The Fundamental Elements of a Digital Marketing Plan

Why’s a digital marketing plan important?

Brian Tracy says it best: “Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution.”

By defining what you seek to accomplish and the influences impacting your success, you’ll formulate the most effective approach to your digital marketing aspirations. A thorough plan prescribes each step of a digital initiative, making its implementation productive and painless. It also establishes clear expectations from the get-go, and guides internal and external conversations throughout execution. But don’t take our word for it! We asked the industry’s best and brightest about the importance of strategic planning. Their responses were varied and widely insightful:

Joe Pulizzi

Those who don’t plan, plan to fail. As Michael Porter says, strategy is saying no to things. If you don’t have a plan, you don’t know what to say no to. Saying no gets you focused on what’s meaningful, in your life, in your job, with your family.

Mark Schaefer

The key to getting things done in this always-on world is planning and focus. You need to reflect on the core activities that drive revenue and then find ways to out-source or delegate everything else. Sometimes people dabble in web design or social media engagement because they love to do that. But if it isn’t driving the business, you need to re-think priorities.

Robert Rose

Just as marketers may lament that marketing has become everyone’s job, content professionals may see a downside to content becoming everyone’s job and nobody’s strategy. This is exactly where marketers must lead. Content efforts – like those in sales, marketing, customer service, and every other strategic business function – must be led with a common vision, approach, and goal. That’s our new opportunity: to create not just content strategy for the business but also business strategy for the content.

Christopher S. Penn

The most important part of any marketing plan? By far, it’s strategy – and by strategy, I mean the math formula I published in my measurement book, Marketing Blue Belt. Strategy = lim t, e(Goals x Methods). Strategy is goals x methods, limited by time and the environment. If your marketing plan and strategy don’t talk about goals, methods, timeframe, and your operating environment, you don’t have a viable plan.

John J. Wall

I’ve found that a Mindmapping tool is very effective in getting organized for planning. I’ve used Mindjet for many years but Lifehacker has some articles on the best rated tools.

What’s included in a digital marketing plan?

Thoughtfully craft the following elements of your plan, then package them with a compelling cover page, table of contents and executive summary, and you’ll be well on your way to an extraordinary digital marketing program.


Why are we pursuing digital marketing? This is the overarching purpose. The digital marketing goal should align with a core organizational goal, such as driving revenue or advancing a cause. Don’t overthink it.


Where will it take us? Objectives are quantifiable outcomes of your digital marketing effort, employing the SMART methodology: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. While preliminary plans won’t always suit each of these criteria, final objectives should do so once you’ve established benchmarks. Example objectives include increasing revenue from online sales by 30% in a year and boosting event attendance by 20% year-over-year.


Background features provide useful context and a taste of the research to be conducted during the plan’s implementation, including audience discovery, competitive analysis and influencer research. These sections can be as detailed or general as you deem appropriate—you may even choose to omit one or more. But as necessary, be sure to include deeper analysis under Strategies + Tactics.


A segmented SWOT analysis can be overkill for a digital marketing plan, but you should offer appropriate context in at least a paragraph. Describe any existing digital marketing initiatives and note what’s working, what’s not, and where there are voids. Other considerations might include internal strengths and weaknesses, such as financial and human resources, as well as external opportunities and threats, like market trends and the political landscape.


Persona development is critical to every digital marketing initiative but not required during preliminary planning. At the least, describe the known demographic, psychographic and behavioral characteristics of your target audiences to help inform your strategies and tactics.


Competitors include direct business competition as well as the entities competing for your target audiences online. To find them, use a tool like SEMrush to discover desirable keywords and the sites ranking high for them. For both types of competitors, describe current digital marketing efforts, identify their most prominent backlink sources with a tool like Majestic, and generally note their most viral blog and social media content using tools like BuzzSumo, Moz Content and Scoreboard Social.


Good ol’ Google can help you identify the leading organizations and publications for your subject, and tools like Klout will help you find the most influential individuals. Stay as local or global as your subject requires, and note any existing partnerships.


How will we get there? Strategies are the conceptual approaches to realizing your objectives. Many digital marketing plans will include a combination of these strategies:

  • Communicate with relevant audiences according to their core motivators and online behaviors.
  • Create extraordinary user experiences to foster brand affinity.
  • Publish valuable content to attract quality audiences.
  • Capture leads with exclusive resources and compelling calls to action.
  • Nurture, convert and delight audiences through a persona-driven and behavior-triggered email campaign.
  • Foster virality with contests, promotions and giveaways
  • Boost favorability among search engines to promote discoverability.
  • Utilize the expansive user data of social and professional networks to conduct hyper-targeted advertising campaigns.
  • Instill a sense of ownership in likeminded organizations and individual influencers.
  • Maintain an authoritative voice in relevant conversations online.


What will we do? These are the actions you’ll take and tools you’ll employ to execute your strategies. In fact, you may want to list them as bullets within strategies. Examples include publishing two blog posts per month, creating audience personas with HubSpot, constructing a behavior-triggered trickle campaign with Autopilot, designing landing pages with Unbounce, launching a Google AdWords campaign, and monitoring social conversations with Mention.


Note here that you’ll analyze data regularly to inform ongoing optimization, then define a reporting interval and briefly describe your report’s contents. You might mention that the report will grow incrementally as strategies are implemented and trends develop over time.


List the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will comprise your report. Primary KPIs will align directly with your high-level objectives, such as total tickets sold. Secondary KPIs will reflect the performance of individual tactics, like email open and click rates.


Define your implementation timeline, including deadlines, milestones and assigned responsibilities. You may prefer to link to an external spreadsheet or project management tool after a brief description.

How ’bout a template?

Of course! Subscribe to Marketing Nutt for a sample digital marketing plan, a digital marketing plan template, and a deeper dive into the strategies and tactics described in the post. It’s all free!