Digital Strategy vs. Digital Marketing: What is the Difference?

Often the term “digital strategy” is used to reference marketing operations or digital marketing. Yet, as you will find out in this article, the two have great differences as it relates to the growth of your organization. Digital strategy and digital marketing have their own fundamental purposes that can be used together to drive overall business objectives or separately for project-based needs. Small businesses that use digital strategy as an integral part of overall business strategy have a leg up over those that only engage in digital marketing as a support factor.





Your small business should incorporate digital marketing into the fold of comprehensive digital strategy operations – and we are going to tell you how.


Read further to explore the differences between digital strategy and digital marketing and discover the best approach to creating value with digital strategy that optimizes customer experience and increases return on investment (ROI).


So, what is the difference, really?


Let us step back and have a look at both areas. We will start with a quick recap of digital marketing to jog your memory:


Digital marketing became widely popular with the advent of the Internet and eCommerce platforms like Yahoo! (1994) and Amazon (1994). New innovations in the digital and cyber world disrupted the way everyday consumers engaged with purchasing and connectivity. Suddenly, things like instant messaging (email at the time) and convenient shopping experiences became more accessible.


Interactions and expectations continued to transform as the Internet began to take on its earliest Web 1.0 shape into what it is today – something like 44+ zettabytes of data (Big Data).


Yikes. That’s a lot of data!


Activating Digital Marketing


Small businesses and large organizations use social media, email marketing, content marketing, paid advertising, search engine optimization, and other digital marketing functions to achieve marketing operation goals. All are forms of communication and interaction.


Communication includes listening, receiving, understanding, and providing feedback in a receptive way.


The trick is leveraging the right set of digital tools to achieve strategic goals. Digital marketing functions are often less effective when done in silos from one another. Here’s our recommendation for how to tackle digital marketing:


  1. Identify your target audience. Who do you want to interact with your brand?

  2. Identify the messaging. How will you communicate with your target audience?

  3. Identify the right channels and tools. Where is your target audience? What channels will help communicate with them?

  4. Identify your goals. What do you want to accomplish with each engagement?

  5. Identify your budget. How much needs to be allocated to accomplish your goals and realize ROI?


There are multiple factors involved with digital marketing, and the most effective digital marketing strategy incorporates all the above elements while offering value. Be sure to tell a complete story and provide an attractive experience for your audience.


It is still digital marketing if your team only uses social media marketing and email marketing to interact with target audiences. So, what’s missing?


A complete digital strategy. Next, we’ll explore how digital strategy goes further.


Digital Strategy for Data-Driven, Customer Experience


Digital strategy takes things a step further with data-driven implementation to impact overall business objectives.


Organizations, small and large, navigate the oceanic mass of information – coined Big Data – to understand consumer behavior and to help organizations adopt new ways of engagement with consumers. Before, the relationship between consumer and brand was a one-way communication exchange. Digital strategy has interrupted that dynamic to achieve a more cohesive goal.


The dynamic has shifted in favor of the consumer’s experience. Data allows brands to execute operations like digital marketing more effectively. For instance, digital marketing is now less about getting the product in front of target audiences, more about understanding your audience, and ways to bring them consistent value.


Activating Digital Strategy


The difference between digital strategy and digital marketing are the end goals. Digital strategy seeks to investigate the current state of operations for your organization to understand what customers and employees are experiencing. Some questions you should consider asking to determine where digital strategy is being used and if it is effective include:


  1. Are our marketing, sales, and operational goals integrated to achieve a common objective?

  2. Where are your consumers experiencing pain points in their interaction with your brand?

  3. How can digital solutions improve those pain points?

  4. What data is available based on consumer interaction?


Organizations leverage process automation and analytical tools to consolidate data into digestible stories that can be translated into proactive responses to the market.


Ultimately, digital strategy helps your small business (and large companies) effectively achieve data-driven outcomes that provide greater value, integrate operations, and successfully accomplish digital marketing.


Need help with digital strategy? Ask a consultant.

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