Digital marketing strategies sit at the foundation of every memorable brand campaign of the past few years. When it’s done right, a variety of channels combine to create a cohesive, share-worthy experience.

But what is digital marketing? Advancements in technology have ballooned what can fall under the already broad term. These same advancements have also created more engaging experiences for users, who are already spending more than two hours per day on social media alone.

Now that the internet is so deeply intertwined with our everyday lives, maybe the real question is “what isn’t digital marketing?”.

That’s what we’ll be exploring in this article, along with the foundational channels and tactics marketers will need to keep in mind as they plan for success today, tomorrow and beyond.

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing (also known as online marketing) is an umbrella term for all of the various promotional efforts that take place on the internet or through other digital means. Campaigns typically involve a variety of channels, including:

  • Social media
  • Websites
  • Search engines
  • Email
  • Paid advertisements
  • Text messages
  • Mobile and web applications

Essentially, when you receive a message from a brand that requires a wifi connection, you’re looking at an example of digital marketing.

5 Types of digital marketing

Can you remember the last five ads you saw online? How about the last three?

If you can’t say for certain, it’s not your memory that’s lacking. The average person sees upwards of 4,000 advertisements per day making it impossible to remember the majority of the marketing efforts that make it past your eyeballs each week.

To stand out in the increasingly competitive attention economy, you’ll need a multi-channel marketing plan that capitalizes on multiple forms of online communication. Here are five types of digital marketing strategies that can support your approach.

1. Social media marketing

Social media marketing involves the many strategies that go into connecting with audiences across social networks, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and others.

Social media usage has been consistently on the rise over the past decade, with the total number of worldwide users projected to reach 4.89 billion in 2023. Social is a go-to for news, entertainment, connection and commerce, providing brands with unparalleled opportunities to reach their target audience in new and inventive ways.

Each follow, like and view combines to create a 360-degree view of what your fans want from your business. These insights can do more that bolster your social strategy; They can enhance your other digital marketing strategies, as well.

That’s why savvy brands rely on social media management tools—like Sprout—to execute on creative social strategies. These tools streamline publishing workflows so everyone from practitioners to marketing leaders can focus on leveraging social data to drive real business impact.

A screenshot of Sprout's Cross-channel Post Performance Report, which aggregates top performing posts from across all your social profiles.

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2. Content marketing

Content marketing is a form of digital marketing designed to attract and build credibility with an audience by sharing helpful information through ebooks, webinars, blog posts, videos and more.

This content can then be repurposed to support your social, email, SMS and affiliate marketing strategies, making it a foundational element of any marketing plan.

Content comes in many forms, so content marketing efforts can look very different depending on your industry and goals. For example, a software company might share how-to articles related to professional development but a food and beverage brand (like DTC darling, Graza, for example) benefits more from sharing recipes and lifestyle tips.

A screenshot of the Graza recipe blog.

Regardless of what type of content you share, at the end of the day, your goal should be to demonstrate expertise. That expertise generates trust between your brand and its audience, creating a smoother path to purchase when the time comes.

3. Email marketing

Email is a marketing mainstay. And with an average ROI of $36 for every $1 spent, why wouldn’t it be?

Companies rely on email marketing to meet customers with more targeted messaging at every stage of their journey. Let’s look at Baboon to the Moon, for example. Their product launch emails look more like social media posts than your standard text-based email. The bold imagery and punchy copy stands out in crowded inboxes.

A product launch email from Baboon To The Moon, promoting a limited edition travel backpack collection.

Their customer appreciation emails, on the other hand, are plain text and addressed from their founder. This gives the message a greater sense of authenticity, which matters quite a bit when expressing gratitude.

A screenshot of a plain text customer appreciation email from Baboon To The Moon, addressed from their founder.

It’s options like these that make email a pillar of digital marketing. Its versatility truly is unmatched.

4. SMS marketing

SMS marketing (or text message marketing) is a type of digital marketing that lets businesses send text messages to customers and prospects. Like email, individuals must opt-in to receive promotional messages via SMS.

Once they do, you have an incredibly high chance of getting consumer attention. Research from Gartner found that SMS open and response rates can be as high as 98% and 45% respectively.

SMS campaigns typically take two different shapes. They can be promotional, like this message from fashion brand Jenni Kayne

A screenshot of an SMS marketing message promoting a customer loyalty deal from Jenni Kayne.

…or transactional, like this order confirmation from Baking Steel.

A screenshot of an order confirmation message sent via SMS.

U.S. consumers are still warming up to the idea of text message marketing, so use it sparingly to conserve its impact. Pro Tip: Use your social performance data to find copy and creative that’s proven to resonate. Repurposing those assets for SMS campaigns can ensure every message counts.

5. Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing strategies rely on creators or publications to promote a product on behalf of a business in exchange for a cut of the revenue driven by the affiliate.

You’ve probably helped someone earn affiliate marketing income without even realizing it. Maybe you’ve used a creator’s coupon code during a checkout experience or purchased something through an influencer’s Amazon Storefront. These are just a few of the many ways businesses work with affiliates online—and typically, on social.

If you do test out an affiliate marketing program, be sure to keep everything above board. The Federal Trade Commission requires affiliates to disclose when a product or service is being promoted in exchange for potential compensation.

These disclosures don’t have to be lengthy or complicated. All you need to do is ensure you’re partnering with a creator or publication that honors the requirement, like The Strategist, for example.

A screenshot of The Strategist's masthead, with the words "Things you buy through our links may earn us commission" underlined.

