When someone mentions digital marketing, does it conjure up images of sleek, responsive websites, a continuous stream of Facebook likes, and a wizard-like mastery of all things SEO?
Or does seem more like a foreign language written in binary, clouded in secrecy, and requires a level of understanding that at times may seem unattainable?
While we have yet to meet an actual tech guru who can physically speak using just ones and zeros, digital marketing is less of a mystery than many believe.
To understand it though, it helps to go back in time for a quick history lesson and see how the methods have evolved and what’s available to us now.
Marketing: A History
In the early 20th century, there was no internet, there was no TV, and there was no radio.
While some may find that a utopia, for businesses it was a very challenging time. Billboards, newspapers and in many cities the brick facade of a building were your primary means of connecting with a buyer.
In the 1930’s and 40’s radio was king, and then at the halfway point of the century, television added a delightful glow to the homes of Americans. A lot of that fancy blue lighting was devoted to commercials and gave businesses a far more direct way to influence a person’s buying habits.
Then, in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, computers started to take over our lives. Slowly at first, but just like the advertising channels that came before, marketing began reaching consumers through every facet of their digital presence.
And today, it’s search engines, social media, apps, and blogs (to name just a few).
As you can see, early on it was print and billboards. Then came radio and television. Now technology has allowed companies of all shapes and sizes to reach consumers on a more direct level.
Thankfully, even though the channels have changed, core marketing principles have not. You still need to find that potential client that is most likely to purchase your product or service and reward your company’s efforts with a sale.
While there are far more avenues available to find that customer, digital marketing has made reaching them a lot easier.
What is Digital Marketing?
In fact, digital marketing isn’t at all difficult to execute.
The reality is that digital marketing is really just marketing, and many of the tools involved are ones we get exposed to on a daily basis.
More specifically, its modern day marketing, or using the tools of today to reach people that are interested in whatever it is your promoting. While there is some specialization from industry to industry, a lot of the available digital marketing outlets are universal.
More than that, it doesn’t matter if the relationship is business to business (B2B) or business to consumer (B2C), modern-day communication allows us to reach potential clients in a far more direct manner.
This direct interaction provides better opportunities to build relationships and build an actual customer base that is loyal and more apt to become repeat clients.
Just compare two of the marketing channels we mentioned in our history section – television and email.
With television, there’s no way of knowing just how well your marketing through that medium is perceived. Was somebody watching? Was it just background noise? Did you pay too much for the coverage you received?
Now consider email. More often than not, that is a direct reach into someone’s office, their desk, or, when checking it on their smartphone, their hand. That’s a powerful place to be.
That’s the real advantage to digital marketing. More so than any time in history you can build real, lasting connections wherever and with whomever you need to connect.
Outbound vs Inbound Marketing
To make that connection though, you need to grasp the multiple facets of marketing in the digital age.
The real challenge with digital marketing, especially for newcomers, stems from the massive number of options that are available and figuring out which direction will work best for your company.
To do this, it’s easier to first understand the difference between outbound and inbound marketing.
Outbound marketing is pretty much what it sounds like – you or your company create a message or campaign and beam it out to the broadest possible audience in the hopes of pulling in viable leads and interest in whatever it is you’re offering.
Examples of outbound marketing include radio and television, trade shows, cold-calling, fliers, spamming, and print advertising. Basically, the early history of marketing.
As you can tell, the outbound mindset deals in volume. Reach a large enough swath of people, and you’re bound to get a decent amount of interested consumers.
Inbound marketing, however, flips traditional outreach efforts on their head and is where you can find a genuine advantage with digital outlets.
Many times you will hear this referred to as funnel marketing.
Instead of casting your promotional net outwards, your inbound efforts draw in consumers that already have interest in the product or service you want to sell.
For example, using your website or a landing page as your central sales core, you can create campaigns through social media, search engines, or another digital outlet that will help drive your ideal customer to that landing site. From there, you will be working to sell a captive and interested audience on whatever it is you offer.
The approach is far more immediate and personal.
Outbound methods still exist in the digital age. In fact, one of the biggest platforms, YouTube, is outbound marketing in the most traditional sense.
However, when you realize that much of your digital marketing will be of the inbound variety, it does make creating a plan and executing that strategy far easier when you know the difference.
Digital Marketing Channels
To truly appreciate just how dynamic digital marketing can be, you merely have to look at the multiple channels that are available to your business.
