How Do I Create A Digital Marketing Strategy?

How do I create a digital marketing strategy? It's the ultimate question. From small business owners to marketing executives, there's no shame in admitting that you've Googled this at least once. Maybe twice. Three times, just to be sure, right?!***

A Beginner's Guide To Digital Marketing

If you’re a B2B or professional services marketer then this blog has been specifically created for you. We’ll help you figure out what you are trying to achieve from your digital marketing efforts and how you can implement real change for your business by creating a proper strategy.

At its most basic, the word ‘strategy’ is simply a long term plan of action, starting with your end goal. By crafting your strategy around your goal - whether that’s more leads or greater brand visibility - you can ensure that everything you do from now on is actively helping you to achieve something. Without a goal in mind, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut of scheduling miscellaneous tweets or writing the occasional blog just because you think you should. Plus, if you haven’t set any goals, analysing your work becomes nigh-on impossible: you won’t know your wins from your losses, making everything you do feel a bit pointless.

In this guide, we’ll go through each step that is essential to creating a digital marketing strategy, from:

  1. Setting goals
  2. Conducting competitor research
  3. Creating buyer personas
  4. Identifying each stage of the buyer’s journey
  5. Tactics such as SEO and social media
  6. The best tools to help you with the job
  7. How to plan and then analyse your work.

***You can’t hide from us. We’ve seen the search volume.

How do you set goals?

1. Setting Goals

When we talked about goals earlier, we didn’t just mean “I would like to get more leads”. That can be a goal, but it’s not enough to just say ‘more’. We’re talking SMART goals:

Specific - be clear on what you want to achieve
Measurable - give some targets to strive towards
Attainable - how realistic is the goal?
Relevant - what will the impact on the business be?
Timely - set a date for when you will see the desired outcome

So instead of saying “I would like to get more leads”, you could say “By December 2018, form submissions on my website will have increased from 5 per week to 10 per week”. Research has shown that when you make your goals more specific and challenging, 90% of the time people performed better.

The important thing to remember is it doesn’t work if you just choose a random number out of thin air. That’s sure to make people like Jon want to weep a little bit. With a little bit of clever maths, you can create SMART goals which are genuinely in line with your business performance.

Competitor Research

2. Competitor Research

“Good artists copy; great artists steal.”
Picasso

Picasso’s quote doesn’t just apply to the art world. You should use it as a starting point to start brainstorming what your digital marketing strategy will be.

Every business has brands that they aspire to be like. If you’re in the food industry, perhaps it’s Innocent. If you work in digital marketing then maybe it’s HubSpot. Benchmark yourself against the competition by spending some time researching their social media profiles and blog posts. It can become great fodder when you come to think up your own campaigns, and also helps you to see what works (or doesn’t work) in your industry.

When you find something that you like, don’t just copy it. STEAL IT. Make it yours, and make it better. It’s so easy to give yourself an incurable bout of writer’s block by getting too wrapped up in the pursuit of the ultimate original idea, but everyone has to get their inspiration from somewhere.

As well as allowing you to nab a good idea or two, competitor research helps you see any “quick wins”. Getting out-ranked by another company? Take a look at their site and see where their weak points are. Perhaps you’ve noticed that their blog needs work - this is a great opportunity for you to pip them to the post with valuable, relevant content that will keep your audience coming back for more.

Buyer Personas

3. Buyer Personas

The term ‘buyer persona’ isn’t just part of that neverending marketing buzzword dictionary. At its core, all it means is understanding who your audience are - which is a hugely important part of your digital marketing strategy being successful.

A buyer persona is a fictionalised version of who your audience is. These are the people that you will focus all your marketing energies on - the people you know need your business and are actively searching for it.

The success of your digital marketing strategy relies upon how well you can capture your target audience. This can be by entertaining them, by educating them - even by making them angry. All well and good in theory, but if you don’t have a clear understanding of who that audience actually is you’ll be hard pushed to engage with them at all. So, if there’s been even a little part of you thinking “Alright, I get that, but do I really need buyer personas for my digital marketing strategy?” the answer is: Yes. You do.

A good way to start is to picture a real person that you’ve come across. Write down everything from their demographics, to what social media platforms they use and what their pain points are. If you can’t think of a specific real life person, you can also conduct interviews with your current customers to learn a little bit more about them, It’s likely that you’ll have 4 or 5 personas, and it’s these that you will refer back to as you come up with your digital marketing strategy.

