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What is digital marketing?

Every year the digital marketing world gets bigger, with more platforms, updates and technologies. Knowing how to get started and what to do can be confusing and overwhelming, so we’ve put together a handy guide to get you started.

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It’s important for businesses to understand all things digital

There are constant updates to Google’s algorithm, or new features being released on Instagram, or rising social media stars like TikTok that have grown quickly in popularity.

It’s important for businesses to learn how digital marketing can benefit your business and how to use digital marketing to communicate with your customers. 

If your customers are online and using digital tools to research, socialise, and shop then you need to be up to date with the latest information and use digital marketing to grow your business.  

We’ve put together a digital marketing guide full of expert information – you can download the handy guide or use the links below to jump to the sections you need. 

Download everything you need to know about digital marketing 

What is digital marketing

To understand digital marketing, you must first understand marketing – what it is and the value it can bring to your business.

In a nutshell, marketing is about understanding your customers, building a relationship with them and meeting their needs. Marketing is responsible for promoting your products and services from inception, such as market research and product development through to implementation, like advertising and social media. Marketing should be woven into the fabric of your business development to facilitate business growth and profitability.  

Outlining your business and marketing objectives, understanding your existing customers as well as your target market, target audience and target industry, for example who they are, how they socialise, how they behave, how they shop etc, is a vital first step in developing your marketing strategy. A marketing strategy is packed full of information that outlines what your company wants to achieve, how it’s going to achieve it and when. It should detail your audience, budget, competitors, SWOT analysis, the marketing mix, inbound and outbound marketing methods and tools or channels for communication.   

Digital marketing, or online marketing as it is commonly referred to, is an inbound marketing tactical approach that uses digital channels to communicate your marketing message, sell your products or research your customers. This could be via the internet or electronic devices like mobiles, tablets or computers. Digital channels include social media, SEO, email marketing, PPC, video marketing, influencer marketing etc.   

The role of digital marketing is to help your business communicate with your customers more effectively and help you to drive revenue and sales. It helps collect and analyse data and trends, understand your existing and potential customers and tailor targeted communication. Digital marketing should sit within your wider marketing strategy and complement your other marketing efforts. 

In truth digital marketing is really just marketing, and it should be an integral part of your business.

Why is digital marketing important for my business?

Many businesses mistakenly think that digital marketing isn’t relevant to them because they don’t sell products online. So why is digital marketing so important for every business?

Most people (including your existing and potential customers) operate online for all sorts of reasons. Over the last 20 years there has been a huge shift in businesses and consumers using digital channels, especially during 2020 when the pandemic forced lockdowns all over the world and people focused attention online to carry out day-to-day tasks like shopping and socialising. 

Businesses have realised that growth isn’t guaranteed and that a crisis can create opportunities to change and improve, by focusing on what customers want and how they buy. If a business does not have an online presence or is not utilising digital marketing channels, it is missing a huge opportunity to target customers and promote their products and services.  

The marketing rule of seven was developed in the 1930s and states that a potential customer must see a message at least seven times before they consider taking action – this was during a time where channels of communication were limited to traditional methods like TV and radio and there wasn’t as much competition to be heard. It can be argued that in today’s modern world there is more competition and many more channels of communication so that minimum number of seven might actually now be double that! Independent research has shown that a media mix that combines several channels is the most effective and efficient. That’s because customers spread their attention across multiple places; your customer might be an avid reader of magazines but also active on social media. Your media choices should reflect that, using both magazine advertising and digital advertising to ensure that your brand is present and visible wherever possible.  

When considering the marketing funnel, digital marketing is helpful at all stages but is especially strong at focusing on ‘bottom of the funnel’ buyers – that is, people who are actively searching for products or services and are very close to the point of purchase. This cannot be achieved with more passive media such as TV which is much stronger at conveying uniform, mass marketed and creative brand-based activity. 

Not only can digital marketing allow us to be targeted in our approach, but it allows businesses to have tight control over the budgets they use in advertising. It is also more measurable and has opened the doors to a world of customers who are active online through e-commerce. This allows bigger businesses to expand their distribution through online shopping and breaks down barriers to entry for small businesses who are starting their business journey online. 

When cash is king, it’s digital marketing that often serves as the best place to allocate budget to get immediate results. 

Is digital marketing suitable for my business?

Short answer, YES! Every business no matter how big or small, young or old should have an online presence. If your customers are online, then so should you be.

In the rare instance that you might be reading this and thinking that your target audience is of the older generation and more comfortable reading a newspaper than surfing the web, think about other audience segments that might find you online. For example, a care home’s main customer base might be 70+ but in how many scenarios do the younger family members find suitable care homes for their relatives? Or how many potential employees use the internet to find employment at that care home? Or even local businesses use Google to search for care homes that might benefit from their fundraising or volunteering efforts as part of their CSR initiatives? Always remember that your business might have several different audience segments that are useful to target, and a majority of those people go online for all sorts of reasons.     

B2B vs B2C 

Digital marketing should be used for both businesses-to-business and business-to-consumer organisations, but the tactics can differ slightly because the audience role and their needs are different.  

