What is Digital Marketing & How do I Get Started?

By JJ Rosen October 16, 2020
what is digital marketing

Digital marketing is growing. It’s changing the way people find, share, and patronize businesses. If you have a business, you have a digital presence. Even if you never created a website, social profile, or email address, someone somewhere has found your business and put some footprint online. Don’t believe me? Try typing your business name into Google. If you’re a legit business, chances are that your business will already have a Google My Business page or even a listing on Yelp.

Plus, it may have ratings!

If your business is already online, here are a few important questions. Are you involved in it? Are you participating in it? Are you benefiting from it? I hope you answered yes to all those questions because it’s your business, after all. If you answered no to any of those, let’s get you started in your digital marketing program. Because pretending like your business isn’t digital just isn’t an option in this day and age.

What is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing is a broad term defined in many ways by many people. So we’re going to take our definition from some authoritative figures, the American Marketing Association. Their definition of digital marketing is:

“In a nutshell, digital marketing refers to any marketing methods conducted through electronic devices. This includes online marketing efforts conducted on the internet. In the process of conducting digital marketing, a business might leverage websites, search engines, blogs, social media, video, email and similar channels to reach customers.”

If that doesn’t have your head spinning, then you’re definitely a veteran of the teacups at amusement parks. The broad and dynamic world of digital marketing can feel totally overwhelming.

But don’t let the enormity of the definition scare you off. Below, we have a strategy to help you create a digital marketing plan based on fundamentals, tools, and objectives. The framework will help you create an achievable and effective plan for digital marketing. This plan will focus on identifying, creating, and sharing your story to connect with current and future customers. It’s not everything you’ll ever need to know about digital marketing but it’s a reliable way to start.

Let’s get into it.

Digital Marketing Foundations

digital marketing foundations

Source: Pexels

Let’s start by saying, no plan works for everyone. Different businesses have different needs. Even competing businesses have their own, unique needs. These foundations are designed as questions to ask yourself so you can design YOUR business strategy, not replicate a design.

We’re going to ask ourselves three questions (that may lead to many more questions) to guide you as you create a digital marketing plan. Along the way, we’ll list a few tools and resources that can be quite helpful. And, hopefully, by the end of this article, you’re going to feel empowered with a plan and desire to tackle digital marketing.

Question #1: Who Are You?

While this question may seem both too broad and too simplistic, it’s absolutely the right place to start.


Well, let’s look at what it isn’t asking. It isn’t asking what you’re selling. It isn’t asking where are you. It isn’t asking who you’re selling to. It’s focused on what your business is. If your business were a person, how would you introduce them?

Why would you think about your business as a person? Because the most successful digital marketers are fantastic at making the cold, anonymous digital world personal, connected, and authentic.

In so many ways, digital marketing is storytelling. It’s creating a persona that your customers can identify and connect with. Your business is more than products and services. Take some time to create an identity for what your business is.

What’s the story of your business? Who are the characters? When you start putting your story together, think hard about how your customer fits in with that story. Even though you’re defining your business, they need to be the protagonist. They may even need to be more than the protagonist. Speaker and marketing professional Ann Handley has always said that you need to “make your customer the hero of your story.”

That can be tricky to pull off.

Finding out who you are also means knowing who your people are. And this is foundational to digital marketing. Being part of a community means contributing and not just taking. It is absolutely appropriate to create a network, join groups, follow others, and be a person, not a nameless bot.

Once you know who you are, you’re ready for question number two.

Question #2: Who Needs to Know You?

who needs to know you marketing

Source: Pexels

Yep, this is the “who is my customer?” question. But it’s a little more than that, too. The internet has changed where we place our trust. For decades, marketers relied on celebrity endorsement and name recognition to create trust and demonstrate quality. Remember the “Got Milk?” campaign. It was just celebrities drinking milk and that was enough to make us think, maybe we should drink milk, too. That just doesn’t work anymore.

So when we think about who needs to know your business and hear your story, we need to think more broadly than just your customers. Who do your customers listen to? Who do your customers trust? The shift away from trusting brands to trusting people has brought on the rise of social media influencers. Influencers are powerful, there’s no doubt about it. And while we think in terms of celebrity status when it comes to influencers, anyone who your customer follows can function as an influencer.

Influencers, whether professional or familial, are part of your story. Who shares a message, endorses a product, likes a post, or otherwise participates becomes part of the story and impacts the reader or viewer. You can’t always control it, but you can educate yourself on user bases to stack your deck a bit.

You Can’t Reach Everyone

You need to think about where your customers and their influencers are and are not. If your business sells women’s clothes and your target audience is women in their 20’s and 30’s, which platforms do you think they’re frequenting?

While Facebook is still the most popular social media platform in the world, Instagram’s main demographic is women between the ages of 18-30. Facebook, on the other hand, has a much older audience on average. Where do you think you’re going to see the best ROI for your efforts?

Setting up specific targets and achievable goals is a difficult but necessary part of digital marketing. While you might think you’re limiting your audience, being able to target them more specifically is going to bring more benefits down the road.

Knowing Your Customers

Once you know who needs to know your story, it’s absolutely worth your time to get to know them better. Understand what they like, what they don’t like, where they spend their time. This goes back to being part of a community. If you join a community and pay attention, you’ll learn a lot about your customers. Don’t discount research and good old-fashion listening skills. Read what your customer reads. Watch what they watch. Follow who they follow.

In fact, it’s almost impossible to successfully advertise on social media platforms without knowing your target base. Places like Instagram and Facebook let you really dive into your customer’s persona and set up targeted ads.

