Making Digital Marketing Work for You
The consumer journey from awareness to purchase and usage is no longer a straight path, and an increasing proliferation and fragmentation of media provides touchpoints along the way. At the same time, the costs of creating and disseminating brand messages and experiences across various digital channels have significantly decreased. While digital marketing is therefore now a core component of almost any broader brand marketing strategy, understanding and effectively using different digital marketing tactics and tools is a challenge for even the most sophisticated brands and marketers.
- The most effective digital marketing strategy will involve the integration of a number of different tactics including SEO, social media, email marketing and others.
- The basics remain the same—quality and relevant content based on a deep understanding of the customer—but it’s important to understand various available tools and platforms.
- SEO and SEM work best in tandem, usually offering relatively high ROI; social media platforms need to be considered carefully to ensure fit with overall strategy.
- Take advantage of digital infrastructure to build a seamless customer brand experience and eliminate user pain points.
Effective marketing connects you to your customer, increases your brand awareness and results in final conversions (i.e., sales) that contribute to the financial success of your business. The same is true of digital marketing: to make digital marketing work for you, you have to have a clear strategy from the outset that directly connects to your overall business goals. Don’t think digital marketing—think marketing enabled by digital.1
As you invest in the digital space, always keep your customer and brand equity in mind as you differentiate your brand through quality content and experiences. That means ensuring a seamless customer experience across all channels and platforms (digital locations and sites), addressing pain points in real time and investing in a consistent and high-quality brand experience.
In this white paper we outline key digital marketing approaches including SEO, SEM, social media, programmatic media, email and affiliate marketing, and discuss how to make them work for you.
Important Questions for the Outset
As you begin to plan your digital strategy, there are a number of key issues to consider that will ensure that your approach is ideally tailored to your brand. Remember at the outset that the consumer journey is no longer a straight path; gone are the days when a consumer would see an ad, travel to a location and a make a purchase. The path from awareness to conversion now has multiple overlapping steps with digital media offering interruptions and diversions at every stage.
The Customer Journey is No Longer a Straight Path
To successfully navigate the fragmented consumer journey, be sure to consider your overall marketing campaign goals and clarify how they align with your business goals. Carefully articulate your target audience’s demographics and preferences, geographical location and profile to ensure that you will reach them through your media approach. Pick your platforms based on these demographics, and don’t ignore less well-known channels. Match your media approach to your consumer’s needs: Facebook and Twitter are right for some segments, but other brands and consumers are better served by more visual platforms such as Pinterest or YouTube. As English pub chain Wetherspoons recently demonstrated by abandoning social media2, these are all just available tools to reach customers, but any strategy needs to always start with a deep understanding of the target audience.
Technical considerations are important: explore what kind of access is available through your landing page, see if the website can be tagged and if analytics access can be granted, then discuss what post-click tracking should be employed. Be thoughtful about which channels and platforms will be most effective in reaching your goals, and then devise a framework for how to define and measure success.
JetBlue: Quality Content for Quality Customer Experience
JetBlue is a discount airline that balances affordability with customer service. Their digital strategy reflects the premium they place on the customer experience; they started using social media to respond to their customers in real time well ahead of other businesses. Rather than using Twitter for self-promotion through discounts and coupons, JetBlue keeps the focus on improving customers’ lives and experiences, allowing their commitment to their customers to serve as the best possible way to market themselves. In addition to directly responding to complaints and queries, JetBlue tracks conversations through keywords and other forms of social listening to remain constantly engaged with their customers’ conversations and concerns. When they are not using tweets to engage directly with consumers, they post useful information and updates to make the entire experience—from booking to travel—as easy and pleasant as possible.
SEO and SEM: Most Effective in Tandem
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the first step towards maximizing your digital presence and effectiveness. If you don’t show up early in a search, you basically don’t exist for most customers. Search engines analyze the content of web pages, then rank results based on what they think users are looking for. Brands can also pay for their sites to be promoted above organic or unpaid results.
Traditional metrics like keyword rankings (your website’s position in the search engine results page) and bounce rates (how quickly visitors leave after interacting with only one page) are useful but inconclusive measures of website optimization. They don’t tell you whether visitors have made a purchase while on the single page, nor do they consider whether key information is located on the landing page or organized in the most appropriate way. High organic keyword rankings elevate your website in search engine results, as does improved indexing. The deeper a search engine crawls on your site, the more material will be indexed and available in a search. This can be achieved by adding content or changing the navigation structure of your site.
