What Does Digital Marketing Strategy Mean Today? | Online Sales Guide Tips

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I’ve been thinking a lot about strategy lately (well, in between distractions that is). What does that word really mean? Is a digital marketing strategy a piece of paper with a 6-month, 1-year, or 5-year plan mapped out on it?

I believe it’s more nuanced than that for a few specific reasons…

To me, strategy is a conversation that starts with a series of questions you must ask on a regular basis…

Who Are You Marketing To?

Digital marketing isn’t advertising, although that could be a part of it. Marketing is a conversation you’re having with potential clients, current clients, or just potential supporters/fans.

Ann Handley, the queen of content and one of my very favorite people, once told me that good marketing is marketing your clients would thank you for.

That’s a new concept for many businesses just looking to improve their bottom line, but this is how the world works today, especially with the younger generations.

No millennials were harmed in the making of the above meme.

But seriously, people expect more from companies today. They want to be heard and understood, even when they’re being marketed and sold to.

The best way to know your audience is to talk to them. Ask them what they’re looking for from a company like yours. I would even recommend developing some buyer personas if you have the time and resources to do this correctly.

I’m not talking about caricatures that you make up based on demographics and some assumptions about your clients. I’m talking about real people. Interview some clients, ask them questions, and pay close attention to the answers.

For more on the power of actual buyer personas, check out our interview with Buyer Persona Institute founder and friend, Adele Revella.

What Does Your Target Audience Want from You?

This is where a lot of digital marketing efforts fall flat. You’ve either assumed you know what they want and run with it, or you force something on them and it backfires.

I’m not saying that you can’t use tactics like retargeting (although with the death of cookies, that could be on its way out), landing pages, or ads. Just make sure you do these in such a way that the end goal is tied to something your target audience truly wants.

You’ll gain some powerful insight into the needs of your audience during your interviews mentioned in the previous section. Use these audience needs to inform your strategy.

Do they want more content from you? What kind of content? Video, written, graphical, a combination?

What sort of purchasing process did they describe? Is this something you can offer them? How might this differ from the competition? Also, how will they look for you and/or how did they find you? What words and methods did they use?

This information will show you how you should communicate with your audience…

But don’t stop there. Part of your competitive strategy is figuring out how to differentiate yourself from your competition beyond your sales efforts.

How Are You Different from Your Competition?

Even with all that information from your audience interviews, you still run the risk of doing exactly what your competition is doing. If you’ve never heard of the red ocean / blue ocean concept, it goes something like this…

The red ocean is where all of your competitors are. It’s crowded, bloody, and dangerous. You won’t have much luck getting found in that ocean.

A blue ocean is what you’re looking for. This is an ocean with lots of clean water, tons to eat, and room to grow and thrive. But how do you find this ocean?

Core Values Should Drive Strategy

When people ask you what sets your company apart, what do you say? Do you spout off a bunch of corporate-speak that any of your competitors could have said?

I believe that how you speak about your organization is just as important as what tactics and channels you use to deliver that message. In fact, I think it matters more.

In one of my first blog posts for Wellspring Digital, I outlined an exercise that any business would find useful. You need to determine your core values because everything builds from there.

Your core values will inform how you speak about your company to potential clients and the public at large. The channels come next.

Get Cozy with The PESO Model

Courtesy of SpinSucks.com

My friend Gini Dietrich and the fine folks over at Spin Sucks developed “The PESO Model.” PESO stands for…

I am horribly over-simplifying this concept. For more on PESO, spend some time over on Gini’s site, Spin Sucks. It will not be wasted time, I promise! Also, send Gini some Butterfingers and you’ll be friends for life!

Anyway, so now you’re slightly familiar with the PESO model, look back at the information you’ve gained from your audience interviews and compare that to your core values.

How can you deliver what your audience wants while staying true to your core values? This is how you will differentiate yourself from your competition.

Determine how to exist within the PESO model such that you are swimming in a blue ocean. In other words, if you start with the channels, you will fail. Start with the buyer personas, core values, and key differentiators and then develop a channel strategy.

But it doesn’t stop there. You have to determine your business goals.

What Are Your Digital Marketing Goals?

