Digital marketing strategy guide: your biggest questions answered

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A successful digital marketing strategy encompasses a variety of tools that enhance your brand’s visibility online and includes both paid (advertising) and non-paid (organic) strategies. More than a quarter of American adults say they are “almost constantly online.” That’s a potential audience of over 80 million customers… So how do you reach them? 

Contrary to popular belief, you’re not going to reach the right segment of this audience (a.k.a, your best customer), just by wingin’ it or hoping to go viral. You need a strategy. Even in 2020, many professionals still don’t understand exactly what digital marketing is, the many marketing strategies available, and how to identify a successful digital marketing campaign. 

In this digital marketing strategy guide, we’ll breakdown marketing strategy, detail some key marketing techniques, and even explore real-world examples of how to use them effectively.

What is a marketing strategy?

Let’s start at the beginning. What is the definition of a marketing strategy anyway? Essentially, marketing strategy is a detailed, insights-based plan that guides your tactics in order to reach specific marketing goals. That’s pretty much it. Although there is another, unique, granular approach that we adhere to, for the sake of simplicity, there are three main parts to any marketing strategy:

1. Diagnosing your challenges

2. Creating policies to overcome these challenges

3. Targeted actions (tactics) included in your policy

What’s the difference between marketing strategy vs. tactics? Your ‘policies’ are what form your strategy. It’s the who, what, & why. Your ‘targeted actions’ are the various tools, methods, and tactics you use — the how. So, if anybody asks you what your marketing strategy is, you’ll know to present them the overall plan with defined goals. Then, your tactics are the steps and actions you take to accomplish those goals. Capiche? 

What is a digital marketing strategy?

Is a digital marketing strategy definition any different from a general or non-digital marketing strategy? Short answer: no. A digital marketing strategy aims to do what a traditional marketing strategy does, but by enhancing your visibility online and in digital spaces. Similar to your general marketing strategy, your digital marketing strategy includes campaigns that accomplish your goals. However, unlike tactics, a campaign usually has a larger focus. But, since so many of your results will lie in the campaign, it’s your strategy that will guide and align them to your specific goals.

For example, let’s say you own an e-commerce company and you’re trying to get online sales. While we’re big fans of word-of-mouth marketing, most of your initial sales will come from search engine results and paid media In this case, once you have defined your goals and your setbacks, you can go into your research: Where does your audience tend to hang out online? (Twitter? Instagram? Reddit?) What kinds of conversations are they already having? Who do they follow? What content do they engaged with? Etc. With these insights,  you can create a social media marketing campaign that uses paid and non-paid marketing tactics to drive leads.

How to create a digital marketing strategy

With so much content online, it can be difficult to gain visibility in our competitive digital world. You’re going to need a solid plan, whether you like it or not. But what is a good digital marketing strategy and how do you create one?

Research & insights

What truly makes a good digital marketing strategy? Research. Market research gathers information on your customers, your products/services, the demand for your products/services, and any noteworthy demographics. What are some examples of marketing research tactics? We’ve got some key ones here:

  • Surveys
  • Interviews
  • Direct observation
  • Focus groups

There are many ways you can use this research to better understand your audience. A tactic that many businesses use is creating buyer personas, or as we like to call them our ‘best customers’. These enhanced buyer personas create a potential customer, helping you understand who you’re marketing to.

A buyer persona may include age, where they live, what they do for a living, and how much they make. But an analysis of your best customer will also tell you where they hang out, what they talk about, and how to find more potential consumers like them.

Create goals

After you conduct research, you’ll have a better understanding of your audience and what it takes to win them over. Now it’s time to create realistic goals when developing an online marketing strategy. As you work on your marketing tactics, you can measure the success of your strategy and see if you’re closer to accomplishing your goals. You can use a myriad of tools, such as data reporting tools.

This helps you see what works and what doesn’t, and you can potentially alter your digital marketing strategy steps if you’re not seeing results. Tweaking and tinkering is the hallmark of a successful social brand.

