- Additional Resources for Digital Marketing Strategy Leaders
- Conferences for Digital Marketing Strategy Leaders
A digital marketing strategy sets and designs initiatives to build differentiated digital engagement with a target audience in service of business goals.
Digital marketing relies on a set of integrated digital techniques, technologies and data that enables marketing to improve the ways in which it engages in dynamic conversations with influencers and buyers, and targets, acquires and retains customers.
For most organizations, digital marketing plays an increasingly strategic role in driving business growth. Best-in-class brands focus relentlessly on optimizing digital marketing channels, blending digital and physical experiences, and embracing emerging technologies that can provide a competitive edge. (Also see “What role does technology play in digital marketing strategy?”)
Marketers have long juggled the objectives of customer acquisition and retention, but the pandemic radically shifted customer engagement preferences and elevated digital experience to a pivotal role in social and business relationships. Digital is no longer just a means of enhancing customer relationships; it is also a primary medium for building new connections with target audiences, whether that’s employees, business partners or social influencers.
Digital marketing’s expanding remit now has a major influence on overall strategic marketing objectives, budgets and key performance indicators (KPIs).
Digital marketing strategy articulates the goals and execution tactics for digital experiences, channels, campaigns and media — and the performance metrics to measure progress and success.
There is no single framework for crafting strategy, but key components of any digital marketing plan include:
An assessment of team skills, tools and processes needed to support digital marketing objectives — and a plan for closing gaps in performance.
To maximize the value of digital channels and engagement, and their impact on customers’ shifting digital behaviors, marketers need to plan, execute and evaluate the impact of digital marketing efforts holistically.
Best-in-class digital marketers drive business growth through coordinated customer engagements that span a growing array of touchpoints with target audiences. These include websites, paid and organic social media, search and display advertising, TV, over-the-top (OTT) streaming media, digital video, email and mobile marketing (e.g., SMS, push notification, in-app messaging and consumer messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp), and voice-enabled endpoints (e.g., smart speakers and smartphone-based virtual personal assistants).
This type of integrated digital marketing strategy requires a coordinated, iterative multichannel approach and performance measurement against peers, especially in the following three areas:
Marketing teams can orchestrate a range of digital marketing strategies and techniques to ensure customer interactions meet and exceed expectations, and increase satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.
For example, Gartner research shows that digital marketers favor social marketing and digital advertising at the top of the purchase funnel — specifically across brand awareness, demand generation, conversion to sales, and customer loyalty and advocacy. But it takes the right tools, customer data, targeting and testing to align the best channel with target audiences and specific goals.
The major digital marketing strategies include:
Digital advertising comprises display, video, mobile and social ads. To succeed, digital ads must communicate with audiences using appropriate timing, context, content and tone across relevant channels.
Paid search specifically refers to advertising on search engines and other websites; ads are presented based on the content and context of a specific search query.
Digital marketing leaders accountable for advertising are on the front lines of rapid change in consumer behavior, such as the rising adoption of nonlinear TV and new social media platforms. However, advertisers face a continuously evolving landscape of adtech, service providers and agencies, new formats and platforms, and data and measurement partners. They also must confront issues such as changing privacy regulations, cookie deprecation and fraud.
The use of the email channel to deliver marketing messages is a fundamental touchpoint throughout the customer life cycle. It includes brand newsletters and/or contextually relevant, real-time and personalized communications with target audiences. However, customer churn, upended consumer journeys and changing consumer habits have created hurdles to successfully executing email marketing.
Digital marketing leaders must adjust to new challenges spanning privacy, data capture and targeted content deployment. Given pandemic-driven changes in customers' digital habits, leading performers are leaning more heavily on customer data and segmentation tactics to deliver high engagement. They avoid quantity in favor of quality and emphasize targeted, personalized messaging that improves conversion and boosts email effectiveness.
Social marketing refers to the creation, curation, consumption, promotion and distribution of marketing content for purposes primarily related to building and nurturing communities. It excludes paid advertising on social channels but includes influencer marketing, social seeding and social activations.
Digital marketers can no longer afford to view social media as a channel exclusively for raising awareness and consideration. The impact of social platforms extends across the entire purchase funnel, particularly as more consumers turn to social commerce. Digital marketers today must exercise caution in messaging regarding social issues, like public health and racism, given heightened consumer scrutiny over brand actions. Long-term brand health and equity, as well as revenue, are on the line.
Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to techniques used to improve qualified traffic to web pages by understanding the nature and intent of searches and developing highly relevant content and experiences. An integrated digital marketing strategy requires a holistic approach across paid and organic, so it’s important not to pit SEO against search engine marketing (SEM), as one elevates the other’s performance.
SEO and SEM strategies must be designed in service of brand objectives, whether those are traffic-, engagement- or conversion-driven. The most effective way to achieve these goals is to ensure your brand is in front of and serving relevant content to appropriate prospects.
Digital marketing leaders are responsible for defining and meeting strategic marketing objectives through connected conversations that engage target audiences and market segments across digital channels.
They and their teams need expertise across a range of functions, from core marketing channels to analytics to content creation and management to media planning and buying, and, increasingly, digital commerce. They must also be adept at using technologies that support orchestrated customer engagement through these different touchpoints. (Also see “What role does emerging technology play in digital marketing strategy?”)
Digital marketing leadership is increasingly becoming synonymous with marketing leadership overall. The Gartner Digital Marketing Survey 2021 found that 36% of responding digital marketing leaders now hold the title of CMO, and 85% hold the title of vice president or higher.
Digital marketing leaders have a broad remit to set the strategy and establish the KPIs that align digital marketing objectives to business goals.
Digital marketing leaders need to plan for and execute in an environment that requires strategic prioritization, agility, an emphasis on longer-term initiatives that can propel their marketing organization’s digital transformation, and an unstinting focus on achieving results. Among their responsibilities are:
Digital marketing leaders use a vast array of technologies to deliver business results, scale operations and address the intricacies of the modern customer journey.
The remit of marketing technology (martech) and digital marketing leaders is expanding to include customer data management and customer lifetime value analysis. Organizations realize that their martech platforms are only as good as their data and analytics capabilities and the customer insights their teams uncover. Common projects in this domain include:
Under pressure to build first-party data-capture capabilities, most companies are also ramping up investments in technologies such as customer data platforms (CDPs) to build a 360-degree view of the customer.
Content management is another priority for martech and digital marketing leaders, because most organizations have now realized they cannot achieve omnichannel personalization at scale without an agile and connected content operations ecosystem.
Emerging and advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) promise to transform marketing capabilities such as personalization of advertising and marketing engagements. Marketing platforms such as multichannel marketing hubs (MMHs), CDPs and mobile marketing platforms are already integrating both AI and machine learning (ML) capabilities, and the appetite for such tools continues to grow. However, deployment of AI and ML is still in the incipient phase as marketers struggle with complex technology rollouts, a lack of resources (people and technology), and a certain amount of distrust by marketing and the business in these underlying technologies.
Some technology deployments sped up in response to the effects of COVID-19, when marketers doubled down on martech to accelerate incomplete digital transformations. Technologies such as event-triggered marketing, mobile wallet marketing and MMHs progressed more quickly toward maturity. Mobile marketing analytics — a profile Gartner expected to see mature and graduate off the Hype Cycle™ — will probably extend for at least another year as marketers grapple with the practical impact of Apple’s app tracking transparency framework on mobile advertising dollars and optimizing campaigns with less data.