Create a Digital Marketing Plan: 9 Step Strategic Guide

Jonas Sickler SEO Manager
Key Points
  • A digital marketing plan helps you determine the most effective digital marketing strategies for your business and then put those strategies into action.
  • Without a well-defined digital marketing plan in place, you’ll likely end up wasting money and not making the impact you want.
  • A digital marketing plan can include business and marketing goals, strategies you’ll use to meet those goals, timelines, digital channels, and more.

Digital marketing has become exponentially more complicated since the early days of the internet. Back then, businesses rarely created a digital marketing plan. And those that did, focused mostly on websites, banner ads, and email marketing.

Now, you have dozens of digital marketing channels and platforms to choose from. Should you focus on SEO or PPC? Blogging or webinars? Social media or email? Podcasts or video marketing? Augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR)? How much should you spend and when can you expect to see results? Trying to choose the best options for your brand can feel daunting, overwhelming even.

What you need is a digital marketing plan.

An clear plan helps you determine the most effective digital marketing strategies for your business and then put those strategies into action. A digital marketing plan helps you organize your initiatives so that you’re continually connecting with your audience, engaging them, and driving them to action. With a digital marketing business plan, you think ahead, coordinate among departments, and integrate your digital marketing for greater impact.

Read on, and learn nine steps to structure a digital marketing plan. 

What is a digital marketing plan?

Digital Marketing Plan

Definition

A digital marketing plan is a document in which you strategically map out your digital marketing objectives, as well the actions you’ll take to achieve those objectives.

Among other things, it can include business goals, digital strategies you’ll use to meet those goals, competitive landscape analysis, timelines, budgets, digital channels, and more. 

Think of a digital marketing plan like a roadmap of sorts. You know where you want to go, and the plan provides you with a specific route to follow. 

Without a well-defined plan in place, your digital marketing efforts will be inefficient and ineffective. You’ll likely end up wasting money and not making the impact you want.  

How to create a digital marketing plan

Now, let’s talk about the various digital marketing plan components as well as the specific steps to follow as you develop your strategy.

1. Define your digital marketing goals and business objectives

Clear, measurable, and attainable digital marketing plan objectives help you define exactly what you want to achieve and measure. When setting these goals, be as concrete as possible. Include specific numbers and timeframes that can serve as benchmarks for your progress.

creating a digital marketing plan on a typewriter

For example, avoid goals that state you will increase lead generation, boost conversion rates, or improve digital customer experience. Those are a bit too vague. You can’t measure your results and it’s not apparent what steps you should take to reach that goal.

A much better goal is to double organic search traffic in the next 12 months. This provides you with a deadline, a framework for setting milestone goals, and specific actions to take (optimize your site, create amazing content, and conduct strategic outreach for SEO, etc.).

Smart goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) give you clarity on the actions you need to take to achieve those things.

2. Define audience segmentation and buyer personas

For any digital marketing campaign to be successful, you need to know who you’re targeting. Segmenting your audience and then building buyer personas for each of those segments can provide you with insights about what types of marketing will be most effective. 

For example, say you sell IT services. Part of your audience might be small businesses with less than $500,000 in revenue. You might also sell to large corporations with significant IT needs. Your buyer personas and marketing strategies for each of these segments will look very different. Messaging that resonates with a small business owner probably won’t resonate with the head of a large IT department, and vice versa.

Start by defining the different segments in your target audience. From there, begin building out the personas of your ideal customer within each segment. Here are 9 great examples of personas to get started.

Your buyer persona information will vary depending on whether you’re B2B or B2C and the price of your product/service. Some demographic and additional information you may want to include is:

  • Age range
  • Income
  • Job title
  • Location
  • Priorities
  • Goals
  • Challenges
  • Interests
  • Social media platforms
  • Industry
  • Pain points
  • Products/features desired

Your goal in creating personas is to get inside the minds of your target customers and to see things from their perspectives. When you understand what matters most to them, you can make a digital marketing plan that speaks to their deep desires and big challenges. 

