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Digital business model

In this guide, we introduce you to our RESTART digital business model. The aim of this model is to create a framework you can use to map out the different activities within ‘digital’. It covers the digital activities that consumers see like digital media, websites and online stores. And it covers the ‘back of house’ technology, skills and culture that can enable growth through digital for your business. 

Digital business model

How this guide raises your game

  1. The seven key elements you need for a successful digital business model.
  2. How ‘front of house’ digital activities connect to drive reach, engagement and sales for a great customer experience.
  3. The key ‘back of house’ digital activities like technology, analysis and resources you need to transform your digital business model. 

‘Digital’ applies to how you use technology to achieve your business objectives. But ‘digital’ covers many different topics. It can be difficult to know where to start. And to know how it all fits together. 

Digital business objectives

Your digital plan needs to cover digital media so your brand can reach consumers online. You need to work out where your customers spend time online, and how to put your brand in front of them. 

But your digital plan also needs to cover how you set up your own website to engage and interact with consumers. 

You also obviously need to consider how you sell online. Do you drive customers to online stores? If so, which ones? And do you also set up your own online store? Your digital plan needs to cover these important choices.

And then to create these experiences for consumers, which technology do you need? Are you clear on the software and processes you need to meet your objectives?

What about all that consumer data you’ll capture? How do you carry out analysis on that? What resources such as people, budget and time do you need to manage your digital activities?

And finally, how do you set your business up to transform itself from where it is now, to succeed in a modern digital world?

Scrabble tiles spelling out Digital Marketing laid out on a wooden table

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Clearly, there’s much to consider in digital marketing. So where do you start?

Well, we have a digital business model, that can help you start to make sense of these questions.

We call it RESTART.

Our RESTART model covers the seven key components of a digital business model. These are Reach, Engage, Sell, Technology, Analysis, Resource and Transformation. This RESTART acronym gives you an easy to remember framework to start to build your own digital business model.

We back up each of these digital expertise areas with more specific skill guides.

The Seven Steps of the RESTART digital business model - Reach, Engage, Sell, Technology, Analysis, Resource, Transform

But for this guide, we’ll do an overview of each expertise area. The focus for this guide is on how all the different elements need to connect together in your digital business model. 

From a digital marketing point of view, we focus on reach and engage. These are business objectives where you use digital media and your website as the key drivers to move your target audience down the brand choice funnel. We take you through the basics of e-Commerce to sell online. And share with you key links in our e-Commerce skills guides.

We cover the four key types of marketing technology you can use to support your digital business model. Then, we cover off how you can use analytics, both directly from Google and from your other data sources as a way to get more insight about your target audience. And to close, we focus on the resources you need, and how you can use the skills of customer experience and change management as a way to drive transformation in your business. 


In our guide to media planning, we cover the traditional channels where your advertising can reach consumers. For example TV, radio, print, cinema and outdoor. But while these still have a role to play in your marketing plan, you also have to now look at digital media, which brings new opportunities to reach your target audience. 

Brands now have direct access to consumers, through automated platforms like Google and Facebook. And the way that you manage how your messages reach your audience is now more open and flexible than ever. 

But just because you can do something, does that mean you should do something? 

Well, that answer depends on your target audience. What do you know about their online behaviours for example?

If you look at technology usage numbers for example, these are high and continue to grow. The global average for internet penetration is almost 60%. But in developed countries, it is much higher. In Australia, internet penetration is at 86.5% of households. 60% of Australians use Facebook. The average Australian spends over five and half hours online every day.

The chances are that your target audience will be online. And you have a business opportunity to reach them online. 

Digital channels and digital technology haven’t completely replaced traditional media channels. But digital technology has changed the way customers interact with media. And it has changed expectations of how brands meet customer needs. 

Find out where your consumers go online

Try watching what people do when they’re out and about. What do you see people doing in cafes, on public transport and even (annoyingly) in the cinema?

Yep, they are on their mobile phones. And in most cases, it’s not calls, but online that takes up their time. 

They’re connected to the world through their device. They expect quick answers and results at the touch of a button.

When you start to build your digital business model, it’s important to understand these expectations.  And to understand where they go online and what they want

Young woman on train station platform looking at her mobile phone

There are a couple of ways you can do this. 

Firstly, you could carry out qualitative market research directly with your best customers. This is usually quite simple, cheap and fast to carry out. 

