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What Is a Digital Marketing Strategy? The Ultimate Guide (2023)



Selling products people want, enjoy, and recommend is a crucial part of ecommerce success. But it’s only one piece of the puzzle, because to sell those products, people first need to know they exist.

“Build it and they will come” isn’t a viable way to run a business. The world of online shopping is crowded, and if your target customers can’t find your business, they’ll definitely find someone else’s to achieve the same thing.

That’s why you need a digital marketing strategy—to reach the people who need your products and become their brand of choice. Whether you’re a brand new ecommerce business or looking to solidify your digital marketing strategy, this guide is for you.

What is a digital marketing strategy?

A digital marketing strategy is a comprehensive plan that outlines how a business will use digital channels and platforms to reach and convert its target audience into customers.

It’s focused on digital channels like social media and email marketing, but it should align and work in sync with offline marketing campaigns like trade shows, billboards, and direct mail.

Think of a digital marketing strategy as the roadmap that guides your digital marketing efforts. It provides direction and clarity, helping you to effectively connect with your target audience, enhance brand visibility, and hit your goals as an ecommerce business.

A digital marketing strategy supports both specific product launches and everyday sales efforts and goals.

Digital marketing strategy vs. digital marketing tactics

Terms digital marketing strategy and digital marketing tactics are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings.

  • Digital marketing strategy is the overarching plan that guides the implementation of various digital marketing tactics.
  • Digital marketing tactics refer to the specific actions and techniques used to execute the strategy. Examples include content marketing, social media ads, and influencer partnerships.

For example, running ads on Instagram is an internet marketing tactic, and the decision to invest in social media advertising—and why—is part of a digital marketing strategy.

A digital marketing strategy is the big picture, while digital marketing tactics are the individual puzzle pieces that come together to achieve the desired results.

Owned, earned, and paid media in a digital marketing strategy

A successful digital marketing strategy makes the most of three types of media:

  • Owned media: Channels and formats you create, publish, and fully control, like blog posts, YouTube videos, product pages, and social media posts.
  • Earned media: Unpaid coverage of your business you haven’t created or paid for, like a press mention in a gift guides.
  • Paid media: Content you pay to place in front of your target audience, like paid sponsorships or paid ads on social media platforms and search engines.

Combining these three types of content helps you meet your target audience at every stage of their customer journey, from casual browsing to dedicated research and making a purchase decision.

Types of digital marketing tactics

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Content marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Influencer marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Search engine marketing

Digital marketing tactics define the channels, tools, and formats you’ll use to implement your strategy. An effective digital strategy will often contain multiple tactics that support each other and maximize results. Digital marketing tactics you can implement include:

Search engine optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your ecommerce website to show up in relevant search engine results. “SEO is an excellent form of inbound marketing, where the consumer has a need and finds you for the solution,” says Greg Bernhardt, a SEO senior specialist at Shopify.

“SEO is about positioning your web content to communicate the relevance and value of your offering to search engines, who can then better pair the search they receive with the solution you offer.”

The three main areas of SEO are:

  • On-page SEO: Ensuring all written content on your website (like page titles, product descriptions, and blogs) are rich with search terms, i.e. keywords.
  • Off-site SEO: Building external authority for your product or brand, i.e., when sources like publications and bloggers, link back to your product or services.
  • Technical SEO: The technical aspects to your website to rank, from site loading speed to how your product pages are indexed.

For example, Kim Kardashian’s brand SKIMS ranks at the top of the search results for the search term “long slip dress.” On-page keywords, off-page coverage, and a solid technical foundation all contributed to the high search presence of the brand.

Top of Google’s search results for the ‘long slip dress’ keyword with SKIMS at the top

The key to ecommerce SEO success is the combination of keyword research, competitive analysis, active link building, and image optimization—and all of it on a fast-loading website search engines can easily read and index.

Some SEO tactics are more easily executed in-house, while some benefit from external expertise. If these tactics seem like a good fit for your business, learn more with our guide to SEO marketing.

Content marketing

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach you can use to meet your target audience—your potential and existing customers—where they are by creating high-quality content that fulfills their needs and answers their questions.

