10 reasons you need a digital marketing strategy in 2017

Using a digital plan to support digital transformation

Where do you start if you want to develop a digital marketing strategy? Well, I don't think it needs to be a huge report, a strategy can best be summarised in two or three sides of A4 in a table linking digital marketing strategies to SMART objectives. Yet despite this, it seems that many organisations still don't have a plan.

Do you have a digital marketing strategy?

2017 Update: Since 2012 we have run an informal poll to see how widely used digital marketing strategies are. The results have shown some big improvements over the years. A few years ago we found around two-thirds to three-quarters did not have a digital marketing plan. Now that number has shrunk to 44% in latest survey, although that is still quite high, and means many are doing digital with no strategy in place.

When we did the research for our free Managing Digital Marketing report we were interested to see how this percentage looked for a defined sample.

This is what we found in our survey about the level of digital marketing adoption:

So, our latest research suggests an improved approach to planning in this sample of marketers, with fewer than half without a digital strategy. Congratulations if you're one of these companies!

A recommended approach for developing a digital strategy

Whether you have a strategy or not, at the heart of the Smart Insights 'Opportunity, Strategy, Action' approach to improving digital marketing, is benchmarking to compare where you are now to assess the potential against where you need to be in the future.

To help you get started we have created a free digital marketing benchmarks download with a series of benchmarks covering overall digital strategy and the key tactics like Search, Social media, Email marketing and site/experience design.

But what if you're one of the companies that doesn't have a digital strategy yet? Well, I think the two simple alternatives for creating a plan may suggest a way forward:

  • Start with a separate digital marketing plan defining transformation needed and making the case for investment and changes to your digital marketing
  • Then, following approval, create an integrated digital plan which is part of the overall marketing plan - digital is fully aligned and becomes part of business as usual.

So, what are the takeaways to act on here? It seems to me that:

  • Using digital marketing without a strategic approach is still commonplace. I'm sure many of the companies in this category are using digital media effectively and they could certainly be getting great results from their search, email or social media marketing. But I'm equally sure that many are missing opportunities for better targeting or optimisation or are suffering from the other challenges I've listed below. Perhaps the problems below are greatest for larger organisations who most urgently need governance. There's arguably less need for a strategy in a smaller company.
  • Many, a majority of companies in this research do take a strategic approach to digital.  From talking to companies, I find the creation of digital plans often occurs in two stages. First, a separate digital marketing plan is created. This is useful to get agreement and buy-in by showing the opportunities and problems and map out a path through setting goals and specific strategies for digital including how you integrated digital marketing into other business activities.Second, digital becomes integrated into marketing strategy, it's a core activity, "business-as-usual", but doesn't warrant separate planning, except for the tactics.

If you don't have a strategy, or maybe you want to review which business issues are important to include within a strategic review, we've set out the 10 most common problems, that in our experience arise if you don't have a strategy.

10 reasons why you may need a digital channel strategy?

1. You're directionless

I find that companies without a digital strategy (and many that do) don't have clear strategic goals for what they want to achieve online in terms of gaining new customers or building deeper relationships with existing ones. And if you don't have goals you likely don't put enough resources to reach the goals and you don't evaluate through analytics whether you're achieving those goals.

2.  You won't know your online market share

Customer demand for online services may be underestimated if you haven"t researched this.  Perhaps, more importantly, you won't understand your online marketplace: the dynamics will be different to traditional channels with different types of customer profile and behaviour, competitors, propositions and options for marketing communications. See online marketplace methodology post.

3. Existing and start-up competitors will gain market share

If you're not devoting enough resources to digital marketing or you're using an ad-hoc approach with no clearly defined strategies, then your competitors will eat your digital lunch!

4. You don't have a powerful online value proposition

A clearly defined online customer value proposition will help you differentiate your online service encouraging existing and new customers to engage initially and stay loyal.

5. You don't know your online customers well enough

It's often said that digital is the "most measurable medium ever". But Google Analytics and similar will only tell you volumes of visits, not the sentiment of visitors, what they think. You need to use other forms of website user feedback tools to identify your weak points and then address them.