Why digital marketing is still important in 2023

Most digital marketing tactics aren’t necessarily new anymore. It can be tempting to set aside these basics for more exciting endeavors, like a metaverse strategy or an experiential activation. There’s no harm in boldly going into the unknown but that doesn’t mean you should forget about the fundamentals.

Digital marketing strategies are tried and true for a reason. Here’s why:

It’s cost-effective

Digital marketing gives you more control over when, where and how you spend your money. If you’re not seeing returns on a specific channel, you can just cut back your spending and reallocate it to more fruitful opportunities.

As marketers are pushed to become more resource-efficient in uncertain market conditions, this amount of control is a marketer’s dream. You just can’t get as granular with traditional marketing efforts.

It’s measurable

Is there anything cooler than attribution modeling?

That may sound super nerdy. However, digital marketers know there’s nothing more valuable than being able to assign and measure the ROI of specific points along a customer’s journey.

You can even use digital marketing tactics to make your IRL efforts more trackable. For example, including a branded hashtag on an out-of-home advertising campaign can take passing glances and turn them into measurable reach data.

These capabilities don’t just support better outcomes on specific projects or campaigns. They can inform your future decisions, too.

It keeps your brand connected

Internet culture has eclipsed pop culture. If you’re not building customer relationships online then you risk becoming a relic of the past.

Enduring brands know that staying up-to-date on consumer trends is what keeps them at the forefront of peoples’ minds. Do you think the founders of Tropicana imagined making a spray bottle topper for mimosas when they started the company in 1947?

Probably not. But the team running the show now is using digital marketing tactics like social listening and media monitoring to tap into audience interests. Reflecting those interests back to them keeps their brand relevant, interesting and fun.

5 Need-to-know digital marketing tips

Keeping up with trends in digital marketing tactics is a job in itself. There are entire publications dedicated to tracking what’s in and out with brands online.

That may seem overwhelming but fret not. Trends come and go but principles last forever. To prove it, here are five timeless digital marketing tips that work regardless of channel.

1. Understand your business goals

In an ideal state, achieving business goals is like running a relay race. Your leadership team hands guidelines for success to those at the management level. Managers then develop strategies for their teams to execute on. When everyone’s in sync, it’s a fast track to growth.

Of course, if things were that simple then every company would be enjoying near-constant success. The truth is it’s easier to fall out of alignment than it is to fall back into it. Once you fall out of alignment, everyone’s running a different race.

Making a conscious effort to keep your digital marketing strategies aligned with department and company goals creates more meaningful work for you and your team. Track KPIs, ask questions and tie your impacts back to revenue. It makes all the difference in the long run.

2. Identify your target audience

The best digital marketing campaigns are intentional. You can just tell when a business understands its audience and knows how to speak their language.

This isn’t something that just happens naturally. Knowing and understanding your target audience takes an ongoing dedication to learning. You have to keep your ear to the ground to evolve your messaging alongside consumer interests.

Take the guesswork out of the equation by conducting routine analyses to identify what’s resonating with your target audience. Look at your own performance data, conduct competitor research and test new channels and formats.

3. Incorporate paid and organic channels

When it comes to digital marketing, paid and organic channels aren’t a matter of either-or. The two complement each other. One can drive better results for the other and vice versa.

Say you’ve put a lot of effort into an upcoming product launch but your email marketing performance has dipped. A well-targeted paid social campaign that incentivizes email sign-ups can rejuvenate your distribution lists and pick performance back up. This is just one of the many ways you can use one discipline to support the other.

A top-tier digital marketing strategy should rely on a healthy mix of paid, owned and earned media to sustain long-term results. It’s a balancing act but once you find your footing, it works.

4. Focus on high-quality content

If you look at We’re Not Really Strangers’ marketing content, you might not even realize they’re selling a card game.

Their website, social channels, email marketing efforts and more all seek to reinforce their brand mission—empowering connections with others. This dedication to creating high-quality content has earned them tons of fans, including Maritza Cardenas, Senior Social Media Manager at Mint Mobile.

“They’ve built a community around vulnerability,” says Cardenas. “It’s been very healing not only to myself, but to so many other fans as well. Their content hits home in a way that’s made me want to purchase almost all their editions.”

It would have been easy for them to market themselves as a party game or an icebreaker activity. Instead, We’re Not Really Strangers uses its digital marketing channels to broadcast a single cohesive message that focuses less on sales and more on building a brand community.

5. Be agile and adjust as you go

Remember: Strategies aren’t set in stone. The difference between good digital marketers and great digital marketers is a willingness to pivot.

Use data to understand the impact of a project and don’t be afraid to make tweaks in real-time. You can do this on a channel-by-channel basis or you can get a more cohesive look at a multi-channel campaign using a social listening tool.

A screenshot of the Sentiment Summary table in Sprout Social's listening tool.

With social listening, brands can zoom out and listen to the larger social conversations that are happening around specific campaigns. Use this information to round out marketing performance reports for an end-to-end look at how your message is penetrating a market and connecting back to revenue.

Create winning digital marketing strategies

Digital marketing is ever-evolving and that’s what makes it fun. If you want to go broad, you can focus on how each individual strategy comes together to make a cohesive campaign. If you want to go deeper, then it’s time to dive into channel strategies.

We may be biased but if you’re looking to get the most impact out of your effort, we recommend turning to social. Check out this guide to creating a future-proof social media strategy to find out everything you need to know to set goals, make plans and execute in the greatest frontier on the web.