Digital marketing is no longer optional. You simply can’t build a successful and growing business without a strong brand presence online. There are too many potential customers who find their products and services online to pass up. In addition, digital marketing is different enough from traditional marketing that it requires its own strategy, even though many of the core goals are the same. In this post, we’ll run down six important steps to guide you through the process of creating a digital marketing strategy that uses key concepts to grow your business. Some of the important themes in this set of steps that you’ll see include the importance of goals, using the right tools, and that you need to consider not just your goals, but also whether you are reaching them in a way that is efficient for your time and money.


Step 1: Set Concrete Goals

Before doing anything else, you have to settle on one or a few goals that your marketing strategy will attempt to reach. These need to be specific, actionable, and reachable. That means they need to have a defined outcome that you think you can achieve in a reasonable time frame. For example, “Get more customers” is a vague goal that doesn’t really give you a direction or a focus. The goal “Increase web traffic by at least 25% by the end of the year” is clear, specific, and useful. It also suggests the possibility of secondary goals, such as “Increase web visitor conversion rates by at least 10 percent by the end of the year.” Having multiple goals that support each other but are distinct is a great way to give yourself an overall theme to work with. The more specific and clear your goals and theme are, the better your strategy will be. If you aren’t sure what goals to set, then think about what needs to happen for your business to experience sustained growth and how you can make that happen. You can also look to your competition for inspiration. This is especially easy if you work in an area that has especially large or public companies that will discuss elements of their strategy so that you can model your goals on theirs. You’ll need to adapt them to your own context, but that can be a good starting place. Setting goals is a process in itself, so make sure that your whole team is on board and understands the goal and the purpose before moving on.


Step 2: Decide On A Metric

It’s not enough to have a goal in place. You also need a way, or several ways, of measuring how close you have moved towards reaching the goal. Otherwise, it’s too easy to be subjective and declare victory early. The important characteristics of a good metric are similar to that of a good goal: it needs to be clear, concrete, and reasonable. In the digital marketing world, you will often be harnessing lots of data to decide on both your strategy and tactics. A good metric can help you see the story behind the data. The simpler and easier to explain the metric is, the better. This is because once it gets too complicated, you risk getting lost in technical considerations instead of really measuring what matters. In addition, you will often need to have marketing and data insiders explain their metrics and goals to other team members who don’t have the same intimate exposure to the digital marketing project. For example, a young marketing team lead might need to describe his progress to an executive who hasn’t had the time to learn about that team in detail. A good standard is that your metric should be something you can explain in a few minutes using a single graph. Not all metrics need to meet that standard, but it’s a good benchmark. Clear and simple metrics and goals mean your strategy will be internally consistent and easy to explain to outsiders. Metrics and measurement entail taking a deep look at marketing tools. The starting point is almost always Google’s suite of tools, especially Google Analytics. If you plan to make heavy use of social media, then you’ll want to look into analytics tools from the platform provider as well as third parties.


Step 3: Put Yourself In The Shoes Of The Audience

One of the biggest problems that many marketing departments run into is that they fail to consider the audience’s perspective. They set a good goal and find a good metric, but their strategy fails to work because they take a course of action that their demographic finds uninteresting, alienating, or confusing. For example, if you have a goal of increasing the number of subscribers in your email list and learning more about those subscribers, an obvious idea is to ask site visitors to fill out an informative survey that includes handing over their email address. However, many site visitors will find that annoying and intrusive. It asks them to give up personal information and time just to help you. By thinking about how you can add value for the audience, you can make the jump to offering sales or coupons to subscribers. A good evolution of this concept is to promise anyone who fills out the survey an instant reward, like a coupon they can use right away. Online audience members have short attention spans because there are so many things competing for their attention. If you aren’t giving them value, they will leave quickly. No matter what your strategy entails, make sure they any step that involves interacting with the audience gives them value in some way, and the faster the better. Immediate rewards are a great incentive for customers to share more information with you or spend more time on your site, so don’t be stingy.


