The 5 W’s of Digital Marketing

To get the information necessary to tell an accurate story, reporters and journalists rely on what they call the “5 W’s”: Who? What? Where? When? Why? Answering these basic questions can help journalists get to the bottom of whatever topic they are pursuing.
In marketing, the same 5 W’s can be applied, specifically in the realm of digital advertising. Most marketers have heard of the “P’s of Marketing.”

The 4 P’s of Marketing


  1. Product:What the marketer has to offer
  2. Price:How much the good or service offered costs
  3. Promotion:Any step taken to get the word out about the product (video, print, email, etc.)
  4. Place:Where the product is being promoted (in the larger sense of marketing this could mean TV, radio, and magazines, however, in the realm of digital marketing it could more specifically mean email, social media, search engine marketing, etc.)

While the P’s of marketing are an effective tool for developing your marketing strategy, the classic reporter’s “W” questions are just as helpful to today’s marketers for developing your digital marketing. While slightly different, the goal of both methods is the same: ask the right questions to get all the needed information to succeed.
Journalists are natural storytellers. The best marketers are also storytellers. For both journalist and marketers, the “W” questions can provide them the framework to tell an effective story.
Marketing W Questions
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Who? – Who do you want to see your ad?

This is a relatively simple, yet very crucial question marketers must routinely ask themselves. Who exactly am I trying to reach? The answer to this question will inform everything else you do.
Placement, formatting, and desired outcomes can all revolve around the target audience. Keep the desired target audience in mind to help guide the entire process and effectively reach that audience.
After all, an ad will only be effective if it reaches the right audience. Marketers can use unique traits to segment their ideal audiences. For instance, an OEM wishing to target trucking fleets could target based on:

  • Fleet Size
  • Equipment Age
  • Combination of Both Fleet Size and Age
  • Geographical Location
  • New Customers Vs. Repeat Customers

With the growing dominance of digital and social media platforms, such as Facebook, AdWords, LinkedIn, and Twitter, you already have the capabilities for precise segmentation and targeting.
For instance, all offer some form of custom audience targeting, which allows you to upload lists and identify customers or prospects you’ve interacted with in the past, and actively target them.
Both Facebook and Adwords have expanded options for offline to online targeting in the past year. This means, the actions of a customer or potential customer in the real world, such as an in-store visit or purchase, a phone call, or any other type of monitored interaction that takes place offline, can now be used to target (or retarget) those people on Facebook or the Google Display Network. Both have CRM integrations, so if you’re using CRM, these custom audiences are something you should explore.
Regardless of which method you use, once you decide Who? you are targeting, it’s time to decide What? to show them.
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What? – What format will your ad be?

With digital marketing there is a multitude of options available today. So, what is it you want to show your audience? Text, display, and video ads are the primary formats available, but native ads such as those found on Facebook are also popular choices.
Display and search ads offer the ability to reach huge numbers of people. As of 2017, Google still dominates search engine usage. According to Google commands 74% of the search engine market.
Other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo also offer search ad options, though the reach is obviously not as broad, with less competition from other marketers it could still be a viable option for some.
With search ads, you can pay to have your site boosted in the results of searches based on keywords or topics. These “sponsored” results rank at or near the top of the first page and can give your company a competitive advantage.
The other dominant option available is Display ads. These ads can appear in various forms all over the web on the Google Display Network. Display ads offer the flexibility of allowing you to choose text, image, or video based ads that can be viewed or placed anywhere across the Display Network (through the use of AdWords). With Display ads, you have the ability to reach up to 90% of all internet users worldwide.
This means you can target your desired audience and spread your messaging through text, app, Gmail, and banner ads (or a combination of all variants).
It’s pretty simple really. Display ads allow you to pick a format for the messaging (text, app, Gmail, banner, etc.), where the ads will display, and how much to spend on the advertising.
There are also various options for placing ads on social media via Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube so that you can tap into the vast user base of top social media platforms. Each has their own approach and several different options available, but for the moment Facebook still has the most to offer in terms of variety.
Facebook offers too many ad types to go into full detail here, but the following are some of the most interesting. (For more detail and a full list of other options you can refer to the Facebook Ads Guide or check out our previous article, Are You Taking Advantage of Everything Facebook Has to Offer?)

Notable Facebook Ad Formats


  • Carousel Ads:

    Carousels include up to 10 images or videos, which can each have their own separate or specialized link associated with them.

  • Canvas Ads:

    A full screen ad designed exclusively for mobile users to help drive traffic to your site or landing pages.

  • Lead Gen Ads:

    This ad type presents an image, carousel, or video ad (of your choosing) to entice a click. If the ad is engaged with, a pre-populated form (with information filled in wherever possible for Facebook user) is presented.

Once you’ve decided What? shape your ad will take (ad format), and Who? (target audience) will see it, the next big question is Where? do you want people to see the ad?
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Where? – Where will people be targeted with your ad?

Where your target audience will see your messaging is an important thing to think about. Search ads place a company front and center when people are actively seeking something, which could play to your favor by boosting a post’s ranking.
Display ads (taking the form of your choosing) can pop up pretty much anywhere across the display network depending on parameters you set.
If you choose to place an ad through a social media platform, obviously it will appear on that venue. As mentioned before Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube all have options for not only setting up ads for their platforms, but allow the freedom to choose where on the page those ads are placed.
For instance, with Facebook, it’s possible to use a “sponsored post” in a user’s News Feed, or place an ad on the side of the page. YouTube not only allows ads to be placed on the page, but also offers various options for placing ads before and during the videos played. Though Twitter does not possess the reach of Facebook or YouTube, the nature of the platform creates a unique possibility to score big with a viral post spreading quickly.
As the general public becomes more dependant on their mobile technologies there are also options offered and tailored specifically for mobile users. Facebook in particular has developed several interesting variations to allow marketers to reach their target audience on mobile devices with messaging built and optimized for those devices. Establishing the Who?, What?, and Where? is great, but it’s important to never look past the When? and Why?
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When? – When are you showing your audience your ad?

When will people see your messaging? The timing of your marketing can be just as important as anything else in your campaign. Some of this can be determined by answers to the other questions.
For instance, if your Who? is a specific audience made up of people who click through your website, then they would only be served your ads after they have met the requirement of engaging with your site.
If you’ve chosen to use native Facebook ads (your What?), the audience would only see your messaging when they are on the social media platform.
It goes beyond that though. Is there a frequency with which you’d like your audience to see these ads? It’s important to stay consistent and avoid dropping off their radar completely, but you never want to cross the line and become annoying or have them feel you are “spamming” them with your ads or content.
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Why? – Why are you showing them the ad?

Everything mentioned up until now is important, but you must never lose sight of why you’ve made the choices you have. What are you trying to accomplish with your marketing?
Every ad or message placed should have a purpose. Why are you showing the target audience the ad or message? When served the ad, those seeing it need to be clearly guided to accomplish the goal.
Whether you’re looking for form completions, clicks, or calls it’s important to always keep your Why? in mind. Knowing why something is done can guide the entire process forward and shape the form of the marketing approach. Never lose sight of why an ad or campaign has launched and you will set yourself up for success.
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Embrace the 5 W’s of Journalism.

Taking a page from journalists can help drive success. In the world of reporting, the all important W’s of Who? What? Where? When? and Why? can help aspiring sleuths get all the pertinent information and help them paint the picture.
With marketing, embracing these same questions can help guide your every move going forward. Asking yourself these questions can help you keep your goals in mind and better inform how your overall strategy or campaign is put together.
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