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The Marketing Flow: The 5 Stages of an Online Marketing Plan

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

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A lot of business owners complain that they can’t figure out digital marketing. That’s often because they try to learn it by reading sources that make it seem tougher than it is.

Digital marketing has its challenges, sure, but it’s not rocket science!

Many people just over-complicate it. They view it as something made up of parts that exist in silos or rigid categorisations, and as a project of intimidating complexity.

But at the fundamental level, digital marketing actually just returns to the core of Business Theory: the emphasis on the customer journey.

The customer journey refers to all of the experiences a consumer goes through when interacting with your company and brand. It actually guides the progress of every digital marketing campaign.

Today, we’ll show you how that works. In this guide, we’ll go through the 5 stages of an online marketing plan.

In the process, you’ll see how they form a flow that will help you take customers through a journey that will help you achieve your aims.


1. Drive Traffic

The first step of every campaign is to consider Why, What, Where, and How you’re driving traffic.

Here’s a quick breakdown of those points:

  • Why you’re driving traffic tells you what your goals are for driving traffic.

  • What traffic you’re driving tells you who makes up the traffic, i.e. who your target audience is.

  • Where you’re driving traffic tells you where you’re sending the traffic.

  • How you’re driving traffic tells you what strategies and tactics to use for your campaign.

All of these are fundamental points to settle. Without them, you can’t possibly put together a coherent marketing plan.

Let’s go through them one by one to show how they form the backbone of a marketing campaign.

Dart board

Why You’re Driving Traffic

Everything begins here: the Why of your marketing.

Answering why you’re driving traffic helps you orient your efforts. That’s because it gives you a goal to work towards.

Without a clear goal, you may find yourself straying with an inefficient campaign -- one that sees you wasting time and resources without maximising returns.

Ask yourself what you want to achieve. Are you doing digital marketing to capture leads and improve sales? To build thought leadership in your industry?

You may be doing it to build relationships with others. Or even to enhance brand visibility!

Whatever your answer, what matters is that you have a goal: that will put you in a better position to answer the other questions in the list. Hence, this is always the first point to settle.

Miniature target board with wooden figurines

What Traffic You’re Driving / Who Makes Up Your Traffic

Once you know why you’re marketing, you can figure out who makes up (or should make up) your traffic.

As an example, let’s say your goal is to sell a new product.

That gives you an idea of what traffic you should be driving because it helps you define who your target audience is. Your target audience refers to people who fit the profile of your ideal customer or buyer for the new product.

You can then create marketing personas based on that. A marketing persona is an archetypal character that represents a particular subset of consumers within your audience.

Personas can help you refine your strategies and improve your targeting efforts. That’s because they encapsulate the typical behaviours, attitudes, needs, and other traits of your audience.

As an example, let’s say stay-at-home mothers are among your ideal customers. You can create a fictional version of one - name it Lisa or whatever you like - and then add further details to flesh out this archetype of one subset of your ideal customers.

For instance, you might describe this persona: Lisa, a stay-at-home mother who’s around 40 years old and married, who struggles with a high mortgage and tends to be a heavy user of Facebook.

You can add more detail to such a persona, if it’s useful to you. You can note the archetype’s goals and motivations, for example, to make it easier to craft messages that tap into those.

We’ll talk more about personas in future articles. For now, let’s just say they’re among the most important tools marketers can use because they provide a frame of reference for many of your choices.

Chalk drawing of arrow

Where You’re Driving Traffic

Your goals also tell you where to drive the traffic you identified by defining your traffic.

For instance, if we stick to the goal of selling a new product, you probably intend to drive traffic to your online shop to make a purchase.

But this can get more or less detailed, depending on your answer to who makes up your traffic.

Let’s say you’ve segmented your traffic into two categories, for instance:

  1. Your ideal customers who are ready to purchase your product

  2. Customers who are thinking of buying but still need a little more convincing

That gives you 2 different target audiences and you’ll likely have different answers for where to send each one!

For example, those from the first segment may be sent to the online shop so they can buy the product immediately.

On the other hand, those from the second segment may be sent to landing pages that can help move them further down your funnel (i.e. persuade them to consider buying the product more seriously).

The marketing funnel is just a model that describes the customer journey, by the way.

At the top of the funnel, customers learn about your business, products, or services. They go through various stages of the funnel, from considering the product being sold to buying it and even becoming advocates for it.

So whenever we talk about the funnel, we’re just talking about your intended route for your customers’ journeys: the funnel is a map of what you want your customers to do or where you want them to go.

Post-it notes on a wall

How You’re Driving Traffic

Now you can plan the methods of your campaign. Based on what you’ve determined in the previous points, you should know the answers to queries like these:

  • What marketing channels to select

  • How best to reach out to your target audience

  • What types of marketing copy to produce

  • What design direction to take

Identifying these things will ensure you maximise the traffic you drive. That means two things:

  • You’ll be able to ensure more relevant traffic for your goals, which lets you focus your efforts only on people who might actually be interested in what you’re offering.