This content can include shopping guides and product demos; live webinars; in-depth articles about your products, ingredients, or processes; and entertaining social media content.

For example, the modular sofa company Snug created a detailed sofa buying guide, a library of assembly guides, and a gallery of images to inspire those looking for interior design ideas. These resources meet sofa buyers at every stage of their purchase journey, from research to consideration and decision.

Snug Sofa’s sofa buying guide with various sections and images
Snug Sofa’s sofa buying guide with various sections and images.

Content marketing isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution—a different online store might see greater benefits from YouTube videos and a glossary of terms related to the industry. Understanding your target customer is essential for your content to hit the mark.

Email marketing

Email marketing is the practice of acquiring your customers’ email address and then emailing them regularly to build a connection with them, create value, and promote product launches and promotions.

Great email marketing starts with a strategy to capture emails. Although you can capture them at the point of checkout, you’ll ultimately want to capture emails earlier on in a customer’s journey. That’s why ecommerce sites often offer discounts to first-time buyers in exchange for their email.

You can use email marketing for an automated series of emails (known as marketing automation) or to send timely emails at a regular cadence, like a monthly newsletter or a seasonal campaign. Some types of ecommerce emails include:

  • New product announcements
  • Behind-the-scenes updates
  • Cart abandonment reminders
  • Call for product reviews
  • Replenishment reminders
  • Discounts and other limited time promotions

Curlsmith, a haircare brand focused on curly hair, offers a curl quiz to help visitors understand the needs of their hair and choose the right products. At the end of the quiz, visitors can enter their email address to receive results, which Curlsmith then uses to send educational videos, guides, and recommendations.

Curlsmith’s curl quiz about hair type, texture, and features, with progress bar at the top
Curlsmith’s curl quiz about hair type, texture, and features, with progress bar at the top.

Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing involves paying people—affiliates—a commission when they refer new customers to your business. The commission is usually a percentage of sale (e.g., 15% of their first order) or a fixed amount (e.g., $10 per sale).

Many brands offer affiliate programs open to anyone in their community of customers and supporters, regardless of the size of their social media following. For affiliates, it’s an opportunity to make money recommending the products they love, and ecommerce businesses get a chance to continually reach new audiences.

Brands can also provide affiliate relationships to industry publications and grow their influence by being featured in them, like The Spruce for home goods brands or Verywell Health for health and fitness companies.

Here’s the affiliate page by the superfood latte company Blume, which uses Shopify Collabs to connect with affiliates:

Blume’s affiliate page with a short description, product images, and a button to join the community
Blume’s affiliate page with a short description, product images, and a button to join the community.

Find influencers to promote your products with Shopify Collabs

Install the Shopify Collabs app today to partner with creators, promote your products, reach new customers, grow your sales, and track affiliate campaign performance all from Shopify admin.

Install the Shopify Collabs app

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is similar to affiliate marketing in that it focuses on incentivizing others to share your brand and products. However, influencer marketing focuses on partnering with individuals with an audience on social media, YouTube, an email list, a blog, or a combination of these.

An influencer’s audience can be as small as 1,000 people—these influencers are called nano-influencers—or as big as tens or hundreds of thousands of followers. The more important part is to select creators whose focus, style, and values align with the brand’s.

This form of marketing can be highly effective because influencers build audiences who have a high level of trust in their recommendations. This also means influencers tend to be more selective about what brands they work with, and want to feel a personal connection to them.

Brands can partner with influencers on one-time sponsored posts, long-term campaigns, and even product development like Women’s Best campaigns with selected athletes.

Page on Women’s Best website with full width images of athletes and their favorite products

Social media marketing

Social media marketing is a form of online marketing that leverages digital channels like Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, X (formerly Twitter), and Facebook to reach your target audience. There are two main avenues you’ll explore when planning your social media marketing strategy: organic and paid.

Organic social media marketing means growing your following without paying for reach. This involves sharing helpful, engaging, or user-generated content from your company’s account. With the rise in recommendation-based social media, such as TikTok, this has become easier than before, because social media algorithms often show your content to people who aren’t already following you. However, it still requires a heavy investment in content creation to succeed.

