What is a digital-first strategy and why do I need it?


Marketing as an activity has been going on for millenia: think the public marketplaces of ancient Egypt, with merchants touting their wares. It’s changed a lot since then, of course, and in the 21st Century, digital marketing gets results, and businesses with a digital-first strategy can gain a serious competitive edge.

The world of marketing is transforming at a break-neck pace, and it can be hard for non-marketers to keep up; research by Adobe finds that marketers agree that marketing has changed more in the past two years than in the past 50. It makes sense: you just have to watch an episode of Mad Men to recoil at outdated techniques that would fall flat with today’s savvy customers, and media with virtually no targeting ability; in fact, for marketers even at the turn of the millennium, the old adage of “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” rang as true as it did when it was first uttered a century prior.

Fortunately for today’s businesses, we have the myriad wonders of digital marketing, helping us to understand the customer (and where our marketing efforts are succeeding or falling flat) like never before. At the same time, traditional marketing is less and less effective on average, with print advertising practically an endangered species, and radio and TV advertising only being capable of the most shallow of targeting. On the other hand, your customers are most likely to be embedded firmly in the digital space; by using digital-first marketing, you can find your tribe, reach them where they are, and share your why in a way that resonates.

According to the latest Digital Australia report by Ernst and Young, 94% have researched products/services online in the last year, and 40% of consumers will walk away from a business that fails to offer them a high quality digital experience. Good digital is no longer optional.

With that in mind, here’s some tips you need to know to get your digital marketing game on, why digital-first matters and how you can make it work for your business.

Digital marketing versus traditional marketing: what’s the difference?

The main difference between digital and traditional marketing strategies involve the channels through which your audience encounters your marketing messages. Traditional marketing uses traditional media (magazines, newspapers, billboards, etc.) whereas digital marketing uses digital media, such as social media or websites.

But the buck doesn’t stop there; as communication thinker Marshall McLuhan put it, “the medium is the message”. An easy way to explain this: have you seen this “LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Tinder” multiple personality #DollyPartonChallenge memes?

Just like the way a single professional seeking both romance and employment will “market” themselves differently on these different digital media, your traditional marketing efforts may fall flat on digital. What works on the back of a bus won’t necessarily work on Facebook.

Why do you need a digital-first marketing strategy?

For effective digital marketing, it’s not enough to boost some posts to a general audience and hope for the best; you need to put on your digital marketing strategy hat, or find someone who can put in the hard yards for you. Digital marketing can be incredibly impactful both as a method to communicate with audiences you would usually struggle to reach otherwise, to use targeting to narrow down these audiences with deep precision, to test different messages with different markets and glean insights that can help you market even more effectively. Digital-first marketing strategy isn’t just about updating your social media regularly or having a pretty website; it’s there to get results.

Get it right from the start, and you can achieve great things. The tactics you choose for branding, marketing messages, communication style and much more will flow from your digital marketing strategy. It will help you define your digital presence, where you are and where you’re going, your goals, and how to most effectively get there.

Also, your most successful rivals didn’t get there by accident; they’ve got digital strategies already. Even if you have a mediocre digital strategy, if your rival has a better one, you’ll get left behind, and you’re leaving money on the table. Harness your competitive advantage by being the business that does it better.

What is digital-first strategy, and how can it help my business?

Digital-first marketing strategy isn’t just adapting traditional marketing to digital as an afterthought: it’s marketing that’s truly embedded in the digital world, created for digital channels. It’s developed by people who understand how digital is different, and aren’t trying to shove a square traditional peg into a round digital hole, as it were.

It takes place via technology, but it’s not just about the technology, it’s about the users; the people, not the tools. There needs be a “why”, with clear marketing objectives. As Forbes puts it, “Your customers don’t see themselves as having strong relationships with particular technologies. Rather, technology strengthens their relationships with one another.”

We’ve previously blogged here about how IKEA’s IKEAPlace app uses augmented reality to bring their gorgeously minimalist Swedish furniture into homes that a traditional print catalogue simply can’t compete with; it’s a tool developed from an understanding that people want to imagine what that sofa would look like in their living room, and makes it easier to do so.

Like effective traditional marketing, successful digital-first marketing strategies stem from a focus on the customer experience, their needs, hopes and pain points, as opposed to introducing technology for technology’s sake or standing on a virtual soapbox and prioritises what your company wants to market. Unlike traditional marketing, digital marketing allows marketing messages to become rich, two-way conversations, for brands to be discovered by searchers, or delivered to carefully targeted, qualified leads, leading to less “ad fatigue”; but it’s not all about the messaging. With digital-first marketing strategy, you’ve got the tools at hand to understand your customers and how they interact with your brand, understand your competitors’ digital presences and their weak points, and use all this for multi-channel digital messages that get serious results.