  • You’ll be able to increase traffic volume, which increases your chances of achieving your goals. The larger the numbers that enter the flow, the better the results, because you’ll have a bigger pool of potential buyers/takers.

Want to find out more about how you can drive traffic to your site? Read our piece on this topic to find out.


2. Capture Traffic

Once you’ve begun to drive traffic, you move to this stage, which is capturing traffic.

Now, let’s get something straight: capturing traffic does not mean making a sale.

Rather, it means gathering more data from your digital traffic and creating a persona around that data. Why? To further refine your audience targeting and marketing.

You might be wondering why you should bother, given that you’ve already created a marketing persona in a previous step (when answering who or what makes up the traffic you’re driving).

To some extent, this is an extension of that. It’s just more specific now, because you’ll be going off actual data about each prospect, letting you personalise your marketing further.

This allows you to better engage your audience on your own platforms and "capture" their attention.

Anyway, a crucial part of capturing traffic is the process of turning your unknown traffic into known traffic. Let’s explain that next.

Business funnel drawing

Turning Unknown Traffic into Known Traffic

Capturing traffic is basically a way of preparing to remarket to the parts of your audience that haven’t jumped straight to the final step of your marketing funnel yet.

For example, if your goal is for your audience to buy a product, they’re all the people who visited your website but didn’t end up buying the product yet.

In marketing speak, they haven’t converted.

Broadly speaking, you can categorise such traffic into 2 types:

  • Unknown Traffic - This refers to people who landed on the site but did not provide you with identification information such as an email address or mobile number.

  • Known Traffic - This refers to people who landed on the site and filled in a form granting you identification info, but who are still not ready to convert/purchase. Nevertheless, because you know their identification and contact info, it’s easier to move them further towards conversion.

Capturing info on unknown traffic is particularly difficult. Privacy laws are becoming more and more stringent as time goes on.

This makes the ability to track and retarget unknown traffic with ads harder every year. Thus, the ability to capture your unknown traffic and turn it into known traffic is critical.

There are various ways to do this. You can try gated content, offering subscriptions for promotions, and profiling through quizzes and questionnaires.

The basic idea is to put up small “hurdles” that people have to hop in order to access something they want or something beneficial to them.

You offer them a free downloadable guide to marketing, for instance, if they give you their email addresses in exchange.

From this, they’ll get something beneficial to them (a free downloadable guide) and you’ll get something beneficial to you (a lead).

Such steps provide you with crucial audience information that you can use to move consumers closer to your goal.

This fits with the funnel view of converting consumers like this:

Romi conversion funnel

What are the different ways you can capture traffic? Read our piece on capturing traffic to find out.

3: Nurture Traffic

Once you’ve captured both data about your audience and their attention, you can move on to the stage of nurturing traffic.

This is when you remarket to your leads and try to move them further down your marketing funnel. One of the ways to do that is to show them targeted ads.

This can be an extremely sophisticated process. You can have ads and landing pages designed specifically for each audience segment, based on your audience profiling.

The goal here is to provide marketing content that is as relevant as possible to the audience. The more relevant it is, the more likely your remarketing ad is to achieve your goals because it “connects” with the audience.

That connection gives you a means to nurture your audience’s intent to convert or buy.

Wooden sculptures

Dynamic Content Optimisation

Remarketing ads that use Dynamic Content Optimisation (DCO) are good options when nurturing traffic. DCO refers to the process of creating personalised ads for a viewer at the moment those ads are viewed.

The Adobe Ad Platform is a good example. Audience analytics determine what is shown in the ad for each viewer, heightening relevance.

And as we already stated, more relevant ads = better chances of engagement or positive viewer response.

Of course, you’ll need a data management platform or third-party information for accurate deployment here. DCO depends primarily on viewer or consumer info and known behaviour, after all.

And as mentioned earlier, privacy laws and the increasing emphasis on privacy in tech services and companies will reduce the effectiveness of this soon.

For example, a recent iOS update added new privacy features to iPhones. The features now let users know when apps are tracking their location or other personal information.

Things like this will become more and more commonplace as time goes on. Again, the solution is as we mentioned in the Capturing Traffic Stage: to turn unknown audiences into known ones.

Once that’s achieved, you can properly nurture them and drive them further towards conversion.

The RFM Model

Let’s say your conversion goal here is for the consumer to make the first purchase. How can you drive the consumer to that point?

Well, there are a number of frameworks that can guide your thought process during this stage. An excellent one is the RFM Model - the Recency, Frequency, and Monetary model.

This model asks the following questions:

Monetary model

By taking such factors into consideration, this model can help you identify your best customers because it analyses customer value.

Moreover, you can pair what you learn there with systems and platforms such as Marketo, Hubspot, Pardot, and many others that help you to do the following:

  • Analyse traffic and audience behaviour as well as measure engagement.

  • Trigger communication at the right time and through the right channel to reach your target.