6. You're not integrated ("disintegrated")

It's all too common for digital marketing activities to be completed in silos whether that's a specialist digital marketer, sitting in IT or a separate digital agency. It's easier that way to package digital marketing into a convenient chunk. But of course it's less effective. Everyone agrees that digital media work best when integrated with traditional media and response channels.

7. Digital doesn't have enough people/budget given its importance

Insufficient resource will be devoted to both planning and executing e-marketing and there is likely to be a lack of specific specialist e-marketing skills which will make it difficult to respond to competitive threats effectively.

8. You're wasting money and time through duplication

Even if you do have sufficient resource it may be wasted. This is particularly the case in larger companies where you see different parts of the marketing organization purchasing different tools or using different agencies for performing similar online marketing tasks.

9. You're not agile enough to catch up or stay ahead

If you look at the top online brands like Amazon, Dell, Google, Tesco, Zappos, they're all dynamic  - trialling new approaches to gain or keep their online audiences.

10 You're not optimizing

Every company with a website will have analytics, but many senior managers don't ensure that their teams make or have the time to review and act on them. Once a strategy enables you to get the basics right, then you can progress to continuous improvement of the key aspects like search marketing, site user experience, email and social media marketing. So that's our top 10 problems that can be avoided with a well thought through strategy. What have you found can go right or wrong?

Share your thoughts

  • Ali Khan commented on February 8, 2017

    Digital marketing strategy has more or less now become a necessity of online marketing. And, this article is simply amazing with respect to the current and modern era of digital marketing. I must say Kudos to the author. (Y) very well written!


  • A great read  –  my highlighter was working over time, marking my key ‘takeaways’. Thank you very much for the insights.

  • Very important points specially that wasting money and time through duplication point. Nice article. Thanks

  • Nice Article on digital marketing.Got some useful information.Thank You

  • Joey commented on August 9, 2016

    For every online business, digital marketing is must for achieving the desired success. Therefore, these strategies are very helpful.

  • Great resource on Digital Marketing, Dave! – We’ve just published a new post on The Essential List of 31 Digital Marketing Tactics for Small Businesses – would be great to have your feedback.


  • trupti-desai commented on May 23, 2016

    Fantastic article – I always enjoy reading the real nitty gritty details of day-to-day issues that become huge and derailed over time. Metrics are important, but useless if not acted upon. Keep up the great posts!!

  • Great article Dave, and congratulations on a website full of excellent content.

    This site should be the number one go to source for all start up agencies and businesses prior to commencing any digital marketing strategy.

    If businesses understood that a good marketing strategy should be seen as an asset of their business instead of an expense, I am sure there would be far less business failures in the early years.

    I look forward to jumping into your expert membership shortly.


    • Thanks for your kind comments Trevor,

      Agree, generally businesses are divided into marketing-led and sales/product-led and those that combine the two – we know which are most effective.

      We hope to welcome you as an Expert member shortly! If you have any questions about using our resources, do ask in the members community: http://www.smartinsights.com/community.

  • Thanks for your sharing, its really helping to learn about digital marketing

  • Excellent article.

    Digital strategy is one of the most commonly misunderstood areas I come across when working as head of Digital and brand strategy at a digital agency.

    It’s also so true that a clearly defined online customer value proposition will help you differentiate your online service. Encouraging existing and new customers to engage and stay loyal involves thinking through the business in detail. Often people remain so focused on the day to day running of the business that they don’t give enough attention to the importance of defining their brand.

    Enjoyed this and will tweet it out. A.

    • Thanks for your comment Andrew – the point you make about defining how digital adds to the brand is key – but often not even considered directly.

      “Often people remain so focused on the day to day running of the business that they don’t give enough attention to the importance of defining their brand”.

  • Really good points. I think one thing where many businesses fail too, is fact that they have alright strategy, they are measuring pretty much everything, but they have no clue what to do with insights and reports. That’s why at SEOSEON we are trying to take is in account and give answers what customers really need for decision making.

