digital marketing strategy

How to Build a Digital Marketing Strategy in 12 Steps

Patrick Lane, Sr. Marketing Manager

Key Points

  • A digital marketing strategy is a roadmap for reaching your marketing goals using online channels.
  • The strategy encompasses all aspects of online marketing, including owned, paid, and earned media.
  • Your digital marketing strategy should focus on how you will win, rather than how you execute the day-to-day work.

Brands have the potential to reach consumers at every moment of the day thanks to the internet. However, for your efforts to be successful, you need a well-defined digital marketing strategy.

Your digital marketing strategy is a roadmap for reaching your marketing goals. It provides direction for your team so you can outmaneuver the competition and deliver business results.

Read on to learn how to create a strong digital marketing strategy.

What is a digital marketing strategy?


Digital Marketing Strategy

A digital marketing strategy is a high-level plan that clarifies your digital marketing goals and outlines how you will achieve them. The strategy encompasses all your online marketing efforts, including owned, paid, and earned media.

The various elements your plan should include are website design, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), content strategy, digital PR, email marketing, paid media, social media marketing, conversion optimization, and more.

You should align your digital marketing efforts with your business goals, as well as your specific audience with the competitive landscape in mind.

Digital marketing strategy vs tactics

A digital marketing strategy is higher-level and more all-encompassing than specific marketing tactics. It provides your brand with a strategic roadmap to help you achieve your individual marketing goals. Your strategy focuses on HOW you will win, as opposed to the day-to-day nuts and bolts of the work itself.

Your digital marketing strategy could include objectives such as improving brand awareness or lead generation. On the other hand, you may want to reposition your brand as a technology trailblazer or as socially conscious. These high-level decisions become the compass for all of your marketing activities.

Digital marketing tactics, on the other hand, are the specific things you do in alignment with your strategy. For example, a tactic could be to define the keywords you’ll target in your blog. Or to put together a content calendar in support of your campaigns.

You may use the same tactics for different digital marketing strategies. However, you’ll most likely implement it differently based on the strategy.

“A digital marketing strategy focuses on HOW you will win, as opposed to the day-to-day nuts and bolts of the work itself.”


Benefits of a strong digital marketing strategy

Build brand awareness

A comprehensive digital marketing strategy creates brand awareness among your target audiences by connecting with them at the top-of-the-funnel to increase visibility and expand reach.

Whether you plan to introduce a new product in the market or if you want to expand into new markets and audience segments, brand awareness is a foundational step. A digital marketing strategy is especially important in these cases.

Strengthen brand loyalty

A digital marketing strategy builds deeper customer relationships and strengthens brand loyalty because it connects with your customers and delivers a personalized experience throughout the funnel.

It also unlocks new ways to reach and engage your customers through high-quality educational content, loyalty programs, or exclusive discounts and deals. As a result, you‘ll achieve better retention rates, higher customer lifetime value (CLV), and stronger profit margins.

Collect more customer data

Customer data should inform all aspects of your digital marketing strategy as well as business operations. The more you know about what your customers want and how they behave, the more value you can deliver to them.

For example, you could track each new customer who visits your blog with a first party cookie, then retarget them with ads on social media. Or you might want to know which website pages existing customers visit, or which email campaigns they engaged with.

You can then capitalize on first-party data to create highly targeted and customized marketing campaigns. You’ll also be able to remove barriers in the customer journey and give customers more of what they want.

Create seamless customer experiences

Customers expect a seamless experience regardless of their location or the device they’re using. A digital marketing strategy enables cohesive experiences across all online channels. With the right strategy, your digital customer experience will be familiar to customers across your website, content hub, social media, email marketing, and more.

By delivering a consistent experience, you’ll build greater trust and loyalty with your customers, while also strengthening brand identity and perception.

How to create a digital marketing strategy

An effective digital marketing plan is never haphazard. Instead, it requires a clear understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish. To that end, follow these steps to create a strong, reliable, and results-oriented digital marketing strategy.

1. Determine your brand’s mission and vision

First, you must determine your brand’s mission and vision because they guide everything else in your marketing.

Your mission focuses on what your brand does today. Your vision, on the other hand, reveals what you aspire to become. Companies commonly use mission and vision statements interchangeably. However, it’s useful to distinguish between the two so that the gap is very clear to all executives and team members.

The following questions help you to clarify your mission and vision:

  • Why does your business exist?
  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • What differentiates your brand from the competition?
  • Who do you serve?
  • What big problems are you trying to solve?