Step 4: Decide On A Change

Once you know what you want to do, it’s time to settle on how to do it. This might be anything from an obvious change to a subtle or outside the box solution. It’s important that you do not try to change too many things at once. That makes it very hard to tell which parts of your strategy worked and which didn’t. If you revamp your mailing list, redesign your website, step up social media engagement, and change the way you offer discounts, and your sales increase, how do you know what really led to the increase? This is important for efficiency. Digital marketing can be surprisingly expensive when you dip into the various forms of advertising and invest in SEO. You need to isolate what works and discard what doesn’t so that you can be sure your marketing dollars are going to effective strategies. So pick one change, or a few small ones, and think about how it will move you toward your goal and how you will measure its effectiveness. You need to keep track of not only your results, but also your investment in terms of time, money, and other resources. This will be important later on when it comes time to evaluate whether your changes were a net positive. You also need to keep in mind the fact that there are many factors outside your control, like the economy and the actions of your competition. That means you’ll need to maintain your changes and experiments for a while to make sure any results you see are not the result of randomness and chance, but a true underlying effect. Without good testing you won’t really know how effective your investment is, so you won’t know what to do next.


Step 5: Execute And Test The Change

Just as you chose useful metrics to judge your progress towards your goal, you also need to select some tools that will let you set up your change and test it to make sure that it is working as intended. Sometimes this is easy. Web design toolkits nearly always have a mode that allows you to view your site as a visitor would so you can look for any errors. That way when you are carrying out, for example, A/B testing to see which of two designs yields higher traffic and conversions, you can check both designs for visual mistakes or jarring elements. Automated mailing programs will give you an option to see how your emails look to recipients. Don’t be surprised if unexpected problems crop up at any point in the process. The more technical and complex your change is, the more likely it is that problems will arise. Don’t rely completely on tools, either- they are fallible. If you are using a tool to make your change, why rely completely on that tool to check the change? Ask friends and coworkers to test out your site or whatever else you are working on and see if anything looks wrong to them. Don’t test only once, either. Make tests all the time just to be sure. Vary the tests as much as you can. Does your change work for people on mobile devices? On different browsers and operating systems? What about overseas site visitors? Your tests need to be deep and varied so that you can be sure you are truly covering all your bases.



Step 6: Adapt

A detailed examination of how to analyze the statistical evidence from your project is beyond the scope of this post. The broader picture is that you need to gather enough evidence to be able to make a conclusion about the success or failure of the change you made. That evidence should not just tell you whether something worked, but also indicate how you can make improvements and progress. Your digital marketing strategy needs to be flexible enough to make changes in case your planned process isn’t making good progress towards your goal. At the same time, you shouldn’t give up on an idea in the face of the first obstacle, either. It takes a balance to understand exactly when to change your approach. Sometimes the result of your analysis might be that you should continue what you were already doing and commit to it even more. Other times, you’ll learn that you wasted your time and your idea didn’t work at all. In the latter case, you need to be ready to take ownership of that outcome. Don’t spend time pursuing a dead-end path if the evidence tells you to move on. It might be that you just need to make a few tweaks. In addition, you can use the insights you gain from one project to inform future endeavors.


You should view these steps as a way to guide a cycle of strategic action: planning, executing, testing, and planning again. This is not just because you need to refine your approach, but also because the landscape changes. For example, SEO best practices often change as Google releases updates to its ranking algorithm. That could entail large changes to your site design. Similarly, you might need to change the way you approach advertising on social media when the cost of those ads changes. This adaptability shouldn’t come at the cost of your core goals: you’re just shifting your approach. Digital marketing strategy itself evolves constantly and to keep up with the competition, you’ll need to evolve as well. The most important thing to remember is the customer’s perspective. All the technicalities about using tools and analytics pale in comparison to the insights you’ll gain just from putting yourself in the audience’s shoes for a moment. As long as you keep that in mind, then the six steps outlined here will guide you towards growth and success. Whether you prefer to dabble in experiments like big data projects or keep a tight grip on the marketing budget, there’s a path to good marketing when you keep what customers value at the center of your approach.