It is already hard to imagine a world without online digital marketing. How companies engage with their customers has fundamentally changed since the advent of the internet. Instead of advertisements and messaging aimed at mass audiences with a rather generic target market demographic, nowadays marketing is much more targeted and niche in its execution. Its success (or otherwise) can also be far better evaluated and changes made rapidly and on an ongoing basis to finetune its effectiveness. That is why it is crucial to know how to create a successful digital marketing strategy for your business.
Where consumers were once the passive recipients of marketing messages, they are now far more active in their relationships with companies. Given a half-decent internet or mobile connection, everyone has easy access to the same vast pool of information to help them to make more informed buying decisions. As well as looking at marketing messages created by sellers, they can find out what other customers think, watch videos that show products in real-life scenarios, and check out the competition at a click of a button.
The good news for smaller businesses and start-ups is that digital marketing provides the opportunity for them to compete successfully against much bigger and longer established competitors. While a large company may have the advantage of a well-known and trusted brand, a small company with even a quite limited budget can still have a decent website, create videos and communicate online in an incredibly effective way that far outstrips their size. In fact, an agile small company can even out-compete a bigger organisation in some respects. According to research reported in Marketing Week, a number of companies in the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 are ‘in pursuit of the mediocre’ in digital. Many have been around since before the digital marketing age began in earnest a mere 10-20 years ago, and have had trouble replacing tired old systems and comfortable ways of operating. A new or young company has no such legacy issues and, as long as it communicates what it has to offer effectively, can gain just as much credence from consumers as the big boys. Indeed, when consumers go online to research, it is often in the hope and expectation that they will find new companies they’ve never heard of before offering the exact thing they need.
So digital marketing offers SMEs a great opportunity – but how to take advantage of it? Answering that question is what creating a digital marketing strategy is all about. It takes a bit of thought, but it isn’t rocket science, and a successful plan of attack will see your company punching well above its weight.
Your digital marketing strategy should support your company’s business plan and brand proposition
The heading to this section highlights a vital preliminary requirement: to have established your company’s business plan and brand strategic proposition (see our blog piece on how to do this using the V5 methodology). Do you know exactly what it is your company exists to do? If not, your digital marketing will be shooting in the dark.
Who will your digital marketing be aimed at?
As with all forms of marketing, you need to understand who your customers are. Which segments of the population are going to be interested in your offer? Do these segments require different handling in terms of the channels and messaging used? As far as you can, you need to put yourselves in your customers’ shoes to answer these questions, which is where creating rounded customer personas is so valuable. While your own intuition will play a big part in forming your initial pictures of your customers, you can also take advantage of online research to help find out what customers are buying from your competitors, studying product reviews and social media interaction to identify persona types and behavioural patterns.
As you build your database, you can run online surveys to find out more about what drives customer buying decisions. Thanks to online survey tools like Survey Monkey and Smart Survey, direct research is a viable option even for small businesses with limited budgets. Surveys are also in themselves a great way of increasing engagement with your customers and demonstrating the interest you take in them.
When considering who your customers are, don’t forget to allow for where they sit on the marketing bowtie. You will need to tailor your messages accordingly, from addressing potential customers yet to be won to people who are ambassadors for your brand through their enthusiastic support.
You also need to understand and communicate both the features and the benefits of the products and services you are selling. Unlike much popular (but inaccurate) thinking in the wonderful world of marketing, not all consumers think solely in terms of benefits (more informed ones just look at a spec sheet so features are more important than benefits in such instances) and both factors are therefore potentially as equally important as the other.
How do you reach your target audiences?
Once, the answer to this question was ‘advertise’, and the decision to be made was simply which channels to use. Here again, the internet has changed everything and traditional advertising – whether on TV, in print, outdoors, etc. – has come under enormous pressure as buyer habits have changed. Television and radio have fragmented, and print simply declined, as people choose to obtain information online, often through their mobile devices. Now that consumers themselves play a more active role in researching who they will buy from, digital marketing is as much about making it as easy as possible for buyers to find sellers as it is about product promotion. And everybody is after the same thing, so the challenge extends not just in terms of being easy to find, but actually easier to find than your competitors.
Everything is usually built around a good website, which in a digital context takes the place of a bricks and mortar store or office as being where you want your customers to visit. A good website is one that contains information useful to your customers, organised in a cogent way that makes the information easy to find and with a logical buying process underpinning it. Where a product or service can be bought and despatched online, a digital marketing strategy should be aimed at directly achieving online sales. However, if what’s on offer is, for example, a service delivered in person or one that has a long sales cycle, the immediate aim of a strategy could be to drive appointments or some other essential pre-requisite to each sale. Digital marketing could be thought of in terms of building a reputation too – digital is all about managing risk so that you look like a trustworthy, competent and professional organisation with an ethical and fair way of working that delivers high perceived value for money.
While some companies still succeed in bringing visitors to their sites through traditional advertising in the press and on TV and radio, these are expensive options and far from the only ones. The starting point for consumers researching products or services is typically an online search engine. In the UK, the search engine used 85% of the time is Google, so a digital marketing strategy will need to address how easy it is to find your website from a Google search. This is basically driven by two different things; SEO (search engine optimisation) and paid advertising searches (pay per click is the most obvious one – aka PPC).
