“Take a risk and keep testing, because what works today won’t work tomorrow, but what worked yesterday may work again.”
One of the most common questions around digital marketing is simply “where do I start?” Digital marketing continues to expand at a rapid pace, and if you haven’t been actively involved in the development of the space it can be quite overwhelming. Just look at Unbounce’s “Noob Guide to Online Marketing” to see how many different areas of focus are involved, or how individual sectors like social media continue to change every year.
Business owners and marketing directors are faced with a major challenge: how do you create a digital strategy without fully understanding all of the different tactics, channels, and online platforms? What if you dive into one of these and it is the wrong choice? You could spend months and thousands of dollars only to receive lackluster results.
But what if I told you that most companies that are struggling would have poor results no matter what channel they chose? It sounds crazy, but the truth is that many companies are jumping ahead of themselves. They are missing a vital and fundamental aspect of their digital marketing campaign: a digital foundation.
The Digital Foundation Pyramid
We can be quick to jump aboard the latest digital trend, thinking a new social media platform or a trending app is the answer to our problems. But if we look beneath the surface, the reality is that many marketing campaigns are being built on a house of cards. Once that new platform becomes saturated with competitors, or once budgets stop continually flowing into paid strategies, new business can dry up quickly. Then you are left back in the same place you were before you jumped in.
To avoid this scenario, your digital campaign must be built upon a strong foundation. Below is a diagram I call the Digital Foundation Pyramid, which shows how the base of your digital campaign is built on marketing fundamentals, not individual tactics. Each layer of this pyramid is only as strong as the layer beneath it. Failure to solidify one of the underlying layers can leave you struggling to see the impact you are expecting with your digital efforts.
The core of your digital campaign is first based on your brand as a whole. Your brand is the essence of your company: your identity, your personality, your voice, your culture, your presentation. It is how your organization speaks, moves, sounds, acts. Everything you say or do is a reflection of your brand, even if you are not intentionally doing so. I’m sure Comcast did not set out to become the most hated brand in America, but through their actions, they have done so.
If you are not clear on your brand, and cannot speak about those attributes described above, then your first step is to gain this clarity. You should have your brand written and documented, and should be shared with everyone on your team. If you had every employee talk about your company, there should be a lot of commonalities between the words used to describe it.
All of the digital channels and platforms we talk about on a daily basis: social media, email marketing, lead generation, SEO, Facebook, Instagram, Adwords, etc…those are all distribution channels. They are ways in which we distribute our company’s vision, message, and purpose. They are the world’s most powerful megaphones.
The problem is stepping up to the megaphone with nothing new to say. “We’re the best!”. “We have better customer service!”. “We have a solution for your problem!”. That type of message gets lost in the noise of everyone else because we all have our own megaphones.
Your message needs to be unique. It needs to make an impact on anyone that hears it, and it needs to make an emotional connection with them. As an example, read these two statements:
“A reliable managed IT provider for small and mid-sized businesses. We listen to our client’s needs, and pride ourselves with the top notch level of customer service we offer. All at an affordable price!”
“We realize that the community bank is under siege from an unprecedented volume of new regulation, ever increasing competition, thin profit margins, and an unusually hostile regulatory environment. Our singular mission is to ensure your institution does not become yet another statistical casualty of this environment.”
The first statement is very generic. It seems to target anyone and everyone and tries to differentiate based on quality, service, and price: three attributes that are rarely differentiators. It is not memorable, and in fact, you probably have forgotten what the first statement said entirely at this point. Unfortunately, this type of statement is very prevalent in competitive markets.
The second statement has much more impact. You may not be this company’s target demographic, but you have no doubt that they help community banks with compliance, security, and consultation. They provide managed IT services as well, and if you were the director of IT at a bank I guarantee you’d be calling this company before the former.
While your brand is who you are, your message is what you are saying, why you are saying it, and who you are saying it to. Your message is more than the one or two paragraphs scrawled out in your business plan. Your message is the position you take throughout various topics within your industry. What talking points do you touch upon regularly that are fundamental to your company? What isn’t being said that you feel should be said? What are your team members talking about on a daily basis? Those ideas, thoughts, and beliefs are all part of your unique message, and if properly organized and integrated into your strategy, can help define your position in the market in your customer’s eyes.
If you know who you are and what you want to say, now you need to say it. “Content” is any medium you use to get your message across and engage with your audience. It starts with the text and visuals on your website, but extends far from there. Blogs, whitepapers, videos, presentations, tweets, FAQ’s, emails, case studies and interviews are all examples of types of content. Check out this list of 105 types of content for an idea of the amount of opportunity there is to communicate your message.
Too many companies fall short at this point when determining a digital strategy. They have a website and are looking to start a digital campaign to generate new business. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a 10 page website talking about your services isn’t going to cut it. It worked in 2002, but today you need much more.
The problem is a website is only going to say so much, and is generally very inward focused. You need to be creating content around your message that is valuable to your customer and teaches them something about your industry. If you want someone to trust your company, you have to give them something first. The most cost effective way to do so is by sharing your knowledge. This is how we interact with companies in the modern age. We look for solutions, we explore, we ask questions, and we have 7-13 interactions with a company before making a decision. I can guarantee most people aren’t typing in your website domain 7 or more times.
Regardless of your digital strategy, you will need to develop solid, valuable, ongoing content that can be shared with the world. Whether it is social, advertising, or your sales reps physically handing over a piece of paper, content is necessary.
Distribution is how you get your content, your message, and your brand out to the world. This is finally where we are talking about the digital tactics and platforms. A few of the most popular digital channels of distribution are:
- Search Engine Optimization
- Search Engine Marketing (SEM/PPC)
- Display & Social Advertising
- Email Marketing
- Online Platforms (Social Media, Forums, etc.)
Earlier I mentioned the difficulty in choosing which platforms to target. Notice this choice doesn’t come until the fourth layer of your digital foundation. Without a defined brand, message, or content to distribute, these platforms become much less effective. This is why it is important to ensure you have the base layers of your digital marketing strategy in place prior to throw your budget haphazardly into these distribution channels.
The final stage of your Digital Foundation is to assess the impact of your campaign. Are you seeing more traffic to your site? Are they converting into new leads? And most importantly, is your campaign moving you forward towards your overarching business goals and objectives?
The primary benefit of digital marketing is the immense amount of data we can use to adjust our campaigns. It is important to continually assess, optimize, and adjust based on the results. Keep in mind when I say “adjust” I don’t mean the Distribution layer alone. The data is giving you insight into your customer’s behavior. Perhaps your content isn’t effective. Maybe your message isn’t refined, or isn’t resonating with your target audience. Or perhaps your brand could use some love. The point is data is a two-way communication tool: it shows the effect of your actions, and also tells you what you need to adjust.
Where Are You in Your Digital Journey?
If you have been considering starting your own digital campaign, or have had one in place but haven’t seen the results you were expecting, take a look at the foundation beneath that campaign. Do you have a written brand deck that you share with new members of your team? Have you refined your message to be clear and succinct? Have you built content around your brand and message that can be distributed to your target audience? By putting these fundamentals in place as the first step in your digital marketing journey, you will see far better results and have absolute clarity over your campaigns.