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1.4: Introduction to Digital Strategy

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    Learning Objectives
    • Understand key terms associated with online strategy, the objectives of the four stages of the RACE framework, how it links to personas and journeys, and how to use it to support competitive analysis.

    In this chapter, we discuss some key vocabulary associated with digital marketing, covering concepts such as inbound and outbound marketing, and paid, owned, and earned media activities. We then turn our attention to the framework we are going to cover for the rest of the semester, the RACE framework. We briefly cover the four stages of the framework before turning out attention to how to link persona, journey, and strategy. We conclude the chapter by understanding how the RACE framework can support competitive analysis.

    Inbound and Outbound Marketing

    Inbound and outbound marketing represent two grand approaches to connect with consumers. Inbound marketing aims at bringing visitors ‘in,’ drawing them to your company via, typically, content marketing, social media, and well-optimized websites. In this first approach, consumers find you because you represent them. I

    Outbound marketing is what we typically think about when we think of advertising: the promotion of products or services through advertising and promotions. In this case, a message goes ‘out’ from your company and stops consumers in whatever they were doing (e.g., a consumer is ‘stopped’ by an ad when scrolling on Instagram or reading their Facebook feed; they are ‘stopped’ by an ad at the start of a YouTube video; they are ‘stopped’ by an ad which cuts a newspaper article or a blog post in two).

    Inbound marketing is associated with a few other concepts, such as

    • Permission marketing, where advertising is welcomed because permission to be advertised to has been given prior, and advertising is anticipated (e.g., email marketing)
    • Two-way communication, meaning that there can be an interaction between consumers and the brand (e.g., consumers can comment on social media posts and on blog articles)
    • It is sought, meaning that consumers find you
    • It has been one of the fastest-growing strategies to do marketing online for the last decade
    • It is seen as cheaper to perform since companies do not need to invest in ads (although there are costs associated with content creation)
    • Aimed at customer acquisition

    Outbound marketing is associated with concepts such as,

    • Interruption marketing, where marketing efforts such as ads interrupt what a consumer is doing
    • One-way communication, because consumers cannot talk to ads
    • Imposed, because consumers do not agree to be advertised to
    • Decreasing, although this is debated
    • Expensive, because fees are associated with putting ads online
    • And aimed at awareness creation, as it has typically been the case with traditional advertising

    Examples of inbound marketing include: blog posts, infographic, ebooks, white papers, social media posts, tutorials, and the likes

    Examples of outbound marketing include advertising of any sort, which we are going to cover in more detail in the next chapter.

    Paid, Owned, and Earned Media

    We differentiate between three types of media online: paid, owned, and earned.

    Paid media are media activities you pay for. These media activities are typically performed on a third party channel (i.e., not your own website), and is paid by your company to conduct the activity. Your company controls the content, but the third party control where this content is shown. Examples include search ads, display ads, paid influencers, paid content promotion, social media ads, product placements, and the likes.

    Owned media activities are media activities that are hosted on channels that you own, i.e., on your own platforms. They include your web properties (e.g., blog posts on your website) and social media channels.

    Earned media activities are media impressions that you earn because your content is shared. Here, consumers (and sometimes professionals) become the channel. Shared posts on social media, reviews, and other consumer-generated content, such as content created on wikis, ratings, social recommendations, or forum discussions, are examples of earned media activities. The coverage of your company by journalists is also earned media activities.

    Very importantly, albeit these are conceptually distinct types of media activities, ideally, you want to create campaigns that will integrate these together. For example, you can create content on your website and social media channels that you will also push by advertising on social media websites and other websites using banner ads, and you are making these efforts in the hopes that your content will be widely shared by others. This is the typical strategy underlying viral marketing campaigns.

    Take, for example, the widely successful ad for Doritos during the 2020 Superbowl. Doritos created this ad that they hosted on their website and social media channels (e.g., YouTube). The ad was pushed as a paid media activity during the Superbowl at the tune of several million. It was also associated with a Tik Tok hashtag campaign, #coolranchdance, fueling earned media impressions. It is this intersection of paid, owned, and earned media activities that lead to the creation of successful online marketing campaigns!

    Objectives, Goals, and KPIs

    Objectives, goals, and KPIs are the next set of concepts. Objectives represent what you want to achieve for your company. Ideally, objectives should be SMART:

    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Attainable
    • Realistic
    • Time-bounded

    Goals are an action that you want users to take. We use the vocabulary of goal to designate user’s actions since this is typically how goals are positioned in web analytics (e.g., Google Analytics). Distinguishing between objectives (what you want to achieve) and goals (what you want your users to achieve) just makes things clearer.

    KPIskey performance indicators—are metrics used to evaluate the performance of your company based on a particular objective or activity. KPIs typically have targets—specific values that your company is aiming to achieve within a time period.

