How to Create a Digital Marketing Plan for Your Small Business | Guide for Business Owners

Sean Lund-Brown

Businesses and consumers spend so much time online β€” they conduct searches, research products and services, and even contact businesses or book appointments online. Your small business must have a digital marketing plan to capture potential customers' attention and stay competitive with this current reality.

But how do you navigate the ever-changing landscape of the digital world effectively? First, you have to have a solid foundational plan. You cannot explore the many digital marketing tactics best for your business without a plan. In this guide, we'll go over how to create a digital marketing plan for your small business. We will then provide you with ideas and tips.

What is a digital marketing strategy?

Let's cover the basics of a digital marketing strategy to understand what you are trying to create. Your digital marketing strategy focuses on helping your business achieve specific digital marketing goals. It'll consider what your business is doing well, where there are gaps, and how you can accomplish the goal you set. Depending on your business growth, you can have a strategy with multiple goals. You'll typically accomplish these goals through online channels, such as earned, paid, and owned media for digital strategies.

Since a marketing strategy is the "what" that you are trying to achieve, a marketing tactic is a specific action or "how" towards accomplishing your goal. Tactics are specific steps within a strategy and are collectively referred to as a "digital marketing campaign" for advertising. Overall, every strategy your business develops will have the following three components:

● A challenge

● A plan to tackle the challenge

● Specific actions (i.e., tactics or campaigns) to accomplish the plan

For example, suppose your business isn't seeing much traffic from your social media platforms. Your digital marketing strategy can be to increase leads from social media. To accomplish this goal, you can launch a digital marketing campaign on social media that includes adding more video content and interactive polls to engage potential customers.

5 steps to creating a digital marketing plan

Regardless of the size of your business, foundational steps to take for creating a successful digital marketing plan follow.

Step 1: Decide what your goals are

Before creating any plan, you have to have a good idea of where you want to go. What are the marketing goals you want your efforts to achieve? Make sure these goals connect back to your business's fundamental goals. For example, suppose your small business is trying to grow by increasing the number of new customers by 30%. You will want a marketing goal that generates quality leads to increase new customers.

It's a good practice to understand your business's goals. Sometimes you may find you have multiple goals identified. That's okay, as long as you prioritize where you will focus first to create the most initial impact.

During this goal-setting process, you'll also want to identify how you plan to measure your results through key performance indicators (KPIs). Without a KPI, it will be harder to measure your progress on the goal and make any improvements. For example, if you try to increase your newsletter subscribers, a KPI to measure would be the number of sign-ups you gain.

Step 2: Understand your target audience

This is probably the most important component of developing any strategy: knowing your target audience. Without this step, you'll be blindly choosing channels, campaigns, and content. In contrast, knowing your target audience lets you create marketing campaigns that will capture the attention of the customers you seek. One of the best methods to understand your target audience is to develop a buyer persona.

Buyer personas are profiles of your ideal customer(s). They should be based on real data as much as possible. This is because assumptions of what you think customers want can lead your strategy down the wrong path. You can gather customer data through interviews, surveys, research, or analyzing data from consumer reports.

It's also best to have your research go beyond your existing customers. By incorporating information of potential customers you haven't attracted yet, you can figure out how to attract and convert them.

Every business's buyer persona will differ depending on who you sell to and what product or services you sell. For instance, if you plan to engage in B2B, your persona will be someone within the types of business you sell to that makes purchase decisions. However, regardless of your business classification, the following are basic quantitative and qualitative information you should include in your buyer's persona.

Location

Where is your ideal customer located? Do you cater primarily to locals, or is your business available online for wider audiences? You can use analytics tools to identify people finding you in search engine results or locations of people visiting your website.

Age

This may not be relevant information for some businesses if your product or service defies ages. However, it's still useful to know what age trends exist in your existing customer database. Different age groups typically respond to different types of content and frequent different marketing channels.

Income

Understanding income lets you know if you target the right audiences whose incomes can afford your products or services. People may not share income details on online forms, so it may be easier to gather this information in research interviews.

Careers

This can be what careers your existing customers typically are in or the types of people you hope to attract. For B2B businesses, you'll want to include the person's job title making purchase decisions relevant to what your business is selling.

Goals

Data Source: Semrush

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Here we dive into the psychographic information of your buyer persona. You may already have a good idea of what your customer goals are. However, it's best to confirm this by talking to customers or gathering insight from your customer service representatives and internal sales team.

Challenges

You want to understand the pain points of your customers and the common challenges they face. This can be a challenge your product or service solves for them or one they face in deciding who to purchase from.

