Notebook with doodles of digital marketing activities

7 Fundamentals of a Successful Digital Strategy

As the internet of things continues to expand, people are finding it easier to stay plugged in 24/7. Everything from smartphones and laptops to internet-enabled refrigerators and cars keeps us connected, and the endless opportunity to communicate with users is a digital marketer’s dream. While most businesses have embraced digital marketing, many have yet to figure out how to create a digital strategy that reaches their target audience and gets a strong return on investment. With so much depending on digital marketing, here are seven tips on how to put together an effective digital strategy.

1. Research, research, research

Before creating a digital strategy you’ll need to carry out some research on your target audience, your competitors, and the market expectations for your industry. This research will give you the knowledge you need to plan your strategy.

Understanding who your audience is and their online behavior is critical to being able to successfully communicate with them. Take the time to create digital personas so you can get a better picture of how your audience spends time online, what sites they visit and the type of content that will engage them. You should also learn more about what channels and platforms they prefer so you can communicate through those. The more you know from the outset, the more focused your strategy can be.

It’s important for you to understand what your competitors are doing online so you can decide whether or not you need to do the same. By analyzing how your competitors are marketing themselves, you may be able to glean some insight into what is working and what isn’t. Similarly, look into what they aren’t doing to determine if there are opportunities for you to do something different.

Market expectations
Once you’ve carried out your competitor research you’ll start to see some patterns emerging about what your industry is doing online. You should also look into what users are asking for that your industry isn’t doing well (social media complaints aimed at your competitors’ accounts offer great insights into this). With this information, you’ll be able to establish a baseline for the kinds of functionality and content that users expect from your industry. You’ll want to make sure you digital strategy includes these so you meet the minimum requirements that your online users will have of you. This also gives you the opportunity to figure out what you can do to make your business stand out and be an industry leader.

2. Set goals

At first glance it would seem that setting goals for your digital strategy would be an obvious thing to do, but so many organizations fall short here. It’s important to establish your goals at the start of your planning process so you can refer to them as you plan your activities. I recommend writing them out as sentences and using the SMART approach:

  • Specific: Your goal should be clearly defined and explain what you want to achieve.
  • Measureable: Your goal should have a metric you can track in order to determine if you have been successful. In most cases you’ll be able to use a software like Google Analytics for this, but for goals that can’t be tracked this way (eg: user sentiment) try using a SUS score instead.
  • Achievable: Is it possible for you to fulfill the tasks you need in order to meet these goals? Do you have enough money, resources, time, etc?
  • Realistic: Your goal should be realistic, not a pipe dream that will leave you with nothing but frustration.
  • Time-bound: Set a period of time for achieving this goal. At that point you’ll need to assess whether or not you were successful and whether to continue pursuing this goal.

By creating your goal statements at the start of the process, you’ll be able to refer to them as you plan the rest of your strategy. It’s easy to veer off track and start focusing on activities that your team finds fun or easier to implement, so constantly check these goals to make sure all your planned activities help to achieve them.

Hand-drawn chart showing upward movement on desk
Writing out your goals and giving them measurable targets will help your team focus.

3. Include stakeholders

Throughout your strategy planning and implementation, you’ll want to include representatives from all the stakeholder groups at your organization. This can include members of your digital team, marketing team, PR team, sales team, upper management, customer service team, HR team, etc.  You’ll want to get their input on what their departments need from your digital marketing so you can accommodate that in your planning.

While stakeholder insight is very important at the early stages, this can get complicated if different stakeholders start to micromanage your efforts. Make sure to establish boundaries so people know where their input is needed. You want them to feel included and heard but not overseeing your every move. My recommendation is to include them in the following:

  • Establishing goals: Make sure your digital marketing goals include your stakeholders’ goals. You don’t need to include all of their goals, but you should incorporate the most important ones, especially those that span across different departments.
  • Creating content: If you decide that certain content will need stakeholder input then don’t be afraid to use them as subject matter experts. For example, your organization may want to carry out a marketing campaign to promote its internship program, in which case your HR team may be able to provide you with useful content for the website, email campaigns, or social media.