  • Use communication channels such as SMS, Whatsapp, App Notification, Web Notification, and the like to connect with the consumer and repeat your message.

All of these can be taken together to help you come up with a coherent plan for moving consumers down the next stage in the funnel.

For instance, RFM gives you information on the common denominators for your best customers. You can use what you learn there to convert new consumers into clients.

Traffic and audience analytics (statistics) let you measure responses to marketing initiatives so you can fine-tune your strategies for communicating with your audience.

And finally, communication tools give you multiple options for actually reaching your audience when you need to, allowing you to either continue building up a relationship with them or to finally drive the point home (to convert!).

Dive deeper into methods of nurturing your leads. Read our piece on it here.


4. Convert Traffic

Unique selling proposition note

If you nurtured your audience properly, you should now be able to convert them. Converting traffic is a key milestone in any digital campaign flow.

This is the stage where a member of your audience takes the action you want them to take at the end of the funnel.

A conversion can be any number of actions, depending on your goals. It could be a purchase, subscription, reservation, etc.

The key to most conversions is simplicity in the call to action: you want your audience focused on that one action.

This also takes us back to the traditional unique selling propositions (USPs) of your brand. At this point, you want to remind them of those USPs to keep customers focused on you and the idea that you are the best option.

Check out our article, Stage 4: Converting Traffic, for some tips on how you can do this effectively!


5. Multiply Traffic

Family tree drawing

The marketing process doesn’t end at conversion.

Ultimately, the goal is that your brand will build a customer base of advocates.

That’s why every good business has, at its core, a brand and multiple USPs that differentiate it from competitors. Customers want value - multiple USPs provide that.

And only when you truly give value to a customer can the marketing flow drive your business to greater heights.

Customers satisfied with whatever they gained by taking the call to action in Stage 4 (the Convert Traffic Stage) are likely to share that satisfaction with others.

They’ll talk about how happy they are with what they bought from you or the service you provided them.

They may become advocates doing word-of-mouth or social marketing on your behalf, and even share links to your landing pages or websites with others.

And that can be hugely beneficial for you. Remember that word-of-mouth marketing is organic, after all. Remember too that people tend to trust companies more after someone they know (or trust, themselves) has recommended them.

All of that can feed into the marketing flow by driving further traffic into it. This starts the cycle anew.

The goal of the marketer here is to either:

  • Make it as easy as possible for existing clients to refer or, at the very least, review your brand/product, or

  • Incentivise them through a loyalty/affiliate programme.

If you do this properly, you will not only get a chance for repeat customers (clients who buy from you more than once), but also for ones who strengthen your marketing campaigns by driving others into the funnel.

Find out how you can build customer advocacy in our next article here.


Some Final Thoughts on the Flow

Lightbulb image

The important thing to remember when using this marketing flow is that there’s no need to rush to achieve all 5 stages at once.

The issue most face is that they try to go from Stage 1 (Drive Traffic) to Stage 4 (Convert Traffic), in the quickest way possible.

That’s understandable, as many business owners tend to get caught up in the tyranny of sales numbers. They want conversions now, if not yesterday!

But this is actually a good way to end up with an unsustainable marketing workflow. You see, it often leads to you neglecting everything that comes in between and after.

Stages 2, 3, and 5 are just as important. Skip them and you lose many business opportunities.

You see, if you just go from Stage 1 to 4, your conversion rate would be around 1% to 2%. The benchmark varies by industry, but 2%, some would say, is decent.

The problem is, 2% means you’re failing to convince 98% to 99% of your audience to do what you want.

That’s a massive chunk of potential customers that you’re abandoning if you simply go with Stages 1 and 4!

By placing mechanics to capture and nurture traffic as part of your workflow (Stages 2 and 3), you can effectively increase or double conversion. That’s because they give you chances to remarket and refine your attempts at persuasion.

Moreover, adding Stage 5 boosts your entire campaign, as mentioned earlier. It helps you get more conversions from the same customers as well as more new customers.

All of this means your cost per acquisition / conversion will be lower. That’s why marketing this way means you’re conducting higher-value activities at lower cost.

Focus on that: choosing marketing activities and strategies that give you optimal returns for your effort.

Remember too that you can create as many workflows as possible, whether short or long.

Anyway, as you get more sophisticated with your marketing efforts, you’ll realise that your activities in each stage can fit into multiple workflows. That’s fine: you can create as many workflows as you like - just test and optimise them as you go!

Marketing isn’t just a matter of strategy, after all. It also requires a fair bit of tactical planning, or the ability to adapt and adjust on the fly.

It’s also about making smart decisions based on the information available to you - like customer behaviour, campaign analytics, and more.

We’ll go into more detail on how to make those decisions when we expound on the stages of the marketing flow in later articles. For now, though, this should be enough to give you an idea of how to get started with your campaigns.

Feel free to leave a question below if you need clarification for anything now, of course! We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

You can also leave us notes if you have anything to add to our explanation of the marketing flow. We’d love to hear what you have to share!

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