Paid social media marketing is based on investing a budget to reach people through ads. It’s a form of digital advertising. The benefits of this include more custom, specific audience targeting, less need for new content, and the ability to serve content with calls to action like “Shop now” or “Claim your discount.” The drawback, of course, is you have to pay for people to see your ads—and those costs can add up.

The greatest advantage of paid social ads is the ability to learn from them and optimize them for maximum ROI. For example, clothing brand Baltic Born experimented with adding music to its Instagram ads and saw a jump in conversion rates and return on ad spend.

Horizontal, mobile video of Baltic Born’s Instagram ads with models wearing different styles of dresses

Search engine marketing

Search engine marketing, also called SEM or pay-per-click (PPC), involves paying to appear in search results.

This type of paid advertising can be extremely effective. Unlike tactics that require educating people about why they need your product (known as demand generation), PPC advertising reaches people who are actively searching for it (known as demand capture).

Instead of waiting for your content to rank highly in organic search, you can use a platform like Google Ads to reach the right people at the right moment.

For example, photographic equipment company Neewer shows up at the top of the “ring light for makeup artist” Google search results, thanks to its well-targeted paid ad. This can shorten the journey a potential customer takes from product research to making a purchase.

Neewer’s sponsored listing at the top of Google search results for ‘ring light for makeup artist’ keyword

How to create a digital marketing strategy in 6 steps

  1. Define and understand your target audience
  2. Set your marketing goals
  3. Establish your budget and tech stack
  4. Select the marketing tactics to attract, nurture, and convert customers
  5. Focus on your differentiators
  6. Define a way to track results

Next up is building an online marketing strategy that will bring you results, like reach, revenue, and a healthy business. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by dozens of digital marketing methods, channels, content formats, and directions you can take.

That’s why we’ve boiled this process down to six steps you can follow to create a successful digital marketing strategy plan. 

1. Define and understand your target audience

Who are the people who will repeatedly buy from you, rave about you to their friends, and share your business and your products on social media?

In other words: Who is your target audience?

Knowing this will allow you to choose the right digital marketing channels, craft compelling messages, and market your online store in a way that attracts, converts, and resonates with customers.

Understanding your target market means you know its demographics, interests, pain points, values, opinions, shopping habits, and how they consume the content they care about.

Let’s look at a few examples of audiences different brands appear to target based on their marketing content and mission statements:

ColourPop

  • Makeup enthusiasts looking for affordable, trendy, and high-quality cosmetics
  • Those interested in cruelty-free and vegan beauty products
  • Social media users, especially those who follow beauty influencers on platforms like Instagram and YouTube

Gymshark

  • Fitness enthusiasts
  • Gym-goers seeking stylish, performance-oriented workout attire
  • People who trust fitness influencers, particularly on platforms like Instagram and YouTube
  • Both casual gym-goers and professional athletes

Kith

  • Urban fashion enthusiasts
  • Those seeking premium streetwear and lifestyle brands
  • Sneakerheads and those into sneaker culture
  • Individuals valuing exclusivity and limited-edition releases

Bulletproof

  • Health and wellness enthusiasts
  • Individuals interested in biohacking and optimizing cognitive performance
  • Coffee drinkers seeking a boost in energy and mental clarity
  • Those on ketogenic or paleo diets

Allbirds

  • Environmentally-conscious consumers
  • Individuals seeking comfortable, minimalist footwear
  • Those valuing sustainability and ethically sourced materials in their purchasing decisions
  • Urban dwellers looking for versatile footwear for both casual and slightly formal settings

To determine this for your own brand, use methods like audience surveys, focus groups, online forums, customer reviews, and third-party data to answer questions like:

  • Why did they choose to buy a specific product (e.g., yours or a competitor’s)?
  • What was happening in their life around this purchase? 
  • Which channels have they used to discover this product?
  • What qualities do they look for in brands they purchase from? 
  • What is their education level?
  • What is their income level?
  • What is their marital status?
  • Where are they located and what language do they speak?
  • How do they spend their free time? 