Some users will come to your site via branded keyword searches that directly reference the company or product; these types of searches are more likely to lead to conversions. A branded keyword search indicates that the searcher is already familiar with the brand and is looking for something specific. Those who arrive through non-branded, more general searches are likely to be potential rather than established customers. Build on success: plan your SEO strategy around the methods of reaching customers that have already proved effective.
While many visitors come to your site via traditional keyword searches, others arrive through backlinks on other websites; search engines also consider this kind of traffic in how they place your site. The key for both search engines and users is the quality and relevance of the linking site in combination with the quantity of backlinks. To maximize high-quality backlinks, make sure your website content is valuable and well-disseminated by key influencers and brand-related authorities.
SEO is a long-term strategy that can take many months to produce results. It can be hard to measure, but can ultimately contribute to long-term growth and often has high ROI. SEO is particularly well suited for niche products, luxury brands, local services and evergreen items that won’t go out of style. Be sure to avoid outdated tactics like pop-ups, which get penalized by search engines, and remember that search engines are always changing their algorithm to prevent websites from gaming the system. One important advantage to SEO is that though you have to commit resources to optimization, there are no distribution costs; thus making it an affordable strategy.
SEM (Search Engine Marketing, also known as PPC or pay per click) yields much more immediate results than SEO and offers instant, keyword-level performance data alongside information about site usability and brand engagement. It can be a source of traffic with high conversion rates in many campaigns, with extremely strong CTR (click through rates), driving traffic from customers that are in market and specifically seeking either the brand or the product/category.
SEM can also be very expensive, with high cost-per-click rates on the most lucrative terms; it makes the most sense to use this strategy in conjunction with SEO-driven organic traffic. Strong SEM should maintain relevance among keywords, related ad copy and the landing page of your site, taking advantage of platform features to increase relevance and performance through special offers and incentives.
Social Media Marketing
Search engine strategies are extremely useful ways to reach consumers who are already interested in your product or brand. Social media marketing offers different and often complementary advantages, including the possibility of elevating consumers into brand ambassadors and engaged community members, and offering you the opportunity to interact directly with your customers and target new ones.
Highly effective social media marketing delivers compelling content that converts prospects into consumers through a combination of paid advertising, user generated content and creative campaign solutions. “Native ads” serve customizable messaging to users across devices that are integrated with the particular platform’s overall style—like a sponsored tweet or blog post that looks like the rest of the content on the feed—but promote a particular product, helping to reach consumers who are engaged in that platform.
A diverse and strategic combination of organic community-building initiatives, paid techniques (like Facebook ads, sponsored tweets and promoted pins) as well as more traditional promotions and sweepstakes will drive engagement and immerse the consumer in the brand experience. Remember to evaluate success based on your bottom line: generating “likes” is useful only if it adds to the value of your business and supports your broad desired outcomes. Make sure you are reaching your target consumer: you don’t need to be on all platforms, only the ones that will help grow your business in real ways. Bear in mind that social media is meant to be social—consumers aren’t going there to be sold to or talked at, so any marketing efforts need to fit with the platform and behavior expectations.3
Quality content is pivotal, but it has to be seen to work: effective distribution is equally important, and needs to be done thoughtfully and strategically to maximize engagement, impressions and return on ad spend (ROAS). The organic reach of social media marketing continues to decline on key platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, driving a push toward paid advertising and fewer, but higher-quality, pieces of content.4 A targeted social media campaign can improve reach while directly engaging consumers. Social listening (using tools to monitor digital conversations and feedback) provides important insight into consumer pain points and brand perceptions, allowing the brand the opportunity to make adjustments in real time, correct problems and build on successes.
Mint is a web-based personal finance tool that launched in 2007 and quickly gained a huge following through its offerings of high-quality, free content. Via a mix of well-written blog posts, attention-grabbing infographics and deeply informative guides, Mint leveraged digital marketing to stand out in a crowded niche. Most importantly, the brand beat out the competition through a combination of ease of use, valuable content and an excellent customer experience. Mint was sold to Intuit in 2009 for $170 million, an almost-overnight success story built through a thoughtful marketing strategy that combined high-quality digital content with strong brand differentiation.
Traditional Media in the Digital Age
Given the increasingly blurred line between work devices, leisure devices and points of exposure to brands, the media buying process has changed. Traditional RFPs, price negotiation and buying procedures have been supplanted by ad exchanges, agency trading desks and Demand Side Platforms (DSPs), which are third-party technology partners. These advances in technology allow campaigns to reach a single unique customer across multiple devices and screens, with content optimized for each platform and interface.