    These concepts work together to help you plan campaigns, as exemplified in the figure below: Objectives can be used to identify goals for users to achieve, which can be measured using KPIs.

    Figure 4.1 Objective / Goal / KPI

    For example, an objective for your company might be to increase product awareness. In order to achieve this objective, you might set up goals for your users, such as subscribing to email updates and engaging in some key features you believe will help raise product awareness. It is then possible to identify KPIs to measure your success for these user goals, such as ‘number of contact forms submitted’ or ‘use of the key feature of the virtual mirror.’ The figure below exemplifies this.

    Figure 4.2 KPIs Examples

    Strategy and Tactics

    Strategic and tactics are the last key terms we need to move to better understand the RACE framework. Strategy represents the path you intend to take to achieve a specific objective. This aligns with Jain’s (1993) understanding of strategy as “the pattern of major objectives, purposes and goals, and essential policies and plans for achieving those goals, stated in such a way as to define what business the company is in or is to be in.”

    In this course, we are going to emphasize how, to implement a strategy and achieve specific objectives, a company deploys tactics—tools used to meet objectives. Examples of tools we will discuss include banner advertising campaigns, search ad campaigns, or the use of content marketing on social media.

    Let’s combine the vocabulary we just introduced in an example:


    • Increase sales through our eCommerce platform by 10% within the next six months.


    • Search advertising / PPC campaign using specific keywords, with a budget, time frame, …
    • Social media campaign using the Facebook brand page, with marketing material

    KPIs per tactic:

    • Search advertising – clickthrough rate, bounce rate
    • Social media campaign – clickthrough rate, share ratio/amplification rate

    Targets per tactic:

    • Search advertising – CTR of XX%, bounce rate of XX%
    • Social media campaign – CTR of XX%, share ratio of XX%

    We can now turn our attention to the RACE framework.

    RACE Framework

    Chaffey’s RACE framework is a conversion-based framework. Conversion marketing is a strategic approach that explicitly aims at increasing customers. The framework we study is part of a greater set of strategic approaches, such as Hubspot original ‘attract-convert-close-delight’, which transformed into their “flywheel business model,” or the grandfather of conversion marketing approaches, the ‘pirate metrics’ AARRR model (acquisition-activation-retention-referral-revenue).

    Figure 4.3 AARRR

    These different frameworks propose stages with different names, but the central idea of this strategic approach is the same. To convert, you need to move people through four stages:

    • Visitors (people come to your website)
    • Lead (visitors are converted into a qualified potential customer i.e., somebody who is interested in your product and is also somebody you are interested in selling to)
    • Customer
    • Repeat customer

    Visitors: Briefly, you create campaigns to attract people to your website.

    Leads: Once they are on your website, you want to (1) find ways to see if they are interested in you, (2) find out if you are interested in them, i.e., whether they can be a customer of yours (because not all visitors are people who can buy your product or service, and, if they fit these two categories, and, if there is a mutual interest, (3) find a way to continue the conversation with them (usually, collecting their email address or making sure they follow you on social media).

    Leads: Once you have identified a mutual interest, you move to accompany people in their journey so that you can convert them from a lead to a customer of yours.

    Repeat customers: After their purchase, you capitalize on their (hopefully) positive experience with your company so that they can co-create on your behalf (e.g., write reviewers) and continue their journey as a customer of yours.

    The RACE framework presents four stages that help us plan for and coordinate different marketing activities to achieve these objectives:

    R stands for REACH:

    During the Reach stage, your company has two objectives:

    • Build awareness about your brand, products, and services through offline and online media activities and
    • Drive traffic using inbound and outbound marketing activities and paid earned and owned media touchpoints.

    At this stage, you will mostly concentrate on addressing people’s problems.

    A stands for interACT:

    During the Act stage, your company has two objectives:

    • Generate positive interactions on your owned media
    • Create leads, i.e., identify potential customers and make sure they can be your customer (we will call this ‘qualifying’ leads, later on in the semester)

    At this stage, we are going to emphasize how we should focus on addressing consumers’ problems as well as helping them evaluate their options.

    C stands for CONVERT:

    During the Convert stage, your company has one objective:

    • Converting leads into sale

    At this stage, we are going to emphasize how we should focus on talking about why your brand, product, or service is the best option for consumers. We will also touch on how to optimize our owned media order to maximize conversions, a process that is called ‘conversion rate optimization.’

    E stands for ENGAGE:

    During the Engage stage, your company has two objectives:

    • Build customer advocacy
    • Foster repeat visits and sales

    At this stage, the idea is to build long-term engagement by continuously contributing to consumers’ lives by creating value. We also want to identify engaged customers in order to foster their participation and engage them in co-creation activities to participate in our campaigns and support our marketing efforts.

