As marketers, we’re all running the same race to connect with our customers and meet our business goals. As we take our positions at the starting line to prepare our digital marketing strategies for 2017, it’s important to remember that building your online brand presence is a marathon, not a sprint. While some digital marketing tactics can drive instant results, the overall success of your brand’s digital marketing strategy requires long-term planning, perseverance and patience.

A few years ago I trained for my first half-marathon, and I learned a lot about setting goals, planning ahead and overcoming challenges. These same lessons are applicable to digital marketing. For example, when you run a marathon, you don’t just go out and buy new shoes and run 26.2 miles. You break in your shoes and build up your endurance by training hard day after day, week after week, adding miles and muscle to your overall strategy to reach your end goal of crossing the finish line ahead of the pack (or just crossing the finish line, if you’re a first-timer like I was).

The journey from couch to marathon easily takes several months. The same goes for building your brand online, whether you’re looking to rank higher in search results or increase engagement with your social media audience. This is especially true for B2B marketers and industries with a long sales cycle, where it often takes much longer to connect your marketing investment to results and revenue. According to Michele Linn, vice president at the Content Marketing Institute, it often takes 18 months to start seeing results from your content marketing efforts. While the time and results may vary, the same persistence is required to see ROI from your digital marketing efforts.

Whether you’re training for a real marathon, or in the middle of planning for 2017, here are some tips to help you go the distance:

1. Set realistic goals
Before you dive headfirst into your digital marketing strategy, it’s important to set realistic goals. When I started training for a half-marathon, I immediately set goals to track my progress. I knew that I needed to take baby steps to achieve my overall goal of reaching the finish line, so I started with a 5k, then a 10k, building up my momentum and endurance along the way. In digital marketing it’s critical to set SMART (specific, measurable, agreed-upon, realistic and time-based) goals and objectives. Attainable goals that tie back to your business objectives will lead to successful outcomes and a positive ROI.

2. Warm up
Preparation and planning are vital to any successful digital marketing effort. Set goals and think long term — not just two or three months out. Just as runners plan their training schedule, you need to plan how you are going to reach your online marketing goals. Start by conducting an audit of your brand’s online marketing presence as well as your top competitors’ to identify opportunities and areas of improvement. Evaluate your digital marketing results from the last 12 months and take note of what worked and what didn’t. Don’t forget to identify the top digital trends that could impact your marketing strategies.

RELATED: 11 social media trends to plan for in 2017 

3. Pace yourself
Marathon runners must pace themselves to avoid running out of fuel before they reach the finish line. Don’t blow your entire digital marketing budget on a single tactic or campaign — consistency is key. If you start your efforts out like a sprint by sharing digital content rampantly for a couple of weeks and then go silent, your visitors, fans and followers will realize that you’re not in it for the long run. Develop a content strategy and calendar to ensure you’re engaging with your audience effectively and consistently across all of your digital channels.

4. Stay active
In today’s ultra-connected world, the web allows us to share information with our customers almost instantly. Consequently, instant gratification has become the norm of our fast-paced society, and customers expect us to be accessible and always available online. Most businesses do not operate 24/7, but the internet is always “on” and so are your website and social media channels. Make sure your website can be viewed from any mobile device, and keep the fresh content flowing to actively engage visitors on your site. Just the same, make sure the content you’re sharing on your social media channels is optimized for mobile, and consider posting at various times of the day when your audience is more active online — not just when you’re in the office.

5. Think beyond the finish line
Once you improve your brand’s rankings in search or engagement in social, you can’t just quit. Since marketing goals are ongoing, the digital marketing marathon is a continuous race with multiple finish lines along the way. The moment you decide to cut costs or scale back on your online marketing efforts, your competitors can come in and take the lead. Also, if you don’t see immediate results from your digital marketing efforts, don’t give up. You’re likely to see ups and downs in your metrics as search engines and social media news feeds adjust their algorithms. Use analytics to track your continuous progress, adjust your strategy and determine your ROI.

About Hillary Ferry

After launching her career at a firm in Los Angeles, Hillary’s family lured her back home to Des Moines as our digital marketing director. Outside of work you can find her coaching gymnastics. Reach out to her at for help with digital strategy — or your cartwheel technique.