David Ogilvy, the father of 20th-century advertising, once quipped, “if it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.” This same lesson can be applied to digital marketing today. Creativity strikes at the core of digital marketing and is the biggest challenge for small and big businesses when trying to generate sales. Put simply: digital marketing helps to improve sales.
After all, how does your brand even begin to be creative (needless to say, stand out) when you are still trying to figure out what the heck SEO really means? Throw in the hodgepodge constellations of digital marketing acronyms (e.g., PPC, CPM, ROAS, A/B testing), and you’re left spiraling toward a black hole of utter confusion.
Fear not, kind reader! This article will help you break down the basics of digital marketing in plain English. While you may not understand the market forces behind a dynamic ad-pricing auction, you will certainly understand the fundamentals of digital marketing enough to engage the experts. (Experts who, if we’re being honest, are really just adding fancy terms to explain the fundamentals).
What Is Digital Marketing?
At a very high level, digital marketing is just advertising but done online. We’ve all been subjected to advertising’s power to linger in your head long after the ad itself ends.
For example, that famous Superbowl commercial about the death and reincarnation of Mr. Peanuts may not get you to drop everything and go out to buy Planter’s peanuts. But it will certainly cement the Planters brand in your head when browsing the hundreds of snack options in the supermarket aisle.
This is especially important because the currency you’re seeking as a business owner in the age of digital marketing is ATTENTION.
In fact, the average American is subject to between 4,000-10,000 ads per day, whether they consciously recognize it or not. We all know that attention = sales–and sales make you happy!
However, gaining that attention is not easy in the hypercompetitive world of digital marketing.
You might as well be forgotten if you’re not on the first few pages of the Google search results. If you’re not using strategies like affiliate or email marketing, your leads may as well be dead ends.
Marketers often look at all these customer acquisition strategies as a marketing funnel, with the broadest strategy on top. Awareness (the broadest strategy and top of the funnel) eventually leads down to sales at the bottom.
Below, we’ll discuss some of the different types of digital marketing tactics and where they fall in this marketing funnel.
What Are Some Different Types of Digital Marketing?
If digital marketing helps to improve sales, let’s look at a few of the most effective types of digital marketing tactics you can employ for your business.
Search Engine Optimization
If you’ve ever used Google, you’re involved in search engine optimization. There are heaps of books written about Google’s search engine algorithm. But let’s not get lost in the technical weeds of the 200+ semantic signals Google employs when ranking search results. It is far better to have a high-level understanding of how Google works.
Google’s algorithm was inspired by the concept of citations in academic circles. If you wrote something good and your peers liked and referenced your writing, your research is deemed impactful and relevant, pushing it out to even more peers.
This is how Google works at its core. The more your website or content you feature on your website is deemed relevant, good, and unique by Google and Google’s users, the more likely Google is to recommend your page first to others searching for similar keywords.
However, ranking on Google is often more art than science. In the early days, you may have seen people try to game Google’s algorithm by jamming keywords into irrelevant articles. Long gone are those days. Google’s algorithm constantly evolves to bypass cheaters. After all, Google has a multibillion-dollar incentive to keep delivering relevant content to its users.
In practical terms, when engaging in SEO, you must produce high-quality, relevant, and consistent content that directly answers customers’ queries.
For example, if you made surfboards, you want to produce articles or content on your website or blog (or on other authoritative websites) that Google’s users enjoy and deem relevant. The more your brand shows up with relevant content when a user searches for “best surfboards” on Google, the more likely your surfboard brand will rank higher.
If SEO is all about the technical wizardry of getting your page to appear first in search engines, then content marketing is the man behind the curtain.
You may be able to manipulate page rankings, but you can’t fake good content.
Content marketing is anything that gets people talking about your brand, such as:
- Case studies
- Social media posts
Unlike direct advertising, content marketing isn’t about whacking the user over the head with your advertisements. Rather, it provides valuable, interesting, funny, or engaging (often organic) content that informs, delights, or surprises the customer. At the same time, it subtly references your brand or solution.
