Introducing RACE: a practical framework to improve your digital marketing

The RACE Digital Marketing Planning Framework

We created RACE to help digital marketers plan and manage their activities in a more structured way since we found that many don't have a marketing strategy. In this post, first published in July 2010 and since updated with the a new summary of digital marketing KPIs you should track, we show how you can simplify your measurement and reporting through RACE Planning.

You can find more details about applying RACE for Internet Marketing Planning in our free RACE Internet marketing template download and it is used by our Expert members to create digital plans using our Digital Strategy Toolkit.

To explain and fully define 'What Is Digital Marketing?' we created this popular Digital Strategy infographic in 2012 and updated in 2015 as shown below.  It shows the Key measures to set targets for and evaluate at each stage of the funnel.

Race Digital Strategy Funnel infographic
What does RACE Planning stand for?

The RACE mnemonic summarises the key online marketing activities that need to be managed as part of digital marketing. RACE covers the full customer lifecycle or marketing funnel from:

(Plan) > Reach > Act > Convert > Engage

There is also an initial phase of PLAN involving creating the overall digital strategy, objective setting and plan, so sometimes members call it PRACE, but we prefer RACE Planning for simplicity.  There's more detail at the end of the post in the infographic and the planning process is explained in detail in our RACE Digital Marketing Planning Elearning - click the link for free access to the first module.

We have defined four steps of engagement across the customer lifecycle, since in online marketing there is a major challenge in gaining interaction, participation with prospects and creating those all-important Leads after the initial customer touchpoint.

These interactions, covered in the Act step can take place over several channels and touchpoints such as web, mobile, social media and email contacts, so these leads need separate management from final conversion to online or offline sale through techniques like retargeting and assisted selling.

RACE consists of these four steps or online marketing activities designed to help brands engage their customers throughout the customer lifecycle.

  • 1. REACH. Reach involves building awareness of a brand, its products and services on other websites and in offline media in order to build traffic by driving visits to different web presences like your main site, microsites or social media pages. It involves maximising reach over time to create multiple interactions using different paid, owned and earned media touchpoints.
  • 2 ACT. Act is short for Interact. It's a separate stage since encouraging interactions on websites and in social media to generate leads is a big challenge for online marketers.  It's about persuading site visitors or prospects take the next step, the next Action on their journey when they initially reach your site or social network presence. For many types of businesses, especially, Business-to-Business, this means generating leads, but it may mean finding out more about a company or its products, searching to find a product or reading a blog post. You should define these actions as top-level goals of the funnel in analytics.Google Analytics Goals can include "Viewed product", "Added to Basket", "Registered as member" or "Signed up for an enewsletter. Act is also about encouraging participation. This can be sharing of content via social media or customer reviews (strictly, part of Engage).The specific goals and dashboard need to be defined for each business as explained in our Delivering results from digital marketing guide.  It's about engaging the audience through relevant, compelling content and clear navigation pathways so that they don't hit the back button. The bounce rates on many sites is greater than 50%, so getting the audience to act or participate is a major challenge which is why we have identified it separately.
  • 3. CONVERT. This is conversion to sale. It involves getting your audience to take that vital next step which turns them into paying customers whether the payment is taken through online Ecommerce transactions, or offline channels.
  • 4. ENGAGE. This is long-term engagement that is, developing a long-term relationship with first-time buyers to build customer loyalty as repeat purchases using communications on your site, social presence, email and direct interactions  to boost customer lifetime value. It can be measured by repeat actions such as repeat sale and sharing content through social media.We also need to measure percentage of active customers (or email subscribers) and customer satisfaction and recommendation using other systems.

Why RACE Planning?

We created the RACE Planning system to help give a simple framework to help small and large businesses alike take best advantage of the opportunities available from digital marketing.

In our research, we have found that, shockingly, many businesses don't have a digital marketing strategy. When creating a digital marketing strategy, knowing how to structure it and where to start is sometimes the biggest challenge!

There are so many tools and tactics available that it's difficult to know where to start. We hope RACE gives a structure to help you review and prioritise when there are so many options, but some options work better than others.