Getting digital-first strategy right

It’s worth noting that for the most part, engagement levels are dropping across social media – check out these alarming stats on Instagram and Facebook engagement levels. What’s more, organic reach is in decline. That doesn’t mean we should flail our hands, pretend it’s 1990 again, break out the hammer pants, and go back to advertising in the Quokka classifieds; it means that just like most of the advertising tactics of Mad Men would have seemed painful even a decade later, consumers are more savvy. They’re also often inundated with online advertising, which when done badly can be downright annoying. Unfortunately, for the most part, people aren’t really that engaged with brands. To combat their marketing fatigue, and stand out from the pack, you need the right tools, insights, creativity, and understanding of the digital world.

Sadly, a lot of digital marketing is seriously ineffective, and a lot of agencies simply don’t know their stuff. Marketing Week finds that only 8% of brands are ‘very satisfied’ with their agency partners, and that most agencies and brands alike believe that agencies are not keeping pace with the changing world of marketing.

A lot of digital spend is wasted, and we often talk to business owners spending a lot on digital who have no idea whether they’re getting a return on their investment. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here at Glide: the Digital ROI Agency, we help businesses establish a direct return on investment from their marketing and media spend. That’s a rarity in the world of digital marketing, but it’s also an opportunity for your business to do better than others whose marketing is mediocre.

When it comes to top-notch digital marketing, you just won’t get the same results with agencies who only settle for digital as an afterthought: so to paraphrase the post that launched the #DollyPartonChallenge, find yourself an agency who can do all the digital, and get results.

Digital Strategy Example: Destination Perth

Destination Perth is the official travel website to uncover events, activities, what to do and places to visit in Perth, forming the online presence of the Perth Regional Tourism Organisation, Perth’s peak destination marketing organisation responsible for promoting Perth and surrounds as a desirable leisure destination. Destination Perth is a long-standing client of Glide Agency, and we’re proud to have developed many digital creative brand campaigns showcasing Perth while drawing attention to PRTO’s members.

Glide Agency developed a tailored social media & Google Adwords campaign for Destination Perth, showcasing the beauty and fun of Perth in spring to audiences in WA, the Eastern States, Malaysia and Singapore. With click-through rates (CTR) being historically low in the tourism industry – particularly for campaigns targeted at overseas markets – our focus was to improve CTR by developing creative campaign collateral that was customised for digital activation.

This is quite a different approach from many competitors in the marketing space, who would create collateral for traditional marketing purposes and then realign it for digital. Glide Agency produces truly digital-first tourism marketing campaigns, and it shows in our agility and speed to work with different forms of content – audio, video, photography and written content. As a truly full-service, digital-first agency, we combined all of these media to tell a compelling, fluid story, and delivered great results.

What’s more, our gorgeous digital creative collateral looked pretty fantastic when used on a traditional medium: the back of TransPerth buses! A win for our favourite city and for our client, and it certainly made us proud.

So how do I embed digital-first strategy in my business?

Perhaps the most important tip is to ensure that your digital-first strategy isn’t just a plan on a page, it’s integrated into your overall marketing strategy. In this day and age, digital marketing shouldn’t be an afterthought; but you don’t just do digital marketing for the sake of digital. So rather than working in siloes with a traditional marketing strategy that then influences your digital marketing strategy, or doing digital marketing ad-hoc without strategic purpose, you should be taking a “digital-first” marketing approach which includes the core elements of marketing strategy but which is set up to maximise your ROI on your marketing spend through the power of digital.

Furthermore, strategy is never a finished product; while the adage “fail to plan, plan to fail” still works as much as ever, it’s important to take an approach of test, pivot and react. Digital marketing offers unprecedented power as a customer research tool, so if you find information that makes parts of your previous marketing strategy redundant, then don’t ignore: adapt. Digital-first strategy isn’t just about creating marketing collateral that looks great for digital: it’s about being a data-driven business that makes decisions based on rich insight. Understanding your customers better doesn’t just mean A/B testing a whole lot of messages and seeing what resonates with who (although that’s pretty amazing, too!)

It’s about knowing your customers better and learning as you go, gradually refining your messaging to maximise impact, and segmenting and personalising your messages to your audiences. And if you’re still playing in the traditional marketing space, this is so valuable too – better to test your messaging online with the audiences you think it will resonate with, than to put it on a billboard and find it falls flat (or is a faux pas)!

As the Digital Marketing Institute puts it, “a brand that doesn’t have a digital presence has a near-zero chance of locating new prospects and engaging audiences because they aren’t looking in the right place.” Making the most of the opportunities posed by digital marketing shouldn’t be an afterthought, it should be the first thing on your mind.

Want more insights on digital marketing? Check out our blog posts on Big Data For Marketing, Persona-Level Marketing in the Digital Age, learn about how our expertise in Equity Crowdfunding Marketing helped Perth startup Tiller Rides to raise $1m , and get in touch to talk with us about how a tailored digital strategy can help your startup to succeed.