Document these insights to provide direction for the next steps of your digital marketing strategy.

2. Set your marketing goals

Business goals and marketing goals help you eliminate distractions and noise from a dozen directions you could take.

Your goals might be to:

  • Go viral on TikTok 
  • Win more revenue compared to last month
  • Grow website traffic

These look like valid goals, but they aren’t specific enough to help you choose marketing activities that will get you there.

Instead, set SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Here are some examples of SMART goals that drive an effective digital marketing strategy:

  • Grow email list to 1,500 subscribers in Q2 by offering a free download of the buying guide.
  • Increase organic traffic by 30% in the next six months by publishing three search-optimized blog posts per month.
  • Reach 1,000 target audience members on TikTok per month by publishing one video every day.

If you’re starting your marketing strategy from scratch, you can begin by focusing on short-term goals—between one and six months. This lets you get your business off the ground. Once you’re established, you can use what you know about your business and your industry to set long-term goals for the business.

3. Establish your budget and tech stack

There’s no perfect figure or percentage you should spend on marketing. Gartner reports the average marketing budget was just under 10% of total business revenue in 2022, but your budget may be higher or lower based on your revenue, your goals, and funding.

When considering your marketing budget, consider spending on:

  • Marketing expertise: in-house marketers, freelance consultants, marketing agencies
  • Tools: keyword research, social media management, marketing automation, email service provider, etc.
  • Content creation: photo or video equipment, studio costs, etc.
  • Campaign-specific costs: ad costs, influencer fees, etc.

Use this list to define your initial budget. It will change based on your results, revenue, time of the year and your goals for that period. A ballpark figure will help you make decisions focused on the results you want.

4. Select the marketing tactics to attract, nurture, and convert customers

This step is about defining exactly which digital marketing tactics and activities you’ll spend your time and budget on.

The key is to look at your entire sales and marketing funnel rather than just a part of it. It’s easy to make the mistake of prioritizing the top of the funnel—growing your site traffic and social media viewers—while neglecting the process of turning those visitors into customers.

Choose a marketing tactic for each stage of the customer journey:

  1. Awareness. How will potential customers find out you exist? Tactics include SEO, influencer marketing, and organic social media.
  2. Consideration. How will you convince casual visitors to consider buying from you? Potential tactics include email newsletter and retargeting ads on social media.
  3. Decision. How will you convert people into customers? Potential tactics include email marketing automation and search engine marketing.

This is the key to a healthy marketing operation—it continually brings new eyes to your business and nurtures them into customers.

5. Focus on your differentiators

What makes you stand out from your competitors? What is your unique selling proposition (USP)? These questions are important, because whatever type of products you sell, others are already selling them, too.

Sustainable fashion. Men’s wallets. Age-appropriate toys for babies and toddlers. Natural skincare. None of it is a novel, unique idea.

Yet, brands like Allbirds, Ridge, Lovevery, and Three Ships Beauty thrive in their respective categories:

  • Allbirds went all-in with PR, affiliates, and video marketing from its beginning to position itself as a brand of comfort and sustainability
  • Ridge uses a bold, sassy tone on social media to stand out from other luxury brands that tend to use a more serious, toned-down approach
  • Lovevery offers a subscription that includes toys based on a child’s developmental stage
  • Three Ships prioritizes transparency in product ingredients through resources like its ingredient glossary

The ingredient glossary by Three Ships with terms listed in alphabetical order

Double down on what makes your approach unique when it comes to solving a problem or meeting a need. Your brand’s mission, vision, values, expertise, and experience all count as your differentiators—make the most of them.

6. Define a way to track results

Select a few metrics you’ll regularly monitor to track your success. Based on these metrics, you can tweak a tactic that is showing some potential, expand it if it’s bringing significant results, or drop it if it’s not paying off.

Start by listing the ecommerce metrics that represent the overall success of your store, like sales conversion rate, average order value, customer lifetime value, and returning customer rate.