RACE is a practical framework to help manage and improve results from your digital marketing. Ultimately it's about using best practice web analytics techniques to get more commercial value from investments in digital marketing. We hope it will help simplify your approach to reviewing the performance of your online marketing and taking actions to improve its effectiveness.

Using KPIs to manage RACE

In our 2011 Marketing manifesto we explained that we believe growing business through digital marketing should be based on a sound evaluation and optimisation process using digital analytics showing which marketing activities are effective and which aren't. This diagram shows relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) that should be used at each stage.

RACE framework KPIs

Here's an example of our recommended measures in a simpler summary of RACE KPIs which could form a dashboard - the best dashboards show not only volume and how they change through time, but also the quality of visits and the value generated.

RACE KPIs

Many of these KPIs be created from Google Analytics although it needs to be customised for each business to record goal value or revenue per visit. For some other measures such as social mentions you need to pull in from other tools.

Marketing activities to manage within RACE

All of our guidance on Smart Insights from our blog posts to detailed guides and templates are structured according to RACE. This is a summary of some of the main activities which our guides, templates and free blog guidance cover - we have created an interactive version of this planning framework where you can click through to relevant sections on this diagram.

Of course, there are many more online marketing activities which are covered in our full sitemap of hub pages.


RACE KPIs

Google Analytics has over 60 reports displaying many more metrics and that's before you start segmenting your audience... Other web analytics tools have more... This makes it difficult to know what to report; you have to identify your "critical few" Key Performance Indicators which you report on regularly to review performance and identify problems. Here we have suggested just 3 KPIs for each area which apply for a retail site. We'll have more on these and related performance drive measures in later posts.

RACE is Social! Digital marketing is not just about your website

Digital marketing today is not just about your website, and in fact it never has been, partnering with other sites and "swimming with the fishes" has always been important.

But today, the popularity of participation in social media with web users means that how to reach, interact, convert and maintain ongoing engagement of customers through social networks is vital to the success of a brand. At each step in RACE you need to think how social media can help achieve your goals and how you can measure the effectiveness of social media.

RACE is integrated

Digital channels always work best when they're integrated with other channels, so remember that where appropriate, digital channels should be combined with the traditional offline media and channels.  The most important aspects of integration are first using traditional media to raise awareness of the value of the online presences and drive visitors to the website(s) at the Reach and Engage stages. Second, at the Convert and Engage steps stage customers may prefer to interact with customer representatives as part of the buying or customer service process.

So that's an introduction to the Smart Insight RACE framework. We hope you find it useful when you're planning and managing digital marketing!

Credits

RACE is an evolution of the REAN (Reach > Engage > Activate > Nurture) framework for web analytsts originally developed by Xavier Blanc and popularised by Steve Jackson in his book Cult of Analytics of which I'm a big fan.

We devised RACE since we wanted to develop our own approach for improving digital marketing and we feel Step 2 is more about initial interactions with a brand and in step 4, customer engagement is a longer-term process.

Through 15 years of advising marketers through my books and training I've found that, after time has passed, all that often remains from the course as a takeaway is a framework on which to hang future actions. C'est la vie! But busy people seem to like frameworks and mnemonics to structure their actions. To help digital marketers structure their thoughts, over the years I've created or been involved with these frameworks too - I hope you find they're useful - that's what we aim for - to make marketing life simpler and more profitable.

  • The 5Ss of online marketing (PR Smiths suggestions on goals from our Emarketing Excellence book)
  • SOSTAC® - a method for structuring digital marketing planning (again developed by Paul Smith)
  • CRITICAL - a practical way of improving Email Marketing
  • The 6 key digital media channels for traffic building options

And FWIW, it's why we're called SMART Insights - we believe the best marketers compete and win by a data-driven or insight-driven approach to marketing.

Share your thoughts

  • Your RACE digital marketing planning framework rocks! The race steps are greatly recommendable especially for newbies .Every year, I re-evaluate my content marketing framework and workflows to see what are some points need to be enhanced, processes that are not working and strategies which are not contributing to the success of my business and while surfing online, I came across this article http://janei.ro/5×5-my-content-marketing-framework-free-downloadable-checklist/ and I find it very relevant and helpful in intensifying my content marketing framework plan.