Evaluate existing strategies and tactics

What if your digital marketing strategy isn’t getting results? It’s time to go back to the drawing board. You may feel overwhelmed, especially if you skipped the research, realize you need to change your strategy, or god forbid, create a new one from scratch. However: The sooner you change your strategy, the less it’ll hurt in the long term. When evaluating existing strategies or tactics, it’s best to start from the beginning. Look at the big picture, evaluate your existing goals, and decide if you should make new ones. Rebuild from the ground up. 

From here, you can look back at the techniques you’ve used. You can also take a look at the analytics of your existing digital channels and discover if your tactics are working on each platform.

Audit and plan for paid media campaigns

Paid media includes all channels where you spend money to increase your brand visibility. Pay-per-click (PPC) is one of the most popular paid marketing tools where the advertiser pays a fee when one of their ads is clicked. Paid media also includes sponsored ads on websites, videos, and paid advertising on social media.

To make your return on investment (ROI), you’ll want to create a powerful paid media campaign that’s based on research and optimized with effective tactics. First, always define your budget. Set aside some funds you want to devote to paid marketing. This is the best way to ensure you don’t spend more than you can afford on ads and you can always tweak this on a monthly basis.

Next, you’ll want to choose a platform. Keep your goals and buyer personas in mind. (There’s that research again!) For example, if you want to target a specific market, you might want to stick to a single platform and collaborate with influencers on a sponsored advertising campaign there.

This step also includes creating ads. Visual ads, such as banner and video ads, should again be created with your audience in mind. What are their needs? How can you tap into them effectively? Be creative and make ads that will convert your audience, not just get their attention.

Remember, if you’re using PPC strategies such as AdWords, always conduct keyword research to bid on the best keywords. You’d be crazy not to!

To ensure you make your ROI, create a realistic start and end date for your campaign. At the end date, see how much revenue you generated from that campaign. Track metrics such as clicks and if these clicks are leading to a revenue increase for your business. You can use this useful data to conduct an audit and plan for any changes to future paid advertising campaigns. You might have some mixed results at first, but with ad experience, you’ll get more and more refined in your marketing operations. After you launch your campaign, you’ll also want to measure other results. 

Audit and plan for owned media campaigns

Owned media is what your company owns. Content is the most common example. Your content can include blogs, website copy, product descriptions, infographics, ebooks, social media posts (though technically, you’re “renting” from platforms like Facebook and Twitter, but we digress), and podcasts. If you made it, it’s owned.

Once again, your buyer personas will be essential, especially when developing a brand and brand voice. How will your content help them? Why is your brand their solution? What will make them share it? Your content should include a call to action (CTA) that explains how your business can help them and to encourage them to take those first steps.

From here, plan out the content you’re publishing. While all businesses should regularly publish blogs and social media posts, specific content types can help accomplish your goals more effectively. For example, if you’re in e-commerce, a well-written product description can educate your viewers, making them feel more confident about buying your product. Or perhaps video content will establish credibility for your brand, bringing in more customers.

In any case, you’ll absolutely have to create a content calendar to stay organized and better track your owned media.

Just like with your other tactics, after you start releasing owned media, you’ll want to track your successes. See what content and media earned the most conversions, click-throughs, time on site metrics. On the other side of this content coin, you’ll also see what content falls short. The goal is to identify what works and what doesn’t, and you can use this information to… you guessed it: plan your future strategies.

Audit and plan your earned media campaigns

In a nutshell, earned media is the visibility you earn, typically through an external third-party. This can include guest posts, PR strategies, user-generated content (UGC), and even word of mouth. And since most earned media campaigns involve collaborating with a third-party, you’ll want to conduct plenty of market research and ensure the third-party is one that will attract the right audience for you. 

Earned media is one of the most difficult campaigns to achieve. If this is your first earned media campaign, you’ll want to do some trial-and-error to see what works. This initial testing will allow you to learn the ropes of earned media and streamline your process down the line. When beginning in earned media, it’s best to keep your budget low and focus on earning backlinks and publishing your website on other third-party websites such as trade publications or forums. Make sure that the earned platforms that you’re showing up on will be seen by your target audience, or get you closer to them.

