Digital Marketing Strategy

Why have a digital marketing strategy?

I was asked about creating a digital marketing strategy recently at a local accelerator here in Richmond, Virginia. As a marketing guy, I get a lot of questions that are mostly tactical or technology related. This one was strategic and I replied that the digital marketing strategy is developed from the company’s overall plan and goals. Keeping to the spirit of the startups in the accelerator, I will focus on small businesses in this post. Thanks to Stacie at PYT Funds for asking the question!

Pay Your Tuition sketch
PYT Funds sketch



To frame the “what is a digital marketing strategy” question, let’s recap the basic components. First and most import is the company’s game plan. The firm’s strategy needs to be clear about the target market and what makes them unique. Secondly, goals need to be identified and written down. Third, goals also need to have a method for measurement. Now for the building blocks of a digital marketing strategy: marketing, technology, and channels. These three are a beginning and as the business grows they should be expanded.


Marketing basics such as the 4Ps(price, promotion, place, and product), the Value Proposition, and the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) are well known. There are many online resources for startups and small companies such as the Vidjaa website. Your company should consider its unfolding story. Think about the great marketing stories we all know: two guys in a garage invent computers-Hewlett & Packard. We match every pair of shoes that you buy a pair for a needy child-Toms. College student building computers in his dorm room-Dell. And a former TV journalist that starts a female-centric talk show that shares her personal struggles with weight-Oprah. Drafting a rolling 18-month calendar is as simple as creating an excel sheet and noting the major selling holidays, seasons and trade events for your industry. From this schedule, you can plan product launches, marketing campaigns, and schedule promotions.

Advertising in legacy media (newspapers, radio, TV) or digital media can deliver significant results for companies. However, it can be expensive and tough to manage. Advertising works best when you separate the brand awareness ads from the lead generation or transactional ads. Brand awareness ads should be a steady drumbeat informing prospects of your brand and positioning. Lead generation or transactional ads are trying to get a prospect to respond based on a trigger, such as a 25% off sale or a free PDF whitepaper download. Legacy media ads can be great, but the costs need to be considered with respect to the sales funnel and ROI. Digital ads are easy to build, schedule, and deploy on platforms such as Facebook and Google. Their prices are much lower and the ad launching process is easy. Understanding their costs to ROI is essential.  

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Every startup and small business should have several basic technologies in place to deliver 24/7 branding, communication, lead generation, and sales. I recommend companies get a website of their own, however, some small businesses have done well without a website, such as Richmond’s Proper Pie. They have a Facebook page to post their daily menu updates. Your startup’s website should have a Content Management System (CMS) to make routine updates and minor edits. A popular CMS is WordPress. Analytics is a must-have for the website. Google Analytics is free and does a great job. Knowing when people come to the website and what they are looking for is vital information. Lead capture tools such as MailChimp or Constant Contact, collect emails from those who want to receive more information from your company. The lead capture tool needs to be fully automatic and work on smartphones. Payment systems such as PayPal and Stripe are critical and must work automatically.

A Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) provides a single place for prospect and customer data. Excel will do the job at first but lacks marketing and sales capabilities. A good CRM will help salespeople work leads and support existing customers. There are many great CRM for small businesses like HubSpot and Zoho. is expensive but really packed with features. 

Email management is important given the federal email spam laws. Managing the email list and keeping the list compliant is easy with tools such as AWeberConstant Contact, GetResponse, and MailChimp. Emailing existing customers is the number one marketing activity your business should be doing. Compared to advertising based acquisition costs, a free(almost) email is a winner! Newsletters are a great way to inform customers and prospects of what is happening, new products, promotions, and to ask for referrals.

Social media tools such as Buffer and Hootsuite can be used for scheduling posts and to review analytics. Social media should be a tool to amplify your story and provide proof points which build trust. Their viral aspect can dramatically reduce customer acquisition costs.

Photoshop and Canva are image tools which support advertising. Platforms such as Google Adwords for Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Facebook’s Ad Manager are easy to use.

There is much more to building a marketing technology stack. The full stack is described in my book, Digital Marketing Technology Stack: 25 tools to get you started in digital marketing, on Amazon.  

Channels (media outlets)

The third part of the digital marketing strategy are the channels or media outlets that you will be using. Your marketing messages can be delivered and amplified with technology, but there are three ways to look at channels to get the word out. First, owned media or channels are the assets that your company owns such as email, website, your blog, printed catalogs, etc. You control these and can leverage them to support the goals as needed. Second, paid ads give you access to the media outlet’s audience, which can be sizable. Paid ads are important in reaching enough prospects to get increased sales.  Third, social media is an important platform but business owners need to remember that social media is two-way communication. Responsiveness and empathy are important success factors to make social media deliver positive benefits.

Conclusion to a Digital Marketing Strategy

As the startup leadership team or owner of a small business, it is important to understand the relationship between the overall game plan and goals to the digital marketing strategy. The digital marketing strategy describes the brand, positioning, technology, and channels. The benefit to this approach is that you isolate processes that can be automated like collecting emails or running digital ads that can save labor time. Another big benefit is transparency. Knowing the data sources used in goal measurement provides confidence in making decisions. Having a plan and defined goals are the first step. Building your digital marketing strategy takes that forward with old-fashioned marketing, digital technologies, and channels to reach your intended audience.

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