The Marketing Process: Build a Digital Marketing Operation

August 18, 2020

he following guide will walk you through the components of designing a marketing operation and the strategies here are designed to work across industries.

This guide is for:

  • People looking for a high-level education of digital marketing in 2020
  • Marketing strategists looking for inspiration on designing a marketing process or operation 
  • Marketing tacticians looking to expand their field of knowledge

Table of Contents:

The Marketing Process Starts with Setting The Right Goals

Let’s start with the fundamentals. Ask yourself, what are the goals of the company? Think about this holistically from the corporate point of view. Oftentimes ‘bringing 10,000 website visitors’ is not the right north star to guide a marketing process. 

What’s Your North Star? Is the goal revenue? Is it leads or sales? Is it cement the position of a brand within the market? Make sure these goals are the guiding principles behind your marketing plan.

Examples of Good Marketing Goals

  • “For Q4 this year, we’d like to beat last year's Q4 revenue by 25% whilst maintaining equal or higher marketing efficiency.” 
  • “Over the next year, we’d like to position Company X as the leader in the X space. This means that we should become a household name within our target audience, attract more leads, and have greater flexibility over client selection.” 

How does Marketing Work with Other Business Functions?

It’s also critical to understand how exactly marketing intertwines with the rest of the organization. Marketing should work synergistically with product, sales, and other business functions. Oftentimes this dynamic changes depending on the type of company. The following are high-level examples of common dynamics that we’ve come across. 

Business-To-Consumer Marketing (B2C)

For B2C companies, marketing should work hand in hand with the product team, and help to conduct customer research, audience analysis, and help the product team build the most fitting product for a market’s demands. 
Marketing is also responsible for setting the 7 P’s of marketing and generating demand for the product. 

Business-To-Business Marketing (B2B)

For many B2B companies marketing’s job is to position the company and fill and grease the sales pipeline. 
Marketing attracts top-of-the-funnel leads, qualifies them to the definition of a marketing qualified lead (MQL), and passes them along to sales. Marketing often also helps drive awareness and education so that sales needs to do less ‘heavy lifting.’ 

Direct-To-Consumer Marketing (DTC)

For Direct-to-Consumer companies, the poster child of e-commerce, marketing arguably drives the entire organization. Marketing is responsible for not only demand generation but also revenue capture. 
In a DTC company, the customer purchases directly from the company and thus there are no channels such as retail partners or brick and mortar to lean on for sales. 

Types of Marketing Approaches 

Before we dive too deep into this, it’s important to understand the different approaches to marketing. We will focus on a few here: 

Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing 

Inbound marketing examples and digital marketing channels that are considered inbound marketing
The digital marketing channels that make up inbound marketing

Inbound Marketing

Simply put, inbound marketing is when you attract demand to come to you. You put things into the world like advertising, content, case studies, etc, and demand finds you. If you found this article on google and you click this button to inquire about our strategy services at Half Past Nine, that would be inbound demand capture.

We specialize in inbound marketing because we believe that it is the most scalable, sustainable, and agile approach for the brands that we work with. Advertising that’s winning can be scaled for more revenue, we can write more articles to capture more intent online, and these investments pay passive dividends to us and our clients without the need for extraordinary man-power. 

A infographic on what constitutes outbound marketing channels and examples, like telemarketing, cold-calling, direct-mail, trade shows, seminars, emailing, and more.
Some marketing channels that constitute outbound marketing

Outbound Marketing

Outbound marketing is when your marketing operation goes out and finds demand. If I were to cold-call you and ask you if you would like marketing strategy work, that would be outbound marketing. 

There’s a fine line between outbound marketing and sales, and we usually make that distinction depending on if the lead is qualified to some degree (sales) or completely cold (marketing). 

The Market Research Process

The process for conducting market research is highly dependent on the type of company, the stage of the company, and the stage of the industry. Some principles remain constant.  

Understanding your Customer 

The heart of any successful marketing operation is a deep understanding of your target customer. 

An infographic on market and audience segmentation for digital marketing. Demographic, geographic, psychographi, behavioral segmentation and more.
Four classes in which an audience or market can be thought about or segmented.

For your product to succeed, it's critical to know with some degree of confidence:

  • What type of person is in your target audience? (Demographics)
  • What does your audience think, believe, feel? Are they environmentally friendly? Do they lean towards a political stance? What is their worldview? (Psychographics)
  • How does your product fit into their lives? 
  • What benefits does your product provide to this specific person?  
  • Where does your target audience spend time online? 

