What is Digital Marketing?

This blog was originally meant to be about digital marketing strategy. Our team changed the topic after doing a little keyword research and finding that very few people were searching for articles explaining how to develop a digital marketing strategy. For those of you new to digital, this shows why researching keywords can make or break your digital marketing. If we hadn’t looked into our topic first, we would have written something that wasn’t very relevant to what people were searching for.

Smart digital marketers will validate their ideas by researching keywords first. Everyone has their own tools and methods for keyword research but, at the most basic level, we are trying to understand if a piece of content like a blog, website, white paper, e-guide, infographic, etc. will be successful. Keyword research forces you to:

  1. Determine how many people are searching for your content topic.
  2. Identify trends around your topic and try to find a way to tie-in relevant current events.
  3. Find closely related topics that readers would also enjoy.
  4. Compare the number of shares past content has received to see what types of formats have worked well.

All of these keyword research practices help confirm whether or not people have a need for the information you’re planning on spending time creating and promoting. We thought that digital strategy was a great topic, but we’re glad we looked into it before focusing our entire article on it. Imagine our surprise when our keyword research revealed that a mere ten people in Iowa were looking for information about digital strategy. On average every month more people search for "what is digital marketing" than they search for "digital strategy." Hence our decision to write this article.

Search Volumes from Google Adwords

If people were searching "what is digital marketing" and still using old phrases like "Internet marketing" and "online marketing," we realized it was smarter to do an article that covered the basics of digital marketing. Honestly, we didn't know who used those phrases anymore. We had to dig deeper to find out what was happening.

Google Trends in Digital Marketing

So far, it seemed like Iowa appeared to be lagging behind in its understanding of digital marketing compared to other parts of the United States. In the graph above, the blue line represents search volume for digital marketing, the red, online marketing, and the yellow, Internet marketing. Historically the most popular term, Internet marketing, became the least-searched phrase in June 2013. At the beginning of 2014, the phrase digital marketing became the most common term to use.

When we researched the nationwide popularity of the phrase, “what is digital marketing,” we realized that people all over the U.S. were asking the question, and in larger quantities than ever before.


Why Internet Marketing and Online Marketing Are Outdated Terms

In our opinion, Internet and online marketing are two phrases that don’t entirely encompass the breadth of marketing opportunities available in the digital environment. Consumers don’t have to be browsing the internet to see a digital ad, and they don’t even have to be online to receive a digital ad. We think of internet marketing and online marketing as similar terms describing ads seen by consumers online (like banner ads or pre-roll videos).

What is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing uses technology to create a mutually beneficial relationship between a provider and a consumer. Digital advertising uses technology to promote a product or service to an end-consumer. We see digital as being the umbrella under which all types of tactics fall. It includes:

  • Content Marketing
  • Email Marketing
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Paid Display, Search and Video Advertising
  • Social Media
  • Apps
  • Wearables
  • Interactive Window Displays - See Nike’s Interactive Display

Creating a Digital Strategy

If you can’t tell already, we believe digital marketing is about creating two-way conversations and building relationships with your audience. Sometimes this means you work on earning their trust for years before they might need your product or service. But hopefully, when the time comes you’ll be the first company they turn to, and they'll recommend you to friends and family. This is why digital requires you to have a solid customer lifecycle program in place.  Keep your business front and center at all times throughout their journey; both leading up to purchase, earning the repurchase and inspiring advocacy.

Having a digital marketing strategy makes it easier to do everything we’ve mentioned so far, including deciding which type of digital marketing is right for your business. It will also help you identify which channels to advertise on, the kind of content to promote and gives you the best probability of converting your audience members into lifetime customers.

For the record, your company’s digital strategy should be simple and obvious. It should relate back to ideas that people in your target audiences find important.

  1. The strategy should revolve around something that is within your wheelhouse of expertise or at least related to it.
  2. A good digital strategy connects back to the purpose of your business.
  3. For most non-retail brands, a digital strategy won’t involve directly impacting sales, but that's ok as long as you're convincing people that you're a company worth getting to know. 

Let’s use Blue Compass as an example. Here are a number of random digital strategies we could choose from depending on our goals, our target audiences and who we wanted to appeal to. These were made up for the purpose of illustrating how a strategy determines the overall approach to content marketing.

  • Be the go-to resource for small business owners who need information to start their digital marketing efforts.
  • Lead the way in large-scale innovative uses of digital media, showcasing our level of expertise and unique staff composition of digital marketers and web developers.
  • Build a reputation of being a valuable member of the local business community by forming partnerships with new local business, writing about their offerings, services or events to help them raise awareness.
  • Help businesses recognize marketers that might not know digital, give them advice on working successfully with digital shops and help set their expectations for results.
  • Provide guidance to new college graduates entering the digital marketing industry.

Digital Marketing Simplified

Sometimes marketing folks like to make things complicated, and if we’ve done that here, sincere apologies. Think of digital media like you would think of a person you just met. How would you feel about a new acquaintance who only talked about themselves or didn’t add anything useful or valuable to a conversation? What if this person always did what he or she wanted and was never willing to compromise and talk about things you liked or do things you considered important? That kind of acquaintance doesn't have a good chance of becoming a friend.