    • I like that Angelene – we aim to Rock! This post doesn’t truly explain the 5 X 5 essential activities shown in the members area – coincidence you have a 5 X 5 – frameworks really help thinking. When I did the analysis to break down digital marketing into 25 activities I was surprised there were some key activities that were gaps from our other resources, e.g. revenue models, onboarding, multichannel selling – shows the value of frameworks.

  • Mariela commented on February 17, 2015

    Hello Dave, thank you for this. Very useful indeed.
    I’m on my early stages with marketing and would very much appreciate your advice on where to start with digital marketing.
    I have basically two options: IDM (Professional Diploma in Digital Marketing) and Squared.
    One of my goals in pursuing this training is to be able to apply for certain roles that I can’t get access to at the moment due to my lack of experience in the field.
    Secondly, I would like to acquire knowledge that I will be able to effectively implement on my career, a hands on approach so as to speak.
    Lastly, timing and investment are another topic to consider, based on these items, would you recommend IDM or Squared?

    Thank you very much in advanced for your assistance.

    Mariela

  • Thank you! This is a nice marketing framework. I think it’s very useful to the start-up company. Also, digital channels always work best when they’re integrated with other channels. For example, marketers can firstly use traditional media to raise awareness and drive more site visitors.

  • Billy Simmons commented on January 24, 2015

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  • Currently using this to develop a plan for a new client and finding it incredibly helpful to nail down the right strategy in a logical way.

    • Marty commented on May 28, 2016

      I’ve now been using this twice to structure proposals for clients. It has been very well received. I’m adding to it by weaving in off-line marketing as well.

      • Hi Marty,

        Thanks for sharing your experiences with applying RACE – we love to hear how it’s been applied on projects especially when it helps win business and manage client projects – quite a few of our members are consultants or agencies.

        I’d be interested how you integrate offline – could you share in a guest blog post?

        We cover it in our 25 point break out of RACE under Reach 2.4 Paid media and 4.4 Multichannel selling.

        Dave

  • Heya i’m for the primary time here. I found this board and
    I find It truly helpful & it helped me out much. I hope to offer
    something back and aid others like you aided me.

  • James Wragg commented on October 12, 2014

    Hey Dave,

    Just writing a placement research project and wondering if you have ever published this framework? Since i’m looking for an academic reference and can’t find one!

    Thanks, James

    • Hi James,

      You can reference my text book – Chaffey, D. and Ellis Chadwick, R. (2012) Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. Pearson Education, Harlow, London. 5th edition.

      It’s included in the first chapter.

      • James Wragg commented on October 13, 2014

        Hey again Dave,
        Thanks so much for the reply! Managed to squirrel a copy out of from my uni library today.

        Great to talk to a digital marketing celebrity! What’s your opinion on the digital marketing MA’s & MSC’s? I’d maybe like to do one but don’t know if it’s really worth it?

        Thanks once again for replying so quickly! Your time must be very important

        • Hi James,

          For me, Masters Digital Courses work best for more senior professionals who already have good experience in managing Digital and want to gain a more senior position.

          Dave

  • RWPLLC commented on September 4, 2014

    Terrific article, thank you!

  • Raphenom Promotions commented on June 12, 2014

    Very informative

  • Angu Raj S commented on June 10, 2014

    Mind blowing article..thank you so much…

  • Martin Meister G. commented on March 21, 2014

    Excellent frameworks! I was always wondering an easy and targeted way to measure the digital plan, with the RACE KPI´s one I think I found it. Regards http://www.MartinMeister.cl

  • Search engines will eventually find your site online, but that can take a while. To speed everything up, you should submit your website to the most popular search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.

  • SusanHill commented on November 17, 2013

    Hi, just to let you know that the ink to Steve Jackson in his book Cult of Analytics is broken 🙁

  • Tim commented on December 9, 2012

    Not really a cycle is it? I guess you needed four stages to make the snappy acronym though.