When you’ve got to know them a bit better, you’ll be able to create campaigns around questions they’re asking and hit them up on the social platforms they’re active on. It’s all part of discovering what your brand’s tone of voice is and the language that you use to better engage your audience. Ask yourself what your personas will respond best to - are they more formal or do they want abbreviations and emojis? Sometimes it’s easier to think about what you are NOT first, or use something like the image below to map out where your communication will fall.

Image of a digram which helps marketers define their tone of voice - is it playful or professional? offensive or PC? Forceful or Passive?

Once you’ve got a little more up close and personal with your buyer personas, work out what links them. Are there any insights that you’ll need to bear in mind going forward with your digital marketing strategy? How can you create content around their interests?

It’s also worth noting that it’s not all about your ideal customers - a negative persona can be useful for your digital marketing strategy, as they will help you ensure that you don’t waste precious time targeting someone who won’t actually ever use your service.

If you’re feeling a bit lost on where to start with creating your buyer personas, have a look at our persona template. It’s a useful way to get all your ideas in one place and have something to come back to once the planning begins!

Need help crafting your personas? Download this handy guide!

Sales And Marketing Funnel

4. Sales And Marketing Funnel

Now that you know what you want to achieve and are clutching your newly-crafted buyer personas, you’ll need to think of how you will actually achieve your SMART goals. Most likely this will depend on identifying key actions within the sales and marketing funnel.  Think in terms of whether you are trying to:

  • Attract | Turn strangers into website visitors
  • Convert | Turn website visitors into prospective customers
  • Close | Turn prospects into happy clients
  • Demonstrate ROI | Report on which tactic delivers the most value and how you can get more out of your overall digital marketing strategy.  

Using the right tools and tactics for the right points in your sales and marketing funnel is crucial to get the best results. This is how we map our activities against the various stages of the sales and marketing funnel. Many of our clients have it pinned up above their desk. Feel free to download this image and print it out! Image depicting the Attract, Convert, Close, ROI, stages of the sales and marketing funnel

If you’re looking at lead generation, this is the convert part of the funnel, whereas brand awareness is about attracting. Understanding the differences between these stages will help you to target your prospective customers’ needs more closely and focus your content to the relevant stage in their journey. For example, if you know that a big priority for your business is attracting people to your website, you’ll want to dedicate more time to your social media and blogging efforts, whereas closing more sales will involve paying particular attention to nurturing them via your email marketing and automation.

Understanding your sales and marketing funnel allows you focus on which tactics will deliver your SMART targets. 

tactics use

5. Tactics

Here comes the meaty bit. The stuff that’s going to comprise this strategy that we keep going on about. While in an ideal world you’d be smashing each and every tactic that we go on to mention, we understand that it’s not always possible. Prioritise the tactic that is most important or will be most effective for your work and start there.

Once the ball is already rolling, it becomes much easier to start bringing new ideas in. Trying to juggle too many balls at once is a surefire way to become disenchanted with the whole digital marketing strategy malarkey and make you want to go back to standing on the side of the road with a megaphone.

SEO

SEO. It’s one of those things that you hear being cast around in the digital marketing universe a lot - but it’s just another bullshit acronym, right?

...Not right, actually.

Regardless of what your ultimate SMART goal is, chances are that better rankings on search engines will come into it in some shape or form. After all, in order to get more leads or increase conversion rate, new customers have to be able to find you, right? Right. This is where SEO (Search Engine Optimisation to the uninitiated) comes into play.

SEO is, simply put, the stuff that you do to make Google happy. The stuff that will ensure that every time someone types a relevant query relating to your industry into a search engine, your website comes up.

You may already have an in-house SEO team ensuring that your website is in tip-top condition and optimised for search - but if not, it should definitely be a part of your digital marketing strategy. The great thing about SEO is, once it’s done, it’s pretty much done - as long as you apply the same principles any time you create a new webpage or write a new blog, you’ll be flying.

If the term ‘SEO’ is no more than a mere whisper on the wind of your to-do list, knowing where to begin with looking for an agency and how much SEO should cost can be a minefield. One of the biggest problems in the SEO industry is the plethora of black hat SEOs out there, whose only interest is in taking your hard earned cash and turning it into magic beans. There are of course ways to sniff out the goodies from the baddies, from the questions you should ask before hiring an SEO agency to the telltale signs that your SEO may be ripping you off.

We know that paying for an SEO agency to come and work their magic isn’t always possible. So, when you’re in need of the DIY approach, have a read of these four easy ways to build SEO into your website.

Optimise your website for search engines! Download this helpful guide!

Blog Content

The art of blog writing is one that often divides people. You’re either a writer, or you’re not, and that’s the end of it.

The thing about writing a business blog is that everyone can learn to be a good writer. The act of writing well is so often thought of mainly in terms of whether you can write excellent fiction or thought-provoking poetry, but there is skill in the crafting of an excellent blog post too.