3. Conduct a competitive analysis and determine market share

team doing a competitive analysis

If you want your marketing efforts to be effective, you need to know who you’re up against. A competitive analysis allows you to identify your competitors, calculate your market share, and determine the marketing strategies they employ.

When doing your competitive analysis, consider the following types of things:

  • Which audience segments are they targeting?
  • What digital marketing channels are your competitors using? 
  • Where are they strongest?
  • Where are they weakest?
  • What portion of their traffic is earned/owned/paid?
  • What’s their positioning in the market?
  • What’s their claimed differentiation?
  • What type of messaging and specific language do they use?
  • What is their tonality and brand personality?

A thorough competitive landscape analysis will give you insights into how you can use online marketing to surpass your competitors. For example, you may realize that your competitors’ positioning and differentiation are well known, so you’ll benefit from crystalizing your own in contrast. Or, you may discover they’re strong in social media marketing but weak when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO) performance.

4. Conduct a SWOT analysis

A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis is the other side of the coin from a competitive landscape analysis. It provides you with a framework for analyzing your business in the overall framework of your market. It enables you to identify what is and isn’t working, spot potential organic growth opportunities, and prepare for external threats.

Start by analyzing the strengths of your company. What are your primary advantages over your competition? Which things do you do particularly well? What unique resources do you have at your disposal?

Next, look at your weaknesses. What elements of your business aren’t working particularly well? What things keep you from making sales? Where do you fall short of your competitors?

The third step is to look closely at the opportunities available to your company. Are there any market trends you can take advantage of? Can you utilize new technology that your competitors can’t? Is there an under-served segment in your audience? 

Finally, identify any potential threats to your business. Could a competitor steal market share? Are there any obstacles blocking business growth? Are there potential financial issues on the horizon? 

The data from your SWOT analysis will help you develop your digital marketing plan. Your plan should cater to your strengths, mitigate your weaknesses, move toward opportunities, and proactively avoid potential threats. All in the name of helping you to increase sales.

5. Calculate your digital marketing plan budget

stack of twenty dollar bills to allocate for a digital marketing plan budget

The next step in creating the best digital marketing plan for your brand is to calculate your budget. The budget will define how much you have available to spend on digital marketing activities, as well as guide you toward specific channels, strategies, and tactics.

The amount you budget for digital marketing will vary based on a number of factors, including:

  • Revenue
  • Position within the industry
  • Previous results
  • Goals
  • Location
  • Profitability of a strategy, tactic, or campaign

How much will you allocate to building brand awareness? What about to specific campaigns and offers? Are you going to allocate a certain amount of digital marketing budget for customer retention? Do you know how much to spend on SEO?

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It’s important to establish your budget upfront. However, remain flexible so you can capitalize on opportunities for greater SEO ROI. If you notice that a certain campaign just isn’t generating positive ROI, then you may be better off eliminating that spend. Similarly, if you see that a certain campaign (or channel) is producing outsized results, consider shifting the budget and allocate additional dollars towards what’s working well. If you have a specific return-on-spend in mind that’s highly profitable, then keep increasing the budget as long as you’re keeping your acquisition costs under the target.

In this way, your budget can be a dynamic, evolving support mechanism of your digital marketing initiatives.

6. Define your digital channels

subway train in station

Before you develop a content strategy, you’ll need to define the primary digital channels you’ll be using. Your choice of channels needs to take into account your audience, goals, and budget.

For example, say your goal is to drive 30% more targeted traffic to your website. One way to do that is through PPC ads, which can give you an immediate boost. However, Google Adwords can also be expensive.

To improve ROI, turn to more cost-effective channels, like SEO and content marketing. These channels take longer to produce results but also deliver a far lower acquisition cost, giving you more bang for your buck. Plus, SEO and content marketing results compound over time, setting you up for longer-term sustainable success.

When defining your digital channels, consider where your audience spends most of their time. If you’re in a B2B industry, you may want to focus on channels like LinkedIn or webinars. If your audience is younger, you may want to consider influencer marketing on Instagram. Focus on how you can deliver value to your audience within the channels they favor most.

And don’t assume your audience doesn’t care about great content. Some of the best content marketing examples come from a broad range of companies with completely different customers.