Big Data allows a campaign to reach target audiences at scale, leveraging contextual targeting, behavioral targeting and retargeting as well as custom audience modeling. Mobile audiences continue to grow and are often highly responsive to SMS messages, which are seen and read almost immediately. Use these sparingly, as too many can become intrusive and generate negative brand perceptions. In-app notifications can also be extremely effective when done right, leading to high increases in conversion rates while also producing huge amounts of data that allow you to tailor your message to each customer segment.5Mobile also allows for location-based marketing; geographical signals should be tracked to inform your broader campaign strategy.
Video ads continue to be a more traditional method of advertising, but they are getting shorter and shorter. Pre-roll is now often 6 seconds, while mid-roll can lose eyeballs and attention. Be creative with video to capture attention immediately, delivering the message at the outset rather than building toward a larger climax. Offer additional supporting content after the initial payoff for those who remain engaged. One rising trend is using insta- and snap-stories that display static pictures in sequence to communicate the brand message. These should be stacked so that the message lands immediately, while allowing consumers the option to further engage with the brand story via additional content and opportunities. Digital radio buys and video ads on streaming services should be designed to support other forms of digital marketing, increasing reach, building the brand message and providing valuable data and performance metrics.
Email marketing remains a cost-effective and reliable marketing channel when executed thoughtfully with careful segmentation and personalization. With a high-quality contact list, you can aim for close to 100% delivery rates and each message can be personalized on a granular level. Users tend to engage with email when they are ready to act; they can return to it when they need it, and often do. The reach of email remains unparalleled; even with the proliferation of social media, there are 3x more email accounts than Facebook and Twitter profiles combined. However, email lists need to be purchased or built, and they require regular maintenance as users change addresses and unsubscribe. Be sparing in your use of email for retargeting to avoid oversaturation; focus instead on cart abandonment and interrupted or incomplete conversions rather than less-committed forms of engagement.
The most effective digital marketing involves the integration of a number of different tactics including SEO, social media, email marketing and beyond. Interact with your consumer base through social media in order to gain insight into brand perception and build brand loyalty. Timing is central; deploy direct response tactics when consumers are most likely to be shopping for your products, and ensure high visibility through SEO, SEM, native advertising and strong backlinks as well as content generation. Use email to effectively reach a wide range of users. Be careful with retargeting, deploying it only when consumers have clicked through but failed to convert; overuse will lead to consumers simply ignoring the message.
More traditional forms of video and radio messaging provide strong support to other approaches, with a particular focus on mobile optimization and integration with other efforts. Take advantage of metrics to refine your targeting and messaging, both to improve the user experience and to extend your reach and drive engagement. Be sure to plan your digital media strategy carefully from the outset rather than working backwards and infusing digital into an existing approach. Connect your digital marketing goals to your overall business objectives to help build toward clear success.
Watson, IBM’s AI technology, is transforming how businesses use data. Unlike other supercomputers, Watson thinks more like a human and can distinguish between different kinds of data to offer smart solutions on both macro- and micro-levels. The Watson chatbot offers a new kind of digital marketing opportunity that allows customers to get answers in real time as they navigate the purchase journey. Along the way, Watson offers information and gathers data to help companies change their practices to improve the experience. Watson stands out as a tool that can help companies and consumers alike make more informed decisions.
AI and Big Data for business are significant growing trends, offering both analysis of data and interactive marketing tools/chatbots that can answer consumer questions online in real time, while generating additional data for further targeting and message personalization. Personalization is increasingly important, as is integrating branding into the consumer’s experiences through content marketing, blogging, native advertising and in-app messaging.6
As always, keep the quality of content high and constantly work to increase your brand equity so that as you extend your reach through digital marketing, you remain top of your consumer’s mind with a strong and consistent brand promise and user experience.
- George Westerman, “Your Company Doesn’t Need a Digital Strategy,” MIT Sloan Management Review, October 25, 2017.
- Mark Ritson, “Wetherspoons ditching social media is brand leadership at its best,” Marketing Week, April 17, 2018.
- Keith A. Quesenberry, “The Basic Social Media Mistakes Companies Still Make,” Harvard Business Review, January 2, 2018.
- Sophia Bernazzani, “The Decline of Organic Facebook Reach & How to Adjust to the Algorithm,” Hubspot, https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/facebook-organic-reach-declining
- Antoine Sakho, “Designing Push Notifications that Don’t Suck,” Medium, https://medium.com/@antoinesakho/designing-push-notifications-that-dont-suck-af6aaa0ea85
- Nidhi Dave, “11 Digital Marketing Trends You Can No Longer Ignore in 2018,” Single Grain: Where Growth Matters, https://www.singlegrain.com/digital-marketing/11-digital-marketing-trends-you-can-no-longer-ignore-in-2018/
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