If you’ve conducted an earned media campaign before, take a look at your data and your successes. Mix up your tactics and try different tools if you didn’t receive success the first time. Refer back to your audience research — are your findings still relevant? If you can, once you’re more informed. increase your budget to enhance your visibility.

Bring it all into one strategy

Now that you’ve done your research, identified your goals, and planned your tactics, you can combine these elements for a powerful digital marketing strategy. Be sure you still stay organized. Identify these individual campaigns within your strategy and create separate maps for these tactics. These campaigns should connect to your ultimate goal. 

How long in advance should you plan your strategy? Long-term strategies, ones that last between six and 12 months, are a good start, but this differs for every business. If this is your first strategy, you’ll start to learn how much time you should devote to one strategy with experience and testing.

Companies with good digital marketing strategies

The biggest name brands have achieved success for one main reason: they have powerful digital marketing strategies — it’s not just blind luck. Two companies you’ll want to observe are AirBnB and Burger King.


As you already know, Airbnb is one of the leaders of travel hospitality and accommodation. They created an efficient way to find the best BnBs and hotels at the lowest price, and this became a disruptor in the industry. The Airbnb digital marketing strategy is one of the best examples you should use as inspiration. But, how exactly did Airbnb become one of the most trustworthy names in the travel industry? Let’s break down the tactics.

To create an Airbnb digital campaign, they partner with other trusted and non-competitor travel brands as well as entire governments. For example, Airbnb once hosted a contest with the French government to stay at the Paris Catacombs on Halloween night. This is a novel idea that establishes trust and through its unique offering, gained some great earned media coverage.

Airbnb also partners with celebrities and influencers who stay at luxury locations during their travels. They also host different events hosted by these influencers and promote these events on their social media. The Airbnb social media strategy accomplishes two tasks: they not only receive social impressions but also press, achieving both powerful owned and earned media marketing results. 

Naturally, the Airbnb marketing strategy always includes owned media. If you follow Airbnb on social media, the first thing you’ll see is their ‘travel porn’ content. Their images are incredibly high-res, their composition is alluring, their copy is engaging, and their locations are stunning. 

Let’s look at this AirBnB social media case study. Airbnb hosted an effective social media campaign for their Experiences service. The overall campaign is based on highlighting the amazing adventures and life-changing experience you can take, tapping into fear of missing out (FOMO) psychology. Again, Airbnb uses a combination of engaging text, beautiful imagery, and fun videos to promote their Experiences service. They compiled these aspects into a video they published on their Instagram and YouTube platforms. Since video is one of the most emotive and engaging forms of content, this tactic was extremely successful.

Overall, the Airbnb digital strategy uses a well thought out mix of owned, earned, and paid media on platforms where their best customers gather. They then use their unique brand positioning as a superior hotel alternative and also tap into consumer psychology to bring the customers in. 

Burger King

Another big name, Burger King is the second-largest fast-food chain, right next to McDonald’s. The Burger King digital marketing strategy utilizes all modern marketing tools to hold their reign as fast food heroes.

In the retail space, the secret behind the Burger King marketing strategy is how they make their ordering process as easy as possible for customers. A Burger King new marketing tactic is letting users buy their meal on the mobile app and they even offer delivery services, too. Since fast food is built on convenience, making the experience even easier for customers brings great success.

Burger King’s campaigns use a mix of different marketing methods. This includes:

  • Sales promotions
  • Burger King advertisements
  • PR

Burger King’s social marketing efforts, such as advertising, keep their scrumptious menu items in your mind constantly. Since BK is a major brand, they never struggle to gain earned media attention such as PR and press.

Burger King’s marketing success also ties into their owned media. How often have you seen an ad for Burger King’s buffalo chicken fries and instantly wanted some? Burger King masters the art of food photography, producing mouth-watering photos of all menu items. Their visual brand is also more focused on actual flames and grilling than McDonald’s, which along with their bigger burger sizes, makes them appear more authentic and less sterile than their competitor.

Since they’re a fast-food brand with an online presence, they also compete in the fast-food twitter brand wars. Other brands such as Wendy’s and Denny’s also take part in this recent marking phenomenon, where they make jokes at the expense of each other, in the hopes of going viral.

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