After you define your brand’s mission and vision you can develop a digital marketing strategy that will thrill your customers and achieve your desired outcomes.

2. Segment your audience and create buyer personas

The next step is to segment your target market and create buyer personas. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this process because your ideal customer profiles will vary depending on your business and goals.

However, some common customer segments include:

  • Geographic: Segmenting by geographic location allows you to tailor your marketing messages to specific regions.
  • Demographic: Segmenting by demographic allows you to target specific groups of people based on age, gender, income, education, etc.
  • Psychographic: Psychographic segmentation allows you to target your marketing messages to specific groups of people based on their interests, values, and lifestyle.
  • Behavioral: Behavioral segmentation allows you to target your marketing messages to specific groups of people based on their past behavior.

After you segment your audience, create customer personas for each group. A buyer persona is a fictional representation of a specific cohort within your target audience. Most buyer persona examples include relevant information such as:

  • Age range
  • Location
  • Job title
  • Income/revenue
  • Interests
  • Goals and objectives
  • Challenges and pain points
  • Industry
  • Products desired
  • Features desired
  • Sources of information
  • Preferred social media platform (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.)
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3. Map the customer journey

The customer journey is the path that your customers take as they move from awareness to purchase. Mapping the journey helps you to better understand the various customer touchpoints with your brand. It is also just as helpful in illuminating how you can influence your prospective customers at each stage. It can also help you identify any areas of friction in the process.

To map the journey, identify the stages of the traditional marketing funnel, from awareness to purchase.

  • Awareness: The customer becomes aware of a problem or need.
  • Research/interest: The customer begins researching solutions to their problem or need.
  • Comparison: The customer compares different solutions to their problem or need.
  • Purchase: The customer makes a purchase.
  • Loyalty/advocacy: The customer becomes a loyal fan or advocate for your brand.

The goal is to identify every touchpoint in the journey, then optimize each one to provide customers with a superior experience.

4. Assess existing digital assets

Distill your digital strategy into the following three segments: earned, owned, and paid media.

  • Earned: Media that you organically earn through things like PR, word-of-mouth, and social media without a paid transaction.
  • Owned: This is the media that you create and control, like your website, blog, microsites, email list, etc.
  • Paid: This is the media that you pay for. This may include online ads such as pay-per-click (PPC), display ads, native ads, Google ads, and paid social.

Assessing your digital media helps you to determine what’s working and what isn’t, and how you can better utilize each type. It also gives you a starting point for creating new initiatives, programs, and campaigns.

5. Determine relevant digital marketing channels

Once you’ve mapped the customer journey, identify which digital marketing channels will be most effective at reaching your target audience. There are a variety of digital channels to take advantage of, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. 

The key is to select the combination of channels that will best reach and resonate with your target audience. Possible marketing channels include:

  • Website or specific web pages
  • Organic search
  • Content marketing
  • Video
  • Podcasts
  • Social media
  • Email marketing
  • Paid advertising/media
  • Influencer marketing
  • Mobile marketing
  • Affiliates
  • Strategic partnerships

You have a limited amount of time and resources, so be strategic with your choices. Rather than spread yourself too thin, select only the channels that will reach your audience and drive positive return on investment (ROI). Do them exceptionally well, rather than trying to be everywhere at once.

6. Analyze the competitive landscape

Analyze the competitive landscape so you can make better decisions about how to position your brand, what marketing messages to use, and which components of your digital marketing strategy to prioritize. Knowing what you’re up against enables you to identify new opportunities and new ways to optimize your approach and messaging.

Consider the following methods to extract insights from the competitive landscape:

  • Digital marketing channels: Identify which digital marketing channels your competitors are using and how they’re using them.
  • SWOT analysis: Assess your competitors’ respective strengths and weaknesses. Identify opportunities where you can leapfrog their strengths and capitalize on their weaknesses.
  • Website traffic: Use tools like Alexa or SimilarWeb to see how much traffic your competitors’ websites are attracting. If they’re getting more traffic than you, consider what they’re doing differently.
  • Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs): Use SERPs to see how you stack up against your competition on important keywords. If you’re not ranking as high as you’d like, revisit how you’re optimizing your website and content.
  • Social media: Make use of social listening. Check out your competition’s social media activities to see what they’re doing well and where they’re falling short. Use this information to improve your own social media strategy.

