What to Avoid When Writing Your Digital Marketing Strategy


We talk a lot about writing digital marketing strategies -- heck, we've made a living out of it. But there still seems to be an air of mystery surrounding the process and what the end product should look like. "Oooh, a digital marketing strategy? That must be a super technical and nerdy thing that aims to get more Likes and Retweets on Facebook and Twitter. Right?" Well, no, not exactly. A digital marketing strategy is, at its core, a marketing strategy. But one that focuses primarily on utilizing digital tools and innovation to achieve your business goals. 

So if it's that simple, why do so many companies (including some digital marketing agencies) get it so wrong? The technology industry, despite being in the spotlight for more than 2 decades, is still an industry of jargon, ambiguity, and magic behind the curtain. Unlike "traditional" industries like accounting, law, or even traditional marketing, there are few universally applied standards that are upheld across the industry. That is, everyone kind of makes up their own version of digital marketing and decides what it means to them.

So if there's no one definition of "right," what is a marketer to do when faced with the challenge of writing a digital marketing strategy? Well, we thought it'd be helpful to point out a few things NOT to do. Critical mistakes that can set a company up for failure before the strategy is even developed.

1. Don't start with technology

I know, I know. It's a digital marketing strategy. This seems like a free pass to jump into the wonderful world of technology, right? Wrong. At least not right away. Remember, this strategy is nothing more than a specific plan to help your business achieve a real business goal -- like increasing sales, reducing costs, entering markets, or gaining market share. 

Instead of starting with technology (which is simply a tactic), start with your core business goals. Are you looking to increase revenue? By how much? Are you going to attempt to penetrate new markets, or re-sell to existing customers? First figure out what your business needs, and only then will you be prepared to make digital marketing and technology decisions.

2. Don't forget to learn about your audience

If there are two core components to writing a highly effective strategy, they are business goals, and audience definition. Companies have wasted millions of dollars planning and executing digital marketing programs that fell short because they didn't truly understand their audience (or worse, didn't even really know which audience they were targeting). 

Segment your audience and pick a target. 

No matter how fancy it is, a digital tool is useless if it doesn't help you connect with your audience. 

Conduct the appropriate research to understand how your audience uses technology and what their "Digital Diet" looks like. Are they heavy Facebook users? Do they prefer Android to iPhone? Are they likely to read blog posts, or do they stick with "traditional" news and media outlets? Are they early adopters?

Once you have an idea of who your audience is, how they use technology, and how they might receive communications about your product/service online, you are one step closer to developing an effective digital marketing strategy.

3. Don't fabricate metrics to justify the use of technology

One of the most common mistakes we see when clients begin drafting goals for a digital marketing strategy is to fabricate metrics that only serve to reinforce the use of a tactic in itself. That is, upon the launch of a new blog, many marketers will set goals around growing blog subscribers, increasing "hits" on the blog, or obtaining "shares and retweets." While these are all interesting metrics, and definitely help contribute to the understanding of how a tactic is working, they are not end goals in themselves. Your digital marketing strategy is an outline and a plan for how you are going to use technology to meet real business goals.

Digital marketing goals are business goals.

You can produce the most popular cooking blog in the world, but if it doesn't boost sales for your company's microwave product, how successful is the blog, really? Don't let yourself or your team get caught up in "vanity metrics," and make sure you focus on real, consequential business goals.

4. Don't outsource it

Hire a strategist, contract with a consultant, or use internal resources to work with you, but do not hire a firm to develop a digital marketing strategy for you. I have personally been on both sides of the fence -- client side and agency side -- and can honestly say that the only worthwhile strategies are the ones developed collaboratively and owned internally within an organization. When you look for outside help, make sure to retain ownership of the end result, and hold the contracted party accountable for working within your environment to assist in the development of your strategy. Firms that visit your office once per month, and write your strategy from 200 miles away will not be able to understand the intricacies and uniqueness of your organization enough to build an effective plan. 

Keep the process collaborative, and stay involved!

We've really just scratched the surface here, but the most important thing to remember is that your digital marketing strategy isn't "special" when compared to other strategies you and your team have written. Sure the tactics are going to be different (focused on digital communications and leveraging technology), but the overall objective and the process for development should be familiar. If your strategy isn't ultimately supporting your larger business objectives, you've done something wrong.

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About the Author
Justin is the owner/founder of Fox Consulting Group, and a lead consultant for strategy engagements.

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