Priorities

Priorities involve understanding what is most important to your customers. Is it price? Or perhaps it's the response time of customer service representatives. What are the main things your existing and potential audience considers before purchasing a service or product?

Interests

Knowing your target audience's hobbies and interests helps you generate content that speaks to them. Sometimes you may feel it's obvious, i.e., your dog grooming business will have customers interested in dogs. However, try to see what other connecting interests exist.

For example, do most of your dog owners also travel with their dogs? If so, content connected to getting a groom before traveling would be effective.

Step 3: Identify your buying stages and digital channels

Different consumers at different stages of the buyer's journey will need different content to convert them into customers. You'll want to structure your digital marketing campaigns to meet people at the right stage of their journey. For example:

● Awareness stage: Focuses on educating buyers of your products and services and establishing your business as an expert

● Consideration stage: Incentivizes customers to purchase by providing a value proposition or promotion

● Conversion stage: Consumers who are ready to buy and might have a few questions to help them cross the line

Identify campaigns for each stage of the buyer's journey. Each campaign may also have its own marketing channel that best suits the type of content you are trying to share. Evaluate all your existing earned, owned, and paid digital media. Identify what you are already using and which channel fits best for the goals of your strategy.

You'll also want to assess what channels have been most effective for your business to reach your target audiences. It will be easier to decide which channel to incorporate into your marketing strategy with data around what works. If you don't have existing data and start from scratch, use your buyer persona to figure out which method will reach your target audience. Below is more information on the three main types of channels.

Earned media

Earned channels involve any recognition or exposure your business has earned. This can be through word-of-mouth, positive customer reviews, press mentions, or people sharing content you've created.

Owned media

Owned channels are what your business owns and has control over. It can be your business's social media profiles, website, blog content, infographics, and more.

Paid media

Paid channels are any media you've spent money on to reach your target audience. This can include:

● Paid social media posts

● Google AdWords

● Sponsored posts

● Any other advertising method you pay for to gain visibility

Connecting the 3 types of media

Although there are three major channels, it doesn't mean they all act independently of each other. Your strategy can incorporate all three interconnectedly. For example, if your company posts an infographic of the "Top 5 Ways Your Product Benefits Consumers," this is owned media.

If someone shares your infographic on their blog and links to your company website, this is earned media. To increase the visibility of this infographic, you can pay the social media site to promote it as a post, and this would be paid media.

You want to choose the best channel for your buyer persona. Not everyone uses all marketing platforms, so you want to specify how you utilize your resources. Don’t spread your small business thin by being on too many different platforms and utilizing too many channels. We'll cover different digital marketing ideas and campaigns you can explore for your business later in this article.

Step 4: Plan and create your content

It's important to carefully consider how you will craft the messages in your content before launching them. This stage is also where the buyer persona and research you've done come in handy. You want to make sure the content you create will directly appeal to your audience. Are you utilizing a voice they can relate to? Are you covering how your product or service solves their challenges? Are you tapping into their key interests and hobbies?

The message you provide will also differ depending on where the consumer is along the buyer's stage. If they've never heard of your business before, you'll want to educate them and introduce your product or service. If they are already at the conversion stage, you'll want to answer any final questions or try to get them to purchase your product or service.

The formality and voice you use should also align with the channel your message will be distributed on. For example, you can be more conversational on most social media platforms. However, you might want to have some formality for an online press release.

Creating a content plan

An important part of this step is to create a content plan, especially for your owned media. Any content you put online about your business, including the About Us page on your website, is part of your owned content. Besides seeing how well your existing content is doing, you'll also want to identify gaps and figure out a plan to fill those gaps.

Your content creation plan will list all the content you want to create to help you hit your digital marketing goals. You can format it on a simple spreadsheet or use content planning tools. It should identify budget information if you outsource content creation or time estimates if you plan to produce the content in-house. The plan should also include:

● Content title

● Content format

● Goal and why you're creating the content

● Distribution channels

● Priority level and/or deadlines

Step 5: Create your digital marketing strategy document

It's time to create your digital marketing strategy document that gathers all the research and information you've collected. This document will map out the specific actions you will take and when to hit your goals. So far, you should have:

● Identified goal(s) specific to digital marketing

● Have clear buyer persona profile(s)

● A detailed review of your existing marketing channels

● A content creation plan and drafts of messages you want to share

Bringing all the above information together, you'll want your strategy to map out between six to 12 months. You should detail exactly what you will be doing for each month of the year, including your budget, channels you will use, and metrics you will measure. A structured timeline will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done and let you focus on the priorities for a particular month.