Notice that goals did not come first? If we’re really talking about strategy here and not simply digital marketing tactics, then you shouldn’t be talking about goals until you’ve completed the steps above.

Goals are very important, don’t get me wrong. They just need to be the right goals.

Now here is where you should do a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based) Goals exercise, which is never a bad idea. Just make sure that each of those goals is also tied to the audience’s needs and your core values.

Your goals could be number-based, like a 10% increase in sales of Product A, a 10% uptick in traffic for a specific keyword, or 1,000 new email subscribers.

Or it could be more nebulous like “increased brand awareness” or building your E-A-T value, which is harder to measure.

Once you’ve identified your goals, you can then start to form your tactical digital marketing strategy…

How Can You Achieve Your Digital Marketing Goals?

Finally, tactics! Only until you’ve done the steps outlined above should you be talking about tactics you want to employ. You want to be making strategic decisions while developing your tactical plan.

These tactics can include but certainly aren’t limited to…

Let’s break each one down as they might relate to strategy…

SEO Strategy

An SEO strategy can be about traffic, leads, positioning, brand awareness, and more. The first step to any SEO campaign is to assess what you have and what you need. This generally comes in the shape of an SEO audit that looks at…

There is more to it than this, but you get the picture. What do you have? How well is it performing? What do you need?

PPC Strategy

A PPC strategy can also be about traffic, leads, positioning, brand awareness, and more.

When I say PPC (pay-per-click), I mean any type of paid outreach. This could be bidding on keywords in Google or Bing. It could be sponsored posts and ads on social media. Or maybe you want to run ads on specific YouTube content or do some OTT ads.

As with SEO, the first step to any PPC campaign is to assess what you have and what you need. This generally comes in the shape of a PPC audit, if you have an active campaign, that looks at…

A successful PPC campaign is one where you can show that you are getting more out of it than you put in. PPC is not a replacement for SEO though, it is an augmentation, a way to boost in areas where organic rankings and social reach are not enough on their own.

Content and Social Media Marketing Strategy

A content marketing strategy can be about leads but more often than not, it’s about reach.

Content marketing (which technically includes organic social media marketing) is the practice of creating useful content specifically for your target audience and sharing it with them where they are.

This could be anything from content that entertains to content that informs and empowers.

The first step to any content marketing campaign is to assess what you have and what you need (you’re probably seeing a pattern here). This generally comes in the shape of a content marketing audit, that looks at…

I wrote this post a while back about doing an in-house content audit. This content is older, but it is still relevant, and I think you (a member of my target audience) will find it useful. ??

It’s never a bad idea to have an outside expert take a look at your content marketing efforts. You’ll find it useful to get an outside perspective that isn’t skewed by internal politics or misaligned agendas.

Marketing Automation Strategy

Marketing automation is a powerful solution that can take your sales and marketing efforts to the next level. Platforms like HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot, and others can make a small team operate like a larger one and give you never-before-seen views of your prospects.

That said, the strategy for this one is simple. Get an expert. No, seriously, I’m not going to pretend to outline a simple strategy overview for marketing automation because…

If you are going to invest in marketing automation, make sure that either someone on your team is an expert or you have an expert to guide you along. If you don’t, you will churn tons of hours trying to make it all work and potentially could end up misusing and/or underutilizing the platform.

A strategy for marketing automation is how to take all the disciplines above and some below and hook them into your marketing automation system. Then, develop a strategy that factors in all of the disciplines above and finds ways to automate them.

Website Design, Development, and Optimization Strategy

Like others on this list, your website strategy starts with an audit…

Your website is a critical piece for all of your digital marketing efforts. It should perform well, be useful and pleasing to the eye for your target audience, rank well (see SEO above), and drive conversions.

Influencer Marketing Strategy

Influencer marketing can be a powerful digital marketing tool. It’s like rocket fuel when done correctly. But it’s rarely ever something you should start with.

Influencer marketing should come into play when you’ve done as much as you can with the other tactics and need more. It’s not going to work well if you’ve neglected the other tactics above in favor of going straight to influencer marketing.

Reputation Management and Sentiment Analysis Strategy

Now we’re getting into the serious stuff.