  • Dear Dr Chaffey, Thank you for this sterling framework which is succinct and practical. I have a blog which sets out to provide a knowledge platform on Internet Marketing Strategies to very small businesses, freelancers etc who are pretty ‘Internet Naive’. I am also currently writing a book- which hopefully will be published early next year and am writing to seek your permission to include RACE within it as a marketing framework, naturally with full credits etc. If you are agreeable, it would be of real added value if you could pen a few lines regarding the framework’s intention and application for small and large businesses alike.
    Many thanks
    Lola Bailey

  • Dave Chaffey commented on July 23, 2010

    Hello Jen, and thanks for your question.

    I’m assuming your asking about engaging with Twitter+-Facebook+-Linked-In plus your own blog or community.

    You’re right that it’s the initial engagement which is so difficult, so you have to start with your audience. They’re pressed for time, so you have to offer them something that’s exceptional – makes them sit up an take notice. That can be difficult if you’re offering them similar content to other channels – for example they already subscribe to an enewsletter.

    So you have to develop a compelling proposition for each social media channel (“online value proposition (OVP) I call it in the textbooks) which best fits the channel and the type of person who uses it. Ask what can offer that’s exclusive to that channel which takes advantage of the way that people interact with it – so for example with Facebook it can be images or embedded videos, with Linked-In answering peoples questions or with Twitter useful alerts.

    Ask what content can help your audience…
    * Learn
    * Live their lives/advance their careers
    * Make them look good to colleagues
    * Give them a great deal
    * Be entertained

    But you have to prioritise each for each audience and manage the resource constraints. For Smart Insights for example we find that the majority of more senior marketing managers subscribe to email so the features in the email reflect that. Twitter is mainly, though not exclusively, used by agencies and consultants. Linked-In is about part-way between the two. Facebook is relatively low by volume and it hard to engage the audience, so we don’t tend to prioritise on that – just syndicate the content and review/reply to comments.

    At a practical level, you ideally need a run-of-site panel (not just on the home page) explaining your proposition for each or a more general reason to engage and with a clear link to each. You can use event tracking in Google Analytics to see which calls-to-action is most popular. Each social channel should also cross-promote the site or other channels to keep it integrate and to help your audience on their journey.

    I hope that gives you some ideas Jen

    Dave

  • jen commented on July 23, 2010

    Hi Dave, thanks for the framework, I was wondering if you offer any tips of getting users engaged with social media tools and sites, I work for a membership organisation where our members are extremely busy people and dont see the value or have the time to engage in social tools – I know that content is king…. but the engagment/participation is difficult to encourage !

    jen

  • Karl Simpson commented on July 16, 2010

    Hi Dave, speaking as a busy digital marketing student and an even busier ecommerce retailer (!) it’s always good to be able to relate to acronyms that frame the core principles of an idea. This really helps to speed up the learning process. Thanks to all the contributors of this really useful site.
    Cheers, Karl

    • Dave Chaffey commented on July 16, 2010

      Hello Karl,

      Thanks for taking the time to let us know that we’re helping. I’ll pass on your comments to our other expert commentators.

      Posts like this may not be as popular as the ones about SEO or Social, but we feel they’re the most important ones to help the managers of (digital) marketing make a difference.

      All the best for your studies!

      Dave

  • Dave Chaffey commented on July 16, 2010

    Hello Harry, It’s been a while, I hope you’re well. We will be developing a more detailed set of diagnostics based on this framework – intended to help consultants and clients alike.

  • Harry Cruickshank commented on July 16, 2010

    Hi Dave – a useful set of tools. Always good to have your insight on tap!

    Cheers,
    Harry

  • Noman Rana commented on July 15, 2010

    Hey Dave, thats a really nice framework. I am sure it will help alot to the always overwhelmed digital folks. Streamlining the channels and resources are key in this.

    Regards,

    Noman R.

    • Dave Chaffey commented on July 15, 2010

      Thanks Noman – we’re hoping it will also help the overwhelmed generalist marketers and business owners – digital is just a black box to many and we’re trying to open that up.

      • Joel commented on June 26, 2016

        Hi Dave,

        Thanks You very much on introducing this model, its very useful in optimizing conversion rates.

        Will you be able to depict on the activities that could be execute in each step. For an egs : Use of multiple social media platforms to increase awareness in under Reach step, like wise.

        Thanks,
        Joel

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