The Digital Marketing Stack: Overview

Ian Lurie

I’ve prattled on about the digital marketing stack for a few years now, but haven’t really explained each chunk. This 5-post series explains the stack as a whole, then piece-by-piece. I’m not some TV series jerk who will keep you hanging, though, wondering which of your favorite characters will die next (cough HBO cough cough). Instead, we’ve published the whole series at once:

Part 1: The digital marketing stack ← You are here
Part 2: Infrastructure
Part 3: Analytics
Part 4: Content
Part 5: The channels – paid, earned and owned

The Internet Marketing Stack

Internet marketing is this ridiculous pile of stuff. It looks like this:


This fantastic image by Phunk Studio, Copyright 2003

Chaos. Don’t get me wrong. Marketing’s chaotic nature is important. Without it, we’d all be out of a job. But looking at it every day may cause you to go blind, or insane.

The stack is one way to impose a little order over it all:

The internet marketing stack

The internet marketing stack: It's a stack. About marketing. On the internet.

The bottom three layers are the elements. If you leave one out, you’ve got no marketing at all.

The elements

The Digital Marketing Stack: The elements

The top layer contains the channels that exist no matter what the tactics, devices or techniques: We’re always speaking to our audience through paid, earned and owned media. For examples, think of pay per click (paid), SEO (earned) and your website (owned).

The channels

The Digital Marketing Stack: The channels


The stack shows dependencies. If the bottom of the stack is weak, the whole thing starts to wobble. Every layer depends on the layer above.

Lousy infrastructure — a slow site, broken links, siloed teams — will suck the life out of everything you do. Without analytics, you can’t adjust what you’re doing. Content connects you to your audience. Without it, there is no marketing at all.


It also shows convection: Your audience moves up and down through the stack as they interact with you.

Convection in the marketing stack
Convection in the marketing stack

Convection in the digital marketing stack

Here’s an example: I’m shopping for a new cell phone (tempted by the iPhone 6, looking at the Nexus 6, probably sticking with my Nexus 5).

  1. I start by asking (in my case, on Facebook) friends which phones they like.
  2. Because of that, I do a search and read content about each phone.
  3. I navigate to brand sites and stores.
  4. Those stores see me arrive and set retargeting pixels, or improve the user experience based on my actions.
  5. I drift away for a while, guilt-ridden about plunking $400 on a new phone.
  6. I see a few more ads, a review or two and maybe a recommendation from a friend.
  7. I arrive on a brand’s website.
  8. I read about the product.
  9. But their site is so slow, or so hard to use on my existing phone (irony) or their checkout is so infuriating that I give up. Or, in my case, my cell provider’s policies around upgrades are harder to figure out than the US Tax Code, so I surrender and stick with what I’ve got.
  10. I start the cycle over again until I have a good experience, top-to-bottom. Or until I decide my trusty Nexus 5 is sufficient. In which case, cell companies, your marketing utterly failed, and may I suggest an agency in Seattle…?

Part 1: The marketing stack ← You are here
Part 2: Infrastructure
Part 3: Analytics
Part 4: Content
Part 5: The channels – paid, earned and owned

Note: We have a Marketing Stack Explainer if you want to see it all in one, interactive chunk.

Ian Lurie
CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at

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