Then, specify the metrics you’ll track based on your selected tactics, like:

  • SEO: monthly search traffic, backlinks, click-through rate
  • Content marketing: pageviews, time on page, conversion rate
  • Email marketing: open rate, click-through rate
  • Affiliate and influencer marketing: impressions, discount code uses, engagement rate
  • Social media marketing: views, comments, click-through rate
  • Search engine marketing: impressions, click-through rate, cost-per-click, conversion rate

No need to overcomplicate this step—start simple by tracking the numbers that can inform your next marketing decisions. You can always build your way up to more metrics when you get the hang of it.

Examples of successful digital marketing strategies

Ready to build your strategy? Check out these three effective digital marketing strategies as inspiration:

Alo Yoga

Founded in 2007, Alo, a yoga wear and accessories company, reportedly earned more than $1 billion in revenue as of 2022. Here’s what makes up its digital strategy:

  • Content marketing with valuable content like a library of yoga poses and guides on mindfulness, movement, and lifestyle.
  • Partnerships with yogis, fitness professionals, and influencers through the Pro Program.
  • Organic social media photos and videos on Instagram (six accounts with over five million combined followers) and TikTok.
  • User-generated content on Instagram and TikTok, like this video that showcases a full Alo yoga outfit.
  • Email marketing that nurtures both new customers and existing loyalty program members.

The yoga pose library on Alo Yoga’s website, in alphabetical order and with an image next to each term

ILIA Beauty

ILIA Beauty is a clean beauty and cosmetics brand that saw exponential growth in 2020 and reportedly earned $100 million in sales in 2021. Here’s what goes into its ecommerce marketing efforts:

  • Organic social media photos and videos on TikTok and Instagram, with a focus on a clean aesthetic on Instagram.
  • User-generated content on Instagram, like this video of a makeup routine.
  • Paid ads on social media channels that target potential first-time customers.
  • Referral programs through affiliates and a refer-a-friend option.
  • Email marketing focused on valuable tips and product recommendations with a distinct color palette and rich product photography.

ILIA’s email promoting a shade-finding tool, with pale pink background and an image of foundations

Caraway

Caraway sells nonstick, non-toxic cookware, bakeware, and home goods. It was founded in 2019, and reportedly grew sales by 300% in 2022 compared to the year prior, while raising $35 million in the same year.

Here how its digital marketing strategy supported this growth:

  • SEO rankings in top spots for search terms like “is ceramic non stick safe” and “ceramic vs stainless steel cookware.”
  • Organic social media focused on educational videos and captions, like this video about toxic kitchen items.
  • Partnerships with influencers (like interior designers and fitness enthusiasts) and celebrities (like Tan France).
  • Paid ads on social media that feature individual products, customer reviews, or influencers.

Three social media ads by Caraway focusing on customer reviews

Evolving your digital marketing strategy

An intentional, well-defined digital marketing strategy is a superpower. It gives everyone in your company the foundation to prioritize marketing activities that will take your online store to new heights and bring results time and time again.

Remember: digital marketing is a long-term game, so stay consistent, keep your ear to the ground for trends and changes, adapt if and when you need to, and be patient as you work toward achieving your business goals. Your effort will pay off.


Digital marketing strategy FAQ

What are the 7 Cs of marketing?

The seven Cs of digital marketing are customer, content, context, community, convenience, cohesion, and conversion. This framework is the foundation of every stage of the customer journey, from awareness and discovery through to consideration and decision, and it helps digital marketers stay focused on generating relevant results for the business.

Why is an example of a digital marketing strategy?

An example of a digital marketing strategy is a fashion brand that markets its company and products with:

  • Search engine optimization by publishing outfit-building tutorials targeting keywords like “capsule wardrobe guide” and “summer outfit ideas”
  • Partnerships with affiliates and influencers, whose content the brand then reshares on its social profiles
  • Email marketing that rewards first-time visitors with a discount, and existing customers with unique offers on their wishlist products
  • Paid ads that target previous website visitors and show them the products they viewed, but haven’t purchased

This strategy covers all parts of the customer journey, from people who have never heard of the brand through to loyal customers.





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