A step-by-step guide to developing your 2017 digital marketing strategy

It’s time to start thinking about your annual marketing plan. Columnist Amy Bishop presents her framework to develop a bulletproof strategy.


We’re almost halfway through Q4, and as a marketer, you know what that means. It’s time to start thinking about next year, if you haven’t already.

To put together a comprehensive marketing plan, there are certain details that should be taken into consideration. Below is an outline of the analyses and components that should factor into the foundation of your strategy.

Your target customer

Likely, you know your target customers like the back of your hand, but it helps to outline personas when creating your marketing plan. Personas go beyond the general demographic descriptions into detailed descriptions, which can be helpful in identifying opportunities to reach all of the consumers that make up your target audience.

For example, you might target middle-aged mothers differently from the way you target young single women, because their priorities are different, which could impact messaging. Their browsing, social media and search habits likely differ as well, which impacts ad placement and targeting.

Your buying cycle

Undoubtedly, you know your sales cycle. As you plan your marketing strategy, be sure to account for the different steps in the cycle and how you intend to facilitate movement throughout the funnel. Things to consider:

  • How can you drive additional low-funnel traffic?
  • How long does it typically take for consumers to move through the cycle?
  • Where are consumers dropping out of the funnel?
  • How can you nurture your pipeline?
  • How will you drive top-funnel traffic?

Historical performance & gap analysis

There are plenty of lessons to be learned by analyzing historical performance. Consider these insights as you move forward. What worked? What didn’t? It is helpful to outline your performance in great detail so that you have a benchmark for goal-setting. Make note of any tracking issues or caveats, if applicable.

It’s also good to judge whether performance was considered strong, poor or just okay. Identifying your strengths and weaknesses allows you to uncover opportunities.

Also, keep in mind whether there were (or are) any external factors that positively or negatively influenced historical performance. Sometimes we see blips in performance due to things that are entirely outside of our control. Those blips should be adjusted for when creating projections for the year ahead.


Analyzing the competition is another great way to uncover opportunities. It is also important to have an unbiased understanding of strengths and weaknesses.

Ask yourself these questions from a product standpoint and a marketing standpoint:

  • What are they doing that you aren’t?
  • What are they doing differently?
  • Realistically, what are they doing better?
  • What are you doing better?
  • How are they messaging their value proposition?
  • How can you further differentiate your offering?


Without goals, there can be no true strategy. Before you can outline the digital marketing goals, you have to understand the business objectives and the role that digital marketing should play in supporting those objectives. From there, you can create more specific goals as they pertain to digital marketing.

The aforementioned sections (target customer, historical performance, gap analysis and competitors) should help to shape your goals. Everything in the remaining sections should be determined with the purpose of achieving the goals outlined within this section.

In order to measure the performance of the strategy and to provide clarity into the tactical elements, the goals need to be very specific and quantifiable (we’ll get to that part later). If you are promoting multiple products, there should be separate goals for each.

Goals should also be anchored in profitability. With e-commerce, this is often considered easy enough. With lead generation, there needs to be an understanding of lead value and ROAS (return on ad spend) and ROI (return on investment) on lead counts, also taking into account the point of diminishing returns.


Measurement: this is one of those strategic elements that many take for granted. If you can’t answer “How will we measure our goals?” with a succinct response that names one true source of truth, then there is work to be done.

It is good to keep a pulse on performance via multiple platforms (Bing and Google Analytics, for example), but comparing the performance tracked by different platforms isn’t ideal.

Because of the differences in the way that media and analytics platforms track visitors and goals, creating a performance summary with results from multiple platforms produces a Frankensteinian mashup of apples and oranges.

This also tends to lead to double-counting conversions that multiple platforms contributed to and therefore took full credit for, as opposed to an attribution model that shows cross-channel impact.

Device performance & accountability

It is important to understand the different impact that each device has played in historical success. Now that your annual goals have been defined, you should determine each device’s role in achieving those goals.

Breaking the goals down to the device level forces you to be both more deliberate in creating tactics specific to each device and accountable for their individual performance, as opposed to letting it all come out in the wash.

Landing page optimization & conversion rate optimization

No matter how strong your performance has been in years past, there’s almost certainly something to be gained by identifying opportunities to improve your conversion rate through landing page optimization.

Keep in mind the device goals that you set, and be sure to review opportunities for landing page, app and site conversion rate opportunities through the lens of those goals.


Will your company (or client) offer promotions? What will they be? What are the goals of the independent promotions, and how will they help achieve the annual goals? How will the promotions be marketed?

Some companies do not have a full promotion calendar developed in advance, and although it isn’t ideal, you have to make it work. In these scenarios, I’d suggest at least outlining as much as possible, along with a process for developing marketing plans for future promotions and a rough timeline.

When promotions aren’t given enough thought in advance, they don’t have a fair chance at success. When there’s a mad scramble to launch, the team is provided with creatives and landing pages just in time to build campaigns. And then, the strategist doesn’t have the opportunity to weigh in.

Channels & tactics

This is, of course, one of the most important parts of the plan. Consider which channels will be employed and how each will support the overall goals. Channel selection should be deliberate.

Sometimes, as marketers, we are so eager to try new things that we adopt a “the more the merrier” mentality as it pertains to channels, and that can be a dangerous mindset. Absolutely test new channels, but only if they are applicable to the strategy.

As you outline the channels, keep in mind the above factors, such as the buying cycle. What should each channel serve to accomplish? What role will each channel play in moving prospects through the buying cycle? Which channels are responsible for net new leads/customers? Which channels will be used to cross-sell? Which channels will move leads down thhe funnel? What tactics will be employed?

It’s also important to have an understanding of other marketing channels, outside of the realm of digital. How will online and offline channels work together to support the overall business objectives?


To implement the plan, it helps to have a rough (and flexible) timeline outlining the mobilization of the strategy. The timeline allows you to visualize the tactical implementation to ensure that the timeline aligns with projected results and goals.

This also helps when considering resource allocation. Reviewing an annual plan helps to ensure that you aren’t overcommitting in any given time and gives you a chance to restructure the timeline as necessary.


Identify which resources will be needed in order to roll out the plan. Defining responsibilities will create accountability, which is necessary for the longevity of implementation.

When things get busy, it’s all too easy to stray from any sort of organized plan in favor of scrambling to get things done. In the case of personnel changes, responsibilities should be reassigned so as to minimize confusion.

Who will be responsible for each part of the plan, and how will success be measured for each individual component? The success measurements of each of these will be more specific than those outlined in the goal section but with the purpose of achieving the overall goals in combination.

Revisit, adapt and adjust

Inevitably, some things just won’t go as planned, and that’s OK. The purpose of a marketing plan isn’t to carve a roadmap in stone but to create a framework from which to learn and grow while maintaining a general trajectory towards a set of objectives.

That’s why it is important to revisit the strategy frequently; benchmark results against projections; make adjustments to the tactical elements; and make any necessary amendments to the plan.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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