Reputation Management Strategy

In essence, you should always be concerned with your reputation as it relates to branding, customer experience, and your status as a trusted resource.

There are plenty of tools out there to help with reputation management. But, similar to influencer marketing, you’ll want to make sure you’ve done the work outlined in this post before engaging in any sort of software-enabled reputation management.

At the very least, someone should make sure to monitor your social channels for messages, mentions, and comments. Your company should always strive to provide a positive customer experience.

And make sure you’re asking for and responding to reviews on your Google My Business page.

If you’re ready to get into software-enabled reputation management, here’s a good overview of the top reputation management software solutions available today.

Sentiment Analysis Strategy

Sentiment analysis is similar to reputation management. Basically, you would use a sentiment analysis tool to determine how a group of people feels about something.

Sentiment analysis is used to get ahead of certain trends or predicting potential pitfalls you want to avoid. Unlike reputation management, which is specifically looking at what people are saying to and about you, sentiment analysis looks at how people feel about something.

It could be how they feel about you, but it also could be how they feel about a trend or a type of product or service. Sentiment analysis monitors chatter on the web and analyzes it to determine what is next.

For example, sentiment analysis, on a scary big brother scale, could have been used to predict the events at the Capitol on January 6th by monitoring social channels for chatter and analyzing that data to determine potential outcomes.

Most businesses don’t pursue a sentiment analysis strategy unless they’ve reached a certain size and reach. But it’s there if you ever need it.

What Is Your Digital Marketing Strategy?

Well, there you have. I have started a conversation with you about strategy. I’ve given you some things to think about, some actions to take, and some pitfalls to avoid.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments section or @ us on social media. We’ll be there!

Building Marketing Operations From the Ground Up

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Building a Team

Marketing is an interesting function in a startup. Small companies desperately need to build awareness to make selling easier for the sales team. Once a product is viable and has features in demand, people must know it exists.

One person can create quite a bit of content and effectively build a brand if they’re skilled enough. But a company must establish a solid data infrastructure, which means capturing potential prospects and campaign activity so that future actions can be optimized and improved upon.

“When you’re carving out a new function within an organization, you have to understand the needs of the business. What is your budget? What do your long-term needs look like? There could be needs that don’t justify hiring an internal staff member. Sometimes outsourcing to a consulting organization or a freelancer makes more sense,” said Brooke.

But that isn’t to say you should hesitate to hire a position that will be needed soon.

“Marketing operations is experiencing a talent shortage. The demand is higher than the supply, and you’re seeing many roles that are sitting open for six to nine months.

“Marketing operations and marketing technology set the groundwork for so much across marketing, sales, the customer experience, and post-sale, but it’s also one of those things that when done incorrectly or left to the wild can be very costly down the road. Data cleanup and rearchitecting systems are expensive projects, and ineffective implementations will make your organization less efficient.”

A decision as simple as creating a lead every time a campaign interaction happens instead of using campaign members and minimizing duplicates can have far-reaching implications.

“Additional person records mean you’re spending more on your CRM because of your database size, but you’re also blowing up the cost of your marketing automation system (MAP). But when you sit back and you look at marketing’s impact on revenue, or try to understand what’s working and what’s not in our organization, which activities are helping to drive pipeline… It’s really hard to connect the dots because you’ve got duplicate records. All of your data is fragmented.”

In addition to the added cost to your CRM and MAP, you have less visibility into what’s effective and a very high likelihood that different team members are calling into the same account without realizing it. Or even unknowingly calling customers to book a demo.


Refusing to invest in the right people and technology can cause more expenses than companies save in the short term. When you’re weighing whether to hire a full-time person, establish the company’s short and longer-term goals, identify current deficiencies, and build a plan accordingly.

Marketing Ops Should Be Your First Marketing +1

A good marketing operations professional can help your organization scale gracefully. They can architect your first MAP in a way that will migrate into your next bigger, better MAP. They’ll make sure your leads aren’t getting lost, your efforts are being tracked, and that you can actually make sense of the data to improve your go-to-market strategy.

Unfortunately, executives—even marketing executives—think of marketing operations last.