In simple terms, a marketing channel is a tool in which a business reaches out to a potential customer to sell them on the benefits of a product and service. The obvious end goal is that your message is heard and understood and your efforts result in a sale.
As we covered, before the world went online, the three primary marketing channels were print, radio, and television. Although they are still widely used, these traditional methods do not possess the same ROI as digital mediums.
The other big difference is the options.
Digital marketing channels come in many forms. Some, like email marketing, are obvious and will be familiar to anyone with a business background.
Others, such as paid search or affiliate marketing, are a bit more involved and require legwork on your end to gain traction. Let’s examine the most popular digital channels so you can start to craft a strategy that will work for your business.
One of the faster-growing segments of digital marketing is through affiliates. In simple terms, this is a partnership where in exchange for a commission or cut of the profits, you market another company’s product.
There are a few different ways to achieve this, but the most common is through links on your website or social media or generating promotional content (for example, a YouTube video).
The good news is that affiliate marketing works both ways, so if yours is a company that needs an additional avenue of promotion, you can partner with an affiliate to share some of the heavy lifting.
This form of digital marketing can mean many things to many people. In fact, the definition is broad enough it can involve any of the following:
More so than other pieces of content, blogs are designed to connect directly with your audience and provide them an ongoing dialogue that relates directly to your product (if your company produces baby toys, for example, you should gear your blog toward infant health and well-being). Blogs also provide a platform to push particular products and help you drive traffic and create leads.
Pieces that are designed to establish you as an expert on a specific topic. These are usually presented as engaging articles that define a problem, explain why it matters, and then provide a solution or answer to the problem.
If you want to create a valuable giveaway to serve as a lead magnet, there are few things better than an ebook. These are marketing pieces that bring helpful insight on a particular topic to a reader while leading them to trust in you as a viable solution to whatever problem you are proposing to solve.
If done correctly, a visually appealing, easy to understand infographic can help give your subject a viral marketing piece. Typically, these display a handful of bite-size pieces of stats and data that are quick and simple to read. The benefit here is numerous shares can equal a lot of clicks or source mentions for your company or product.
Deep dives into a subject structured as a guide or “how to” article that gives the reader ground-up knowledge on a topic. These can usually run from 5,000 words guides to versions that are as long as 15,000 to 20,000 words.
An alternative to text, videos offer a more dynamic presentation should your marketing call for it. These are very useful if you are trying to highlight a product or provide a demonstration for a particular service. Also great if a tutorial is required.
Similar to a case study, white papers cover a specific topic and are intended to establish you or your firm as an authority on that topic. The significant difference between the two is that a white paper is more formal and information heavy than the study. An excellent way to discern the two is that a case study is engaging data, whereas a white paper is data, data, and more data.
How to Use Your Content
These various content pieces are used as magnets to either draw a client in or build awareness for your brand. Either way, your ultimate goal is to generate a lead for your efforts.
The key with content is to create something meaningful that appeals to your target audience. Beyond that, your content should be something that is actionable or users can share across platforms and with the potential to go viral.
An example of an actionable item includes offering an ebook in exchange for an individual’s contact information.
An excellent viral marketing piece would be a vibrant, eye-catching infographic that draws interest to a particular subject or for a specific industry.
Arguably the most widely used method of digital marketing, utilizing email allows a business to communicate with potential and current clients. Though email has been in use far longer than other marketing tools, the method of how it is used has evolved.
While you can still purchase lead lists and send email blasts out to a large group of unqualified leads, email strategies have moved away from what many liken to cold-calling.
Now, email marketing is predominantly used in conjunction with other efforts and mainly as a means to build relationships, inform, or create actionable efforts through targeted messages that are personalized and appeal directly to a consumer.
For example, let’s say you forward an infographic to a contact list of potential clients. Your email includes a link for them to learn more through a downloadable case study or white paper.
Those that download the case study receive a follow-up email that offers additional information or the opportunity for another freebie, like an ebook. Anyone that downloads the ebook is a prime candidate for direct follow-up via phone.
Though it’s one small scenario, you can see how email is not just a primary method for ongoing communication, but a vital sales instrument that can be automated to ensure the process is also more efficient.
Pay Per Click (PPC) or Paid Search
If you’re familiar with Google AdWords, then you are familiar with PPC. This is also the paid search results you often see at the top or to the side of the search engine results page.
