How To Build A Digital Marketing Strategy For Long-Term Success

Digital marketing is a sub-set of marketing which uses the Internet, and online platforms to drive a marketing strategy. Digital marketing channels offer opportunities to reach small audiences with a high degree of personalization, thus growing businesses even with lower budgets and a better understanding of those audiences.

Seven principles for a successful digital marketing strategy

Let me tell you a few fundamental principles to build a digital distribution for your digital business, which I’ve learned at a costly price over the years, after many trials and errors (you don’t have to).

There are seven via negativa (not to do!) principles I’ve learned:

  • Don’t build a business based on product features.
  • Don’t wait to have a product to build an audience.
  • Don’t focus on what you can’t control.
  • Don’t procrastinate on testing your assumptions.
  • Don’t give up control over your pricing strategy!
  • Don’t rely on an OPP as your primary distribution strategy.
  • Don’t forget to tell your story.

Let me explain point by point.

This is a “Don’t Do List,” and if you avoid those mistakes, you’re on your way to building a robust digital business.

And eventually, I’ll give you also my “hedging distribution strategy” for success.

Don’t build a business based on product features

One of the most common misconceptions is that if you do have an advanced and more technological product, you win!

That’s completely off. And business history shows over and over again that often products that succeed are those that have been able to control distribution processes at the point of becoming market leaders (except a very few cases). So if you’re still holding to this belief, you might want to reconsider.

Don’t wait to have a product to build an audience

Most entrepreneurs wait the moment they launch to build an audience around a product or service. However, that is a colossal mistake and risk. A launch relies on something that needs you to be right to work out.

What if you are wrong? (as most time happens). All the effort and time in building that product and service will be wasted. Instead, you need as early as possible to build an audience, learn from it, and gather as much feedback as possible.

Don’t focus on what you can’t control

Do you have control over your strategy? If yes, focus all your attention to it. If not, give it up and focus on what you can control. This is a simple principle, yet a few can execute it.

Think when your business depends primarily upon something that is out of your control (a single large customer that can break it). It means that a single event can break it quickly. So how do you cope with it? You need to gain some level of control where you can.

Don’t procrastinate on testing your assumptions

While it might take a few hours to draw a business model, especially with business model tools, like the lean startup. It might take a few years to find a successful model. That is why you need to experiment a lot, discover and combine the building blocks and assemble them, so you have a scalable business.

The cases in which you might stumble on a successful business model, right away are very few.

Another big misconception is about monetizing your business.

Taken by the start-up frenzy, many might make up excuses such as “I’ll focus on users’ growth for the coming years.” Yet the monetizable side of a business model is among the riskiest pieces of the puzzle. Thus the sooner you start experimenting with it, the better.

Don’t give up control over your pricing strategy!

Most entrepreneurs that are starting out (especially in digital) might give up control over the pricing of their product or service, due to a lack of proper distribution. Think of the case of a store built on top of Amazon.

Or a Hotel that joins in a large platform where other hotels are showcased (like Booking).

Or an online instructor that starts out on Udemy.

While it does make sense to expand your customer base.

Those platforms are interested in pushing as much as possible transactions, without caring for the single distributor. Thus, they will push on pricing, commoditization of your product, and aggressive pricing policies to promote their business agenda.

If you didn’t take the time to build proper distribution, chances are you’ll have to follow the agenda, of the platform that has a strong distribution network. That platform will squeeze your prices (and eat your margins) and make your service a commodity until it is too late!

Don’t rely on an OPP as your primary distribution strategy

When you lose control over your distribution strategy, you also end up commoditizing your product. That happens because you need to rely on OPP (other people’s platforms) for distribution, which makes your long-term strategy very vulnerable, and your positioning extremely weak.

Don’t forget to tell your story

I didn’t list this as last because it’s less important. Instead, this is one of the critical ingredients for building long-term success. People want to relate to your business story; they want to know its “why,” and its reasons for existing.

This is the distinctive nature of your digital business and what makes it unique among the others. To make sure a story isn’t just about you. It’s about your community. Indeed, a business is often the result of a real problem and discomfort you might have experienced in the first person.

I started FourWeekMBA because I had a discomfort about how the whole model of traditional business schools and higher-level education worked. That discomfort gave me the vision to build this community. It’s what drives me, and surprisingly, many people part of the community share my same pain, and they can relate to my story.

Yet, as an entrepreneur, I also offer a solution, and this is where value is created. Without a story, you might have a company that makes (momentarily) money, but do you have a long-term business model? I doubt it.

Are there shortcuts?

