Looking for digital marketing tools for your small business? Here's how to choose the ones that are best for you.
Building a digital marketing strategy isn't easy work. Content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, email marketing, pay-per-click (PPC) – all are important factors in a digital marketing strategy. While there is a lot of time, effort, and money that goes into this process, the impact of a good strategy on your business's bottom line can make the hard work and sacrifice worth it.
Why a digital marketing strategy is important
Digital marketing is extremely relevant today, as many consumers have a mobile device and internet connection with them wherever they go.
"In today's modern times, newspaper ads and billboards have been replaced by huge LED screens and digital ads," said Carolyn Carns, marketing manager for Creation Business Consultants. "Everyone is on their phone most of the day … Now is such a good time to forget newspapers and switch to digital advertising."
Creating a strategy to guide your digital marketing efforts is crucial. There are various aspects of digital marketing, as well as countless tools and platforms to leverage, and it can be intimidating – and perplexing – at first unless you have a plan in place to refer to.
"Having a digital marketing strategy in place before you embark on activity is paramount to the success of any campaigns that you may put in place," said Trevor Nicholls, CEO of Klood Digital. "The old army adage of 'proper planning prevents poor performance' is as relevant to your marketing as it is in the military."
Nicholls added that a written digital marketing plan is a working document that you and your team will use regularly. It's not a one-and-done project you'll never revisit – it is a plan that will guide and inform your marketing efforts.
Types of digital marketing channels
Before delving into your company goals, let's first explore what online marketing channels are available. Below are the most common marketing strategies you can use online.
Search engine optimization
This is the process of increasing the visibility of your website in search engine rankings so you have a prominent spot on search engine results pages (SERP) for keywords relevant to your business. SEO is easier to understand than most people think, but it can be complicated to put into practice. It involves keyword research, on-page optimization, link building, content marketing and more.
Pay per click
PPC is an internet advertising strategy. You bid on certain keywords that users enter into search engines. Your ad appears at the top (or near the top, depending on how competitive the keyword may be) of the SERP, and to do this effectively requires optimizing the ads and bids to generate a favorable ROI.
Much like with PPC, you are paying for advertisements to appear on third-party websites to create brand awareness or generate traffic. You can use display advertising for retargeting or marketing to specific demographics.
Social media marketing
Social media marketing involves leveraging social media platforms to create traffic and awareness for your website or brand. This strategy includes advertising tactics within the social media platforms.
This is the process of collecting email addresses from potential leads. You can then market to them via a series of emails.
Conversion rate optimization
The goal of CRO is to increase the percentage of conversions from visitors to your website. You can implement CRO for specific goals such as signups, leads or sales.
How to create a digital marketing strategy for your business
"Creating a digital marketing strategy is no longer just about understanding the latest and greatest places to reach potential new customers," said Jess Reilly, senior vice president of marketing services at Rebel Interactive Group. "The most successful marketers understand truly scalable digital marketing has transformed into people-based advertising, or knowing the exact message to give at the right time, on the right platform, to the right person. Without having data-backed insights that forecast the effectiveness of your messaging, your timing, and your media mix, your strategy will not work."
According to Nicholls, your strategy should outline your goals, how you plan to achieve them, how you'll measure your progress and success, the skills and resources needed to deliver, and budget details and expected ROI.
Here are some tips for creating an effective digital marketing strategy for your business.
Build buyer personas.
Buyer personas are fictional characters that represent archetypal consumers who might be attracted to your brand. These personas help you better market your products and services to this consumer demographic.
"Creating buyer personas will help you determine your marketing strategy by illuminating who your buyers are, the situations they are faced with, and, most important, what goals the audience are attempting to accomplish to inform your messaging strategy," said Reilly.
To create buyer personas, consider what your target consumer might do for a living, their age, gender and other demographics, which social platforms they use the most, and their beliefs and values. Then, customize your strategy based on these details.
"In that process of understanding that buyer persona, it is important we also [know] what is working for [our clients'] competitors," added Brett Prentiss, co-founder of Instinct Marketing. "We look at their title tags in their ads, their landing pages, how their homepage is structured, things of that nature. Once we understand that, we reverse engineer their strategy, along with the business owners' vision and our expertise, something truly magical is created. That magic simply works because it delivers results.
Identify your goals.
What are your goals for your marketing strategy? To build brand awareness? To increase product sales? Or to attract a larger social following? Get specific so you can gear your efforts toward these goals.
For example, if you aim to cultivate brand awareness, you'll want to focus more on how you wish to portray your brand. You'll define your business's values and "personality," and find ways to establish – and communicate this to consumers – through your marketing efforts. Or, if you're looking to increase sales, you might purchase Instagram ads or work with influencers on social media to promote your products.
Marketing strategies to use if your goal is to heighten consumer awareness of your brand
Does your target customer only buy from reputable brands? Are they aware of your brand? Do they trust or have enough familiarity with it to make a purchase?
If brand awareness is a top priority for your business, then display marketing may be the strongest marketing channel for you. Display marketing allows you to display your brand to as many people as possible within a targeted demographic, allowing them to engage with your content to create familiarity and trust.
