The Beginner’s Guide to Digital Marketing
Need I argue the necessity of digital marketing in 2022? Though I doubt there are few (if any) skeptics at this point, we need to market online because that’s where we can best reach our customers. For instance, when businesses consider adopting a new tool, they research the vendor’s website, customer reviews, and relevant content online first. On average, 67% of the B2B customer’s journey is now done digitally.
In the era of Web 2.0, you need to prepare some quality, problem-solving content to attract people to your site, nurture your relationship by sending them even more good content, and offer a seamless online experience that drives new sales and grows loyal customers.
Table of Contents
- What is digital marketing?
- A brief history of digital marketing
- Why is digital marketing important?
- What channels make up digital marketing?
- Which channel should you start with?
- What is the future of digital marketing?
What is digital marketing?
Digital marketing refers to the use of digital media and platforms to promote a brand. It’s an umbrella term for all digital methods, such as blogging and SEO, email newsletters, Google ads, Youtube commercials, webinars, and many more. What’s more, the success of these methods can all be tracked using martech (marketing technology), such as marketing automation or web analytics. Digital marketing can provide you with a wealth of data that can be used to guide your growth and better understand your target customers.
What is traditional marketing?
When we’re talking about “traditional marketing,” we mean anything that isn’t online. Analog methods like newspaper or magazine ads, billboards, snail mail, and even TV commercials and radio are considered traditional. Though these methods have been around for decades, they’ve taken a plunge in popularity the last few years.
To explain this decline, let’s group traditional and digital methods into two big categories: outbound and inbound. Outbound marketing, which is often synonymous with traditional, refers to “push” methods where you send an unsolicited message to customers. Meanwhile, inbound marketing is when consumers actively seek out your site or content, and then you only share more information or contact them after they have expressed clear interest. Inbound is associated with digital channels, in which emails are only sent to those who “opted-in” and subscribed, blogs are search-engine optimized so seekers of certain information can easily find it, and online ads are only targeted to a specific segment to whom it is relevant.
Outbound methods, like TV commercials or print ads, are limited in that they reach a broad, undefined audience. And people have already learned to tune out advertisements that are irrelevant to them. This is why choosing digital channels, which can be targeted to always reach the right people, often yield the best results.
The difference between B2B and B2C marketing
While B2C (business-to-consumer) marketing aims to endorse quick purchases more so than long-term customer relationships, much of the same digital methods are used in both B2B and B2C. Exceptions include more in-depth content such as whitepapers or webinars that you would rarely see in B2C, but are hugely effective in B2B business. On the other hand, influencer marketing is a common tactic in B2C, but not so in B2B (though a similar method could be guest blogging or having a thought leader join in your event).
*Note that this guide is primarily focused on digital marketing in the case of B2B.
A brief history of digital marketing
Digital marketing, as you might expect, emerged alongside the internet in the ‘90s. After Tim Berners-Lee and his team launched the World-Wide Web in 1991, and Netscape, the first successful browser was released in 1994, internet users shot up to 70 million within 2 years. Then came the major search engines Yahoo! (1994) and Google (1997), along with ecommerce sites Amazon (1994) and eBay (1995).
At the time, when Google was still unsaturated, even setting up the most basic website meant you’re likely to see a steady flow of visitors, and SEO tactics were limited to keyword stuffing, excessive tagging, and backlinks. Email also quickly became a tool for outbound messaging, thought of the same way as direct mail.
Social networking sites started cropping up in the early 2000s - Myspace being the first, shortly followed by Facebook. SNS offered a novel way for businesses to connect with customers more directly, and marketers quickly sniffed out the opportunity there.
With social media, people began sharing tons of personal data online, and it was (and still is) possible to harness this information to study consumer behavior, using analytics tools.
Why is digital marketing important?
The average person spends nearly 7 hours a day on the internet - that works out to be over 104 full days in a year, or nearly one third of our entire year! Clearly, the online sphere has become an integral part of our daily lives. Even from that reason alone, we cannot ignore it as an immensely useful medium for marketing to customers.
Aside from this, digital marketing provides you with a wealth of data. You can monitor the success of each individual campaign and make tweaks to ensure better results next time. And you’re able to gather valuable data on your customers when they visit your site or engage with your brand on social media. This information can give you a better grasp on their needs, interests, buying intent, and areas of your website/content that need improvement.
Also, online advertising enables you to target a more narrow customer segment. For example, Facebook advertising lets you get super specific and choose the industry, position, region, language, and even the interests of the users who’ll be shown your ad.
Overall, digital marketing is important because it’s where consumers spend a great portion of their time, it allows you to gather consumer data and measure campaign effectiveness, and it’s much easier to reach your specific target.
What main channels make up digital marketing?
1. Content marketing
Content marketing is the creation and distribution of useful content to attract new customers, drive sales, and continue nurturing the relationship post-sale. “Content” can refer to any media that shares information, like blogs, email newsletters, webpages, videos, whitepapers, infographics, social media posts, etc.
Why is content marketing important?
- Businesses with blogs acquire 67% more leads than those without (Profitwell 2018)
- 47% of buyers view 3-5 pieces of content before contacting a sales rep (Profitwell 2018)
- 95% of B2B buyers see content as a marker of trust when evaluating a business (Ziflow 2021)
One best practice of content marketing is to create everything for the customer. To write customer-centric content, you need to have empathy for the customer, understand what challenges they deal with on a day-to-day basis, and write helpful and enjoyable content that guides them to a solution.