It’s better to come in with a fishing pole and go to one spot instead of casting a wide net.

Question #3: How Will You Tell Your Story?

Once you know what your story is and who needs to see it, you need to actually create it in a format that will reach the intended audience in a way that they’ll actually interact with it.

talking on a podcast

Source: Pexels

You have a lot of options. But here are the most popular choices amongst digital marketers:

Deciding which format can be difficult. So ask yourself a few questions.

  1. What kind of format does my customer like? (There may be more than one!)
  2. Are there formats where you have the skill to create the content or will you need help?

Spending time understanding your customer, where they spend their time, what they like to do online, will help you answer the first question. In answering question number two, you may find that the format you’re most skilled in isn’t the format your customers are likely to want. Finding good, affordable tools and help in content creation might be easier than you think. Remember, your goal is always to create quality content that your customer can connect to.

You may decide that you want to create content in several formats to appropriately tell your story and reach your reader. And that’s fantastic. However, I wouldn’t jump into more than one to start. And here’s why. First of all, each format is challenging in its own way. They all demand a degree of skill and talent that you may need to develop or perhaps even hire an expert. And one of the biggest sins in digital marketing is bad content.

So take your time and get help if you need it. Focus on making the right content in the right way for the right person.

Digital Marketing Tools and Resources

Below, you’ll find tools broken down into two sections: creative and structural. The good news is there are plenty of fantastic tools available at almost any price range, even free. Like most things, you can expect to get what you pay for. Some of the paid tools offer some form of a free trial so you can take things for a spin.

Also, don’t limit yourself by what you think you can or cannot do. Even though you thought you’ve never had a creative bone in your body, you may surprise yourself.

Creative Tools

These tools are great, not just because of their functionality, but because they’re so fun! Here’s a shortlist of reputable and affordable creative tools.

Adobe Cloud Creative

OK, so let’s preface this by saying there are lots of features and functions of Adobe products that you need adequate training to use effectively (Photoshop comes to mind). That said, they do offer a wide array of tools, from beginner to expert. Don’t be overwhelmed by the size of their product catalog.

If you’re just beginning, check out recommend the Adobe Spark suite of products. They offer free versions (with available paid upgrades) to dip your toes in. And you can be creating beautiful social posts, graphics, and videos quickly.


Canva is great for creating graphics, brochures, and other type-based resources. They also offer a free or paid version. Many people start with the trial and quickly upgrade to the subscription. It’s easy to use and even syncs with other development platforms, making it easy to create something useful and beautiful. With its large catalogs of templates, fonts, images, and inspiration boards, you’ll have plenty at your fingertips to create almost anything you need.

Pexels & Unsplash

One thing you’ll learn pretty quickly when creating graphics and social posts are the value of free photography. That’s where Pexels and Unsplash come in. These resources are for grabbing free stock photos. The programs let photographers make their work free to use in exchange for good press and exposure.

You can (and should) give credit and kudos to the artists who share their work. Don’t worry, both platforms make it easy to do it.

Reporting and Automation Tools

using marketing tools

Source: Pexels

These might be less fun than the creative tools but they’re no less helpful.

One of the best things about digital marketing compared to traditional marketing is the ability to track and understand the efficacy and audience of your materials. It’s impossible to overemphasize the value of understanding the ROI of your efforts. Investing in tools that help you understand and leverage that information is absolutely worthwhile. But you only get that great reporting when you leverage marketing automation tools that help you organize, schedule, and follow your campaigns.

Marketing automation tools help you plan your campaigns, schedule activities, create social calendars, and even provide reporting so you understand the impact and value of your digital marketing assets. So don’t skimp or skip these great resources.

They’re really the backbone of a successful digital marketing program.


This resource helps you plan, organize, schedule, and report on all your digital marketing endeavors. From social posts and ads to email campaigns, there’s almost nothing that HubSpot can’t do (besides cook up a delicious breakfast). It’s a workhorse. There’s little surprise as to why it’s the most popular digital marketing tool out there.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud

If Hubspot is number one then Salesforce is a strong number two. A true competitor, it’s a powerful and scalable digital marketing tool that helps organize, schedule, and report on digital marketing work while also coordinating teams.

Choosing between these two largely depends on what type of business you have and what your business’ needs are. Generally speaking, Salesforce is a bit more difficult to implement and many companies have to bring in an outside consultant to make the most of it.

HubSpot does have a learning curve and that’s where HubSpot consultants can come in and help.

Additional popular marketing automation tools you might consider are Marketo (an Adobe product) and Hootsuite. Both are popular and helpful tools.

What about SEO?

You’ve no doubt noticed that a stalwart of our digital marketing outline was noticeably absent from this article. SEO (search engine optimization) is crucial to a good digital marketing strategy. As a foundational part of digital marketing, SEO is designed to help you bring in potential leads.

While an SEO strategy is part of a broad digital marketing strategy, it isn’t necessarily an element of creating and sharing a business story. It’s a tactical and strategic approach to leveraging content to get impressions. SEO copywriting is an even bigger challenge.

The story is never finished

Now that you’ve answered the foundational questions, here’s a reminder. These answers may work for you today and not tomorrow. Digital marketing, platforms, tools, techniques, are all dynamic and changing. Just like your business. That means you should keep asking yourself these questions. Keep adapting to changing trends, opportunities, and challenges. As your business and story grow, so should your plan.

If you need help creating a digital marketing plan or content, we’d love to help. Atiba has a talented and experienced team ready to help you succeed in digital marketing. Reach out to Atiba for a project quote today. We look forward to working with you!

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