The reason your business should have a blog isn’t because the world needs to read about your profound take on life, the universe and everything. Think of it as your business’ resources - a place your personas can go to find answers to the questions that they may have around your industry. Your blog isn’t just another way for you to clumsily sell your services, and writing blogs just for the sake of it is definitely a content marketing strategy that you want to avoid. Each article you create should be written with a specific persona in mind to answer a specific query that you know they have. Once you have cemented yourself as a thought leader in the industry and a company whose opinion your audience can trust, you are more likely to stay in their mind as an option the next time they require your service.

We’ve mentioned the importance of answering specific questions. But how do you figure out what these questions are?

You probably already have some ideas in mind that you’ve gleaned from talking to existing customers. Perhaps you’re a recruitment agency who deals a lot with recent graduates. A challenge that you’ll have helped them overcome could be the difficulty of finding work just after graduation. So imagine you publish a blog about how to write a fantastic cover letter or a stand-out CV. You already know from experience that this is a real pain point, so you are providing them with something valuable that will set you apart from other agencies.

If you’re at a loss as to what to write about and have been sat at your computer for the last 78 hours with nothing but the tumbleweeds to keep you company, make sure you learn how to conduct search term research. And if you’re still feeling uninspired, refer back to these 29 content ideas and you’ll become the blogging powerhouse you always knew you could be.

What people won’t often tell you is that when you first start blogging, your hard work will probably only be read by your mum, your partner or your colleagues (at least, your colleagues had better be reading it. Haven’t you ever heard of proofreading?). No matter how fantastic your content is, expecting it to be instantly discovered and revered is no more than a pipedream. Before you get too disheartened by how underappreciated your last post was, take a step back and evaluate your strategy. It could be something as simple as a post being promoted on a platform that your ideal audience aren’t active on. Getting more followers for your blog isn’t quick and isn’t always easy, but it’s possible.

And if you really, really can’t write, you can probably talk. Creating short videos that provide answers to customers’ questions can be another way to create a valuable blog. They don’t have to be Netflix Originals quality - you can use a mobile phone, tripod and a quiet room to great effect or a tool like Soapbox. Just be sure to include the transcript of the video or a blog that explains it so that Google understands what it is about (refer to SEO above!). 

Or else you can use a videographer to do an awesome job, just make sure you reuse the content on social media.  Talking of which...

Social Media

Generally, the most successful uses of social media in business will be ecommerce sites - big household names that have a high following and popularity. However, the approach that works well for these kinds of businesses is not necessarily the one you should take when marketing a B2B business.

There is no one-size-fits-all-strategy when creating a social media strategy for ecommerce and B2B companies. A clothing company may be absolutely killing it on Instagram, but that doesn’t mean that it should be the first port of call for a solicitor’s social media efforts.

As always, keep your personas at the forefront of your mind before you do anything. It’s all too easy to waste time posting 7,832 tweets a day and wondering why they’re not getting any engagement, until you do some research and realise that none of your personas are actually on Twitter. You don’t have to create a profile for every social platform under the sun. Be picky. Choose a few and do them well. When you’re starting to come up with a strategy, it’s helpful to think about the rule of thirds: promoting your own content, sharing the content of others, and interacting with people. This will ensure your social channels don’t feel too spammy.

If the idea of having to start doing social media marketing is making you want to quit your job and leave it all behind you, luckily the internet is rife with advice. For instance, a great time-saving way to bulk up your social media posting is to repurpose your blogs for social media.

Something that comes up a lot with our clients is just how long it takes to come up with social ideas, implement and monitor them. If managing your social media has become the bane of your life, learn how to whip it into shape in as little as 15 minutes here.

Make managing your social media easier! Download this FREE guide!

Outreach/Influencers

Linking domains is almost a bad word in the industry - a phrase that no one really wants to utter for fear of being misunderstood or promoting bad SEO. Linking domains have gone through somewhat of a journey, from being a crucial way to improve ranking before sinking catastrophically into the list of things you absolutely SHOULD NOT do.

Despite their fall from grace, as long as you apply the rule of “Don’t Be A Dick” to everything that you do, getting good quality, relevant, ‘ethical’ links from well-respected sites is undoubtedly a good way to improve your ranking. The problem really arises when you or your SEO agency pay shedloads of money for 150,890,843 dodgy links that have nothing to do with your business (although if you do that these days, prepare for Google to penalise you).

One way to get some decent links without incurring the wrath of the Google gods is to outreach to digital influencers in your industry. An influencer is essentially anyone in your business who, well, influences others. If you’re working in the restaurant business, a digital influencer could be one of the many fantastic food bloggers in Bristol.

