5 Things You Must Do Before Executing Your Digital Strategy

by Ross Simmonds

Last updated on January 11th, 2018

You already know that a digital strategy can be a key differentiator between those who thrive and those who survive in today’s marketing landscape.

Today we will look at  five things you must do before developing a digital strategy that drives meaningful and measurable results.

Too many marketers start with channels, not a solid plan. If social media is big, they start tweeting, retweeting and posting on Facebook. If video is big, they start making videos about anything and everything.

That’s going about it backwards.

Before deciding on channels or tactics, you need a plan that’s built around your business goals and customer needs.

It’s more important than ever to unlock the power of the web with strategic and analytical thinking. Here’s how to get started:

#1: Identify Your Business Goals

Don’t make the mistake of confusing business goals with digital goals. Business goals are where everything starts. It’s the reason why you’re using social media, it’s the reason you’re creating content and it’s the reason you want to do marketing in the first place.

The typical business goal starts with something along the lines of this:

Improve Customer Satisfaction

At first glance this might sound great, but don’t fall for it.

As a digital marketer, you need to hold yourself to a higher standard since the entire industry is built on accountability and measurement. One of the most tried and tested approaches to developing goals that work is the SMART system: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Based.

This approach would improve the goal above to be something along the lines of this:

Increase our Customer Satisfaction Rating
by 20% by the end of Q4

How did we come up with this? Let’s break out the SMART formula and check it out:

  • Specific: Increase CSR by 20%
  • Measurable: Previous and Future CSR
  • Attainable: With the right Strategy it is
  • Relevant: Customers are complaining about customer service
  • Time-Based: We have twelve months to achieve this goal

#2: Gather Competitive Intelligence


When it comes to watching your competition, you need to tread lightly. Getting too caught up in watching what the other guy is doing is an easy way to fall behind, either by making you envious or by causing you to over-think your current situation.

Instead of constantly comparing your Twitter followers with the competitions’, spend time up-front evaluating where they are and what channels they’re using to better plan how you will execute your digital strategy.

I’ve talked about the power of back-links in digital marketing many times, and I’m here to do it again. Back links are one of the driving forces behind getting to the top of search, so understanding who’s linking to your competitors can help you in building your own back-linking strategy.

A couple of resources to find out more include: Open Site ExplorerBacklink checkerMajestic SEO and ahref. This knowledge can give you insight as it relates to where your competition is submitting guest posts, building relationships or commenting.

Another channel that I’ve just recently started to see the value in is the HubSpot, Marketing Grader. The site gives you a high level look at your various marketing efforts and the success that you’re having within a wide range of tactics.

For example, it will scan your competitors site to identify whether or not they have a blog and grade it based on whether it’s connected to an RSS, social media plugins, email subscriptions and the success of their most recent posts.

The last thing you want to do is good old fashioned Google research. Scour the web for media coverage, guest blog posts and social media mentions. Use this to better understand your competitors and their partners.

But remember, don’t get obsessed.

#3: Create Audience & Buyer Personas


If you ask any business owner who hasn’t gone through a persona process to describe their customer, you will hear a response that describes a perfect human. Ok, some entrepreneurs and marketers are more tuned into reality, but for the most part, we base our “target audience” solely on assumptions and guesses.

I can remember when I worked in advertising. We would spend hours chatting with clients about who would use their product. Generally, the first hour would be spent simply gazing into the stars and describing the people we wanted to be.

(Funny enough, I had one colleague who, whenever the target audience was female, would automatically describe the attributes he loved about his wife. What a load of smoke!)

Instead of playing guessing games with our target audiences and personas, it’s important to base your logic on insights and analytics.

First, let’s start by describing exactly what a persona is. A persona is a hypothetical description that highlights key attributes of your businesses target audience. It highlights their demographic, psychographic, needs, wants and their lifestyle.

But not all personas are created equal. You have to differentiate between two groups:

Your Brand Audience

The audience is the folks who consume your content, share your content and frequently act as supporters of your brand. It’s these folks who are influential within your industry and, while they might not use your product or service, they are most certainly willing to spread the word.

In many ways, your brand audience is somewhat of a little PR & Marketing Military that goes out to channel after channel singing your praises.

Your Brand Buyers

These folks are the ones who actually by your stuff. In many instances, they are influenced by your brand audience and, at one point in time, could have even fallen into that category.

Your buyers are the ones who get deeper into understanding the value that your product or service offers and see’s where that value would benefit them. It’s at this point where the exchange in value takes place and they go from potential buyer to existing customer.