I wish I could tell you so. While there are some hacks, you can test along the way. Most of it is hard work combined with vision, focus, and strategy.

Building your distribution platform is hard, and it requires time. But once you’ve taken the time to do that, that is when you have a solid business, a reliable brand, and an active audience and community ready to support you in the long-run.

The digital distribution strategy

Author Nicholas Nassim Taleb proposes what he calls a barbell strategy. I like to call it a “hedging strategy” for building up a robust distribution for your business.

Let me articulate. In investing, when you make a risky investment, you want to hedge that with another that has a negative correlation or at least has the potential to cover up for the high risk you’re taking on the other hand.

In other words, the premise of this strategy is that you can take as much risk as you want if you’re properly hedged against it.

A hedging strategy for digital distribution

On the digital distribution side for me, a hedging strategy is about investing on two opposite distribution channels, that might well seem disjointed, but instead are highly related:

  • SEO on the risky side.
  • And email marketing on the hedging side.

Why is SEO the risky side? You don’t control that channel. If tomorrow Google comes up with an algorithm update, or it decides that suddenly your site isn’t worth it, or better yet, it determines the time is on for it to take over your niche (take the example of Google Travel) your whole distribution is in jeopardy.

That doesn’t mean SEO is not a proper distribution channel. Quite the opposite, Google is still among the best channels to grow your business quickly. However, betting on SEO alone has high potential rewards but also high intrinsic risks as you can’t and will never control Google.

So how do you hedge that?

Simple, you attract as much organic Google traffic as possible and convert that in email subscribers. Over the months, those subscribers will become your community, to which you’ll be building a long-term relationship.

Therefore, SEO will help you with:

  • Gaining initial traction.
  • Building up a brand.
  • Building up a community by tapping into an existing distribution channel (you don’t control).

While email marketing will serve you as:

  • A hedging strategy to avoid to base your whole distribution strategy on Google’s algorithm changes.
  • A way to build your community from scratch through direct conversations.
  • The channel that enables you to convert non-paying subscribers in repeat customers for your business.

You do have control over your email list because you can set the pace of the conversation, decide the stories to tell and have meaningful interactions with your audience. This is critical.

We’re missing a last piece of the puzzle for a successful long-term distribution strategy.

Over time reduce the dependence from channels you don’t control

Distribution is one of the key elements to build a viable business model. Indeed, Distribution enables a product to be available to a potential customer base; it can be direct or indirect, and it can leverage on several channels for growth. Finding the right distribution mix also means balancing between owned and non-owned channels.

It’s fine to use SEO to build up traction for your business. Or to use a single distribution channel for that. In the end, initially, you need to be highly focused, and you can’t afford to master too many channels at once.

Thus, having all your eggs in one basket is risky, but okay. Many digital businesses have 70-80% of their distribution strategy based on SEO. Yet, over time, you need to balance the other channels. Why? You’ll have financial resources, and the competence to expand and broaden your focus.

Thus, when SEO or the other main distribution channels has become a flywheel that requires less and less of your attention. You can finally spend your effort in balancing up other channels (for instance, social media or video marketing).

But remember, if you don’t control those channels you’re broadening up, you still need to hedge them against your newsletter, or anything where you have complete control over. Never forget that!

Build your digital distribution strategy

A distribution channel is the set of steps it takes for a product to get in the hands of the key customer or consumer. Distribution channels can be direct or indirect. Distribution can also be physical or digital, depending on the kind of business and industry.

Read More: Distribution Channels: Types, Functions, And Examples

A digital channel is a marketing channel, part of a distribution strategy, helping an organization to reach its potential customers via electronic means. There are several digital marketing channels, usually divided into organic and paid channels. Some organic channels are SEO, SMO, email marketing. And some paid channels comprise SEM, SMM, and display advertising.

Read More: Digital Marketing Channels

Venture capitalist, Dave McClure, coined the acronym AARRR which is a simplified model that enables us to understand what metrics and channels to look at, at each stage for the users’ path toward becoming customers and referrers of a brand.

Read more: Build your AARRR Funnel If you have a traditional business

The Amazon Flywheel or Amazon Virtuous Cycle is a strategy that leverages on customer experience to drive traffic to the platform and third-party sellers. That improves the selections of goods, and Amazon further improves its cost structure so it can decrease prices which spins the flywheel.

Read More: Build your Flywheel if you run a platform business model

Use a prioritization framework for digital growth


The bullseye framework is a simple method that enables you to prioritize over the marketing channels that will make your company gain traction.