At one time, SEO consisted largely of stuffing web pages full of keywords (even including them in the same colour as the site background so that search engines could see them even though visitors couldn’t). However, Google has built its market dominance on the quality of the results it delivers to searches, so these tactics have now been identified and penalised. Although the science of SEO is constantly evolving, Google will, in essence, look for sites that are shown to deliver good quality information and a decent user experience, with plenty of internal links to help people navigate around a site and keywords that can be found in conjunction with other words commonly associated with the topic. Businesses therefore need to consider what words and terms people will be entering when looking for the type of product or service they are selling. There are usually many alternative ‘keywords’ to be considered, but the particular focus should be on so-called ‘long tail’ keywords, which are actually several words strung together. For example, a company specialising in aerial photography using drones will be lucky to appear in response to a search for ‘photography’ because it will be lumped in with wedding photographers, camera retailers, and everything else related to photography. People searching know this too, so they will search for something like ‘drone photography London’.
Of course, the challenge of SEO is that everyone else is trying to do it too! Getting your site to the top of search results takes time, so this is where paid searches come in. As with SEO, you still need to have an idea of what terms people might use to search for the type of product you’re selling. Once you have identified them, you can pay Google to give priority to an advertisement for your website when people search using those terms, with what they call AdWords. The results look like other so-called ‘organic’ search returns, only with a small ‘Ad’ icon alongside, and appear at the top of the list of results. How much you pay is determined by auction, with the most popular terms attracting the strongest bidding. You can save money by choosing your search terms astutely. For example, if your business is targeted mainly at people in your area, include the name of the area (it could be a town or county) in the words you bid for – a solicitor looking for business in Northumberland will save money by bidding for searches including ‘Northumberland’ because demand for such search terms will be lower. Specific words can also be excluded, so if the same solicitor specialises in fields other than divorce, searches including ‘divorce’ could be excluded. Auctions are conducted by computers, and they do not always award the best results to the highest bidder: they are also programmed to select winners on the basis of the quality of the website landing pages the resultant links will lead to. It can seem very bewildering, and it certainly pays to have someone familiar with AdWords managing a campaign on your behalf to begin with. Although some consumers habitually ignore the ‘Ad’ results, many don’t, and the beauty of this form of advertising is that a) you only pay when somebody clicks on the search result leading to your site and b) you can continually monitor the effectiveness of your campaigns and tweak the search terms you bid on as you go along. (There’s an example of how AdWords and SEO tactics were modified over time for one of Abacus’ clients here.) A third benefit is that you can assess the performance of many more keywords than you can with an SEO strategy. In fact, we sometimes recommend an AdWords campaign precedes an SEO campaign to make sure that one optimises one’s website for the best possible keywords.
Other potentially relevant forms of digital advertising including remarketing, network advertising and social media advertising. Remarketing is where you serve up an advert on a third-party website to anyone who has visited your website in the last year – you only pay if they click on the link (in which case they are directed to your website) and the cost is normally about 10% of a PPC campaign. Network advertising is also about the same cost and serves up adverts on a third-party website to people who have a predetermined demographic and psychographic profile which suits your target audience. Social media advertising includes a similar principle on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter. The goals in this context might be to visit your website, follow one or more of your social media channels, download an app, raise awareness, make your feeds more engaging and encourage participants to share content, sales promotions campaigns, research, and so on.
Other ways to draw people to your website
Although being found via searches is important, there are other marketing media your digital strategy could include. Regular emails to your customers, using online bulk sending tools like MailChimp and marketing automation software such as Infusionsoft, are proven to be one of the most effective ways of stimulating website visits and generating sales. These can be sent to both existing customers and prospective ones too. It is important that you are aware of the new GDPR legislation that gives customers more rights about how you use their data. As a general rule of thumb, as long as you behave fairly and reasonably and abide by the spirit of the new rules of engagement, you should be alright.
You can also run social media channels which include posts frequently linking to your site. The best media channels to use vary according to market – for example, while Facebook and Instagram are very good for most B2C businesses, B2B companies are more likely to use LinkedIn and Twitter as their channels of choice. It doesn’t take much effort to post regularly – short but often is the name of the game – but both social media and email activity are far more effective if you can supply a steady flow of material to engage with your audience.
Content needs to be appropriate to your market too: an engineering company might produce whitepapers and case studies to highlight its expertise, while a clothes designer could include fashion show updates and comments on the latest trends.
On social media in particular, it is important to build up a reputation for being a worthwhile source of information, and material posted should more often educate and inform customers rather than sell to them – as a rule of thumb, four informative posts per one sales post is felt to be about the right mix. Think of social media in this context as being the PR arm of your marketing body. It is more about building reputation than delivering sales.
A lot of information is still provided in written form, but video is becoming the preferred medium for many businesses, and platforms like YouTube are easy to use. Research shows people engage more with video than with written material, and many smartphones provide sufficient quality to create simple but engaging videos showing a product in action. Video events are also catching on, where people can join online and interact on social media with both the host and other members of the audience.
The digital marketing opportunity
Digital marketing provides a great opportunity for small businesses and start-ups to compete with much larger competitors. Compared with traditional marketing, digital is cheaper and more efficient. You can communicate with your customers through a range of media, the costs of which tend not to increase (or not by much) even when scaled up.
If digital marketing had already been invented, the chances are nobody would then have gone to the trouble of inventing a non-digital version. Given its ease of use, low entry cost and sheer effectiveness, it’s no wonder that many companies choose to go digital for most if not all of their marketing, while very few companies get by without using it at all. But diving in without having a clear strategy relating to what you want to achieve, and how you plan to do so – which is what a surprising number of companies do – is guaranteed to ensure that you fail to maximise the possibilities on offer.
Keep up to date
The world of digital marketing strategy changes all the time. To keep up to date with all the latest news is almost impossible, but you can keep on top of things by following us on social media – Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If you would like to have a conversation with us about digital marketing strategy, please contact Stephen Brown on 020 7795 8175 or firstname.lastname@example.org – you can also visit our website at www.abacusmarketing.co.uk to find out more.