‘Digital Marketing Strategy’ And Understanding Your True Business Objectives During The Digital Age

I HATE buzzwords.

I especially hate the buzzword “buzzword” and all associated images of overly plump 21st century “gurus” attending marketing conferences at the downtown Hyatt where they stuff their faces with hors d’oeuvre and finger foods, bragging about whose office posted the better Harlem Shake parody video on YouTube, all the while pretending to scientifically analyze the way users click on cat memes that pop up in their Facebook feed.

  • See also: Marketing Automation: Leveraging Digital Tools In Order To Automate Your Digital Marketing Strategy

Despite the sheer annoyance of ever-changing buzzwords and trendy pseudo-strategies, however, the marketing world really is becoming more digital. And if marketing is becoming more digital, then keeping up – perhaps selectively – with the practical approaches behind these trends is decidedly important.

“Digital Marketing Strategy” Overview

In recent years, “digital marketing strategy” has emerged as a popular catch phrase to describe a company’s approach to 21st century marketing methods. Early in 2014, the American magazine S+B conducted a survey of 300+ marketing departments from successful, well-established companies. They determined that currently, one of four different marketing models seemed to apply to every successful company:

  1. Digital Branders
  2. Customer Experience Designers
  3. Demand Generators
  4. Product Innovators

Within the study, “Branders” typically focused on consumer goods (i.e. Sony), while “Designers” typically required exceptional reputations in the realm of customer service (i.e. Priceline or Southwest Airlines), “Generators” relied on massive amounts of traffic and large inventories (i.e. Walmart or Amazon) and “Innovators” succeeded because they were on the cutting edge of their industry (i.e. Tesla or Salesforce).

Surely good branding, reliable customer service, high traffic, and innovation are ALL quite valuable to companies of all types and sizes. Ultimately, however, as the S+B study concluded, its nearly impossible to be “great” in all of these areas, except for the select few allstars out there. In almost every case, S+B concluded that successful companies choose ONE of these areas to focus on, especially during key growth stages.

According to the 300+ marketing departments surveyed, here is where they concentrated most of their time and resources per digital marketing area:


Now, as useful and insightful as the S+B research is, keep in mind that most of the companies they surveyed are larger in nature, and tend to have a “real world” presence in most cases (retail, etc). Nevertheless, this data can be extremely relevant to small and medium businesses as well – even those that are primarily web based.

Determining Your Marketing Strategy

In summary, most SMBs (small and medium businesses) – especially web-based ones – are going to fall into the “Digital Branders” or “Product Innovators” category, or more probably, will fall somewhere in between the two.

Why is this? Because most small businesses do not have the time or resources to make customer service or massive inventories (traffic) a primary strategy.

Be the “biggest, the best, or the only” is one of my favorite ways to say it. (And while the internet does provide impressive scaling opportunity for small businesses, high traffic is usually a result – and not a cause – of online SMBs’ initial success.)

Here’s a real life example: when you are driving around town and suddenly have a craving for good eats – let’s say, a juicy hamburger – what makes you choose to stop at the tiny little mom-and-pop shop rather than a larger, well-known one? In other words, why do you choose to grab a burger at “Paul’s BBQ Pit” – who still hasn’t fixed their damn ice machine, and where you will likely have to wait for 45 minutes to receive your order – rather than heading over to TGI Fridays? “Because Paul’s burgers are better!” is the immediate answer most people would give when asked that question.

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In conclusion, Paul’s product (burgers) is better (“Innovators”). It doesn’t matter that his customer service really sucks (“Designers”), or that he has only 3 items on his menu (“Generators”), or that his logo is ugly and the neon sign above his door is always half-lit (“Branders”) because his product is simply the best in town, which happens to be the only market audience that he cares about. In fact, sometimes niche businesses like this actually thrive off their down-to-earth image, and when a new manager comes in and tries to “clean up” the marketing, the reputation of the company GOES DOWN.

Did you just have an aha! moment? The first time I understood this, I sure did.

In order to succeed, your business must choose what it cares about most. And unless you are an investor-backed, high capital, fast-growing type of enterprise, BRANDING and/or INNOVATION should probably be your primary concern as an owner. While its true that “Paul’s BBQ Pit” could likely benefit from better customer service, and perhaps even some targeted branding efforts, ultimately it’s their focus on product innovation – and a limited food menu – that first made them popular in their market.