  • As we know, today are increasingly more companies are getting started in digital marketing. Many of these digital marketers are hiring what is allowing this race as one of the more incredible for being so changeable, interesting and great long-term prospects.

  • I just read this elsewhere – Did you sell or buy the article? https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/10-reasons-you-need-digital-marketing-strategy-deepak-pandey

  • Thanks for the insightful article. It’s true that businesses are awakening to the realization that disjointed digital marketing services alone just won’t cut it in the longer scheme of things and only with an integrated digital strategy can a measurable increase in returns be realized.

  • Online industry is growing and so is the competition. Hence it is very important to have well optimized website and Digital Marketing agency which can take care of your brand online. Choose agency which provides you all solution under one roof.

  • Mark commented on June 2, 2015

    good one, check out my view on digital transformation http://linkd.in/1cvmfHX

  • Jitender Handa commented on January 23, 2015

    This is really a nice and informative article. thanks for posting this.

  • liz commented on December 29, 2014

    These are all great points as to when and why should businesses pay attention to digital marketing. great blog and wonderful resources.

  • Setting a Digital Strategy is essential for achieving the goals of your business. Really great post! The Digital Marketing field as a whole is growing year-over-year as more businesses recognize its importance. Check out http://digitalmarketingprogramsinmichigan.blogspot.com/ to find out more about Digital Marketing and the potential career options it provides.

  • This is a great post about the benefits of having a digital marketing strategy. Digital marketing has become so important that many universities and colleges are creating digital marketing degrees. Check out digitalmarketingdegreesmi.weebly.com to learn about the top digital marketing degree programs in Michigan.

  • Great post Dave. Having a Digital Marketing Strategy is absolutely essential. We’ve found that a lot of online marketers find it difficult to compete with the noise online. Creating content that will maintain an audience interest is not an easy thing. At Pindle we are helping marketers in this new social era to better engage with their customers. http://www.getpindle.com

  • Digital marketing is a great career option for those interested in marketing. It is the future of marketing and most companies, small or big, need digital marketers to sell their products and services. And it is not just about selling online or ecommerce – even if you have a shop or offline business, you need digital marketing to reach customers.

    But you need to learn digital marketing by doing a good course. If you are new or want some hands on experience while learning, I recommend this course from Trainedge – http://www.onlinecourses.trainedge.co.in/digital-marketing-webinar-course-with-3-month-internship/

  • Very new to this, and hope you would take the time to take a look at my website, and give us some feedback.
    Greetings Patrick

  • Saiprasad Sunkari commented on September 22, 2014

    Hello, thanks for the great stuff known some interesting topics on digital marketing

  • Hi Dave, thanks for the post and I completely agree! I understand that some may argue that the digital world is constantly changing and growing, however to me this is a key reason why a plan should be set up in order to keep up with it! Digital is such a widely used element of many people’s day to day lifestyles, for example use of their mobile phones or the use of Google. I feel it just makes sense for companies to have Digital Marketing Managers etc. to push a clear strategy and make sure you do not miss making the most of a chunk of this market. I work for a marketing and PR recruitment agency and we are currently recruiting for many digital roles across the central and eastern regions with the market ever increasing. All in all, you can always benefit from a digital marketing strategy so why not put one in place! Kind regards, Lauren

  • Indeed, I noticed there are any companies still understand estimate the value and neglect to digital marketing. Most of the time people tends to or willingness to discover new approach has higher chances to succeed.

  • Yes I do agree with Digital marketing strategy. Nice blog

  • Burke Miller commented on February 4, 2014

    I really like #8 especially if you’re a smaller firm trying to gain a large footprint. About all content can be made digital now so why waste the cash going the traditional route when you can spend a fraction with a much large audience.

  • Abby Edgley Edgley commented on January 23, 2014

    Something Fishy in the beginning, but it is really a good attempt to cover the strategies of Digital Marketing..