With this method, you can at least generate lists of sites that your target audience visit. That’s a good place to start. It’s particularly helpful to know high authority educational or review sites that influence your category. However, you won’t find out how many people visit those sites with this method alone. 

So, you can also carry out secondary research to look for more quantifiable data. Look online with tools like Google Trends and use published reports and government websites for example.   

Also, digital media channels will often publish or share their key traffic and online behavioural trends. They do this as a way to encourage you to buy digital media space on their platform. 

When you have more budget you can also invest in providers like Similar Web who collate online data. Or you can ask your consumers directly with quantitative research to find out what the most popular sites are in your category. Though this obviously costs more and takes more time. 

The goal for reach

In order to stand-out online, you need to use digital media channels in a way that consumers see or hear from your brand at relevant times. When and where they see your brand is important to whether they will notice you online. 

This means you need to carry out digital media planning. You need to work out which channels and which messages will work best to deliver on your business objective.

It’s firstly about quantity of audience – how many people you will reach? But it is also about quality of audience – you want to reach high potential customers at moments that will be relevant for them. 

Mobile phone screen showing two alerts, one from Twitter and one from What's App

When it comes to digital media, the main brand activations usually involve search, social media and online display channels.

In our guide to digital media, we go though in how digital fits in to your overall media planning.  And we take you through the key steps to activate successfully in those three key online media channels. 


After your target audience sees your advertising, you need to have a plan for what comes next. What is it you want your consumers to do as a result of seeing your advertising? 

As we cover in our guide on how to advertise each advert you create should have a clear call to action.

When your advertising is digital, you can make this action immediate with the use of a button or link.

You can link the action to your website, social media or online store platforms. This immediate link to the call to action is one of the biggest advantages that digital media channels have over traditional media.

Man holding a mobile phone reading a message notification with a desk and keyboard in the background

Most adverts are quickly forgotten. More immediate calls to action make it easier for consumers. And this raises the impact of your advertising. 

Digital media platforms are set up to make this immediacy and interactivity easy for the consumer. The call to action is only a touch of a button away.

Facebook for example, currently offer sixteen different call to action buttons. Which you choose really depends on the objective of your advertising.

So you can see on our own Three-brains advertising example, our advertising objective was to drive awareness of our brand. And we wanted our target audience to learn more about us.

So, our call to action on this marketing coaching advert is learn more. 

But if we were advertising products on our shop for example, shop now would be a more relevant call to action.

Other common call to actions include contact us, download and subscribe, depending on what you want the consumer to do next.

Call to action – website

In most cases, you would drive this next step on to your website and a landing page. As part of your customer experience development, you’d make it easy for the customer to interact with your brand online. For example, that could be to read an article. Or watch a video. Or request a demo or a quote.

It’s an important stage in the brand choice funnel. Because this engagement is a significant indicator of interest. It shows your brand has moved from awareness to consideration. 

On your website, you can use marketing technology to automatically handle multiple consumer interactions. A newsletter sign up, or an online purchase for example.

These experiences if handled well, drive consideration and word of mouth for your brand. We cover more detail on how to create these experiences in our guide to website planning.

Of course, not every engagement will result in a sale. But we’ve seen time and time again a strong correlation between “engagement” and sales.

This is because when you drive an engagement, it’s an indicator that the quality of your marketing message has led the consumer to do something. It’s a signal of intent from the consumer. 

Call to action - social media

However, engagement isn’t limited to your website. If you have a strong social media presence, customers can also engage with your brand on these channels.

They watch a video on You Tube. Or they look at a cool image on Instagram. Or they comment on a post on Facebook or Twitter.  

Monitor your social media pages regularly. Respond to comments and messages in a timely and relevant way.

Use the opportunity to create stronger connections with customers. This connection makes them think better of your brand. And of course, that makes them more likely to buy.

Other engagement opportunities

Finally, there is also the opportunity to develop apps that can meet the needs of your target audience. These apps might be to educate, inform or entertain consumers.

They can be a way to get consumers to spend a lot of time with your brand. However, it’s a very cluttered market. So when it comes to apps, you need to develop something unique and relevant that will provide a lasting benefit for your target audience. Consumers have on average 60 to 90 apps on their phones, but 96% of the time is spent looking at the top 10 most relevant apps. 