Always use your customer persona (sometimes called a customer archetype) as a guiding principle. It’s common for companies to have multiple personas if there are multiple distinct groups of people that are purchasers of the product. 

If you’re in the business of B2B marketing things are slightly different. Audience definitions can be less psychographically oriented and more tangible, though we recommend always getting as specific as you possibly can. In B2B organizations, it is important to understand:

  • What type of company is searching for our product or service? 
  • What type of person is searching for our product or service?
  • What frustrations are they experiencing with their existing solution? 
  • What role, title, or position are they? What stage of their career are they in? 
  • What are the benefits of them becoming a customer or client? Will closing this deal benefit their career? 

For example, we know that our target audience at Half Past Nine is heads of marketing or senior marketing executives at companies that are generating $2.5MM - $50MM in annual revenue. We work best with companies that are facing difficult challenges like hyper-growth targets, or companies who are looking to break into a new market categories or market segments. We break this down much deeper internally, but that is who our audience is in a few sentences. 

Understanding your Product or Service 

A common reaction to this headline is “understanding my product? What do you mean? I built this product, of course I understand my product?” 


—Not always. 

Too often, we see companies who are highly product-oriented come to us in search of marketing strategy, but they fundamentally do not understand their product. Now, I don’t mean this in the sense that they don’t know what their product is — I mean they don’t know how their product fits into the world. 

Describe your product or service out loud right now. If you can’t do it in less than three sentences and highlight the main features and benefits in a way that’s compelling to someone who’s never met you or your product before, you might not know your product. 

If this is you, take some time to think about the three core benefits that your product/service provides. Think about why your product/service is better than the competition, and why your product/service is unique. 
This step is incredibly important, because it unlocks communications and branding strategies, and unlocks external messaging. It also is vital to referral, influencer, and affiliate strategies because if you can’t simply describe your product to the world how can you expect other people to? 

Understanding Your Market Landscape 

This last stage is more traditional market research. This is the phase where we look at competing companies, trends, externalities, challenges, and opportunities. The way we approach market landscape research in digital marketing is quite different from the way that an investment banker might conduct market research. We look at different metrics and different trends. 

Infographic on using search terms (google trends) report for market research and seasonality
The Google Trends report for the keyword"diet"


For example, we might look at Keyword Search Trends and Search Volume, to determine if there is an increasing demand for a product. We might use this data to understand the best time to launch a product or run a promotion as well. 

In the example above, we can see that the Google searches containing the keyword "diet" spike on January 1st each year. If we dive in even deeper, we notice that they also spike on the first of each month, after significant holidays, and even mildly each Monday. This type of data can give us marketers important data on the seasonality and demand of a product or market.

Example of using Semrush for competitor or domain research

Competitor Research

We’ll also dive into competitor research on platforms like SEMRush, which let you dive into historic organic and paid traffic for almost anyone of your competitors. It’s not 100% accurate but it’s one of the best tools on the market. This example is domain research for, and we can see historical data on organic search traffic, paid search traffic, keywords, and more.

It’s also critical to understand the positioning (pricing and messaging) of your competitors. If one of your competitors is messaging a similar product that’s lower-priced but poorly marketed, it might create an opportunity for you to brand your product as a premium product and charge a higher price. The key here is to look for gaps in the market where your product could fit in and fill a void. 


Externalities are outside factors that affect your market landscape. One externality that is obvious right now is COVID-19. COVID-19 had an immense impact on the strategy recommendations we’ve provided to our clients. At the beginning of COVID-19, during February and March, we recommended a marketing approach that was more conservative approach to marketing investments to preserve cash for an uncertain future. As COVID-19 began to unfold, some industries were decimated whilst others were elevated. 

For any of our clients in a negatively impacted industry, without sizable cash flow to weather the storm, we shrunk operations to preserve cash. For companies in positively impacted industries such as e-commerce, we scaled ad budgets and ramped spending to capture the increase in demand. 

This strategy proved highly successful, and many of our e-commerce clients are now seeing their best months in history. 

Understanding the Marketing Funnel

The marketing funnel, simply put, is a way of thinking about how we attract people to our brand and move them along a process that begins with the first time they hear about us and ends with them becoming a strong advocate for the brand. As we move forward, we will refer back to terms that relate to the funnel.