    The figure below presents how these objectives evolve over time with each of the stages:

    Figure 4.4 Race Goals

    From Persona and Journey to Strategy

    As we discussed during the last two chapters, the goals, needs, motivations, and challenges of consumers give the raw material from which to create content for each persona. Journeys tell you what your content should be about (problem, solutions, and your product), and how it addresses different stages of the journey. From week three below:

    Figure 4.5 Journey and Searches

    Let’s take the example of making content and associated search ads, i.e., creating a blog post and then deciding to advertise this blog post on Google SERPs. As we discussed last week, your goal when optimizing your webpages is to identify consumers will be used to perform searches online. The idea behind making search ads is similar. As we briefly covered, we saw a few ways to help us to do:

    • Who they are/what they need (Persona)
    • How they go about solving their needs (Journey)
    • What do they search in order to do so (Journey, ZMOT, types)
    • Benchmark against competition

    Once you’ve identified keywords that your consumers are using throughout their journey, you can start creating content or ads based on these keywords so that you show up on a search engine when a consumer does this search.

    Persona helps identify general keywords based on their needs, motivations, challenges. Journey helps identify specific keywords based on how users go about answering needs, motivations, challenges throughout their journey

    • For example, if a consumer has pain in their lower back, they might go on google to find how to address this pain. This presents an opportunity to create awareness around a back pain-related product you are selling (e.g., a pair of sneakers)
    • For example, if a consumer wants to compare sneakers to understand which one offers the best support to address back pain, this provides you with an opportunity to compare your product to those of your competitors
    Table 4.1 Journey – From Awareness to Post-Purchase

    From a Journey Map to a Conversion Path

    A journey map is a visual representation of the journey of consumers, which brings a rather abstract way of understanding how consumers purchase products (e.g., awareness, consideration, purchase, and loyalty) to something concrete, with specific actions and touchpoints, that a brand can use to create a marketing strategy.

    A conversion path is how a brand is thinking of enacting this strategy. It ties together multiple tactical activities (e.g., search ad and content marketing). It can be defined as a description of the steps that a company wants consumers to take so that they achieve a desired goal. In the digital vocabulary, a conversion occurs when a consumer achieved a goal you wanted them to achieve. Goals are widely varied: it can be visiting a page, clicking on a link, sending you their email address, buying a product, spending more than a specific amount of time on our of your pages, viewing a certain number of pages during a session, using a key feature, and the list goes on. To create a conversion path, companies pre-plan a set of steps that they want consumers to take in order to achieve that goal. The shortest conversion path that is typically presented in digital marketing is ad to content to landing page (see below):

    Figure 4.6 Conversion Path

    The planning of the steps consumers are going to take to achieve what you want them to achieve is central to create digital marketing campaigns. We do not simply create content and ads in the hopes that consumers are going to visit our website or click on our ads, without any idea of what will happen next. Rather, the best-strategized campaigns always answer the question ‘What comes next?’ For example, if you’re creating an ad to appear at the top of a SERP, what comes next? What are you expecting people to do? Where are you leading them? What should they be doing once they get on this page? Why? Answering these questions is how you can create highly-converting campaigns because you have a clear idea of the goal consumers should achieve, and you can therefore create pages and ads that will lead them to achieve these goals.

    Depending on who you ask, it takes between 5 and 13 touchpoints (or interactions with your brand) to generate a qualified, sales-ready lead (Salesforce 2015; Online Marketing Institute 2013). We will come back to the notion of qualified lead (i.e., a lead that you believe can be your customer) and sales-ready (i.e., a lead that is at the purchase stage) later during the semester. For this chapter, what is important to understand is that, without planning ahead in advance what these 5 to 13 touchpoints will be, it will be quite difficult to create sales. The task of a digital marketer is thus understanding how to bring people through a set of smaller goals, like visiting a blog post, spending 3 minutes reading the post, giving the company an email address, opening the first email (and so on), that will lead them to achieve certain milestones towards making a purchase. Otherwise, a company will be flying in the dark, with no clear strategy as to how to make sales, apart from putting ads online and creating content.

    For your term project, your goal is to create a clear conversion path composed of three inbound and three outbound marketing activities. They can be part of the same path (see figure 1) or part of different paths (see figure 2), but you need to think ahead of a set of tactics and associated marketing activities that are clearly linked to make people ‘walk’ through the path you’ll have created for them. Ideally, your path should indicate what you are doing (i.e., your tactic) and what you expect consumers to do (i.e., a goal).

    Figure 4.7 Conversion Path – 1st Example
    Figure 4.8 Conversion Path – 2nd Example

    RACE for Competitive Analysis

    The RACE framework is highly useful in creating a strategy for digital marketing campaigns. It helps answers questions such as:

    • Reach: How do I bring visitors to my website?
    • Act: How do I create a positive user experience? How do I transform visitors into leads?
    • Convert: How do I convert leads into customers?
    • Engage: Once I have customers, how do I ensure repeat purchases? How can I leverage my customers to participate in my marketing campaigns?

