The Foundations of a Digital Marketing Strategy - Utter Digital
Building a digital marketing strategy Foundations

Often, businesses delve into the world of digital marketing with little or no strategy in place. They may set up a Facebook Page, dabble in Google Adwords, or set up a blog. Maybe it’s just to try it out, maybe they feel pressured to be there because they’ve heard it’s the ‘must have thing’ for businesses these days, they’ve seen it work for their competitors, or perhaps it’s just been on the ‘to do’ list for far too long. Whatever the reason, they’ve decided to take the plunge.

They may find some success, but feel a little uncertain about what’s really working for them, and why. All to often, I’ll hear “yes, we tried Twitter / Facebook / email, etc. It didn’t work for us.” But that very platform they tried may be one which could give them a great return if they were using it correctly, and as part of an overall digital strategy.

So how do you go about developing a digital marketing strategy? You may be tempted to start by looking at the individual building blocks, such as social media, search engine optimisation, email or advertising. For me, you need to start with the foundations, and then build from there. You wouldn’t build your house without strong foundations, and likewise, you should take the time to construct the foundations for your online presence in order to ensure your digital strategy is effective and built to last.

There’s a lot of groundwork to be done when developing a strategy, but it really boils down to four key components:

Customer Insights

The foundations must start with your customer. In fact, everything you do should be rooted in an understanding of the wants and needs of your target market. A customer-centric digital strategy is one which will stand the test of time. We’re not just talking about categorising your customers by age group, gender or location. Yes, you’ll need to know the basic demographics, but if you’re going to build an online presence which really connects with your desired customers, you’ll need to delve much deeper than this.

You need to really understand your target customers, their behaviour, what makes them tick, what matters to them, what are the purchase drivers, the influences and influencers.

Online behaviour

Do you know what your ideal customers are doing online? A few examples of the questions you should be asking yourself are:

  • What social media channels are they active on?
  • Who are their online influencers?
  • What kind of content are they consuming, and sharing?
  • What are they searching for?
  • What methods of marketing communication works with them?


Customer profiling

Your customers aren’t just numbers. They’re real people. So you should view them and treat them as such. Building a portrait of your key customers can help with this, and is another way of helping you understand them better. These pen portraits will help you to visualise and connect with your customers, as you’ll see them as real individuals with real lives, which you want to be part of.

Chris Garrett gives us a list of useful questions to help build a pen portrait in this article. You’ll notice he thinks about who your customers aren’t as well as who they are.  As we’re talking about your digital strategy here, I’d add in a few questions about their online behaviour, and you should include questions which are relevant to your industry.

You’ll need to do your research to get the right answers, and once you have these, use them to build a story of who your customers are. I’d suggest combining this with a visual representation of your customer, like a mood board.

Customer pen portrait example


Customer Profile Example Pen Portrait

Pen Portrait of the ideal customer for a craft jeweller


You’ll have different types of customers, with different needs. They’ll need to be catered for in different ways, so you need to define who they are. Categorising your customers into groups with common traits will allow you to build a strategy which looks after all of them.

For example, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board have segmented their customers in this way, and grouped them into 4 segments. They’ve built a picture of each of the segments and related this back to the industry they’re in so they can better connect with each of their target markets:

Time Together

NITB customer segmentation Time Together

Mature Cosmopolitans

Customer segmentation example 2

Family Fun

Example of Customer segmentation example 3

Young and Lively

Example of Customer segmentation NI

They’ve published more details about their target markets and different segments in their toolkit for the NI tourism industry.


Competitor Intelligence

Knowing your competitors will better position you to compete with them. Know who they are, where they are and what they’re doing.

Look at things like their pricing, service offering, press coverage, their brand positioning, their typical customers, their marketing campaigns, their online presence, etc.

Ask yourself where the gaps are, or how you can differentiate your business from those around you. Understanding your unique selling point (USP) will allow you to create campaigns and offerings which stand out in a noisy online environment. For example, are you faster, cheaper, more ethical, more convenient, more reliable? Do you have a better product, or better service?

