M arketing has changed. It’s not just advertising, media and customer communications anymore. From social networking, websites, content, blogs, search and mobile, the web has numerous opportunities for rich engagement with prospects, leads and customers. In order to reap the benefits of the online environment, businesses need a comprehensive digital marketing strategy. I've laid out 10 steps that I follow to help guide my online marketing efforts with my clients.

1. Define Your “Why?”

It all starts here. Why does your organization exist? It sounds like a simple question, but you have to go deep to get at the answer. What is the meaning behind what your organization does? Once you can identify the core “Why?” of your organization, crafting an effective brand story, authentic messages, and engaging content will come much easier.

Simon Sinek expertly lays out how to find the “why” in your organization and articulates the notion that people don’t buy “what you do, they buy why you do it" in the Ted Talk video below →



2. Create Your Brand Story

Human-to-human connections are the heart and soul of business. Studies have shown that consumers encounter up to 20,000 brands every day, only 12 of which leave an impression. If you have any hope of being among those 12, you must have a brand story that matters to people. Whether you are for-profit, non-profit, or for-purpose, compelling stories — not sales pitches — are what cut through the noise.

Quick Tips

  • Articulate your brand promise.

  • Stir emotion—people buy on emotion and then rationalize decision with facts.

  • Make your customer the hero of your story (not your brand).


3. Define Your Goals

This step is simple. Do you want to increase online sales by 25%? Do you want to get 10,000 new signatures for an online petition? Do you want to engage more members, adding to your e-mail distribution list? Identify your top three goals. Write them down. Repeat them over and over again. This will guide your strategy.


4. Develop Audience Personas

If you want to tell a story that resonates with your audience, you first have to understand who your audience is. Doing this requires a little more than brainstorming. You should aim to create 3–4 personas based on the types of people you attract and want to target. A complete persona will contain the person’s background, career, values, goals, reservations, and decision-making tendencies. Once you have created your personas, post them on your wall, name these fictitious individuals and talk about them like you know them. Because you do.

  • Start with the basics and note down all the demographic information you know about your target consumer — like age, gender and location.
  • Dig a little deeper and Identify the problems you can help your target persona solve.
  • Delve into their emotional desires, goals, aspirations and fears and document all of the factors that could make them tick (think about their conscious and unconscious desires).
  • You can dive deep into the ‘Audience Reports of your Google Analytics account to identify key characteristics of your target persona like age, sex, career, etc.
  • When creating your personas this is the perfect time to identify the people who will be of influence to them — these will be the influencers your strategy should target.

5. Create a Journey Map

Once you’re clear on your target audience, creating a journey map is the next step in the process. Having a journey map will help you understand the ways people are already interacting with you online as well as the potential for more or different kinds of interaction. The better you understand your audience and their habits and behaviors, the more detailed your journey map can be. The more detailed your journey map, the more agile your digital strategy.

Start with these questions:

  • Where does a user first encounter your organization online (or offline)?

  • What touch-points are the most important when a user makes a decision?

  • What makes them leave and what makes them come back?


6. Identify Key Channels

Here’s where we start to get into the nitty gritty of digital strategy. The number of social and digital channels out there is immense, and new ones pop up every week. A lot of organizations think you have to have a toe in each, but the reality is you should only be where your audience is. If they’re not on Snapchat, you can likely leave that app alone for the time being. If your target audience primarily uses Facebook to connect, part of your strategy should focus on organic and paid reach on Facebook. Simply put, match each of your target audiences to the platforms that are most used by each of these groups. Then overlay these engagement channels onto your journey map. It will pretty it up and give you clear direction on the types of content to create.


7. Develop a Content Strategy

There’s no need to re-invent the wheel when it comes to content. Find out what your audience wants and needs, and creatively provide it for them. People share what’s good, follow what’s regular, and respond to what’s appropriate. Think quality, consistency, and customization and you can’t go wrong.



Make a Content Strategy Tapestry

Sketch the content types that would work for each of your target audiences and then categorize accordingly. There will likely be some overlaps, which is okay; the result will be a beautiful tapestry of content. You can refer to Content Marketing Institute's list 17 Essential Content Marketing Templates and Checklists for inspiration.

Pushing out content you want to publish is a lot different than executing a successful content marketing program that connects with customers by delivering meaningful experiences that are contextually relevant.
— Ardath Albee, CEO & Marketing Strategist, Marketing Interactions

8. Draft a Content Calendar

Though the digital space races ahead, calendars never go out of style. The bottom line here is that strategic goals require strategic tools. A good digital strategy likely has a lot of branches with multiple channels, content formats, deadlines, and deliverables. Keeping track of that is half the battle, but it shouldn’t be something that slows you down. A useful content calendar includes everything from benchmarks and major industry events to listing the staff in charge of creating, approving, and publishing each piece of content. 

  • Take the time to draft a thorough calendar — using project management software or a color-coded Google Spreadsheet.
  • Try creating your timeline using Google Calendars — that way you can share it with your team members and allow them to edit it where necessary.
  • Highlight the key campaigns you’ll create and promote throughout the year and allocate a timeframe for each.
  • Document the digital channels needed to ensure the success for each campaign.

9. Plan Your Resources

Plan for the staff and resources you have, not the staff and resources someone else has. This is an important principle that many organizations overlook, but it’s critical to the success of developing an effective digital strategy. Take a serious look at the time, money, and people you have to invest in it, and strategize accordingly. Not only will this be beneficial for the strategy, but having that kind of clarity will lead to happier, less overwhelmed employees.


10. Simply Measure

There is no shortage of data in digital marketing. All the major platforms have analytics offerings and there are countless third party platforms that offer all kinds of data reporting. But before you dive into those choices, refer back to your goals. Then you’ll know which numbers to look for. And once you have numbers, you’ll know what’s working and what’s not — you’ll have insights you can actually act on.

Quick Tips

  • Create a measurement and monitoring plan.

  • Check the success of the individual elements of your strategy at continuous intervals.

  • If something is not working, isolate the different elements and try to identify problem.



AJaye Ranes

Founder, AR Digital + Design

Specializing in digital marketing and creative business development, AJaye is passionate about helping brands succeed in a rapidly evolving world. Connect with AJaye on Twitter at @ajayeranes or via his profile.