8 small business digital marketing tactics

Now you know the foundations of creating a digital marketing plan. However, you might still have questions around what specific campaigns to launch and what type of content you can create for your business. Here is a list of eight marketing tactics for small businesses to help you get started. Remember, you don't have to use them all. You want to identify the most realistic tactics for your business and which methods will reach your specific target audience.

1. Email marketing

Email marketing lets you reach your target audience in their inbox and build a list of existing and potential customers. People who have signed up for your emails are more likely to be interested in any new products or services you are launching. This makes it an important long-term marketing strategy for small businesses to grow their customer base.

You can use your emails and newsletters to provide various information, including:

● General messages to keep in touch with consumers, including holiday emails

● Promotions and seasonal discounts

● Business updates

● Tips and advice relevant to your target audience needs

2. Search engine optimization (SEO)

Source: IMPACT

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When trying to compete online with larger businesses, SEO tactics help you increase your visibility. You'll want to understand what type of keywords your potential consumers are using in searches. Then you can align your content to help your business website rank higher in search engine results.

To do this successfully, you'll want to:

● Conduct keyword research and target a mix of competitive and non-competitive keywords

● Establish internal and external link-building

● Optimize your content to produce relevant and high-quality information

3. Social media marketing

With so many consumers spending their downtime on social media, it's become an ideal platform to get their attention. Make sure to identify which platforms your target audience frequent the most and put your efforts into building your content on those platforms. For example, if you are trying to reach a professional audience, focus on LinkedIn. If your marketing involves plenty of visuals, try Instagram.

You can leverage the power of social media in many ways, including:

● Offering industry-related news

● Providing business updates

● Creating polls and interactive posts

● Sharing informative graphics

● Reposting customers using your products

● Provide informative articles or tips

4. Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing

PPC marketing involves running advertisements where your business only pays for the ad if consumers click on it. This can be cost-effective for small businesses since you're only paying for results. You can also target these online ads to specific locations. PPC marketing can show up on:

● Search engine results

● Mobile apps

● Websites

● Promotions before videos

5. Blog content

As a small business, you want your name out there and to establish yourself as an expert in your field. A blog can help you develop trust among potential consumers by showcasing the knowledge you have related to your industry. It's also a great form of written content that can have a call-to-action at the end to help people consider your product or services for their needs.

Try to have at least two to three blog posts a week so people know they can consistently visit your website for new, up-to-date information. You can provide content, such as:

● How-to guides

● Lists of tips

● Commentary of recent news and how it relates to your customers

● Answers to common questions

● Case study stories

You can do many things to improve your website’s design and content.

6. List your business online

To improve your business's online presence, you'll want to make sure you have business profiles listed on various online directories. There are plenty of examples of directories targeting the specific type of business you have. For example, if you provide a service or are a restaurant, you'll want to claim your business on Yelp and add to the profile. Make sure to include photos, ask customers for reviews, and have updated contact information.

Suppose you are a business selling a digital product. Then you might want to consider platforms such as Product Hunt. Having a Facebook business page and registering your business to Google can also improve your authenticity for any type of business. When customers write reviews, it can be a key component to convince potential customers to purchase your product or service.

7. Offer free webinars or courses

Everybody likes free information! You can easily host a quick free webinar or online course that gives tips or answers related to your target audience's interests or your business products or services. During the sign-up process, make sure to capture emails.

At the end of the webinar or course, you can offer paid options for more information. These webinars or courses can be pre-recorded for the most part and are easy to replay. You can also launch pre-recorded webinars with a quick live Q&A session at the end.

8. Use video and photo content

Visual layouts are a growing necessity for digital marketing. More people want to see what they are about to purchase or watch a video explaining a product or service. With phone technologies being so good these days, you can inexpensively produce marketing videos and promotional photos with your smartphone. Launch this content on your website, in your emails, and on your social media platforms.

Examples of video content you can create include:

● Tutorial or educational videos

● Testimonial videos from customers

● Company culture videos

● Product experience videos

● Animations about your products

● FAQ videos Β 

4 examples of digital marketing campaigns

To help inspire you to see the possibilities that come with digital marketing, here are four examples of businesses with successful campaigns.

1. Mint - Written content

Source: Mint

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Mint focuses on personal financial management by providing a budget tool to consumers. They leveraged the power of written content in their blog "MintLife," which offers personal finance news and advice. You can find articles on living a minimalist lifestyle, budgeting effectively, and other tips such as online shopping hacks.

