Defining Digital Marketing Strategy

by Youri Sawerschel , 21 June 2016

When people refer to digital marketing strategy chances are high they actually mean the process of selecting one or more online marketing channels to fire their content at whoever decided to show up. This has nothing to do with strategy.

To understand what it really means, I will dissect Digital Marketing Strategy into its elementary components.

Defining Digital

When I speak about media in the context of digital, I refer to media that is digitally stored. According to Wikipedia, “digital media are any media that are encoded in a machine-readable format. Digital media can be created, viewed, distributed, modified and preserved on digital electronics devices.

  • Digital media is media that is consumed on electronic devices (digital ≠ online)

Digital Marketing hence does not automatically mean Online Marketing. An app on one hand, for example, does often not require a live Internet connection to work. While Google, on the other hand, will only work if you are connected to the Internet. Both are digital marketing channels, but only the latter would be considered as an Online Marketing channel.

Defining Marketing

According to the American Marketing Association marketing is defined as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

Yet value creation is only one part of what defines successful marketing. Businesses today are connected to (potential) customers 24/7. For this reason, consumers expect immediate responses to their needs. This exchange of immediate information defines the so-called era of social/mobile marketing and shapes the way we market to consumers.

Within the context of immediate information needs, Google has created the notion of Micro-Moments. They are defined as follows: “An intent-rich moment when a person turns to a device to act on a need – to know, go, do, or buy.” Google continues to explain: In these moments, consumers want what they want, when they want it – and they’re drawn to brands that deliver on their needs.

  • Marketing involves creating value (target the right people using the right channels and messages)
  • Marketing today caters to immediate information needs (be present or someone else will)

It is the immediate need for information that provides ongoing opportunities for marketers. Creating consumer trust and maintaining a positive image are timeless.

Defining Strategy

The modern term strategy originates from the Greek words stratēgía (generalship) and stratēgós (the leader or commander of an army). In military practices, it refers to commanding troops into place before the enemy engages. In other words, strategy means aligning your resources to win a “battle”.

In his 1989 essay “The Origin of Strategy” Bruce Henderson, defines strategy as the following: “Strategy is a deliberate search for a plan of action that will develop a business’s competitive advantage and compound it.

Henderson’s definition introduces the concept of continuity, implying that strategy cannot be something static. Looking at the world we live in today, I believe this is more convincing than ever.

  • Strategy means having a plan
    (know HOW you want to get there)
  • Strategy considers your resources
    (know what you have, know what you don’t have)
  • Strategy means to take a position
    (have a unique position compared to your “enemy”)
  • Strategy is the means to an end
    (set goals or else strategy becomes tactics)
  • Strategy is not static
    (plan for the “what ifs” in a digitised world)

Strategy has to be one of the most misused words in business. It recklessly gets bounced around in meetings and office hallways. In most cases a better term for the word strategy would actually be objective. Increase online sales is an objective. Articulating how to increase online sales is strategy.

Tying it all together

What follows below is my own definition of Digital Marketing Strategy:

“The continuous planning of quantifiable action for the use of digital media to communicate, deliver and exchange offerings that have (immediate) value for stakeholders and develop a business’ unique position.”

For your convenience I have compiled a short Digital Marketing Strategy checklist:

  • You have considered all your target segments’ relevant digital channels
  • You have a quantifiable goal that links to your organization’s goals
  • Your planned activities support your organisation’s unique position
  • You have a plan how to solve for your consumers’ immediate information needs

If you can tick off each the above , you should be good to go. If not, you now know what elements are missing in your Digital Marketing Strategy.


Digital has introduced new ways in which businesses interact with their stakeholders. To truly be digital, simply deploying digital channels of communication is not enough.

According to McKinseybeing digital requires being open to reexamining your entire way of doing business and understanding where the new frontiers of value are.

Openness and leadership commitment towards technology are therefore the prerequisites for the successful use of digital media.

I look forward discussing your comments over at Twitter.

Brand Activation, Technology