To identify the persona of each of these groups, you need to do a lot  of research. I tend to look at my clients’ existing databases to review everything from their client list to their mailing list to the folks who follow them on twitter and comment on their blog posts.

From there, I look to more traditional avenues to understand the audience such as the PRIZM lifestyle lookup.

Once I’ve done my research with both PRIZM and social media listening, I try to describe what these people really look like on the inside and out.

I analyze their content habits on social media and the web to understand where they spend time and how they use the channels. For example, research would show that developing a slideshare marketing plan might make sense to target a business professional, but a brand looking to target kids would be better off marketing on Instagram.

To do this effectively, I create personas that can be told like a story. It’s these stories that express the audiences’ and buyers’ world views, their biases, their income and everything you need to know to build a brand relationship.

#4: Conduct a Content Audit

It’s important to truly understand what assets you have. In the B2B sales cycle, this is one of the most important aspects of the digital strategy process.

The explosion of social networks and mobile devices has completely obliterated the formerly linear customer purchase path (if there ever really was one). Marketers must now evaluate the influence of various touch-points and rediscover what content will help in facilitating the process down the funnel.

Customers’ relationships with a brand are constantly developed and damaged by the content we do and do not create. As a potential customer continues to discover new needs, explore new options, make purchases and engage with our brands, we must ensure that the right content is there at the right time.

You probably already have much of the content that can help your sales and marketing team effectively tell your brands story. Pitch decks, sales sheets, infographics and blog posts all combine to be your sales tool kit as you strive to conquer your industry.

#5: Establish Product-Story Fit

If you’ve ever worked with startups, you’re familiar with the concept of product/market fit.

It’s a theory that is hard to measure and identify, but is actually quite simple to understand. It’s about finding and building a product that the market (people/customers) are willing to pay for and use. It’s about creating a product that customers feel a deep connection with and would be disappointed to lose.

Before you start to establish your product-story fit, you need to consider the persona you developed earlier in this process.

You want to ensure that the world views that you’re communicating as a business are aligned with the wants of your audience.

You need to dive into understanding what is the right tone for your business and what kind of feeling a customer should get when they use your product.

For example, the way a customer felt when using a photo sharing network like Flickr was different from the experience when using a channel like PhotoBucket. A few of you may be familiar with PhotoBucket. But 95% of you are probably familiar with Flickr.


Both brands have the same functionality and purpose, but one targeted a niche, while the other focused on a broader audience. As many of you know, Flickr came out the winner in this battle.

As another example, think about the product-story that Facebook told in its early days to differentiate itself from sites like FriendFeed and Myspace. Sure, the product was better, but the story of a social network exclusive to Harvard was quite enticing.

To come up with your own product-story, think about your brand’s roots, what you do for people, and how your brand experience different (and better).

Now you

Once you’ve gone through this process and have developed a digital strategy, it’s time to focus on execution. A great strategy means very little without a team to execute it effectively. But with a well thought-out strategy, you can easily be the brand that stands out from the competition.



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Ross Simmonds

Ross Simmonds is a digital strategist, public speaker and entrepreneur. He's currently writing  Stand Out: A Content Marketing Guide for Entrepreneurs which highlights how businesses can use content marketing to drive meaningful and measurable results


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  1. Farida says:
    April 13, 2015 at 4:08 am

    I have been working on a digital strategy for my organization and it was proving rather difficult but with this approach I’m confident it will be easier. I had started with the channels and I now realize that was my first mistake. Thanks for sharing.

    • April 13, 2015 at 10:17 am

      Awesome, Farida! Good luck with it.

    • April 13, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      Great to hear Farida – You’re definitely making the right choice not going channel first. Good luck with the strategy – Glad to hear this article was helpful!

  2. September 24, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Such a great point that you have mentioned in your article. Digital marketing strategy plays the vital role in brand building. Before executing your strategy, it’s necessary to check out the roadmap for reaching your milestone. For that you should gather all information about your brand ethics, to whom you are targeting, checking what others are doing in their respective areas and many other points which can help you in executing your digital strategy effectively.

    • September 24, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      Thanks for the comment – You’re spot on. It’s too easy to get caught up in the excitement of execution. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and reevaluate why you’re doing what you’re doing.

  3. Sunday says:
    September 23, 2013 at 7:10 am

    These ideas couldn’t be more right and spot on for every marketer than before. The genesis of a successful digital strategy begins with identification of business goals.

    All other steps and strategies carried out to this effect center around that plan.

    Having said that, the concept of researching the best marketing and promotional strategy for a company begins with setting goals and developing workable plans.

    In the Internet marketing social bookmarking site – kingged.com, this post was shared and the comment above was left.
    Sunday – kingged.com contributor


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