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4 Key Steps to Defining an Effective Digital Marketing Strategy

Your digital marketing efforts must be based upon an understanding of your customers' needs and the perceptions they have of your company.

All aspects of your business's operations should be informed by strategic planning, and digital marketing is no different. Planning an effective digital strategy requires knowing how to leverage your value proposition to take you where you want to go, knowing who your customers are, selecting the right technology, and tracking your efforts by using the right metrics. Here are the four stages you should follow when planning your digital marketing:

Key Takeaways
  • Your digital marketing initiatives must be firmly aligned with your overall business strategy.

  • Build your digital strategy based on an understanding of your customers' needs and how those customers engage with you, from forming awareness to making a purchase to becoming advocates for your business.

  • Develop clear goals and relevant metrics, and rely on data to quickly adapt.

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1. Start with your business strategy. Jeff DeMarco, vice president of digital marketing for GE Capital, Americas, explains that "digital strategy must align with your business strategy and marketing strategy. This includes understanding your product offering, who you serve, and what needs you fill. It's helpful to map the customer journey [concerning] how target buyers move from awareness to consideration to conversation to advocacy. Understand your unique value proposition." Once you have a strong grasp of all this, he continues, "it becomes clearer where digital can play a role in advancing how visitors find you, research your offering, qualify your capabilities, purchase from you, service their accounts, and share with peers." DeMarco warns that any digital strategy not aligned with your business and marketing strategies will inevitably be ineffective.

2. Understand your customers. Following trends and using existing data are critical for digital strategy. "It's important to stay current on the drivers and issues in your space, and the emerging trends relative to digital," he says. A big part of your insights, however, come from your current customers. "Mine the unique data you have from visitors to your own websites and your existing customers' use of your online and offline resources to tap the proprietary insights that are uniquely yours. Leverage these insights to tap into the met and unmet needs of your target audience and inform your digital strategies accordingly."

3. Technology as a differentiator. As in so many contexts, the right technology can offer you a competitive advantage. "A well-thought-out technology stack can do more than enable your visitors' needs for content and utilities," notes DeMarco. "It can differentiate your company through the compelling experiences you offer. The goal is to be directly relevant to your visitors and their anticipated needs at any point in time. The array of technologies available to attract, engage, and retain visitors — and offer insights [into] their behaviors — is unmatched." Technology isn't a cure-all remedy, however, notes DeMarco. It must serve strategic planning: "Be clear about your online goals, the experiences you intend to deliver, and the relevant calls to action, and then select your technologies accordingly to execute your plan in a way that differentiates you in the market."

4. Use the right metrics. One of the major strengths of digital is that nearly everything is measurable, even if the array of metrics may seem breathtakingly complex. Choose the metrics that are most relevant to your strategy and that align with the goals you've set. "Wherever possible," says DeMarco, "seek to tie your digital activity with calls to action that align with revenue or other key metrics that are important to your business. This way, you'll be able to quantify how digital is contributing to your business beyond the traditional attract-and-engagement web metrics."

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education.