’s simple: be where your customers are and have a piercing insight that they can instantly identify with. What’s that look like in practice? As I touched on earlier, you’ll create a multi-channel approach that provides a customer with sticky entry points at any part of the journey. To start, you’ll need to know:

  1. Who your ideal customers are
  2. Where do they spend their time, and can you reach them there? Example demographic considerations:
    1. Instagram or Facebook for ‘boomers
    2. Tik Tok for anyone who would inaccurately consider someone 35+ as a boomer
    3. Affinity-based websites (i.e., sports fans vs. home and garden readers)
  3. What are their buying habits?
  4. Where are they in the buying process?
  5. How many times can you interact with them?
  6. How do you deliver value along the way?

With this data, you can start to create your targeting plan.

Let’s set the stage: You’re selling a killer solution to a problem. This problem is typically encountered by users that match a certain profile. You’ve created a user persona that fits this profile. You’ve named that persona Karl.

If you’ve done your research right, you’ll have a ton of information that you can use for targeting Karl. Your demographics and affinity data should allow you to, as an example, customize programmatic, display, or paid social ads directly for people like Karl. The target audiences available to these platforms are astonishingly detailed, so they’ll be able to find Karl at his favorite online destinations throughout his upcoming user journey. Karls’s problem has reached a tipping point and he needs a solution. He did a web search last week on Google. Let’s look at how you potentially provide value to him before this search, once it happens, and once he finds your website.

Before The Search (Awareness)

While you can certainly target based on raw demographics (Male, female, 25-24), you can definitely get more detailed with your campaigns. If your product or solution has leading indicators, you might be able to target Karl based on a life event or related search. For example, let’s say you sell a product that every new homeowner will need, like, I dunno, a garden hose(?). You can potentially target someone based on the fact that they did a search for a mortgage provider or moving truck. Karl did those searches last week and isn’t even aware that he needs the garden hose just yet, but there are your ads, right on his favorite football blog’s website and in ads on his connected TV (programmatic, video). He’s also starting to see the hose ad on Facebook (social). This is, of course, just one specific example, but you can get very creative to reach a person before or at the moment they become aware that they have a problem.

During The Search (Research)

Here’s your chance to shine! Karl’s in the process of researching what he’ll need to solve the upcoming problems his new situation will bring. At this point, you’ll need to know what he’s searching for, and you’ll have to show up in these unbranded searches. Again, do the keyword research and ensure that your brand and product show up for the relevant terms. To do so, you’ll need to invest in compelling, authoritative, and informational content that should be a one-stop shop for anyone looking for solutions for a potential problem. This interconnected content references its position in the journey by linking to both the root topic as well as finer, next-step considerations, or related topics. If done right, you can curate a sticky experience that compels users to keep clicking and researching (Be sure to read up on content hubs).

Also consider paid search here and how it’s supplementing your search traffic. If you’re already ranking, great! You might still need to appear in paid search listings. Google is in the business of selling ads, and a number of them appear before any organic listing.

Keep in mind that as you build up content, you’ll likely have pages or destinations that are better suited for different searches, both paid and organic. These can be:

  • blog posts
  • detailed how-to guides (including videos, Youtube or on-site)
  • buyer’s guides
  • product pages
  • category pages
  • affiliate sites (e.g., Amazon)

All of these pages should be designed for one or more of the following outcomes:

  • Answer their questions and emerge as a trusted resource
  • Get them more information about a topic and keep them on the site
  • Get their information
  • Create a retargeting pool
  • A purchase

Here’s how you could utilize a few of these page types:

Blogs. These should be informational and targeted and answer a few specific questions well. As a result, your brand will emerge as a trusted resource. You will make them want to read more and continue on to related articles, and category/product pages. You can get their information with a newsletter sign-up, and in turn use that information to create a retargeting pool.

Category Pages. These related groupings of your products should be broadly informative and helpful in that each product type is explained in general terms. It should link to product pages and also link to content that educates consumers about how the category solves problems. Product comparisons and broad pricing should also be included. You’ll once again establish your brand as a trusted resource by answering the questions they may have about a product or service. And linking to product pages will funnel your users toward a conversion while collecting their contact information will build your retargeting lists.

Product Pages (Organic). Ideally, these pages should address multiple buyer types. Quick buyers might quickly skim the top of your page for a product description, reasons to buy, a few common questions with answers, before looking for the purchase option. Additional information should be included for more scrutinous types who are looking to be convinced. Keep in mind that your users can navigate away from this page, so at least curate how they can find their way to more information. This could be as simple as breadcrumb navigation to the category page. These pages should convince your customers that your product or service can solve their problems, and move them to make a purchase. And then you’ll have their contact information for future marketing efforts.

