Problem: I successfully took action to make our business more visible online. We have social media accounts, an updated website and have even experimented with pay-per-click advertising — but I can’t tell if it’s working! What is the secret to achieving growth through digital marketing?
No one uses the Yellow Pages anymore. That means if you have a business you must have a digital presence. The problem is that the digital landscape is more crowded than ever. This begs the question of whether your digital marketing efforts here are worth it.
Figure 1 represents a decision spectrum for digital marketing channels. If it appears a bit overwhelming, good. It is. The point is that unless you have a lot of money and/or a lot of time to invest in digital marketing, there are compromises that have to be made. The first thing a business owner needs to consider is why they are investing in digital assets beyond a clean, professional website.
At the most basic level, digital assets (website, social media, blog, etc.) are meant to enhance your business in three ways: 1) Grow a community, 2) grow brand awareness and 3) grow revenue. Each of these requires different tactics that should be aligned under a comprehensive digital marketing strategy that dovetails with your overall marketing strategy. Moreover, your digital marketing strategy must be built on an intimate understanding of your target market, their interests and what channels they use most.
Growing an online community is often the primary purpose of social media because it is easy to share content that both you and your customers produce. However, the trick here is that content has to be fresh, interesting, engaging and relevant, and support interactive two-way conversations. A good way to achieve that is through a content calendar. The content calendar maps daily and weekly topics, but leaves room for topical spontaneity. Asking your followers questions, encouraging feedback and conducting contests can also produce higher levels of commitment, but be sure to stay active or followers may wander to more intriguing content.
Growing a brand via digital marketing requires intentional focus on your brand’s personality. All the content you produce, whether it’s for an online text ad, a video, newsfeed, mission and vision statements, or something else represents your brand. Do you want to establish yourself as an expert in a certain area of your industry? Use an educational and informative approach that represents how serious you are about the integrity of your company and its offerings. Do you want to be entertaining? Use humor to capture attention and share what a great business you are for a fun and light-hearted customer experience. Regardless of your brand objectives, the point is to be aware of how your communication style and format influences what people perceive about your business and your brand.
Growing revenue means that you are able to translate your digital marketing efforts into paying customers. The focus has to be on finding authentic and meaningful ways to communicate the value you offer your customers in as many ways as you are able. This means you are thinking, planning, executing, measuring and making changes based on what you learn in the process. Here are a three action items to get your digital marketing efforts started:
1. Align your metrics with your goals from the beginning. Even the largest corporations with enormous digital footprints struggle to know what a Facebook “Like” is actually worth. In order to know if your goals are being met, you need to put some thought into what you’re trying to achieve and how you are going to measure the results. For example, the effort required to hold the interest of a few thousand Instagram followers is considerable. Make sure you’re thinking about how that investment converts to revenue and profits.
2. Don’t try everything at once. Be strategic, discerning and willing to try alternative tactics. The decision spectrum in Figure 1 is a starting point for pursuing customers in the digital landscape. Use whatever built-in analytics your platform provides to measure user behavior. Apply that learning through iterative changes in your approach with a particular set of channels, and then move on to other channels if your goals are not being met.
3. Be consistent and persist. One of the most difficult aspects of digital strategy is the misunderstanding that it will produce immediate bottom-line results. The internet is crowded, noisy and competitive. Search engines favor fresh content that attracts users, which involves consistently updated content, ads that consistently get clicks and websites that keep people engaged. This can only be achieved via a consistent, persistent approach that uses appropriate short, intermediate and long-term result metrics.
Martin Key is assistant professor of digital marketing strategy in the College of Business at UCCS. He is an ethics fellow with the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative and the author of multiple scholarly articles. He has been involved with a number of high-tech and digital startups as a strategic consultant and has helped small and medium-sized businesses transition into the digital landscape. Contact him at OPED@uccs.edu.