These apps also now extend to voice-activated devices like Siri and Alexa. While these are increasing in usage, and give an opportunity for brands to engage, they are still not yet in the majority of households. 

Even in advanced markets like the US, voice is only being used in around 1 in 3 homes according to the latest estimates. 


While engagement is great predictor of sales, what actually pays the bills is when the customer buys something.

When it comes to e-Commerce, it’s never been easier or more convenient for consumers to shop online. 

What that means though for your digital business model, is you need to work through the implications of how your reach and engagement activities will link to consumers who are likely to buy online. 

As per our guide to e-Commerce planning and how to start, you have three main options when it comes to selling online.

Person paying for an e-Commerce purchase as they hold a credit card up in front of a laptop

Bricks and clicks

If you currently sell through traditional retails channels, these retailers will likely also have online stores. So you can work with them to sell your products through their stores.

These bricks and clicks channels have the benefit that consumers already trust and have high awareness of these channels.

However, because your products are listed on their sites, you are limited to how much control you have over how the product is sold.

You supply images and copy through their product information management system, so you control what appears on your product page. But the retailer controls the overall design, layout and the order to delivery system. 

You also pay for any advertising you run on their sites. And you pay if you want your products to appear in prime positions, where online shoppers are most likely to see them.

Pure players

The same applies with new pure player channels like Amazon, E-Bay and JD. Again, these online retailers control how and where your product appears. And they charge for advertising and use of their services.

Their competitive advantage is that they only do e-Commerce. This often means they’re faster at implementing new technology and processes.  They offer more personalised experiences for shoppers for example. And they often offer faster and more convenient delivery options.

In the long-run, these services will continue to attract more online shoppers. So, as part of your digital business model, you need to include these pure players in your plan.

Samsung mobile phone with amazon logo on screen

Set up your own online store

Your final option is to set up your own online store. This direct-to-consumer or D2C digital business model, brings you the most control over the experience with your target audience.

It cuts out the need for third party intervention and so you maximise the value of any sale.

However, you also need to work out business model costs and connect systems and functions that go with running your own online store.

Don’t underestimate the complexity to run your own online store. We cover the details in our setting up an online store skill guide.  

You can also read more about the overall skills needed to succeed in e-Commerce in our e-Commerce skills guide. 

Screengrab of Three-brains Shop - headline says "merchandise to raise your game"


So the next stage of the digital business model is to look at how to set your business up to deliver the online experience for the customer.

This is sometimes called the ‘back-end’ or ‘back of house’ of the digital business model. This is because these are digital elements your consumers won’t see or be aware of. But without them, your online experience won’t work. 

The first of these back of house enablers is marketing technology. Marketing technology has changed rapidly in the last 10 years.

As the latest statistics show, there are now over 7,000 marketing technology suppliers to choose from. Ten years ago, there was less than 100.  

There are four main marketing technology types that you should review as part of your digital business model.

Marketing technology – reach

Firstly, there’s technology used to support your reach objectives. The search, social and display advertising we cover in our digital media guide has a host of different software, technology, systems and processes that sit behind it.

Your digital business model needs to cover how you’ll access these. Who will manage the access? And how will you maintain and improve these systems?

Marketing technology – engage and sell

Then, there are the technologies that support your engage and sell activities, such as e-mail, CRM, e-Commerce and customer service systems.

When consumers interact with these systems, you need technology to capture this interaction. The technology also needs to trigger the next action to happen in your system.

This could be an automated welcome e-mail for a new sign-up to your newsletter, for example. But it could also be the system that lets your consumers manage what information they receive from you.

And if you manage your own online store, you need technology that helps customers manage payments and delivery.

Marketing technology - data and analysis

Then, there is technology to capture, analyse and report on all your digital data. Which is then used to generate insights and predictions about future behaviour.

This data should link back into your overall market research process and plan.

It gives you an extra dimension to understand customers.

You can use this technology to provide data and insight for your marketing planning.

You can also use it to feed into your idea generation process. And it can be used to test these ideas and from that testing, generate even more data. 

Marketing technology – enable and optimise

The final set of marketing technology revolves more around how you deliver your online experiences.

These enabling and optimising systems for example cover how you manage content through Content Management Systems (CMS). These systems can cover how you set up approvals for what should appear on your websites and social platforms. They can help you run activities from remote locations and set up automation to reduce the work needed to run your website.  