Product Page (Paid). Depending on the intent of the search ad or the copy/creative of a display ad, this page should be designed to match. An ad with a “Buy Now” message behooves itself to quickly educate, differentiate, and sell. An ad with a “Learn More” CTA might lead to a different page layout that tries to educate now, while setting you up for an opportunity to sell later. The desired outcome here is the same; establish your brand as an expert, get your customers’ information via a newsletter sign-up or perhaps some gated technical content, and then have that information available for future retargeting.

Consideration

At this phase, your customer is getting close to making a purchase! It’s possible that they’ve got you on the shortlist of products or services. Maybe they had found you previously via search. If they didn’t purchase then, hopefully, you got them to sign up for a newsletter that you’re using to stay in touch as you coax them along. Additionally, you probably also added them to a retargeting pool. Using this you can bid them up in paid search, and show next-step ads to them across multiple platforms including display, social, and programmatic. In a perfect world, these retargeting campaigns lead to landing pages that are separate from your original entry points. These new landers should present your argument for why they should sign up now and pick you over your competitors!

Purchase (and Continue to Delight!)

If your prospect purchases from you, you’re not done. It’s time for add-ons and additional purchases. Keep in mind that you now have a new list to prospect from for future transactions: current customers. Better yet, stay in touch to see what they love and what they find themselves wanting. This can go back over to your product team for the next cycle or product launch. You can even use this list to exclude customers from paid searches for products they already own, and to target for those they don’t! A customer who has a product that is nearing the end of a subscription or product life should suddenly be hearing from you and seeing your ads popping up!

5. Determine What to Measure and How

KPIs For Content

Your marketing plan will be looking to move the needle for a group of stakeholders. Often, I’ll see my clients come to us looking to drive more leads or more transactions. But how do we do that? We create a strategy by which we determine the content we’ll need to drive the right people to. Once we have it, we track how well that content is working for us. We’ll track keyword rank and backlinks to see if search engines and people like it. Once customers are on our pages we switch to tracking engagement metrics. We’ll track time on page, scroll depth, and other data to verify how people are using it. Note: Google can see this activity via Google Analytics. If people are linking to a page that they find to be a valued resource, it’s likely to rank well. Finally, if our new content is doing a good job of telling the right story to the right people, we’ll see that desired increase in leads or transactions.

The interplay between these pages is also pivotal here. Track the entrance paths for your transactions. Using your web analytics, you can see which channels or campaigns lead to what pages. Does the search intent match the landing page? If not, how is that page converting? Is there a better page to route this traffic to? Google Analytics can tell you where a user originated, what pages it saw, whether it converted, left and came back, or dropped off completely. Use the data to confirm your plans and/or to refine your strategy.

Presenting Your Marketing Strategy

Presenting your strategy to your stakeholders is an important final step. Start by reiterating the original business needs or requirements you were asked to fulfill. Next, illustrate who you’re targeting and why you’re targeting them in particular. Next, lay out how your creative vision will be presented to this audience at various stages, and why it will resonate with them. Next, you’ll need to present the metrics that you’re tracking that will confirm that your strategy is working. For example, you may want to mention that you’re planning that your display and programmatic will garner X amount of impressions, at Y cost per CPM. You’ll need to state what your expected clickthrough rate will be. From there, you’ll be tracking the effectiveness of your landing pages. How long do people stay on your pages? Do they navigate out and view additional pages? What’s the conversion rate expectation of your page? If you have these things, you can determine the expected purchase or lead volume.

And once you have your strategy approved, be sure to revisit your goals often. If one of the variables in your equation ends up being off, you’ll need to pivot quickly. Example: If you’re not getting enough traffic to a page, can you eke out more conversions by ensuring that customers are pleased by the experience? Are they rage-clicking or not finding the information they’re expecting? Revise as needed, and don’t be afraid to make necessary changes.

Matthew Taufa'asau, Senior Client Partner

Matthew Taufa'asau

Senior Client Partner
Senior Client Partner

Matthew is a senior client partner at Portent with more than nine years of account management and digital marketing experience. When he's not busy consulting with his clients, he loves traveling the world with his family. A native of Hawaii, he survives cold Seattle winters with karaoke, outrigger canoe paddling, spam musubi, and cheesy sci-fi shows.

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