When laying out your content strategy, you should also try to create different content for every phase of the customer journey and gently leads them to the next. The customer journey is generally broken down into the phases awareness, consideration, purchase, retention, and advocacy. As an example, you could publish helpful blogs on finance if you run a personal finance consultancy, and then attract those who have just become aware of their needs. Next, to help out people in the consideration phase, you could create a digital catalog of your different services, along with case studies highlighting your great results with past clients… and so on and so forth.
Resources to learn more:
- The Complete Guide to Website Content Creation
- Blogging for Business: How to Write a Successful Blog Post
- Introduction to Whitepaper Writing (Content Marketing Basics)
2. Search engine optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving your site and web content so that it ranks higher on SERPs (search engine result pages).Explained simply, you create content that focus around “keywords” - queries that your customers are likely to search on Google. For example, the keyword “digital marketing guide” could help you find this page you’re currently reading.
Note that SEO goes hand-in-hand with content marketing. They’re a set package. When you create content for your site, you need to consistently optimize for keywords, metatags, and follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. While the content does need to provide unique value on its own, you still always need to consider SEO because that determines whether your content gets in front of customers’ eyes in the first place.
As a forewarning, SEO is a long-term investment. You have to be patient and keep producing new content and updating old content until your pages finally start moving up to the front pages on Google. Google’s web crawlers consider a wide range of factors, from the E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) of an entire site, to the readability and overall user experience of individual pages. It could take 1-2 years before you start seeing major progress in search rankings, but it’s certainly worth the wait.
Resources to learn more:
- How to Use Google Trends for Keyword Research
- Google Maps Optimization: How to Rank Higher on Local Maps
- What is E-A-T and Why is it Important for SEO?
3. Email marketing
If you’re new to marketing, you might have your doubts about the relevance of email in 2022. However, research has shown email marketing as having the highest ROI out of all digital channels for 10 years in a row. The average is $36 back for every dollar invested, 40x more than social media ROI.
Email marketing isn’t limited to your basic newsletter, but can be used to share new products, campaigns, industry know-how, upcoming events, and more. Essentially, email marketing is your go-to method for distributing content and educating your customers, as keeping them engaged even post-sale.
Resources to learn more:
4. Social media marketing (+influencer marketing)
Social media marketing refers to the sharing of content, engaging with followers, and advertising on social platforms. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter are the most frequently used SNS for marketing.
Best practices in social media marketing:
- You don’t need to be posting on every social media site out there - especially if you’re a small business with limited resources. Identify which platforms your target customers are most engaged on, and then invest all your time on those couple of sites.
- Measure the right metrics. Exposure - how many people saw your post? CTR (click through rate) - how many people actually clicked and opened your content? Engagement - are people interacting and liking/commenting/sharing your posts? Set monthly goals for all of these metrics and aim to steadily improve your results.
- Keep tabs on the competition. See how they’re framing their message, what kind of content they share, how often - and while using the more successful brands as an example, search for areas where you could do better.
Resources to learn more:
5. Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising
Online advertising uses the Internet as a medium for delivering promotional messages to potential customers worldwide. There is a wide variety of online ads to explore from Google Ads to social media advertising on Facebook or Instagram, video ads on Youtube, native ads that blend into their environment, affiliate ads, and more.
Ads are usually monetized within a pay-per-click (PPC) framework, in which the advertiser has to pay only for every click they receive on the ad. Often, you can choose a limit for your campaign budget as well, so that you never go over, thus making online ads a safe investment.
Resources to learn more:
Which channel should you start with?
With the endless array of options, it can be hard to decide on which channel to invest in first. My recommendation is to choose based on your current business goals, target audience, and available resources.
Which of these reflects the primary goals in your business?
- Build brand awareness
- Build authority and trust with new customers
- Attract web traffic to your site
- Nurture your current leads
- Increase your following on social media
- Focus on closing sales efficiently as possible
… or perhaps something else? Discuss with your marketing and sales teams and determine your #1 marketing goal. Then you can choose the channel that best helps you accomplish this (e.g. focus on SEO and content creation if you want to attract traffic and build trust with customers).
Next, you can also conduct research and A/B testing to determine which channel your target customers prefer. Try distributing the same campaign over different advertising channels, sharing content on 3 different social media sites, and trying out email, while analyzing the engagement. However, if you have few leads or social media followers to begin with, simply search up which marketing channel your target demographic is most active on, and focus on that to begin with.
Lastly, of course, we’re all constricted by budget at the end of the day, so be practical. If you’re a startup and have just started SEO but are in dire need of exposure and web traffic, then consider inexpensive advertising methods. Keep in mind that certain marketing methods like whitepaper creation or blogging can take a big initial investment, but the ROI is significant if you think long term.
What is the future of digital marketing?
In 2022 and beyond, we can expect artificial intelligence (AI) to play an increasing role in data collection and analysis, providing customer service with chatbots, and even in creating marketing copy. For example, Chase used machine learning to turn their original ad “Access cash from the equity of your home,” into “It’s true- you can access cash from the equity in your home.” The latter was better received with customers.
Another big upcoming trend is augmented reality (AR), which you might’ve been introduced to when Zuckerberg changed Facebook’s name to “Metaverse.” AR allows you to offer a fresh, innovative experience to your customers and really get them engaged with your brand.
As far as content marketing goes, video is predicted to overtake other channels as the main form of digital media. From live-streams on Twitch to webinars on Zoom, the possibilities are endless in getting creative with video.