Read more: Bullseye Framework

Digital distribution examples

In business, vertical integration means a whole supply chain of the company is controlled and owned by the organization. Thus, making it possible to control each step through consumers. in the digital world, vertical integration happens when a company can control the primary access points to acquire data from consumers.

Read More: Google Vertical Integration


Read More: Apple Distribution 

An entry strategy is a way an organization can access a market based on its structure. The entry strategy will highly depend on the definition of potential customers in that market and whether those are ready to get value from your potential offering. It alls starts by developing your smallest viable market.

Read More: Entry-Strategies


Where scientists use labs to test their hypotheses through experimentation. Entrepreneurs build business model experiments to test their businesses ideas in the real world.


Business experiments help entrepreneurs test their hypotheses. Rather than define the problem by making too many hypotheses, a digital entrepreneur can formulate a few assumptions, design experiments, and check them against the actions of potential customers. Once measured, the impact, the entrepreneur, will be closer to define the problem.

Read More: Business Experimentation

Engines of growth

In the Lean Startup, Eric Ries defined the engine of growth as “the mechanism that startups use to achieve sustainable growth.” He described sustainable growth as following a simple rule, “new customers come from the actions of past customers.” The three engines of growth are the sticky engine, the viral engine, and the paid engine. Each of those can be measured and tracked by a few key metrics.

Read More: Engines Of Growth

Brand building

Brand building is the set of activities that help companies to build an identity that can be recognized by its audience. Thus, it works as a mechanism of identification through core values that signal trust and that help build long-term relationships between the brand and its key stakeholders.

Read next: Brand Building

Connecting the dots

For a successful digital marketing strategy, follow these key principles:

  1. Don’t build a business based on product features.
  2. Don’t wait to have a product to build an audience.
  3. Don’t focus on what you can’t control.
  4. Don’t procrastinate on testing your assumptions.
  5. Don’t give up control over your pricing strategy!
  6. Don’t rely on an OPP as your primary distribution strategy.
  7. Don’t forget to tell your story.

While it’s important to prioritize on traction in the short-term, it’s key to gain control over time, and where control can’t be achieved, release the focus, and go back to those digital channels where over time you can gain more control. 

In this way, you can build a solid pipeline and digital business.

When, and what part of your digital marketing strategy does it make sense to automate?

Automating aspects of your digital marketing efforts can save time and money while improving the functionality of your business.

Increasing efficiency is one of the key goals in any successful business, yet automation has many drawbacks to take into account. And it can also result in short-term efficiency, and long-term lack of impact. That is why it’s important to balance automation always with the human in the loop.

There are however, certain tasks, such as social media posting, PPC campaigns, emails, landing page content, and lead generation that can be enhanced by the process of digital marketing automation.

What is Automation in the Digital Marketing Industry?

Automation is the process of using different tools, services, and software to automate repetitive, complicated, or time-consuming activities.

In digital marketing, automation gives businesses more time to grow and operationalize communications so that companies can take care of themselves without the need for constant attention.

How Can Your Business Benefit From Digital Marketing Automation?

Your business can become more productive, improve campaign management, increase marketing ROI, measure performance more accurately, and generate more leads by automating some of its digital marketing processes. When your business decides to manage and run your marketing campaigns using a clearly defined process, and it’s critical to understand the limits of automation, and the boundaries, so where automation should not be used within your business. 

In general, a good rule of thumb, is not to automate things that are the core of the business. For instance, if your business is a magazine, you do not want to automate content generatio. Quite the opposite, you want to personalize, curate, research and create as much as unique content, to make it very very hard to copy. 

If you automating that, the risk of creating a negative impact on the business is real. 

Instead, by automating processes such as up-sells, cross-sells, personalized reminders, appointments, and follow-ups, you can develop a more effective sales strategy.

All of your prospects and customers will receive a level of attention and care that is unrivaled by competitors as automation creates a more personalized connection between your brand and customers.

By combining automation with convincing, attractive lead generation strategies and lead magnets, your business will increase opportunities to make additional revenue out of marketing investments.

You no longer need to hire more employees to execute planned strategies for each marketing department. A small team of digital marketing experts can set up all processes and guide your marketing department.

Once functions have been automated, your marketing processes will be set for the weeks and months ahead. Now, your core team can focus on in-house creativity and potential new projects.

What Processes Can be Automated?

Everything from sending follow up emails, to upselling products and answering customer support calls can be automated these days.

Here are some functions most businesses use automation for:

  • Publishing social media posts
  • Sending out emails via targeted campaigns
  • Website widget content
  • Online advertising placements
  • Data management
  • Data analysis

Business resources:

Case studies: 

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