Recommended resource: Jon Taffer’s Bar Rescue series on Spike TV

The Specifics Of Marketing Strategies

Returning to the S+B study for a moment, we see “Innovators” focus on the following (explanations of each focus are quoted from the original S+B case study):

  • Segmentation and needs assessment
  • Measurement
  • Innovation (i.e. products)

Segmentation and needs assessment, or the use of digital research tools to analyze transactions, identify customer pain points, and interpret non-transaction data (e.g., social media). By better understanding how specific subsets of customers assess, purchase, and use products, the company can more directly target advertising, promotions, and content along the path to purchase.

Measurement, or the development of consistent metrics across the full path to purchase (i.e., at home, on the go, and in stores). This capability also includes metrics for consumer engagement across paid media (e.g., advertising), owned media (such as the company website), earned media (coverage in other publications), or shared media (e.g., Facebook or YouTube). Implemented correctly, these metrics can help quantify ROI across the digital marketing program.

Innovation, spurred by the leveraging of social media for richer consumer insights that fuel product development. Besides improving the product itself, these insights can enhance the customer’s experience with the product.

In other words, if your business has top quality products – and you have market research and positive customer feedback to verify this – its really just a matter of figuring out how to “convert” more strangers into buyers, and making the awareness –> buying process (“path to purchase”) as easy and enjoyable as possible.

Example: You have a car stereo installation shop, with the best car stereo systems and audio technicians in town. Even though your team did not “innovate” the products themselves, your business ultimately relies on sourcing top-of-the-line stereos from Sony, Pioneer, etc. Your accounting software shows that your sales dropped in March, and that is when you stopped accepting credit cards, so you decide to start accepting credit cards again, as you’ve created a “pain point” for your customers.

Also, one of your staff members assigned to “watch” local social media trends discovered on Instagram that local high school students are really into dashcams lately. Based on this, you decide to take out a “dashcam” ad in the local indie magazine as well as begin a Facebook advertising campaign, using different coupon codes in each campaign to track which one had a better ROI at the end of the month. For an extra boost in customer service, you decide to also begin offering a 90-day satisfaction guarantee, offering free repairs or replacements to all customer purchases.

Likewise, in the study we see “Branders” focus primarly on the following areas:

  • Personalization and targeting
  • Optimized content (esp. for web-based companies)
  • Social influence and advocacy
  • Omnichannel experience (BUZZWORD ALERT)

Personalization and targeting, or the creation of a singular view of the consumer across sales channels and digital touch points through the integration of multiple data sources—including household data, shopping behavior, mobile data, and Web analytics. Companies can also augment customer profiles with social media data to improve target marketing and specific offers.

Optimized content, or the dissemination of branded content through multiple direct-to-consumer platforms (such as websites, mobile devices, and social media channels) that are easy to search and navigate. Optimized content helps the company engage consumers and drive registration and sales across a variety of formats, so that it can better provide relevant products and services to those consumers for specific occasions or phases of life.

Social influence and advocacy, or the provoking of consumer engagement to create and share content, while also mining this social sentiment to further improve consumer engagement. Companies with strong social influence and advocacy can encourage consumers to create and share content about the brand within their social networks, and then use the resulting insights to optimize their marketing communications.

Omnichannel experience, or the implementation of marketing programs across channels. This capability also entails investing in technology, analytics, and talent to support seamless mobile, social, and e-commerce experiences, allowing consumers to engage with the company wherever and whenever they want. Omnichannel experiences also include integrated marketing programs with third parties, along with broader media and trade-promotion strategies.

In other words, perhaps your business is in an industry where most “products” are rather similar, and “innovation” is simply is not as relevant. In this case, standing out as an authority, expert, or true BRAND is probably more important.

Example: You have a dental clinic that offers the latest in teeth whitening technology, along with several other dental services. However, there are 3 other clinics in town with the same cutting-edge whitening technology. A good friend suggests that your clinic name, “The Whitening Guys” is kind of cheesy, and probably doesn’t impress potential customers. After running some A/B tests on the web, you decide to hire a professional graphic designer to create a stunning new (classier) company name and logo.

Also, your secretary points out that your website and ads in the local phonebook are still using your old name and logo, and that your old customers may think you went out of business. Based on her input, you decide to launch an “omni-channel” marketing campaign, revamping all of your digital and traditional media to use the same color scheme and logo, running ads on the local radio station announcing the new brand, promoting your Facebook page where you run a free giveaway contest, and submitting a promotional package to Groupon and Living Social. You also send personalized postcards to all of your past customers announcing the new brand, inviting them to call you personally with any questions or feedback about your revamped services. For an extra boost in customer service, you launch a paid internship program with the local college, hiring energetic students part-time to help greet customers in your waiting room.

Starting to make sense? The next step is learning how to better leverage the “digital” tools and software that’s available in order to make analyzing data – and planning accordingly – significantly easier, faster, and cheaper: this is called Marketing Automation.

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