    The strategic value of the RACE framework also makes it a great tool to guide competitive analysis. You can turn these questions around to better understand the digital marketing strategy of your competitors:

    • Reach: How is my competition bringing visitors to their site?
    • Act: Once on their web properties, how do they create positive interactions? How do they transform visitors into leads?
    • Convert: How do they convert leads into customers?
    • Engage: How do they ensure repeat purchases? How do they foster word-of-mouth and other co-creation activities?
    Figure 4.9 Race


    Understanding how your competitors bring in visitors can be of great use to craft your own strategy to attract people to your web properties. Questions to ask include:

    • How frequently are they running promotions? What benefits do those promotions provide to their customers and potential shoppers, as well as their business?
    • Are they running contests online? What kind?
    • How are they using their social media channels? How do they drive people from their social media channels to their website?
    • What information is included in their marketing banners and callouts


    Similarly, an analysis of your competition should include a better understanding of the user experience on their website. For this stage, you can answer questions such as:

    • How are they creating positive interactions on their properties and transforming visitors into leads?
    • Where are their calls to action throughout the browsing experience? What are the calls to action about?
    • Do they have a blog? How frequently do they post? What type of information do they tackle?
    • What is the role of content on their website? How does their content differ?


    Then, the next stage is to better understand how your competition converts their leads into customers. To understand this, it is important to take steps like customers would: register to your competitors’ newsletters, understand what happens once a cart is abandoned, analyze persuasion attempts within webpages. To assist you, questions you should be able to answer include:

    • How do they display their products and help communicate details?
    • How detailed are their product descriptions? What information do they include? What information is missing?
    • Where are their calls to action throughout the browsing experience? What are the calls to action about?
    • What happens in newsletters? Are there a clear, pre-planned path created to maximize sales? What is that path?
    • Do they have an abandoned cart saver feature? If so, at what point do they send the emails and what are the messages for these emails?
    • Is your competition retargeting visitors? Based on what variables?


    To conclude your competitive analysis, become a customer of your competitors! Understand what happens once you buy a product. See whether there exist forums on your competitors’ brands, services, or products. How are consumers of your competitors interacting online? What are your competitors doing to foster such interactions? You can ask here:

    • What happens once you bought a product?
    • Do they have some sort of a club? Membership program? Online forum?
    • Do they request reviews? Are there consumer-generated content (CGC) campaigns?
    • Do they have consumer appreciation campaigns?
    • Does their content always talk to new consumers, or to existing ones as well?

    Bringing Competitor Analysis Together

    A great approach to try to better understand your competitors is to approach them as you would if you were a persona-related consumer going through the motions of their journey. This is a different logic to evaluate your competition when compared to other strategic frameworks, such as SWOT. SWOT, indeed, can be used to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your competition as it relates to their digital marketing resources. But never before were we able to analyze exactly how our competitors are operating. Because everything is archived online, and because you can readily have access to marketing efforts, such as ads and content, understanding your competitors’ strategic efforts has perhaps never been more accessible. To conclude, To gather as much (targeted) information as possible, be sure to:

    • Subscribe to their newsletter/blog
    • Follow them on social media
    • Purchase a product: packaging, buying experience, shipping time
    • Put an item in your cart and abandon the checkout process
    • Check their reviews
    • Hunt their ads
    • Follow their publicity
    • Understand their backlinks
    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    You are a fitness center creating a campaign for people who want to get back into shape

    One of the personas you are targeting is Avery:

    • Avery is a person living in a major Canadian city center. They are their late 20ies-early 30ies and are in the top 20% in revenues in their city. With increased responsibilities at work and a newborn, exercising had been put aside. For a few years. Avery feels sluggish, lacks energy, and miss having a stronger connection with their body. With age, their body has also started to transform and they started to feel conscious about it. To remediate, they want to get back into exercising weekly. They don’t have much time, and they also don’t know much about working out or the market, for example, where to work out or how to work out.


    Social media analysis using RACE

    Using the RACE framework, analyze and compare the following three Instagram fitness center accounts:

    • @achievefitnessboston
    • @goodlifefitness
    Can you group the posts into RACE stages? What are the objectives of these themes? What are the goals for consumers?

    Think of the implications to generate awareness, attract visitors, create leads, convert leads into customers, and generate engagement.

    Creating a (digital) journey map

    Integrating paid, owned, and earned marketing activities for a campaign for your fitness center based on the journey map provided

    For one or two stages:

    • Start with the concrete actions of consumers
    • Identify opportunities
    • Translate the opportunities into concrete marketing activities
    • Find how to make each activity a paid, owned, and earned media activity


    This page titled 1.4: Introduction to Digital Strategy is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Pierre-Yann Dolbec via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform.