Some people may tell you that a marketing strategy and a digital marketing strategy are the same thing. The story of Toys “R” Us says otherwise.
The toy retailer has been around for over 60 years and, at one point, controlled more than 25% of the world’s toy market. It had a proven brick-and-mortar marketing plan built around its weekly flier and in-store activations. When it launched toysrus.com in 1998, it tried to bring its “offline” strategy online. But it famously struggled—the site became known for a series of botched sales, stockouts, and difficult navigation. By 2018, it officially declared bankruptcy, while new entrants like Nugget Comfort, with digitally native marketing strategies, thrived.
The moral of the story? To be successful, your digital marketing strategy must be truly digital-first. Digital marketing is a subset of your overall marketing strategy, but it has never been more important.
What is a digital marketing strategy?
A digital marketing strategy is a written plan that details how a company will reach and convert customers online, including fundamentals such as the target audience, value proposition, and brand voice. Compared to an overall marketing strategy, it typically has a heavy focus on digital channels, and the tactics used within them.
Typically, a company will create a digital marketing strategy before launching, but these strategies can be created and updated at any time.
Digital marketing strategy vs. digital marketing tactics
A digital marketing strategy is not a way to reach potential customers in and of itself. Rather, a strategy lays out a series of tactics you’ll use to reach customers. For example, running ads on Instagram is a digital marketing tactic, and the decision about whether or not to invest in social media advertising—and why—is part of a digital marketing strategy.
Types of digital marketing tactics
One way to approach a digital strategy is to consider all the tactics available to you and decide which ones best fit your business and your customer.
The most common, and effective, digital marketing tactics are as follows:
SEO (search engine optimization) is the process of optimizing your website to show up in relevant search engine results. "SEO is an excellent form of inbound marketing where the consumer has a need and finds you for the solution,” says Greg Bernhardt, a SEO senior specialist at Shopify.
“SEO is about positioning your web content to communicate the relevance and value of your offering to search engines, who can then better pair the search they receive with the solution you offer."
The three main areas of SEO are:
- On-page SEO. This includes ensuring that all written content on your website (from page titles to product descriptions to blog articles) are rich with search terms, or keywords.
- Off-site SEO. The practice of off-site SEO is about building external authority around your product or brand. In layman’s terms, this is accomplished when other sources (from traditional media to social media) link to your product or services (known as backlinks).
- Technical SEO. These are the technical aspects involved in getting your website to rank. This can encompass everything from site loading speed to the way that your product pages are indexed.
For example, if the paddle board company Maddle was to execute SEO as a tactic, it might start with on-page SEO tactics like updating its product pages to include keywords such as “red inflatable paddle board,” then write articles that its potential customers would be interested in, such as “best paddle boarding spots in Quebec.”
Off-site tactics, meanwhile, could encompass emailing established outdoors-related publications and landing a product recommendation in a holiday gift guide article. From a technical standpoint, Maddle would want to make sure all product pages are accessible to Google and indexed along with addressing site performance through optimized product images.Some SEO tactics are more easily executed in-house, while some benefit from external expertise.
If these tactics seem like a good fit for your business, learn more with our guide to SEO marketing.
Email marketing is the practice of capturing your customers’ email and then emailing them regularly.
Great email marketing starts with a strategy to capture emails. Although you can capture them at the point of checkout, you’ll ultimately want to capture emails earlier on in a customer’s journey. That’s why many ecommerce sites offer a first-time buyer discount in exchange for a customer email.
Emailing customers could entail sending an automated series of emails (known as “marketing automation”) or sending timely emails at a regular cadence, like a monthly newsletter or a seasonal campaign.
For example, DUER offers its customers a free guide to pants sizing in exchange for their email. After the customer downloads it, they’ll be sent a series of automated emails depending on whether they’ve purchased before or not, as well as announcements of sales and new products.
Affiliate marketing involves paying people (for this purposes, “affiliates”) a commission when they refer new customers to your business. The commission can either be a percentage of sale (e.g., 15% of their first order) or a fixed amount (e.g., $10 per sale).
The most common affiliate relationships are with industry publications. For example, if you’re a hair care brand like AG Care, you might establish affiliate relationships with Well and Good or Vogue, which would then have incentive to review your products or include them in roundups.
Note: Websites that benefit from affiliate relationships are required to disclose this on their website. Brands that participate in affiliate programs also often list this on their website, for example, AG Care’s Collaborator page.