The reason that outreach should be a part of your digital marketing strategy is that it’s a great way to improve your visibility in the industry. These influencers are trusted by your buyer personas. They are already engaging with the influencer and taking stock of what they have to say. By collaborating with them, you’ll get in front of the people that you want to attract and start to build up relationships.

When you’re starting out looking for influencers, don’t just go straight for the big guns. Say you’re in marketing - immediately going out for Rand Fishkin’s 400k followers on Twitter might be reaching a little too high. Size doesn’t matter - sometimes it’s the micro-influencers who will be more effective.

To find appropriate influencers, start compiling a little black book of bloggers, event speakers, whoever you can find that is relevant and has an engaged audience. Maybe you’ll send them one of your resources and ask for a review, or sponsor one of their events. Whatever it is you decide to collaborate on, make sure it’s good for them too, or you’re unlikely to be successful. Watch this vlog for some top tips on working with influencers.     

When working with influencers make sure to consider Google's best practice for obtaining reviews and that you’re choosing the influencer not just on follower count alone.

If you’re struggling to find influencers in your industry, why not branch out and try to find niche publications to get mentioned in. Do your personas read the local community newspapers? Perhaps they subscribe to a quarterly industry magazine? If they do, figure out ways you can appear in those texts: you could try paying for advertising space or get an interview with your CEO featured perhaps?

PPC/AdWords

Almost everyone has a horror story with PPC or AdWords, but when done correctly it can be an instrumental element of your organic digital marketing strategy.

When you’re just starting out, pay-per-click is an easy way to improve your visitor numbers and visibility swiftly. Depending on your strategy and SMART targets you can use social ads or AdWords in a variety of ways to build brand awareness or close sales.  But it’s a quick win.

The inevitable outcome of PPC is that over time, the search terms you are bidding on become more popular, thus making them more expensive. Your visibility drops, meaning you have to spend more and more to maintain the same level of visibility that came so easily before.

This is why the investment in your organic digital marketing strategy is SO important. Any organic SEO strategy will always be a slow burner, but in an ideal world you should be able to reduce your PPC spend as your investment in your website kicks in.

Graph depicting the advantages of PPC

Graph depicting the advantages of SEO

There’s a lot of information out there about PPC, SEO and whether one is better than the other. This isn’t really a ‘silver bullet’ SEO vs PPC situation however - both have their benefits, but generally unless you have an unlimited budget it’s best not to rely too much on PPC.

Email Marketing

As inboxes are pummelled by the endless barrage of marketing communications flying at you left right and centre, email marketing can sometimes get a bit of a bad rep. That isn’t to say that you should leave it off your digital marketing strategy. When done well and with your persona’s genuine interests in mind, a great email marketing strategy can be a fantastic way to keep your audience engaged and provide real value to them.

If you have the tools available (more on this later), marketing automation will be a lifesaver. Depending on which stage of the sales funnel your customer is in, you can segment your email list and send personalised emails to your customers targeting their needs (assuming you have permission of course. We ❤️️ GDPR).

Imagine you have looked at your website’s analytics, and can see that certain members of your email list have downloaded one of your eBooks. Marketing automation would allow you to create an email workflow which would thank the customer for downloading the content, and then send them curated follow ups that will lead them in the direction of other resources that they might be interested in. As long as you don’t bombard your email list to death with meaningless drivel, by gently nudging these prospective customers with your expertise you are more likely to convert them into a lead.

The Tools You Need In Your Life

6. Tools

By this stage, it’s highly likely that you are:

  1. No longer listening. TLDR.
  2. Semi-alert but suffering from information overload.

You’ll be pleased to know that this section is about the things you can use that will help you to implement some of the tactics mentioned previously. Because the digital world is a marvellous place (well, sometimes) there are lots of platforms out there which will streamline elements of your digital marketing strategy so that you can focus on the important stuff.

Social Media Tools

Anyone who has ever managed a social media account for business will probably have suffered the pain that is trying to handle posting, monitoring and finding content to share - somehow at the same time as managing all your other responsibilities.

By using a scheduling tool to publish your social posts, you can manage each account from one place. That’s not to say that it’s best practice to plan all of your social posts months in advance. Allowing yourself time to be spontaneous and reactive to industry news or trending topics will give your brand accounts that all-important human feel. After all, the reason that using social media as a part of your digital marketing strategy can be so beneficial is that it gives your personas the chance to interact with your brand on a personal level.

We love these scheduling tools: BufferHootsuite and HubSpot.