More often than not, this marketing task should always start with a Google AdWord account. Though there are plenty of other services available, with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn each having options, Google is by far the most popular.
If it seems that PPC closely adheres to traditional outbound marketing, you’re not too far off. You are paying for placement, except in the digital version, you’re purchasing keywords, not ad space or airtime.
What sets PPC apart is that advertising through keywords gives a business better control over their ad dollars and in turn a better return on the investment as you are targeting individuals that are closer to committing a purchase instead of a broad demographic group.
Even if you are new to all things marketing, digital or otherwise, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of SEO or Search Engine Optimization.
SEO relates to the visibility of an individual website in a search engine’s list of results. This is often referred to as organic search because it relies on non-paid site traffic.
Though there is a profoundly technical aspect to SEO, a business can achieve marketing success through this channel by producing the following:
- Well designed, accessible to index website
- Quality content (see our content marketing above)
- Relevant keywords that connect your content to your target audience
- Links to your site or content on social media, partner sites or other media
Your goal with any SEO effort is to ensure you have an optimized website and content to match that will rank high with each of the major search engines.
Perhaps the best channel to directly connect with and build up a customer base, social media is a necessity if you want a fully formed marketing strategy, digital or otherwise.
The biggest hurdle many businesses face when it comes to social media is where to start and which services will make an immediate impact. It’s a valid concern when you consider the number of outlets currently available.
By far the most popular, Facebook is the leading outlet should you want to engineer a successful marketing push on social media. Almost 2.2 billion people use Facebook worldwide, and their Facebooks Ads platform is one of the best solutions for reaching a specific customer base.
Regardless of any methods your company is using for marketing and advertising, Facebook must be part of that strategy.
Perhaps not social media in the traditional sense (this can also fall under content marketing and traditional marketing channels), YouTube is still a vital outlet for many businesses especially if you require a visual medium to reach your intended client base.
It certainly helps that YouTube is second behind only Facebook among worldwide users, with 1.9 billion.
Also a member of the billion-user club, Instagram provides those users with a platform for the exchanging of pictures and messages.
A magnet for all manner of brands – from the small and local to the large and national – direct communication between businesses and potential and current customers is one of the main aspects of the service.
When it comes to broadcasting your message in as few characters as possible, there is no place better than Twitter. With 336 million users worldwide, this media outlet proves helpful with its flexibility.
From text and photos to gifs and videos, there are many ways to connect with clients. In fact, Twitter has also been used by some organizations as a means to provide customer service.
Most often described as a business version of Facebook, LinkedIn may not have the same volume of users with only 294 million worldwide, it nonetheless is a robust networking platform for a business to reach potential clients as well as other companies.
In addition, it also serves as an influential outlet for finding talent and connecting with people looking for employment opportunities.
Pinterest is another visual social media service that hosts over 200 million user accounts. A vital tool in the exchange of ideas, the service allows you to reach a niche segment of your ideal customer directly.
Contrary to popular belief, Pinterest is not just pictures either. The service also allows gifs or short videos which helps to add the service’s dynamic interactions.
NOTE: All user numbers originate from this graph.
Roles in Digital Marketing
Digital marketing is more than just knowing its form, function and the tools available to be successful. Understanding the roles involved can help even the smallest firms find the right talent to execute their digital vision.
Obviously, specific roles and job titles will vary based on company and industry. In fact, in a fully formed digital marketing department, it’s possible to have between ten and 15 roles, including individuals who only oversee specific channels like search or PPC.
Which is why we want to focus on the top three generally accepted digital marketing positions. Your particular efforts may not require all of these, but these are the best starting point. As you grow, so too will your need to market to larger potential demographic groups or reach more extensive areas of influence.
Several of these posts can also crossover, so depending on an individual’s bandwidth, one person could handle multiple aspects of your digital marketing push.
Digital Marketing Manager
This position is responsible for the full oversight and implementation of a company’s digital marketing efforts. Depending on the firm’s size, this job could be the only digital specific position, handling not just the overall message and awareness, but also the content and spaces occupied.
In a more established company, the digital marketer will oversee the efforts of a larger team.
This role is all about creating the content utilized in your various online efforts and marketing campaigns. More so than most other digital positions, the content manager will work with different areas of a company to ensure a cohesive design.
