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  • Writer's pictureJohn Bell

The Next-Gen Digital Marketing Strategy Framework

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

There’s been a lot of change in digital marketing over the past few years (see 6 Vexatious Truths for Digital Marketing Today). For small and midsize businesses who want to create an effective digital marketing strategy for their business that responds to these changes, we’ve put together a new strategic framework and toolbox.

The biggest reason business owners and marketing leaders need a revised approach? The blackbox algorithms behind Facebook, Instagram, Google and others are not working as well as they used to. And they are costing more for worse results. Used to be a fast-growth tech company could just test their way to success. Create a bunch of creative, messages, and different calls-to-action (CTAs), and let Facebook or Google optimize around the lowest cost-per-action.

Not so much anymore. Now strategy matters more. What do you know about your prospects and customers that will help you serve them and sell? What does your brand stand for and how is that supported in all of your marketing programs? What do you know about the buyer journey and the steps people take before they buy?

It’s pretty much back to fundamentals combined with a test-and-learn culture.

A good framework goes a long way to explaining an approach or way to think. Here’s a simple one that reflects what we now need to be great at to succeed.

Testing Culture

We need to operationalize how we test and optimize continuously. The lessons you learned on last year’s campaign may not be true today. We must ‘always-be-testing.' To set up that culture in even a small business means prioritizing near real-time measurement and evaluation and the capability to make a lot of creative. The skills to oversee paid programs across channels, detect the meaningful trend and then produce a new campaign that builds on what’s working are specialized. You need training and to accrue experience doing it all of the time. No, don’t assume you can just dump it on the intern.

Clarity on Goals

More and more brands are using digital to build brand awareness, increase engagement and to drive bottom-line sakes or conversions. Different goals means optimizing against different metrics. Top of the funnel (TOFU) work may want to be optimized against brand recall while bottom of the funnel (BOFU) optimizes against conversion, you know, that “thank you” page people get post-purchase. Goals will inform your strategy, creative, metrics – the whole shebang.

Core Capabilities

Every brand and business is different. Generalizing is hard and imperfect.

Still, here I go. These four capabilities are generally strong plays for most businesses. They build on truths such as any brands need to earn people’s attention through genuine value or we need to acquire new customers from somewhere.

Content: Whether you are selling an innovative skincare product amongst a field of hundreds of competitors or offering a unique B2B cyber security service, you need to earn people’s attention at the moment of truth – when they search for an answer via Google. Valuable content that answers their question or delights and inspires them gets that attention. It also lowers your cost of acquisition by driving organic (non-paid) traffic to your Website or store. Great content that intersects with what you do and what your customers face is hard to completely outsource. And you need to be able to operationalize the heck out of it by triggering search analytics and insights to inform blog and video production and so on.

Social & Email: These are lumped together simply because they both try and build and serve an addressable audience. To the degree that organic social has much value at all, it serves to engage customers and other stakeholders. We will never know exactly how many of our IG followers or LinkedIn connections see our content stream through their feed. Suffice it to say, it's less than we would ever hope. Email marketing is that ‘what’s-old-is-new-again’ channel. All the pundits will tell you that 1st-party data is key for the future. That’s your customer lists. And the more you know and the more quality customer contacts you have, the better. How you get people to click through from social and from an email may have a lot in common.

Paid Media: Everybody has to pay. The exceptions to that rule are too few to mention. If you want to attract new customers, you will need to adopt a test-and-learn culture and expertise in deploying paid media programs that do the right job at a diminishing or, at least, stable cost. Gone are the days when you could dump your whole budget in Facebook and watch as it optimized to a low cost-per-acquisition. Now you will have to test across 5-6 platforms to find the best mix and a sustainable cost.


Brands need to master data analytics – performance evaluations, 1st party data management, revenue modeling – the works. Outsourcing data is super-hard and only a temporary fix in a pinch. Sure, digital marketing feels like it should be highly measurable. What they don’t tell you in most digital marketing programs is that the data you get from different sources is all, well, different. And I am not talking about an ignorable 2-5% difference. The data you get from Google Analytics versus your Facebook account can be wildly different. Learning what to trust and what matters most is a never-ending job.

What’s super-useful but maybe not as core to most business? Influencer marketing, account-based marketing, digital television, affiliate marketing, customer loyalty and retention programs. Each has its place, but I stand by my core 4: content, Social & email, paid media, and data analytics.

This post was originally developed for my Oct 18, 2022, Enterprise Bank & Trust University course - "Digital Marketing Strategy for Growth." The session equips small and mid-size businesses with the most useful frameworks to plan and execute digital marketing programs today. No fluff. Just practical tools and hard lessons learned.


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