Often shortened to PPC, Pay-Per-Click is the advertising model often employed by major ad platforms such as Amazon, Instagram, Facebook, Google, or Tiktok. They use this method to run your digital marketing campaigns automatically.
These companies have incredibly sophisticated ad buying platforms that allow you to directly purchase advertising from them 24/7 with just a credit card today.
Pay-per-click is simply how these companies charge you. Every time someone clicks on the ad, you pay the company a set amount for that click. This amount can vary from 30 cents to a few dollars a click, depending on how lucrative your target audience is.
Unlike the first two examples above, email marketing is lower on the marketing funnel and is a direct way to generate customer interest beyond awareness. Customers who visit your brand page may sign up for a newsletter and give you their email in exchange for a 10% discount.
Email marketing is often seen as gold. Users trust and opt to receive emails from you. However, don’t abuse this trust. There’s a fine line between being delighted by your discount campaigns and being so annoyed they unsubscribe.
Tools such as Mailchimp and Constant Contact help you automate, schedule, and run more sophisticated email campaigns. These platforms base their strategy on prompts for when certain emails get sent out to which customer base.
Email digital marketing helps to improve sales because it often leads to the highest conversions. Surprisingly, it does so even more than display or video advertising.
Mobile marketing is exactly as it sounds: marketing for the smartphone. After all, statistics show that over 70% of the world now owns a smartphone.
In fact, many users don’t even own desktop computers. The majority of e-commerce transactions today are done on smartphones.
This means you should reach customers where they spend the most time: on their smartphones.
Mobile marketing can include anything from an app-driven or QR-code campaign.
Note: a QR code is a bar code that users can scan with their phone’s built-in feature to visit your campaign landing page or brand page.
Other examples of mobile marketing include SMS, location-based promotions, or social media contests using mobile devices.
Your content (blog, website) must be designed and optimized for mobile devices.
After all, why would you want to annoy most of your mobile customers by poorly designing a desktop page that looks like crumpled cakes on their mobile devices?
Affiliate marketing is basically you (the brand or seller) relying on someone else (usually an influencer or content creator) to promote your product on their own respective sites for a commission on the amount of traffic they direct to your brand or the number of sales they help you directly generate.
Amazon Affiliates, for example, is one of the biggest affiliate networks. Creators can sign up as an Amazon affiliate and pick from a list of available products to promote. Brands can reject affiliates that don’t speak to their brand’s story.
If there’s a match, the affiliate gets paid a commission every time someone visits Amazon and purchases products via a link generated by the affiliate partner. You’re happy because affiliates often have access to niche audiences that you normally do not have access to. This ultimately means more sales!
5 Common Barriers to Small Business Digital Marketing Success
All of the above marketing strategies work well for big businesses with big budgets who can hire people to do big things for them.
However, as a small business or brand owner, you’re left to your own devices to do everything, often with a limited budget!
This can be challenging for many reasons, the least of which are the many digital marketing barriers small businesses are more likely to encounter. Because effective digital marketing helps to improve sales and conversions, you’ll need to know the most common and critical barriers to watch out for.
1. Creating Consistent and Engaging Content
Developing consistently creative digital marketing helps to improve sales, but it’s no easy feat for a small business! In fact, creating content alone is a full-time job. Companies have entire marketing departments dedicated to doing this.
If you’re a small business, besides digital marketing, you’re almost certainly also handling inventory, sourcing products, human resources, and operations, among many other tasks!
An easy way to fix this is to outsource your digital marketing to a freelancer who can help you pump out high-quality content. Your mileage will vary, and you often get what you pay for with freelancers.
Another challenge you might face is deciding what to focus on: quality in-house and original content vs. paid generic content designed for advertising.
Our experience is that it’s often always better to produce high-quality content in-house, whether generated by you, your team, or your contracted freelancer.
High-quality, consistent, and organic content will remain on the web forever, while a paid advertising campaign will quickly end when the money runs out, which is often sooner than you may expect.
2. Generating Quality Leads and Driving Traffic
Another challenge you might face is getting quality leads that convert to purchases.
You might run a digital advertising campaign that gets a lot of interested people to click on your ads, but if people don’t actually buy, then the campaign is not very effective.