An infographic describing the marketing funnel, the key stages to remember for digital marketing, and the key points for succeeding in creating a successful marketing funnel.
An example of the marketing funnel, from awareness to support and the key points of each section.

Top of the Funnel (TOFU)

The top of the funnel refers to the segment of people who are within your target audience but with the least amount of familiarity with your category or brand. When reaching out to these people, it is like the first time they are hearing of your brand, and it may even be the first time they are hearing of your product category. 

Oftentimes, people in the TOFU do not know why they need your product.

Middle of the Funnel (MOFU)

The middle of the funnel refers to the segment of people who have some amount of familiarity with the category or brand. These people may have already been searching around for a similar product or may have visited a competitor's website.

These people likely know why they need your product but need convincing as to why your product is better than the rest. 

Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU)

The bottom of the funnel refers to the segment of people with the highest familiarity with your brand. They may have already visited your website or been on the receiving end of multiple advertisements from your brand. 

These people are closest to becoming customers or clients. 

Re-Engagement, Advocacy, and Support

There comes a point in the funnel, after a purchase, that there is an opportunity to turn a customer into a loyal advocate. Marketing does not end with a sale. Re-engaging past customers to increase their lifetime value by bringing them back for a repeat sale can be a very profitable initiative. Architecting a referral strategy to turn your loyal customers into independent marketers can also be incredibly rewarding. 

Architecting your Funnel Strategy

The 10,000-foot view of funnel strategy is to always be filling your funnel with high-quality traffic, and strategically move them along this buying process to eventually become a purchaser and an advocate. In practice, it’s not always this simple.

It begins by drawing the lines for TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU traffic based on the parameters best fitting for your brand. Then, we want to think about how we will move people along this process: is it through advertising and remarketing, or maybe it’s through direct calls and emails? Maybe your brand is positioned in a market with a great deal of MOFU and BOFU intent already, and the priority would be to capture that before moving to TOFU traffic. Once this has been figured out, it’s time to drive traffic to your funnel and begin filling it with high-quality traffic and prospects. 

Driving Traffic: An Overview of Organic, Paid, and Earned Traffic

Digital traffic can generally be broken down into three categories. Other agencies may do this differently but this is how we do it: Organic traffic, Paid traffic, and Referral traffic. For an in-depth dive of all of these subjects and much, much more, check out our Ultimate Guide to Customer Acquisition.

The three types of traffic, organic, paid, referral, that a digital marketer needs to be aware of. And the channels within each
The three types of web traffic, Organic, Paid, and Referral.

Organic Traffic

Organic traffic comes from:

  • Your Branded Social Pages (Your Instagram, Youtube)
  • Word of Mouth (Non-incentivized)
  • SEO (Organic Search Results)
  • Email 

Organic traffic is traffic you work for. When you post on social media—and people come to your site because of it—that’s organic traffic. Some of the best brands in the world have massive organic followings, and these inevitably become incredibly valuable assets to the business. 

Organic strategy can be difficult, especially if your brand is new or in a crowded space. Organic is also difficult because you need to get people to volunteer their attention. Unlike paid media where you are just paying to get eyeballs on your brand. For this reason, if organic is a channel you plan to heavily pursue, always keep in mind that people need a reason to follow you, and the best reasons are oftentimes only tangentially related to your product or service. 

A strong organic following is one of the most valuable and sustainable marketing assets a brand can have. It’s now factored into company valuation models and growth models at major banks. 

Paid Traffic (Advertising)

Paid traffic comes from:

  • Advertising (Including but not limited to Social Media Advertising, and Search Engine Advertising)
  • Paid Content Promotion 

Paid traffic is exactly what it sounds like, traffic that you directly pay for. For most brands this equals advertising. Paid traffic is generally the quickest way to get revenue in the door, and for many consumer brands is the channel that drives the majority of both traffic and revenue. 

With digital media and advanced advertising platforms, the targeting and testing capabilities of paid media are nearly endless. This means that a well crafted paid strategy always creates a night and day difference from a low-effort one. It's important to keep in mind that the barrier to entry for digital advertising today is incredibly low. This means that if you’ve had a bad experience with digital advertising it may be a problem with execution rather than channel.

With paid traffic, creative strategy, targeting, A/B testing, and budgeting are all critical components to ensuring that your brand makes money instead of losing it. We will dive more into this in an upcoming article. Shameless plug: subscribe to our mailing list at the bottom of this page to be the first to know. 