4. Define messaging

Sometimes organizations get so caught up in the excitement of digital marketing activities that they forget to plan what messaging they are going to include. This results in a mishmash of content that doesn’t provide a consistent focus and leaves the target audience unsure of what you want them to do. To prevent this from happening, it’s important to plan what key messages you want to promote.

The messaging you use should align with your business goals or marketing goals. For example, e-commerce sites will want to promote their products or seasonal offers. Their goal, after all, is to increase sales. Alternatively, B2B businesses may focus more on promoting their credentials or asking people to get in touch for more information about their products or services. 

It’s okay to have a few key messages in your digital strategy, and you may even have full campaigns for some of them, but be careful not to spread yourself too thin. Try to stick with 1-2 main themes per quarter so your audience has time to absorb the messages you are putting out.

5. Establish a cross-channel presence

A well-planned digital strategy needs to include multiple channels and platforms in order to reach users effectively. You should focus on generating engagement with your target audience while also establishing multiple touch points across the web. If your audience’s buying behavior changes on different channels (eg: they research via social media but go to your website to make a purchase) then tailor your content on those channels for those specific stages.

When promoting a specific campaign, keep messaging consistent across all channels but tailor the content to the channel strengths. For example, a blog article on a single topic can be long and in-depth, while a tweet on that same topic needs to be short and to the point. Both of them should work in tandem with each other, but the way each is delivered will vary. You can reduce your workload for content creators by reusing content and just reformatting it.

6. Create a schedule

A strong digital strategy should have a schedule that includes different activities outlined within it. I like using a Gantt chart to schedule because it helps visualize all the activities happening at any given time. This can be done easily in Excel or Google Sheets, so you don’t need to subscribe to expensive project planning software. Add some color coding for team members, campaigns, or activities to help people who scan the schedule.

When organizing your schedule, try to detail out 3-6 months in advance and include the big picture schedule for a further 6-9 months. That will give your team enough information to work with in the short term, without making you guess what will be happening too far in the future. Make sure to check for calendar conflicts like major events your organization is hosting, conferences people are attending, and holidays so you can work around those or even promote them.

Gantt chart example with color coding
Gantt charts are a quick way to visualize your schedule. Include all roles and activities in them.

No matter how well-planned your schedule is, you won’t be able to prepare for everything so you’ll need to bake in some flexibility to change messaging or activities as needed. Something could happen that shakes up your industry, your organization may experience a serious crisis that sends you into public relations mode, or one of your team members may have to go on medical leave. While you don’t know what will come up, you can be prepared for the unexpected by planning the schedule so things can be easily moved or reassigned.

7. Assign accountability

In order for a digital strategy to run smoothly, team members need to be assigned specific roles and tasks. The intention is not to get people in trouble but rather to give individuals an understanding of what they are responsible for. This also helps reduce the amount of duplicate work your team does because people will know who is responsible for every step of the process and won’t accidentally do work they don’t need to. Additionally, this helps your team members know who they should partner up with to complete more complicated activities.

Assign accountability by:

  • Defining each team member’s overall function in the digital strategy (eg: content creator, email manager, visual designer, community manager, etc). When you have a general definition for each team member, assigning the individual tasks will be much easier. 
  • Itemizing each task and including the name of the team member responsible for it in your schedule.
  • Assigning a start date and a due date to each task. 
  • Sharing this information with everyone involved. When people know what is coming their way and who is responsible for the step before and after their task, your team will be able to manage their time better and communicate with those involved in the activity.

Many organizations are either too hesitant to assign accountability to team members, or make assumptions on who will carry out the work. Both of these situations can result in misunderstandings and missed deadlines.

When team members know what is expected of them, they are more likely to hit deadlines.

A well-planned digital strategy will result in better marketing and increased sales however it needs to include the right information to help you meet your goals. Take the time to implement these tips into your digital strategy and you’ll see an improved return on investment and a more cohesive digital marketing team.

About the author
Veronica Bagnole
Veronica Bagnole

Veronica has worked in digital marketing for 10 years and has held positions in digital agencies in the US and Great Britain. She has an MA in Globalization & Communication and spent 3 years in the Peace Corps.​