This is why segmentation in digital advertising is so important when generating quality leads and traffic.
For example, if you’re selling wedding dresses, it might make sense to only market in media that women visit, such as online bridal magazines or online fashion sites.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should artificially bias your segmentation. Let’s look at the above bridal example. If you owned a wedding dress business in Los Angeles, it would theoretically make sense for you to run a campaign on Facebook targeting unmarried women aged 25-65 living in the Los Angeles area who recently updated their Facebook profile status to “engaged.”
However, you may accidentally exclude the 65+ marriage segment, which actually saw weddings grow by 54% from 2009-2014. See how easily you can exclude a potentially lucrative segment without realizing it?
Digital marketing helps to improve the quality of the leads you’re getting, and the many available tools make targeting and segmentation for high-quality leads even easier. Experimenting to capture the best leads and drive high-quality traffic to your brand is important.
3. Getting To Know Your Target Audience
Another challenge with digital marketing is knowing your target audience. David Ogilvy, full of advertising quips, speaks to this when he said, “the customer is not a moron. She’s your wife.”
After all, how many of us truly understand our spouse’s preferences? Even though you live with them, do you actually know what brands they prefer? Are you aware of their motivation to buy one type of coconut-scented shampoo over the other? Does your spouse actually care about organic products (or are they only pretending to fit in)? Will a 20% discount convince them to buy more from one brand over another?
The great thing about digital marketing is you have a lot of data available at your fingertips. More data points = more informed decision making, which leads to capturing more sales. Take advantage of the data to truly understand your customers!
4. Sustaining Brand Uniformity Across Multiple Channels
Like point #1, not only is it difficult to be creative, it’s hard to maintain a high level of quality across multiple ad platforms and channels.
For example, Tiktok ads are shorter and vertical in dimension, while YouTube is not. Instagram requires postings of a certain pixel dimension, while Google has its own universe of rules. Twitter may work for big brands, but does it make sense for your small brand?
Without a system to produce content quickly and consistently, you’re often just scrapping things together and firing shots randomly.
Tools such as Canva can help you maintain a consistent brand identity without breaking the bank to hire a designer. Some brands will create a whole social media calendar and schedule content automatically to ensure consistency. A copywriting industry exists to help brands have a voice.
Does your brand have a consistent, authentic, and uniform voice and design aesthetic across miltiple platforms?
5. Optimizing Your Efforts for Mobile Devices
Mobile devices now account for most purchases made online, yet many brands still regard (to their detriment) mobile as secondary.
Optimizing for mobile is more than just resizing images to fit a smartphone screen. It’s also about creating a more enriching experience for the user.
Brands that take this seriously often create their own apps, allowing users to do more than what’s possible on a desktop (e.g., IKEA uses augmented reality on smart devices to place furniture in a virtual room).
If you’re a small business, investing in a mobile app may not make sense, but adapting your copywriting and design to be snappier and cleaner on mobile devices does make sense. These things require effort, but if you’re willing to invest in the work, the dividends will surely pay off.
We all understand that digital marketing helps to improve sales and reach wider audiences. However, there are many different digital marketing challenges, compounded by the fact that there are equally as many digital marketing platforms and solution providers.
It’s almost virtually impossible to be effective at EVERY digital marketing channel, so brands will often specialize and focus on a few platforms or channels which give them the most traction.
The fundamental goal of these tools and strategies is to produce creative, consistent, high-quality content. There’s a reason why content is always king. It works!
The next time you agonize over whether you should invest more in direct advertising, spend a little more time with the creativity and content.
Does your digital marketing material sound like every other copycat brand? Perhaps it’s time to reconsider and try a different approach.
If your brand works well with email marketing, capitalize on that channel. If SEOs are critical to your business, take the time to invest in producing content that directly answers the queries your customers are searching for on Google. Experiment with affiliates, and always have mobile in mind. Once you get big, make sure to automate content creation!
If you’ve enjoyed this article, comment below on the challenges or successes you’ve faced with running your digital marketing campaigns.
If you’re struggling with digital advertising or creating content for your brand, feel free to browse our other articles to learn more!
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