Influencer marketing is similar to affiliate marketing in that it focuses on incentivizing others to share your brand/products. However, whereas affiliate programs typically focus on other websites, influencer marketing focuses on partnering with individuals with their own large followings.
This form of marketing can be highly effective because influencers usually build audiences who have a high level of trust in their recommendations. This also means that influencers tend to be more selective about what brands they work with, and want to feel a personal connection to them.
Influencer agreements often work as one-time payments for “sponsored posts” instead of ongoing commissions. But this industry is constantly evolving, and influencers and brands are experimenting with new ways of working together all the time. If you’re a brand hoping to partner up with influencers, check out the Shopify app Collabs.
Social media marketing
Social media marketing is the practice of reaching your customers on social media platforms. There are two main avenues you’ll explore when planning your social media marketing strategy: organic and paid.
Organic social media marketing means growing your following without the support of advertising. Typically, this involves sharing helpful, engaging, or viral content from your company’s account. With the rise in recommendation-based social media, such as TikTok, this has become easier than before, as TikTok’s algorithms are much more likely to show your content to someone not already following you. However, it still requires a heavy investment in content creation to succeed.
Paid social media marketing means setting aside growing your following and instead paying to reach people through ads. It is a form of digital advertising. The benefits of this include more custom, specific audience targeting, less need for new content, and the ability to serve content with calls to action (e.g., “Shop now”).The drawback, of course, is that you have to pay for people to see your ads, which can be costly.
Search engine marketing (pay-per-click)
Search engine marketing, also called SEM or pay-per-click, is when you pay to appear in search results. This can be extremely effective, because unlike other tactics that require educating people about why they need your product (known as demand generation), it allows you to reach people who are already actively searching for your product (known as demand capture). For example, Native would run ads to show up when people search for “natural deodorant.” This can be an extremely efficient way to get new customers.
How to create a digital marketing strategy
To choose the tactics that will be used in your first digital marketing strategy, consider a series of factors:
- Is your product category new or existing? If it’s new, it may catch people’s eye on social media. If it’s existing, shoppers are likely searching for it (or something like it) on Google, and media outlets may have relevant affiliate opportunities.
- How does your audience want to be communicated with? If you think they’d prefer email, consider that tactic, but if they’d prefer social media, start there. This understanding can come out of customer research.
- How many tactics do you have budget and capacity for? It can be challenging for digital marketers to effectively oversee more than two tactics on their own at a time. If you are a one-person team, start with two, and if you have room to grow your team or your budget, add more.
- What do you want to achieve? What metrics are you trying to move with your strategy? Are you focused on driving profitable sales, or growing brand awareness? Different channels and tactics drive different types of value, so it’s important to be clear on exactly what impact you want to see from your strategy. Consider researching benchmarks to help you set realistic marketing objectives.
Evolving your digital marketing strategy
Once you’ve launched your first tactics, it’s important to be ready to evaluate how well they work. One of the benefits of a digital marketing strategy over a non-digital one is the built-in feedback loop. Whereas marketing strategies can only be reviewed every quarter or year, you can adjust a digital marketing strategy as often as every month, thanks to real-time analytics tools like Google Analytics.
Pay attention to your metrics. How well are your tactics meeting the goals you set in the beginning? If they’re meeting or exceeding your goals, you might consider doubling down. If they’re not meeting your goals, you may need to adjust your approach.
By taking a data-driven, iterative approach to your digital marketing strategy, it won’t be a matter of “if” you succeed, but “when.”
Digital marketing strategy FAQ
What are the 7 Ps of marketing?
Products Pricing Placement Promotion Proof (ie social proof) People Processes
Why are the 7 Ps of marketing important?
The 7 Ps are a concept that predates digital marketing. However, they can be a helpful framework for helping you decide what tactics to include in your marketing strategy and how to activate them. For example, by reviewing your pricing and promotions, you might surface an opportunity to have a discount code that you share only on your Instagram ads, that is eligible for just three days of the month.
What are owned, earned, and paid media?
This is a framework for categorizing your marketing mix: Owned tactics refer to tactics using properties or audiences you control, such as your social media accounts, website, or email list. Earned tactics refer to tactics that get other people to talk about you without paying for them, such as word-of-mouth or someone resharing a social media post. Paid tactics refer to anything for which the brand is paying for exposure. This includes paid ads on social media or search engines, as well as most affiliate and influencer marketing tactics. A great digital marketing strategy typically considers at least two of these.