This content allowed them to stand out as an expert in the finance field to let consumers consider using their budget tracking and planning tool.

2. Good! Snacks - Social media content

A small nutrition bar company, Good! Snacks leveraged social media to gain over 6,000 followers on Instagram. You'll see their social profile has giveaway contests, including ones where they collaborate with other brands. They also have posts offering "pro tips" on consuming their bars for your lifestyle.

3. Airbnb - Paid media

Source: Airbnb News

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Airbnb started with one person in 2008 and has grown significantly over the years. In the beginning, they focused on developing their website to offer an exceptional experience and investing in a lot of paid search marketing to drive traffic to their website. They also used collaboration for their marketing campaigns, ranging from Dutch Airlines to online influences, such as travel bloggers.

In 2021, they launched a multi-million ad campaign titled "Made Possible by Hosts" that not only showcased experiences for potential guests but expressed gratitude for the Airbnb hosts on their platform. This company shows the possibilities of leveraging digital marketing.

4. GoPro - Earned media

Source: GoPro Instagram

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GoPro offers an inspiring example of how they leverage their existing customers to generate quality earned media. The company offers versatile camera products and is well-known for the point-of-view footage you can take.

They encouraged their customers to capture footage using their GoPros. They then used these examples on their YouTube and social profiles to show all the adventures you can record with their product.

6 tips for an effective digital marketing plan

To help you get the most of your digital marketing plan, here are six tips to consider.

1. Keep your goals focused

As the strategies and campaign examples above show, you can have various goals for your digital marketing plan. Don't overwhelm your business by trying to do it all. Identify what area will offer the biggest impact for your business growth and zero down on one or two specific goals. This way, you can better allocate your resources and manage your time towards something of high impact.

2. Start with short-term tactics

When you first launch a digital marketing plan, you want to make sure you have campaigns that will gain momentum fast and give you cash flow. This will help your business growth be more sustainable. Have those long-term strategies in mind, such as putting search engine optimization (SEO) methods in place. However, recognize which strategy takes time compared to strategies that will start giving you return on investment (ROIs) sooner.

For example, suppose you have a lot of your target audience making purchases through Facebook stores. In that case, you might want to put your products up on Facebook and purchase an ad to promote your store.

3. Leverage existing customers

Finding new customers and increasing your reach is important. However, having 10 loyal and repeat customers can be more valuable than 20 random customers. Always focus on providing the best experience for your existing customers. You should also recognize how they can contribute to your earned media components.

Don't stop marketing to them about how you can contribute to their goals even after a purchase. You should also never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth!

4. Focus on what works

Whether you have some digital marketing campaigns in place already or are newly launching campaigns, keep track of your results. Once you understand how much attention the method gets and whether it leads to conversions, you'll know where to focus your future efforts. To scale effectively, you want to focus your energies on methods you've proven work for your business.

5. Emphasize the value you provide

Always incorporate the value you provide to consumers in your content. You want to differentiate yourself from your competition and convince potential customers to choose your business. Identify what you do better, why you do it better, and what benefits consumers or other businesses will get from choosing your business.

6. Capture information of visitors

Grabbing people's attention and sending traffic to your website is important, but you also want to be capturing their information. For example, add a pop-up to your website to encourage people to sign-up for your newsletter. You can also offer free resources where people have to enter their email to access the information. These tactics will help you develop your email marketing campaigns and build your database of potential customers.

Be ready for your extra leads from Smith.ai

Once you have your digital marketing plan in place, be prepared for increased leads and traffic to your website after launch. The last thing you want is to be overwhelmed by the additional questions, interests, and customers attracted to your business. Here is where a 24/7 virtual receptionist tool like Smith.ai can help. Ensuring someone is there to answer a call or chat when a customer first reaches out is the best strategy for lead conversion.

Smith.ai virtual receptionists can schedule appointments and educate customers about your products and services to keep them engaged through a timely response. Our platform also offers other unified solutions, including:

● Lead screening and intaking

● SMS text answering

● Facebook message replies

● Bilingual answering

● After-hours call and chat answering

● Overflow answering

Contact Smith.ai to book a free consultation. It's time to get started on setting up the support you'll need to convert all the extra leads you get from your newly launched digital marketing plan. We offer a 14-day, money-back guarantee and are ready to answer your pricing questions. Call (650) 727-6484 or email us at hello@smith.ai today

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Sean Lund-Brown

Sean Lund-Brown is a current Marketing Assistant for Smith.ai. A graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver, Sean graduated with a BA in Music and an individualized degree in Teaching Vocal Pedagogy.

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