Which marketing technology your need in your digital business model depends on your business context, budget and objectives. But as we cover in our guide to marketing technology, you should certainly have as a minimum, marketing technology that covers websites and CRM.


We previously covered that when a customer sees a digital media advert, it’s made easy and convenient for them to respond to the call to action if it’s relevant for them.

They can ‘learn more’, ‘shop now’, ‘subscribe’ just by clicking a button. 

But from the digital business model point of view, every time a customer engages with your digital advertising, your website or your social media platforms, that engagement generates data about the engagement. 

And that data is a useful analysis tool for you. It’s part of how you capture feedback from customers

Mobile phone showing Google, with the word "analytics" in the search bar

Aggregate data

This data can be aggregated data about, for example, behaviours on your website. Google Analytics will be able to tell you how many visitors come to your website. It’ll tell you how people find their way to your site. And it tells you how long they spend on the site and where they click and visit.

This sort of data gives you real-time insight into the behaviours of your target audience online. It helps you promote and push the content or experiences that get the best response. And it helps identify the worst content or experiences so you can focus on making them better. 

One-to-one data

For your digital business model, data capture can also cover more specific one-to-one interactions where the consumer chooses to share their data and details with you.

This CRM data is extremely valuable to build up your level of insight about consumers. It will help you to offer them better, more personalised and relevant experiences. But it does also come with challenges from a legal and IT point of view, in terms of how you set-up and manage this data. 

In our guide to digital data and insights, we cover all these topics in more detail. (see also our article on B2B CRM, where we cover the specific challenges of managing business and organisational customers).  


Of course, where you have all these activities that the customer will experience and all these technology and analytical requirements to support, you also need to focus on ‘who’ will actually do these. Do you manage all the necessary skills in-house or do you lean on the services of your marketing agency?

In our guide to customer experience, we cover example steps from a customer point of view. And we discuss how you might manage these in terms of putting the right resources in place to support them.

But these resources don’t just apply to people, they apply to time and budget. So in that section we also cover how to think about these resource factors as part of your digital business model. 

(It’s also worth checking out our guide to digital marketing tips for more on this). 


Finally in the digital business model, we come to Transformation. A long word for something that’s core to the journey you need to take. 

This is a process where you work to set your business up in the best way to manage the digital opportunity. You work out how to change your business across all the different digital capabilities. 

Maximise the customer experience online and you drive more sales and build stronger brands.

But digital transformation isn’t a sudden ‘aha’ moment. It’s not that one minute you’re  “not digital”, and the next you are “digital”. It’s a process of change. 

Neon sign showing the words The Journey is on

Change management

This transformation is much more a gradual process over a period of time. You need to have a relentless focus on the interactions between the brand and the customer through customer experience. And work out how to bring new skills, systems and processes on board. 

If you look at the start and at the end, yes, businesses can be ‘transformed’. But, the underlying process is all around setting up your culture to be customer focussed. And having a clear ‘change management’ plan. This is a much more on-going process for businesses. 

We couldn’t unfortunately work the “C” from change management into our RESTART acronym, so “T”ransformation it is.


The opportunity and challenge in digital marketing

There’s no doubt that digital marketing brings huge opportunities for businesses. New ways to reach, engage and sell to consumers that can be faster, more targeted and more impactful means you should consider what digital business model will suit your business. 

But, there’s also the challenge that because digital marketing is still relatively new and best practice is constantly being updated, there’s no one fixed way to do it. 

Which results in a lot of noise and wild opinions online (see our article on digital start-up stalkers for example). But there’s no sure-fire ways to drive success online. It takes hard work, focussing on raising your skills and most importantly, putting the customer first. All skills you also need to win in traditional marketing, as well as digital marketing. 

You can also read more on how digital marketing connects in to traditional marketing in our article on adding digital marketing to your marketing playlist

For us the biggest opportunity comes when you know how to connect all the different digital skills to work together. If you use the RESTART framework, you’re well on your way to creating a successful digital business model.  

Three-brains and digital marketing

We’ve worked on many digital marketing projects and have good experience across all aspects of digital marketing. We know how to create and connect a digital business model that drives your brand marketing and grows your sales. 

Contact us, if you want to know more about how we can support your digital marketing to grow your business  through our coaching and consulting services.

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