Digital media, websites, social media and content - almost all of it, was founded on friends connecting. For example, email was created to communicate with friends or coworkers. AOL instant messenger was about keeping in touch. We had chat rooms, then MySpace, then Facebook and now Snapchat. Now we’ve got millions of people connected online everywhere. It all boils down to this: people online don’t want to be told what to believe or what to buy, they want to interact with other like-minded entities and leave feeling satisfied. Make sure your digital strategy does that.

At its Core, Digital Marketing Relies on Content Marketing

The way we think about it, people primarily go online to access content. Anything they consume on a website is content. From the website copy to blogs and news articles, the videos on YouTube and the social posts on Facebook; this is all considered content that has been created to endear a user to a brand. The Content Marketing Institute has helped digital marketers understand that to be successful we must adopt the mindstate of a publisher.  Content should benefit the reader; content marketing for the purpose of obvious self-promotion doesn’t work as well as building a relationship with your readers.

Content marketing comes in limitless forms, and includes blogs, articles, white papers, interactive infographics, guides, calculators, online tools, etc. The best way to explain content marketing is to give you a list of some great content pieces to kickstart your digital marketing planning.

Helpful Charts and Graphics - The Content Marketing Matrix
Useful Blogs - Moz Blog
Visually Curated Tips and Information - 5 Best Content Marketing Lessons from Buzzfeed
Infographics - Social Media Cheat Sheet
Calculators - Marketing ROI Calculator
Tools for Your Target Audience - CoSchedule Content Headline Analyzer
Interactive Infographics - How Search Works by Google
Interactive Guides - 10 Questions to Ask Your Next Content Marketing Vendor

We’ve tried to outline a few of the most popular tactics in digital marketing, as well as give you guiding tips that will set you on the right path if you decide to pursue any of these.

Article and Blog Publishing

Publishing articles and blogging work best if your company can become a part of your reader's everyday life. Knowing your target audience helps to determine what type of voice you’d like to have. Does it make more sense to be a useful and enlightening resource, a comedic or enjoyable relief, or an expert or educational source?

Google categorizes internet searchers into one of four groups: want-to-know, want-to-go, want-to-do and want-to-buy. Article and blog publishing will get you in front of “want-to-know” and “want-to-do” consumers. If people appreciate and look to your website for the articles you produce, then you’re building a relationship with them. When these consumers turn into “want-to-buy” users, then they are more likely to turn to a company they’ve established a relationship with - you!


A lot of businesses miss out on the benefit of videos because they think it has to be a highly produced, professional piece. Good news guys, it doesn’t! A beautiful piece will help you build a brand reputation but the everyday look at what you do, where you do it, your staff, etc. will help people get to know the personality of your business. YouTube, Periscope and Facebook Live have made it even easier to connect with viewers and removed the perception that brand videos have to be produced with big, fancy cameras.

Email Marketing

Literally, your best friend. If someone signs up for your email list, they’ve told you they like the business and want to hear more of what you're saying. Email subscriptions are either the sign of a genuinely interested prospective customer or a great brand advocate. On day one of your business launch, make sure there is a newsletter sign-up on your website. You can repurpose your blogs or news articles in the email and give special offers to those most loyal to you.

Search Engine Optimization

When was the last time you opened up a phonebook? When was the last time you used a search engine? A few years ago, I used to think SEO was somewhat of a black box. It is a well-sanctioned, pretty scientific way to make sure your company website is present when your target audience has a need for your product or service. Google has a search engine optimization starter guide, Bing has an SEO analyzer to make sure your pages follow its best practices and Yahoo has a simple help article to tell you how to get your pages to rank higher. All of these search engines have pretty similar guidelines on what their search engines like and don’t like, and it’s not a mystery. In fact, they’ve come together and created an entire website that outlines how you should structure the behind-the-scenes explanation of your website (called Schema) so that their algorithms and artificial intelligence can “learn” what your website is about. Search engines are the primary way people start any kind of internet session, and SEO is how people find you.

Paid Display, Search and Video Advertising

This is where non-digital advertisers tend to feel most comfortable. You push out an ad, and you get impressions. It’s similar to placing billboard, magazine, newspaper, and other non-digital media ads. The difference is that you can see exactly what percentage of people you reach through digital that are interested in your ads, and it’s usually pretty low (except search engine advertising). These ads do have their place in a digital strategy but beware that, while they’ll push your brand into places it would never have been seen, it also won’t result in long lasting customers. Search engine marketing is your best bet because you pay to appear to people searching for exactly what you offer. That’s how you capture users in the “want-to-buy” mindset.

Social Media

Social media users segment themselves more and more every year, making it necessary for businesses to find which platform their audience uses. Having a social presence on any platform will serve you well only if you have a plan for how to use it. Provide an outline of the type of content you want to be shared, the industries you will focus on and how often you want to be active then hand it over to a social media staffer. They’ll need room to be creative in how they use the channels and the one thing that can stifle social media is red tape and approvals. Let your employees come up with the plan for the month, draft the social posts and then give them the approval to post. Remember to leverage social media as a place to share your content as well.



Author Thumbnail for Stephanie Wubben
Stephanie Wubben

Stephanie is a strategic thinker. Challenging projects and situations drive her ambition to create thoughtful solutions for clients. With a background in market research, her love for measuring success and performance quickly led her into digital marketing where she endlessly tweaks and optimizes clients' campaigns until they're operating at peak performance.