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Three approaches to digital marketing — and how to choose what’s best for your brand in 2023

Molly Baker, CEO and Founder of Indie Consulting.

As we enter 2023, I can say with confidence that digital marketing is just “marketing” now. This is blurring the lines between funnel goals and channel selection, fueling the ever-growing need for a variety of digital content and requiring a constant approach to measuring the art and science that is marketing today.

After the big boom of direct-to-consumer brands and marketplaces, along with their accompanying marketing tactics (think Facebook ads), I’m seeing a refocus on the importance of brand awareness and tactics at the top end. While it plays an important role in every brand’s marketing mix, bottom-of-funnel performance marketing isn’t the only key to growth. As the founder of a marketing consulting firm and researching how brands are approaching this matrix ecosystem, I have identified three widely used approaches.

Approach #1: The Performance Model

I’ve observed many digital native brands adopt a performance-first approach to their full-funnel marketing efforts to maintain a growth mentality and apply lower-funnel optimization tactics to upper-funnel activations.

How are they activated?

Here’s what brands that follow this model seem to achieve.

• Build a marketing ecosystem across the funnel, with platforms identified to achieve specific goals within each part of the marketing funnel.

• The directional return on ad spend is attributed to each platform for each objective. These ROAS benchmarks are created using historical data and directional mapping models.

• Establish a continuous measurement model and testing framework that allows every dollar spent to be measured and attributed to sales.

• Move budget monthly and quarterly through the funnel based on performance.

How do they get resources?

Brands that follow the performance model tend to hire subject matter experts to develop the strategy and strictly manage the execution of agency partners. This model requires extensive internal resources given the detailed practical optimization approach.

Approach #2: The Consciousness Model

I find that many traditional, long-standing brands have kept brand awareness as their number one goal. This goal drives how they leverage their digital touchpoints and investments. All decisions tie into the single goal of making more households aware of their brand and product.

How are they activated?

Here’s what brands that follow this model seem to achieve.

• Build a marketing ecosystem that prioritizes where to reach the largest percentage of their audience at the lowest cost.

• Use digital platforms to amplify messages conveyed primarily through television and/or other traditional media tactics.

• Focus on a single advertising message and innovate through ‘new’ over-the-top and connected TV advertising offerings.

How do they get resources?

In my experience, brands that follow the awareness model tend to keep internal marketing teams small and focused on agency partners and project management. The biggest increase is associated with the single message and annual media purchase. Without an optimization model or fluid budgets, many variables are fixed each year, which requires much less of an in-house marketing team.

Approach 3: The content- and engagement-oriented model

As content marketing has matured beyond the early days of blogging and custom content by big-name publishers, many brands have seen sustained growth by implementing a content- and engagement-centric model. Brands that adopt this model make a serious effort to retain their existing customers and build deep relationships with people new and old by being more than just a product.

How are they activated?

Here’s what brands that follow this model seem to achieve.

• Prioritize your own and purchased marketing channels/platforms over paid platforms.

• Create multiple content streams and storylines to engage with consumers in different ways.

• Let consumer feedback and cultural trends drive annual, if not biennial, communications planning and product innovation.

• Accept that your marketing efforts don’t always pay off immediately, as you would see with a paid-media-first approach.

How do they get resources?

Brands that take the content-centric and engagement-centric approach tend to have a mixed resource strategy. Certain aspects of brand content and typically retention specialists reside internally. However, to meet the demand for content required by this approach, I have observed that brands operating under this model often work with content agency partners and freelancers to quickly create and optimize content.

Decide what’s best for your brand

There is no one-size-fits-all approach, nor is it impossible to do everything. I recommend evaluating your brand’s goals and digital maturity to determine which marketing model best suits your brand in 2023. Your marketing model should ideally be re-evaluated annually, as consumer-facing tactics and internal enablers are constantly shifting.

To decide which approach works best for your brand, ask yourself: What is your brand’s digital maturity and what is your top marketing goal? For example, if your brand is still building its digital foundation and your primary marketing goal is to connect with a passionate customer base, the content and engagement model is probably best. However, if your brand has built its digital foundation and your primary marketing goal is to increase purchase opportunities and/or reach a new customer segment, the mind-driven model may be a better fit. If your brand is digitally sophisticated and your primary marketing goal is to drive sales growth through your base products and new product launches, the performance model could be a good option.

Modern marketing is not limited to a single set of fixed tools, with the variables being creative messaging. Marketing today is rather the opposite; It consists of many tools and many messages. The possibilities are limitless, which makes the art and science of marketing even more interesting.

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