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Small Business Tips

A starter digital marketing strategy template

Allen Gannett
Cropped shot of a group of businesspeople working late on a laptop in an office

Keys to building an effective digital marketing strategy

Marketing in the digital age seems like it should be easy. There are so many ways to reach people. However, the reason digital marketing is hard is precisely that there are too many potential tactics. You could create an email newsletter, blog, do influencer marketing, SEO, SEM, and the list goes on with seemingly endless acronyms.

The key to effective digital marketing for a business, big or small, is to focus on a strategy, not a collection of tactics.

But what is a strategy? Well, you could attend twenty different MBA programs and get twenty different answers. For me, it comes down to a combination of your target audience and how to reach your buyer.

Here are some straightforward templates for building a strategy.

How to identify your target audience

You need to answer a few key questions for your target audience. If you primarily sell to other businesses, you want to have the following:

  • Size of companies: by revenue or employee count
  • Industries: some examples include financial services, manufacturing and retail
  • Title of Buyers: some examples include CFO, Director of Marketing

You’ll focus on more person-specific attributes if you’re primarily selling directly to consumers:

  • Age
  • Gender Identity
  • Life stage: some examples include college students, young parents or empty nesters
  • Location

Once you have these defined, you want to build your go-to-market for reaching that audience online.

How to reach your buyer

Strategies often die from complexity. A great marketing strategy is simple enough to communicate and clear enough to track progress on.

I always recommend a straightforward three-stage funnel:

  • Awareness: Do people know about my product?
  • Engagement: Do prospects interact with our brand?
  • Conversion: Do they buy?

The most common mistake businesses make is to over-focus on one of these three stages. You’ll hear marketing “gurus” talk about how you need to only focus on ROI (read: conversion). However, if you design all of your marketing efforts around converting an audience, you won’t have any audience to convert.

You need to earn the trust of your consumers over time before you ask them for the sale. You would hate if someone you didn’t know asked you to buy their product. But, if a friend asked you, you would at least consider it. Marketing a brand is the same thing.

a group of businesspeople discussing marketing strategy on a computer in an office

Thinking through your funnel

So for each stage of this funnel, you want to define three things:

  • People: Who is responsible for each stage?
  • Process: How are you going to execute?
  • Technology: How can technology make each step more efficient?

In a small company, the person responsible might be one person or even the owner. But as you get bigger, you will want to have a person for each stage. Eventually, you’ll have whole teams for each stage.

A few years ago, people organized their marketing by channels like social media and email. But these days digital marketing tactics are all blurred together: you might get some earned media that you then post on social media and then promote using sponsored posts.

Is that PR? Social? Paid Advertising? It doesn’t matter. The key is what part of the funnel is it. As a result, your team should be organized in the same way.

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How to organize your team for the funnel

For process, you want to come up with two critical things for each stage:

  • How will I support a specific step of the funnel?
  • How will I track if my process is working?

Your marketing programs support specific stages of the funnel. For example, you might create content marketing tailored to a specific stage. That content can then be distributed on your blog, email, paid advertising, and so on.

Or perhaps you will use events to build awareness. Whatever the programs are, they need to be clear, consistent, and cost-conscious.

The key to measuring your process is keeping track of your costs and comparing that to your results. Don’t forget to measure both money and time, as both are valuable.

For each stage, I suggest picking one key metric you orient all of your efforts around.

  • Awareness: Track impressions or reach
  • Engagement: Content engagement like likes, comments, or downloads
  • Conversion: Sales or leads generated
a group of business people in a workspace designed to fuel collaboration

How to choose your digital marketing technology

For technology, I think the key is to make it simple. Focus on having some form of basic customer record (CRM) and the ability to track user actions on your website.

If your business can support it, a marketing automation platform allows you to connect your customer records to marketing actions and events. For example, if someone visits a pricing page on your website, you can then send them a follow-up email a week later if they still haven’t bought.

Don’t mistake technology for a strategy, though. The best marketing technologies are useless without a clear vision for how it helps your game plan.

Marketing should be scary

Marketing isn’t supposed to feel easy. Sometimes, it’s downright scary.

It’s not a matter of simply creating a Facebook page or starting an email newsletter. Doing marketing correctly takes a focused strategy paired with focused effort.

But by following the above template, you allow yourself to have a clarity of purpose that gives you the best chance to make marketing effective—even if it’s a bit scary.

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