If you want to be signposted to more social media tools that can help with you content creating, scheduling, monitoring and reporting, then take a look at the list we've pulled together for you here. 

CRM/CMS

Frankly, there have not been enough acronyms thus far, so it’s about time we got some in don’t you think? First up, we’ve got CRM - your Customer Relationship Management system - not to be confused with CMS, a Content Management System (Just kidding. You can definitely get confused).

So what is a CRM, and why you should be thinking about having one?  

A CRM is basically a big ol’ database to manage relationships with your customers. You can use them to add context to your contact list, marking them as prospects and allowing you to review their history with your company. A CRM is primarily used for sales, with some of the big names being Salesforce, SugarCRM and Highrise.

A CMS, on the other hand, allows you to add, curate, and design content. This is your WordPress, your Drupal, your Squarespace or Wix (we recommend WordPress over Wix).

Us Monkeys actually use HubSpot for both of these functionalities, because we like to kill a million birds with just the one stone (you can also use it for social scheduling and monitoring, marketing automation, reporting....seriously, it’s a powerhouse). We also happen to be a HubSpot Platinum Partner, and you can learn more about all the ways that HubSpot has impacted our own digital marketing strategy over here.

Project Management Systems

When it comes to project management systems, consider us your guru. We’ve tried almost every project management system under the sun, all in the name of effortless organisation.

There are loads of different options you can choose from. They allow you to organise projects, create tasks and assign them to different team members, as well as see what’s coming up on your schedule so you don’t miss anything. Theoretically, the beauty of finding your project management system soulmate is that it should take all the pain out of account management, and just make your life a bit easier. It can take a while to find the right one and there are pros and cons to all of them, depending on your business needs. We’re currently really enjoying using Teamwork, but in the past have also used systems such as:

Email Marketing

There’s tons of email marketing software out there but in light of recent updates to the GDPR, we’re going to tell you to pick wisely when it comes to choosing an email supplier.

“But why? Aren’t they all the same?”

Well, no. You see, lots of email marketing platforms like Mailchimp and Dotmailer are based in the United States of America. This means that unless they’re part of the US Privacy Shield, they aren’t beholden to the same data laws as us in the UK.

We’d suggest taking a look at SendInBlue or Moosend - these guys handle all their data in the EU and have GDPR compliant privacy policies. Whichever email marketing automation platform you choose (there's loads more than the two we mentioned by the way, you just need to do the research) just be sure to read their privacy policy before signing up so you know that they will handle your subscribers data with transparency and respect.

Create the grand plan

7. Plan

“Plan the work, then work the plan”
- Jon's Dad***

By now, you should have a good idea of what your competitors are doing and how you can take inspiration from them, who your personas are, and the various tactics that could become a part of your digital marketing strategy.

As vital as all these things are, one of the most important things that you will do as part of your digital marketing strategy is the PLAN.

With all our clients, we send them away with a 12 month inbound marketing plan, detailing their SMART goals and priorities, with everything from social media campaigns, blog titles, and national holidays that they should be aware of. It’s not just for our clients, however - we also create one for ourselves to work from.

It’s a big piece of work, but sitting down and planning what your campaigns will be for the next year is well worth your time. It helps you to see your overarching campaign priorities, keeps you on track and makes you aware of how everything fits together.

***We’ve always thought of this quote as being the wise words of Jon’s Dad. Turns out, the internet says otherwise. We’re going to continue attributing this to David Payne, if that’s okay with you.

Analyse Your Efforts

8. Analyse

So you’ve worked out who your personas are, and created a brilliant plan with all the content ideas that you’ll be working on for the next year. The strategy is there, but 6 months down the line you aren’t seeing the results you’ve been hoping for.

We’ve all had to ask ourselves “why is my digital marketing strategy not working?!” at some point in our careers. And sometimes, the answer really is as simple as analysing.

The analytical side of things tends to be one of the first elements which are forgotten within any digital marketing strategy. You get so caught up in actually doing the stuff that it’s easy to let the analysis slide. The word in itself can be off-putting as well, coming with the assumption that it’s only for the maths buffs.

Not so. There are lots of useful tools and guides out there to help you analyse the performance of your digital marketing efforts. While the likes of Google Analytics may seem insurmountable at first, once you have got to grips with how to navigate the information, the analysis of your work will often become one of the most important things you do. After all, without analysing your marketing plan regularly, how will you be able to determine the effectiveness of a particular campaign, or whether that ads spend was worth the money? When you keep coming back to your strategy to check up on things, you’ll be so much more in tune with what your personas are responding positively (or negatively) to, and be able to make any necessary changes as you go along.

Learn how to report on your online marketing - check out this helpful eBook!