As you study the competitive landscape, take note of traditional competitors. But also, be aware of “online competitors.” These may not be direct competitors, but they are competing with you for online real estate and for your audience’s attention. 

For example, in the beauty industry, various online publishers capture the most consumer attention in the Google SERPs. As a result, traditional beauty brands don’t appear on the first page of Google. (You can download our report below.)

7. Calculate your budget

Now it’s time to decide how much budget you want to allocate to each segment of your digital marketing strategy. It’s important that you allocate your money intelligently, or you risk falling prey to the upside-down economics of digital marketing that is unfortunately common today.

One way to do this is to calculate your CLV per channel. This defines how much total revenue each potential customer is worth so you can optimize your customer acquisition budget.

To calculate your customer lifetime value, you’ll need to determine the following:

  • Average order value
  • Purchase frequency
  • Average customer value
  • Average customer lifespan

To calculate your CLV:

Average Order Value x Average Purchase Frequency = Customer Value

Customer Value x Average Customer Lifespan = Estimated Customer Lifetime Value

8. Define your digital marketing goals

Your goals are the foundation of any successful digital marketing strategy because they define precisely what you want to achieve. Your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely (SMART).

Some examples of digital marketing goals include:

  • Generate X number of leads per month
  • Attract X number of new customers
  • Increase website traffic by X%
  • Convert X% of website visitors into leads
  • Increase online sales by X%
  • Engage customers through X number of brand interactions per week/month/year

9. Build marketing funnels

The next step is to build funnels so you can achieve your marketing goals. A marketing funnel (or ”conversion funnel”) is the process that users go through as they move from clicking to becoming paying customers.

For example, if they arrive on a specific product page or on a landing page, how will you guide them to take action and convert?

content marketing funnel stages for a digital marketing strategy

You can construct individual funnels for each segment of your audience such as the content marketing funnel above. The steps of each funnel may vary depending on the product or service you’re selling, but each step should be designed to get the prospective customer to make progress towards conversion. For a more effective funnel, pay close attention to action words, CTAs, and offers.

10. Launch digital marketing campaigns

Having tackled the prior steps, you finally have enough data to launch digital marketing campaigns effectively.

Before you launch them, define what success looks like. Establish key metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) so you can track how your campaigns perform. This will also help you measure the results and make necessary adjustments to your overall digital marketing strategy.

You also should have data tracking tools in place so that you measure the performance of your campaigns in real time. This can include tools like Adobe Analytics, Google Analytics, tracking pixels, UTM codes, and behavioral analytics.

11. Optimize conversion rates

One of the most effective ways to improve your marketing campaigns is to optimize the conversion funnel. This includes the final purchase as well as conversions higher up in the funnel, such as converting website visitors to leads.

There are several conversion rate optimization fundamentals, including:

  • Personalization
  • Behavioral targeting
  • A/B testing
  • Multivariate testing
  • Retargeting

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) relies solely on data rather than guesses or gut instincts. Marketers gather data, document a hypothesis, then systematically test and iterate to improve results.

This process allows you to make consistent, incremental improvements on your marketing campaigns. As a result, you’ll lower customer acquisition cost (CAC) and increases profit margin and revenue.

12. Measure results and optimize performance

The final step in your a digital marketing strategy is to measure marketing ROI and optimize your campaigns. Measure your performance against the metrics and KPIs you established. If a channel or campaign doesn’t perform well, analyze the data to determine where you can gain efficiencies.

Finally, use marketing automation to generate reports for your entire digital marketing team.

Integrate digital marketing strategies

An integrated digital marketing strategy enables greater reach, engagement, nurturing, tracking, and optimization.

If you’re looking to super-size your results, then integrate your approach to digital marketing for a higher ROI. Through integration, you are better able to achieve consistency of brand, message, and experience across digital channels and campaigns. 

In other words, don’t strategize your digital marketing in silos, which can easily occur at large enterprises. Instead, look to integrate strategies upstream and aim to integrate campaigns downstream.

“Don’t strategize your digital marketing in silos. Instead, look to integrate strategies upstream and aim to integrate campaigns downstream.”


By thinking holistically, you’ll be able to create positive customer touchpoints through a variety of digital marketing initiatives. They will come upon your brand whether they are searching in Google, checking their email, or admiring an influencer. And because the experiences will be consistent and harmonized, you’ll see compound results.

Through a strong, integrated digital marketing strategy, you will reach more customers, lower acquisition costs, increase conversions, and grow your business.

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