The ROI is difficult to measure, as the primary goal of the campaign is to raise awareness. However, it's this awareness that can build the foundation for a larger customer base.
The other options are social media marketing and content marketing, as these can also get you in front of your potential customers, even if they're not searching specifically for your brand.
Marketing strategies to use if your goal is to raise consumer awareness of the solution your product/service offers
Sometimes, consumers won't seek your company out, not because you can't be found, but because they are not aware of their problem and the solution you provide. They might have never realized how your product or service can improve their lives. This may be reflected in low search volumes for your target keywords.
If the primary issue for lack of sales or traffic is the lack of awareness for what your business has to offer, then a fundamental goal for your digital marketing strategy is to educate potential customers about a particular problem they contend with, and then offer your solution.
Many brands have successfully used content marketing and social media marketing as vehicles to educate potential customers. An example of this is Samsung's and Apple's approach to content marketing and social media marketing. As large as the Samsung brand is, the company has launched several campaigns to sway consumers away from Apple to Samsung.
Sometimes faith in the brand isn't enough. Customers need to be educated about what you do, the benefits your products or services offer, and why it's better than what they currently use.
Marketing strategies to use if your goal is to increase traffic
Traffic has always been one of the most sought-after key performance indicators. With higher-quality traffic, the result is usually more leads and sales, so it makes sense that most business owners see this as a priority.
As much as viral content can do wonders for your traffic, it's not entirely within your control, and even the most successful and prolific of viral content creators can't predict which of their content offerings will go viral. If your primary goal is traffic, then PPC and SEO may be the best online marketing channels for you to focus on.
PPC allows you to control the amount of traffic flowing to your website depending on your budget, and the perfect scenario would be a PPC campaign with a good ROI.
The alternative to PPC is SEO. Unlike PPC, SEO is a long-term investment. You have to wait at least six to nine months to see a positive return on your investment. Companies can do SEO in-house or hire an agency. The advantage of SEO is the perceived lower cost, recurring "free" organic traffic and all the other benefits that come with being at the top of a Google SERP. SEO has one of the highest ROIs, along with email marketing, according to MarketingTech.
Marketing strategies to use if your goal is to increase sales
Sales of their product or service is the end result most businesses want. If your business has a clear demand online for sales, then you probably need a combination of traffic, email marketing and CRO.
Again, email marketing has one of the highest potential ROIs. You can either run a cold email campaign or set up an email marketing campaign for the warm leads and signups you have collected.
You can also generate more sales with a combination of more traffic and increased CRO. PPC or SEO can generate the traffic to your website, and a focused campaign on CRO will allow you to convert more of that traffic into sales.
Choose digital marketing tools based on your primary goals.
There are various marketing tools out there, each boasting their own advantages and specific purposes. There are content marketing calendar templates, social networks, email marketing software, etc. However, which tools you choose to use depends on your goals.
"Every business has a different need or something they are lacking in," said Prentiss. "That could be a lack of reviews, they're ranking poorly on Google, or their website just really needs a redesign. Whatever the business needs are, they always require a different tool."
Prioritize your goals and comb through your budget to determine which tools you should invest in. You can always revisit and experiment with other tools on the market.
Audit your current strategy.
Reilly recommended that business owners ask themselves how much "lift" each marketing channel provided in previous seasons. "Using a combination of customer purchase data, digital tracking data, and any traditional media buys you have, you can dive into the data to discover what your true ROI was in the past and opportunities to grow in the future," she said.
Before going live with your new strategy, test it to see what might work and what won't.
"Look for things you can fix or improve in your digital marketing strategy," added Cairns. "Make sure that you have everything covered and that everything is at the top of its game once you go live."
Additionally, Prentiss recommended monitoring your progress to determine what might need shifting.
"We set daily, weekly and sometimes even monthly reminders to check on the progress we made," he said. "The daily and weekly check-ins on what we created are very important in the beginning so we can adjust what we are doing. This truly ensures the success of the campaign."
Digital marketing budget and resources
Aside from your business goals, your available budget, resources and time will also dictate what strategy you should use. PPC, display advertising, and social media advertising allow you to generate traffic and awareness of your brand almost immediately. These options, however, can be quite costly, and if the cost outweighs the ROI, they may not be the best choice.
If you're a small business with limited resources, your strategy also depends on the talent and resources you have available. Make the best use of the talent you have available when choosing your marketing strategy. For example, if you employ creatives and copywriters, perhaps email marketing and content marketing campaigns would be the most effective.
None of these are stand-alone tactics; you often have to adopt a holistic approach. The best SEO campaigns may require good PR, social media marketing and content marketing. Spending money on PPC while having a poor conversion rate may be a waste of money. Most tactics provide a superior ROI when used in conjunction with complementary approaches.
Coming back full circle, it's important to explore all avenues of marketing. The above information is by no means a comprehensive guide; far more variables come into play when you're deciding which marketing strategy to use.
As the phrase goes, "Energy flows where attention goes." Clarify your business goals before deciding which marketing channels will be the most effective for achieving your objectives.
Additional reporting by Marvin Magusara.