Referral Traffic

Referral traffic comes from:

  • Press 
  • Influencer 
  • Social Media Shares / Reposts 
  • Reviews / Unboxings 

Earned traffic is traffic that you earn by doing or representing something worth recognizing. Usually, earned traffic comes as some form of recognition such as from a news outlet like Forbes, or someone reposting your content. 

Today, we are seeing a lot of this traffic become highly monetized, meaning that many of these channels are becoming pay-to-play. We see this happening in influencer channels and some parts of the public relations world as well. This is not true for all earned media though, as brands with compelling stories do get free recognition though it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. 

Organic Traffic: Understanding Social, SEO, Email 

When it comes to organic traffic, the channels are very much the same as paid channels but with a different marketing philosophy and strategy. The key difference between paid and organic strategy is that on organic channels, people are volunteering their attention to the brand. Don’t abuse this privilege. 

Organic Social

When thinking about organic social it's always important to keep one question in mind: why should people follow you? 
Is it because you have a sustainable brand that advocates eco-friendly and sustainability posts? Or does your brand strongly advocate for another cause? Maybe your brand started from mom and pop roots with super relatable founders and their social channels are a glimpse into their behind the scenes life. Either way, always remember that your social pages need to have personality, relatability, and a reason for people to follow you.

Organic social channels have a large amount of overlap with the paid channels listed above. The following are the most commonly used channels for organic, though some work better than others. 


  • Instagram
  • Youtube
  • Twitter
  • Facebook (Groups, Communities) 
  • LinkedIn (Personal)

Somewhat Recommended:

  • LinkedIn (Company)

Not Recommended:

  • Facebook (Pages) 
  • Snapchat 

Our most recommended organic channels are Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter. These channels show your organic posts to a large percentage of your following and still have the potential for viral growth. The channels best suited for your brand will always depend on your brand’s specific creative type, messaging, and audience. 

Unfortunately, LinkedIn (corporate) and Facebook Page marketing have dropped off our list of recommended organic channels. In recent years, we’ve seen Facebook Page organic reach drop significantly, and now we predominantly recommend paid Facebook, with some effectiveness from other Facebook tools such as Facebook Messenger and Facebook Groups. A similar phenomenon is observed in LinkedIn Company posts, though we still do believe in their importance in brand credibility to prospects for B2B companies.

Coming Soon: Email, SEO, and Content Marketing

Paid Advertising: Selecting Your Channels 

Selecting the right digital marketing channels for your business can make or break your marketing campaign. In today’s day and age, you have a lot of options for where to put your money. It’s extremely important to select the correct channels for your product or service. Here, we will go through the major channels and the types of brands that succeed on each channel. 

Advertising on Facebook / Instagram 

Examples of facebook ad types and creative formats. How to effectively use facebook ads for your business
The four major types of Facebook Ads.

We will bundle Facebook and Instagram together since they are both managed by the Facebook Business Manager and advertising on them is mechanically the same. Facebook has the largest audience of any social media advertising platform, with 2.7 billion monthly active users on Facebook and around 1 billion on Instagram. 

So many active users mean two things:

  • Your target audience is probably on Facebook / Instagram
  • You better be really good at finding your target audience on Facebook / Instagram

Without a robust Facebook advertising strategy, your message can get lost in the noise. Contrary, a well crafted and managed Facebook strategy can be one of the most profitable and sustainable channels for a brand. 
Facebook may be the right choice for your brand if: 

  • Your product is highly visual 
  • Your audience is easily targeted on Facebook 
  • You rely on demand creation as opposed to demand capture (people don’t know they want your product) 
  • Your company is well suited for advertising on Facebook (you have lots of highly visual creative, for example)

Advertising on Google (PPC)

Google is another powerhouse in the digital marketing advertising industry. Over 5 billion searches are conducted each day on Google, making it the largest repository of intent in the world. 
The fundamental value behind advertising on Google is that it allows your brand the opportunity to show up where people are searching. This means that the traffic that comes to your brand has high-intent. 
This high-intent traffic is usually further along in the funnel (MOFU to BOFU) since you know that they are searching for your product, your product category, or another keyword in which you target. 

The Four Products in Google’s Advertising Suite: Text, Display, Shopping, and Video  

An infographic showing the four types of Google advertising products, search ads, shopping ads, display ads, and youtube video ads.
The four major types of Google advertising products.
Google Search Ads

These ads show up above organic search results and are designated by a small “AD” symbol next to the text itself. These show up in search results that include your target keywords. These ads are great for capturing search intent and when done right can be quick and highly profitable initiatives.