The Chartered Institute of Marketing have published this useful example which can help to simplify the process of identifying your USP:

Defining USP example



Just ensure that what makes you different resonates with the wants, needs and behaviour of your desired customers. Otherwise, it simply won’t work.

And remember, the internet allows you to target customers far beyond your local area. There are no geographical boundaries online. The downside of this is that you’ll have many more competitors, targeting your customers and your region. So think beyond those businesses you’ve been competing with for years in your locale.


Your brand

When I mention brand to some businesses, they immediately think about their name and their logo. But a brand is so much more than this. It’s your reputation, your values, your culture, your vision, your personality…it’s who you are and what you do.

As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said,

“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

I like this definition because it highlights the fact that your brand is in the hands of others. You can’t dictate what people think, say or feel about you, but you can make damn sure you influence it.

To do this, you’ve got to ensure your brand isn’t just an empty promise. It’s got to be part of your business’ D.N.A.

Whatever you stand for, whatever your personality and tone, whatever your promise, this should be evident at every touch point. It should be apparent in everything you do, without the need to tell people. It should be consistent over time, and it should involve every person in your business.

This is how you’ll build a brand.

Your brand is in the hands of others. Brand quote

Defining what that brand is involves understanding your customers, as who you are should connect with what they need and want.

Take the time to identify your brand values and benefits, both tangible and emotional. Think about your image and personality. What are the perceptions that people have of you, and do they match what you believe your brand is, or what you want it to be? If there’s a disconnect between what people are thinking and saying about your brand, and what you want them to think and say, then you’re not fulfilling your brand promise, so you’ve got some work to do to make your brand come to life.

Your brand should have an emotional connection with your customers. Decisions are driven by, or influenced by emotional drivers. So once you know what these emotional drivers are, you’ll need to figure out how your brand can harness this. This connection should form your brand essence.

Your brand essence is defined as “the single most compelling thing we can say about the brand that differentiates it from competitor brands as perceived by the consumer. The most powerful brand essences are rooted in a fundamental consumer need.” (Brand Focus)

If you can crack this, and identify a brand essence which will differentiate you, whilst tapping into your customer’s needs, you’ll have a strong foundation to build on.

Think about some of the biggest brands in the world and how they connect emotionally with their customers…

  • Disney…magical
  • Volvo…safe
  • Nike…inspirational

I like the way Simon Sinek speaks about connecting your brand with your customers in his Ted Talk. Look at how he highlights Apple as an example of how to start with “why”, because

“people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”

You can have a look at the full talk here.



So, with your customer insights, competitor intelligence and brand in place, you can continually develop the right propositions for your customers. Without the right products, service offering, promotions and packages, everything else will be futile.

You now know who your target customers are, and their needs and wants. You know what drives them to buy your products, or what problems they have which you can solve.

You know what your competitors are offering, and what you can do differently.

You know who you are, and how you want to be represented. You know how to emotionally connect with your customers.

Put all of this into developing new products, offers and packages for your target customers. How can you learn from and use the insights you’ve gained, and be innovative in meeting the desires of your customers?


The Foundations

Building your digital marketing strategy starts with strong foundations.

In summary, these foundations are:

  • Customer Insights
  • Competitor Intelligence
  • Your Brand
  • Propositions

The truth is, these foundations are not just going to make your digital strategy more successful, but your entire business. What I’ve covered here is not exclusive to online.

With strong foundations, you can now build a more effective strategy, with the digital building blocks such as social media, SEO, online advertising and content marketing.

Without these foundations, you’ll be building on shaky ground and risking the success of all the work you do online, so take the time to get this right. If you don’t have the skills to develop your strategy in house, bring in people who do. Investing energy and resources in this area will be invaluable for your business in the long term.

Here’s an infographic summary to keep or share!


Infographic digital marketing strategy foundations



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