“The biggest help in successfully arguing for a marketing operations professional is looking at what type of impact this person can have on the organization. For example, if we can integrate our data, we can more accurately look at what marketing spend will drive in terms of revenue or pipeline. We can do a better job forecasting pipeline production. We can look at where our marketing spend is going and see what’s working and what’s not. And we can better allocate that spend into areas that will drive revenue instead of throwing things at the wall and hoping something sticks.”

As marketers, we have to try new things. Old tactics wear out prospects and stop working effectively. Experimentation will always have a place in marketing, but data should inform the next step. If you can’t report on what you’re testing, you can’t improve your tactics.

“A lot of times, investing in the right people and the right technology can come with sticker shock. Many of these tools are not cheap. But if you take a look at what you’re spending for your CRM and your MAP and then look at how big your data gap is, you can see where putting money toward fixing your data problem is necessary. You’ll get insights and forecasting information that you will need to grow and scale the business.

“Let’s estimate that your marketing ops person’s salary is one hundred thousand dollars a year. If they’re spending 30% of their time trying to make sense of the data, that’s $30,000 a year wasted. That alone would cover the cost of tools that help with data cleanup and management. Once a tool is purchased, that ops person has that much more time to allocate toward actually growing the business instead of cleaning up a mess, which could have a huge impact on the business.”

A former client of Brooke’s, Aimee Schuster, recently wrote a piece on hiring for marketing that included a timeline that illustrates when startups should hire different roles. One of the first hires she advocates for is a director of marketing automation/operations, especially if you’re looking to do an exit strategy within the next 24 months.

“One silver lining of the COVID pandemic is that it instilled in a lot of organizations the importance of having data behind the scenes. Suddenly, sales reps couldn’t just show up somewhere. There weren’t trade shows or even people connected to their normal business phone number. We had to figure out how to connect with them, whether that was advertising or email or online events. So much of the orchestration for that switch in tactics was done behind the scenes by marketing operations professionals.”

You Need the Right Tech AND People

Let’s say you’re at a new startup. Your board of directors wants to see sophisticated reporting. They want to tie marketing investment into revenue output. They’re asking for the age-old dollar-in-dollar-out visualization.

Their appetite for metrics probably isn’t synchronized with their willingness to invest in the technology necessary to get the insights they’re asking for.

I’ve seen CRM tools that don’t even have campaign member capability. They don’t allow campaign assignment to opportunities and influence reporting. They’re a mess, but sometimes they’re the only thing the business can afford.

A good professional can help you get the most out of these systems possible, but they need to be versed in setting the right expectations in what can and can’t be done. Then the company needs to either decide to invest in better technology or hire talent that might squeeze a bit more out of the system with a homegrown customer data platform (which also requires a significant investment).

But even the greatest tech can’t solve a severe deficit in marketing operations talent.

“Another misalignment between expectation and reality is the thought that a new tool will fix all our problems. Tools don’t fix the problems. Change management and many other factors have to be in place before that tool can be used or adopted. I’ve seen many organizations that aren’t using UTM parameters or bringing spend on campaigns into their CRM or configuring their marketing automation system to feed into the CRM’s campaign membership tables. Some companies don’t even have activity associated with campaigns, making them essentially untrackable.”

Unfortunately, technology hasn’t evolved to the point that “plug-and-play” works. It takes humans to understand the business and which metrics people need access to scale. If you purchase a tool and expect it to bolt onto your system and spit out insights without fixing the data underneath first, you’re not grounded in reality.

“An operations professional can set up the groundwork necessary for tracking, like program membership or campaign membership. Then, they can build an attribution picture so that when you sit back, you can actually see the impact that marketing is having on revenue and how different programs can drive pipeline. But it takes time and a healthy investment.

“But when you start speaking it in a revenue-focused language, it starts to transform marketing from the people who send shiny emails and make flashy trade show booths and pretty pictures to being the people who are building pipeline and generating revenue. You can tell the story that came out of that initial investment and literally show how much pipeline it generated. It sets the groundwork for arguing for even more of an investment in marketing because you can argue from a more strategic position.”

For more on building a team in an early-stage startup and how to speak in a language executives respond to, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.