Google Display Ads

These ads are image ads that show up on websites within Google’s advertising network (and partner networks as well). These ads on average have the lowest CPM’s, and also the lowest CTRs of all of the products within Google’s suite. 

The most effective way we’ve seen for using display ads for small to medium-sized brands is through display remarketing. This way, we can show display ads only to a BOFU audience for a very low cost. 

Google Shopping Ads

If you are in the business of e-commerce, Google Shopping may be one of the most effective channels for your entire channel stack. These shopping ads show up not only in the shopping tab of Google but also in-line with normal search results and show a thumbnail of your product along with some supporting information. These ads are controlled by Google Merchant Center and are linked to your product catalog. 

Google Video Ads

These ads show up in any of three places:

  • In Youtube Search Results, next to the search results 
  • In Youtube Videos, as a skippable or non-skippable in-stream video ad 
  • On Video Partners in the Google Partner Network 

The highlight of these three options is Youtube Video ads. This is where Google places your video as an ad before a Youtube video or somewhere inside a Youtube video during an ad break. These video ads work best when your product is something that has a high degree of education needed to drive a purchase. The most successful video ads we see are those with highly engaging educational content and captivate their audience enough so that they don’t skip, continue watching the ad, and eventually click through. 

In comparing skippable vs non-skippable ads, we have seen better results using skippable ads for conversion, and non-skippable ads for brand awareness.

Google may be a good channel to use if:

  • There is a lot of search intent for your product or service 
  • The average-cost-per-click for the keywords you intend to target is not cost-prohibitive
  • You can clearly explain your product in text form (search ads) or through long-form video (video ads)
  • Cheap brand awareness or remarketing is part of your strategy (display) 

Advertising on LinkedIn

Functionally is very similar to most other social media advertising platforms, but has a much wider range of targeting functionality geared towards B2B advertisers. Expect higher CPM’s, but higher quality B2B leads than most other platforms. 

Advertising on Snapchat

Snapchat is also quite similar to most other social media platforms but has a much lower CPM than other platforms. This makes Snapchat great for brand awareness campaigns, as you can usually garner a large number of impressions for a very low cost. 

Other Advertising Platforms

There are a lot of other platforms that offer advertising capability, including Twitter, Pinterest, Quora, Reddit, and many more. The decision on whether to use these platforms comes down to two main considerations:

  • Does my target audience spend time here?  
  • Do the advertising formats available convey my message well? 

If the answer to both of those is yes, then it may be a strong channel to explore adding to your advertising portfolio. 

Ad Budgeting: Ad Learning and Advertising Algorithms

If your advertising budget is restrictive, then it does not make sense to split this small budget across many platforms. Digital advertising today is highly driven by machine learning and the algorithms that advertisers use to show your ads to the right people. When your budget is small, your ads are shown to a small number of people, increasing the duration of time needed to collect the data to properly test an ad. 

A large part of digital advertising today is playing to these algorithms. This means that there is a “learning phase” for ad campaigns, where performance can be significantly lower than campaigns that have exited the learning phase. During the learning phase, these campaigns are being shown to a wide variety of people, and through engagement metrics, the advertiser begins to understand what types of people are more likely to engage with the ad. 

What this means for you is that testing an advertisement requires pushing spend into that campaign, and ad learning takes both time and money. If your ad budget is low, it makes sense to test fewer ads at the same time, so that your budget is not split too thin across campaigns or advertising platforms. 

For brands with a large advertising budget, we can place a much smaller emphasis on this, since we usually will have enough budget to push ads past the learning phase rather quickly, and can do so at scale. 

Designing your Marketing Process 

Hopefully, this gave you a good understanding of some of the different strategies you can use to communicate and promote your brand to the world. 

Marketing Operations Design is highly custom and depends heavily on the stage of your brand, its goals, and it’s strengths and weaknesses. Highly visual brands should maximize visual channels, whilst brands with extremely compelling missions or stories should maximize earned and organic channels. 

Brands that are struggling with paid advertising should dive deep into diagnosing the problem: is it poor creative, poor targeting, or simply a bad channel split? 

I sincerely hope this was helpful, and you’d like to talk about hiring us to supercharge your marketing operation, you can get in touch with us here.

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