Also, this individual is typically responsible for the company’s ongoing blog, helping to pull together the different priorities that exist within an organization and presenting a unifying message online.
Social Media Manager
Potentially the most dynamic of the digital marketing jobs, the person who oversees a company’s social media presence will need a diverse knowledge of online marketing strategies.
As social media becomes more varied and dynamic, it is the social media managers job to keep up with social trends, maintain fresh, up to date presence on multiple platforms and ensure the right programs are deployed to capture the ever-increasing social media traffic.
Additional Aspects of Digital Marketing
Even with a cursory knowledge of digital marketing, you can put together a simple and effective strategy that can help you build a substantial client list. It will also provide a foundation on which to expand your program.
Additional considerations exist to help you build a winning digital marketing plan and below we focus on the top three that offer to tie your efforts together, give your marketing a broad reach, and help you streamline your sales efforts.
When discussing digital strategy, an excellent starting point is automation. One of the key advantages of a digital environment is the manner in which you streamline a lot of the steps and various responsibilities.
Utilizing automation software will tie your efforts together, not only making them cohesive but also giving you feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of your digital marketing chain.
A few of the items where automation software can help include:
- Email – One of the most significant automation attributes is for email marketing including follow-ups, newsletters, action items, or boilerplate reminders.
- Posting – You can dictate when posts for blogs or social media are scheduled.
- Reporting – Produce a wide variety of metrics covering all aspects of your marketing, including leads and conversion.
- Tracking – Follow traffic, when and where leads occur, and through which channels the most conversions occur.
- Workflows – Understand what’s working, what doesn’t, and how to get the most out your marketing activities.
The crucial factor is to find a program that works within your company’s current efforts while also providing a system that can accommodate your growth.
Considering the overall societal impact of smartphones, there’s little mystery as to why you need to reach people on the devices that are clutched, practically non-stop, in the palm of their hand.
When it comes to mobile marketing, the most critical factor is to ensure all of your content, from the big-ticket items like your website to small-scale things like the image in an email, are all optimized for proper display on mobile devices. This will give every piece of marketing collateral a polished look and show that you know what you’re doing when it comes to mobile marketing.
Next, your actionable items should be easy enough to perform using one hand. Never assume a user will complete a form using only a desk or laptop computer. Our society is consistently on the move, and if you want to maximize your marketing dollars, you need to create convenience for your prospects.
Finally, never lose sight of the mobile aspect of your marketing campaigns. This means having an app (or apps) to reinforce your brand or message and that parallels with your social media and offering freebies or engineering mobile-only promotions.
Though that’s merely a snapshot of the mobile marketing considerations you should make, one can never overstate its importance. In the US alone, there are expected to be over 270 million smartphone users by the year 2022, and you don’t want to be out of their reach.
Digital Marketing Funnel
Although the marketing funnel has been around for some time, in a digital environment, it can amp up even modest client building endeavors.
A generic internet search will yield multiple variations on the funnel method, with anywhere from three to seven steps. None are necessarily wrong, but we like to keep the approach simple so you can focus on what’s important within each level.
Includes creating content, reaching out to prospects via different channels (Facebook Ads and email marketing, for example) and draw them to your website or landing page so they can take further action.
This is where you build your relationship with a prospect and educate them on what you or your company have to offer. Show yourself to be the expert and solution to their problem and provide them further content to either build trust and further engage or to begin the closing process.
The logical conclusion once you’ve completed the education of your prospect and created a favorable environment to make a sale. This is where they move from lead to client.
As we said, this can vary greatly. You can condense the funnel (some conversions occur directly in the engagement stage) or lengthen it as necessary.
The advantage is that a lot of the tasks involved with the funnel can be automated to allow you and your sales team more time to focus on the relationship building and conversion steps.
Regardless of the company you run and the industry it falls under, digital marketing is a dynamic way to reach your ideal audience. One of the best aspects is that there is no right or wrong way to broaden your brands reach.
Quarterly email campaigns? No problem.
Perhaps a social media push with the carrot of an ebook to those who want to know more? You can do that too.
Do you want to go full funnel and feed it with as many channels as possible? That option is very much available.
The point is that no matter your goals or needs, whether you offer a product or service, digital marketing lets you build a program from any number of tools and platforms to fit your exact needs, and then grow and expand your plan at the same time your business does.
The only real concern with digital marketing is not doing it at all.