  • Kaniz Mapari commented on December 30, 2013

    Thank You for the Article its great to read stuff like this and get knowledge..
    Have a great day………

  • John Newton commented on October 15, 2013

    One of the key things decided at the strategic level are the goal / goals that the activity is there to support. This is a crucial step. For example, social networks are consumed in different ways, and can perform different roles. Which network is the right tool to meet specific goals in your plan. Similarly, it may be that a goal requires the chaining together of lots of different channels – including offline / online, offsite / onsite, logged out / logged in. Only by having a clear goal will you have the understanding you need to do this – and importantly the confidence to invest considerable time in achieving the goal that was agreed by your boss’s boss’s boss.

  • Adam commented on October 4, 2013

    I agree with you that it is commonplace for now and that those companies may be missing a lot of potentials and opportunities. Most just rely on some types of ads and then think that is all they need for their digital marketing. It can actually be optimized a lot more, but since they don’t believe in the need of doing so or are not aware of the potentials then PR agencies should be active and grab more real statistics and present it to their clients.

    Adam – Impatto

  • Aqueous SEO commented on July 19, 2013

    Nice post Dave. Most clients arrive at a Digital Agency or SEO provider simply wanting to get more from Google and all of them miss the point, which is that it’s not just about Google.

    My opening question is now “Imagine the internet didn’t exist; now tell me how you would market your business”? You won’t be surprised to hear that the number of people who can articulate a coherent strategy in this scenario is even worse than your survey above….

    I spent half of yesterday on the phone to Editors placing material in their print publications, hardly what you’d expect from a ‘digital agency’ but essential if it’s part of an integrated Marketing plan….

    Seth is right – everyone can do it….Marketing is just common sense, right? How hard could it be…..?

    • Great comment – thank you! I like that question!

      If Google or FB didn’t exist how would you market your business is an online version of that.

      • Aqueous SEO commented on July 19, 2013

        Given Google’s current ‘monopoly’ in this space it’s perfectly understandable that people just want to be ‘at the top’ but that misses the point that it’s never going to be sustainable.

        In a previous life I worked for a ‘monopoly’ business who today are teetering on going under. Nobody predicted that ten years ago.

        I like your Google/Facebook slant as both are odd beasts to tame and I can say with rock solid certainty that in ten years time they won’t be in the positions they are today! Proper Marketing will however endure!

        • You certainly can’t ignore them, but if you just try to compete on them you’re up against everyone else – as you say there are only 3 free slots on the first page of Google and it’s damn tricky to maintain those for volume.

          So, yes it’s about finding other opportunities also and most important building a brand that stands out – success in online marketing for me is about building a brand, but how often do you see that discussed?

          • Aqueous SEO commented on July 19, 2013

            Almost never….unless you sit in our office! Brands sustain irrespective of channel whereas channels can come and go (bye bye directories….)

  • Denzel commented on May 2, 2013

    This is an excellent read!
    Thanks for the post!

  • Reader5 commented on November 27, 2012

    This is a great article, thank you for writing it.

  • Sophie Ramsey commented on September 21, 2012

    Really interesting stuff to see the amount of oragnisations engaging on a tactical level but having no digital strategy – and really useful reasons why it’s important. Great article!

    • Yes, it’s amazing isn’t Sophie! They must be having some success, but the reasons suggest wastage and missed opportunity.
      Thanks for your comment


  • Koesworo_i commented on July 13, 2012

    Nice Info Bu,
    thx sharingnya,

    kunjungi web kita ya :
    PT.Magenta Indra Kreasi (spesialis barang promosi)
    Pulpen promosi, Kaos, kemeja, Topi, Tas, Mug, Thumbler

  • I really love all your question those are question can lean a person for better strategy.But in number 10 i think it better to optimize and use SEO strategy and tools.well all in all this is cool.

  • You sooo need a digital strategy! If you fail to prepare you prepare to fail.

  • wow, significant number of companies doing digital marketing without any strategy. Large proportion of them are doing it just because they have to do it.

    But doing something without a clearly defined, short, medium and long term, strategy in my opinion would not be very successful. I understand the fact that the market does not allow planning in long term but at least short and medium term strategy have to be defined along with the goals.

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