Intentional Digital MarketingSee how search data informs your digital marketing strategy to maximize ROI.Learn More

7. Develop your digital marketing strategies and tactics

After defining your channels, you need to develop the digital marketing tactics and strategies you’ll use within those channels.

For example, if you’re going to focus on search engine optimization, you need to determine the keywords you’re going to target and how you’re going to target them. You may decide to create a comprehensive content hub, online courses, SEO topic clusters, or a series of online tools. Or you may decide to provide more detailed, superior how-to information, or to deliver insights on upcoming trends, or to deliver content featuring celebrities.

Or, if you’re focused on b2b lead generation, you may want to create case studies that showcase your results.

As you think through your digital marketing strategies and tactics, look for ways to differentiate yourself from the competition. If you do what everyone else is doing, you’ll have a hard time standing out.

  • Dollar Shave Club caught people’s attention by being funny and irreverent in a traditionally boring industry. 
  • Tableau offered a free online tool and garnered backlinks from more than 56,000 websites.
  • LEGO created an online, interactive community with more than 300,000 in monthly organic traffic.

The more crowded the market space, the harder you’ll need to work to capture attention and achieve true optimization across your digital marketing portfolio. Whatever you do when developing your digital marketing strategies and tactics, be true to your brand.

8. Create a marketing calendar

A marketing calendar allows you to map out exactly when you’ll implement your digital marketing campaigns and initiatives. It also creates accountability, ensuring that you hit deadlines and effectively execute the plan throughout the year. A calendar also helps ensure that you are consistently reaching each of your various audience segments throughout the year.

Try to map out 12 months in advance, and break down your calendar into each month of the year. This will provide you with an overall framework, along with sufficient time to prepare and execute on each delivery. For example:

  • In January you’ll release a training webinar. Before you can release it, you need to create a slide deck, build a landing page, design social media graphics, etc.
  • Throughout January and February, you’ll promote the training webinar across multiple channels, including social media, email, video, and PR. 
  • In March, you’re going to start a blog that will be updated weekly. To make this happen, you need to decide on topics, assign them to writers, coordinate with a designer, create a blog calendar, organize videos to be embedded, etc.

Be realistic when creating your calendar. Give yourself sufficient time to get everything done in a quality manner, and make sure that each deliverable is clearly assigned to a specific individual.

coschedule content calendar

Popular marketing scheduling tools include CoSchedule, Contently, and Trello.

9. Measure the results and KPIs of your digital marketing plan

The final step in creating a digital marketing plan and strategy is to measure your results through the definition of metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs). You need to compare the outcomes of your marketing efforts to the baseline as well as original goals. If the results are underwhelming, adjust and optimize, and then measure again.

Be sure to measure each channel so that you, as a marketer, can identify what’s working most successfully for your brand, and what may need to be cut.

klipfolio screenshot

Keep your entire marketing team informed through dashboards. Popular dashboard software includes Klipfolio, TapClicks, Grow, and Domo.

Great digital marketing plans encourage integration

The process of developing a digital marketing plan encourages marketing integration which fuels greater business impact. Customers can’t ignore your brand when you consistently engulf them in your messaging, offers, and calls to action. As a result, you will achieve more, with less, by efficiently and intelligently repurposing and atomizing your marketing assets.

Whether your company is an established ecommerce brand or a brick-and-mortar juggernaut, you need to have a digital marketing plan. Although it takes time, effort, and coordination, it’s worth the work. Your marketing will be much more effective, and you’ll achieve greater marketing results for the business.

FAQ

What is included in a digital marketing plan?

A digital marketing plan is like a blueprint for your digital marketing strategy. It should cover the steps and tactics to achieve the broader outcomes defined by your strategy. Your plan should cover all of the digital channels you use, including social media, email, advertising, public relations, and your website.

What are the steps to create a digital marketing plan

1. Set goals
2. Define your audience
3. Conduct a competitive analysis
4. Conduct a SWOT analysis
5. Determine your budget
6. Identify your channels
7. Develop specific tactics
8. Create a calendar
9. Measure results