B2B marketing concentrates on delivering messages to a professional audience, the focus is to educate, develop relationships and generate valuable leads – it is often a longer process and more expensive; it can take anywhere between three and nine months to convert a lead into a sale. Digital marketing in this instance utilises content marketing for example websites that offer downloadable guides or case studies, or developing connections on LinkedIn for example.  

B2C digital marketing is more fast paced and emotional, appealing to an individual’s desires and entertaining with the intention of a quicker, transactional relationship. The B2C sales cycle can be as short as just a few minutes! This involves building brand awareness at a large scale and using emotion to trigger a sale. Instagram, TikTok, customer reviews and videos work well for B2C communications. 

Some companies need both B2B and B2C communications, so different messages and different channels of communication should be mapped out in their digital marketing strategy.  

Benefits of digital marketing

We’ve outlined the best things about digital marketing below.

1. Digital marketing allows you to activate multiple strategies and utilise different types of content and media, all at the same time. 

One business might have various strategies outlined for very different objectives. For example, a manufacturer might need a strong B2B strategy to develop relationships with local suppliers and stakeholders but also need a strong B2C strategy if it is looking to sell its products direct to market. Digital marketing can activate different strategies and tactics, like SEO, social, email marketing, influencers, and use various content, like blogs, webinars, social posts, video, to achieve its goals. In today’s fast-faced digital world, video content should form part of your marketing strategy as it is proven to be more engaging.

2. Digital marketing can help you get to know your customers better  

Most of your customers are online. Online marketing is a great way to start to get to know your current customers, whether that’s sending out surveys or using targeted advertising. And combining the two can be done efficiently to get the best results. 

Using digital channels can help you communicate with your customers instantly. For example, an effective social media plan can encourage existing and potential customers to like, comment and share content that is relevant to them, helping you to stay in contact with your most likely customers. Independent studies have verified that most fans on social media are your heaviest buyers; they are your loyalists. Staying in touch with them, keeping them updated and providing information that meets their needs is a great way to make sure they keep coming back. 

3. Digital marketing can help you reach new customers  

Every day, billions of people go online to look for information, using search engines, social media, review sites, comparison sites, research archives, blogs etc. There are billions of pages of information available that answer these multiple search queries. Best places to eat near me? How to use TikTok for business? Gifts for couples? The queries are endless and the digital playing field is competitive, but you at least need to play the game to compete. 

Digital marketing has the potential to give you a global reach as well as a local reach. For example, a local chocolate shop located in a market town might also distribute products worldwide via online sales, using digital marketing, like Google Shopping ads, to increase its online visibility. However, it must also utilise local SEO and targeted ads to attract people locally to walk through its doors.  

Digital marketing gives your product or service the chance to appear to new customers conducting these searches. Not only that, but targeted Pay Per Click (PPC) ads, display and video adverts can also be used to target new customers. 

The reality is that businesses need to combine the need for customer retention with the need to constantly reach potential new customers. Evidence shows that reach and creative quality are the key components for profitable advertising, and that includes digital marketing channels too. 

4.Digital marketing can help you be more targeted in your marketing efforts  

Advertising online allows businesses to target its efforts more at people who are close to the point of purchase. Your adverts can be aimed at a specific audience and can deliver specifically targeted messages. PPC ads, social media ads and SEO can all be tailored to target your customer segments and meet their needs and wants. For example, this might be a factory wanting to run a recruitment campaign looking for factory floor workers of a certain age within a 30-mile radius of the factory.  

A good digital marketing plan will include testing methods to discover what content reaches your target audience and what gets them to buy or enquire. The research to identify your target audience and testing to fine tune your messages are an invaluable part of any digital marketing activity and can help inform other media, such as running a print ad. 

If you know something is creative and gets a response online because you’ve tested it, then maintaining that consistency in other media is prudent and makes the job far easier in the long run. 

5. Digital marketing supports the underdog 

In a traditional marketing landscape, larger companies have more budget to pay for television adverts, billboards, magazine adverts etc. These channels can be very expensive and don’t give smaller companies much of a chance to compete. 

However, in a digital landscape, smaller companies are able to compete on a more level playing field. Smaller businesses have to be nimbler and responsive, as budgets are not guaranteed. Digital marketing allows for small budgets to be tested and learnt from, without committing to risky and unexplored media options. 

If you run a small or young business it’s often best to start with digital marketing to capture the customers that are actively buying. People who are at the ‘bottom of the funnel’ are often the easiest to convert, and as revenues grow, a proportional percentage of that revenue should be committed to opening the funnel up and using other methods to create demand for your business. 

It has been shown in numerous studies that strong broad media complements targeted digital media, reducing costs and improving returns thanks to the improved brand metrics such as familiarity. 

6. Digital media is often more efficient than other media.  

As you now know, digital marketing campaigns can be more targeted and thus more efficient at driving return on investment (ROI). For the same reason, digital marketing is cheaper than traditional marketing methods, without the steep upfront costs of other media. Digital marketing campaigns are regularly reviewed and optimised depending on the results; for example, if social media ads are performing better than PPC ads then the budget can be redistributed to the better performing adverts. Or if the campaign is not working, it can be switched off and the budget can be saved. 

Continually reviewing data and tweaking your digital marketing to suit can take a lot of time, effort and focus, but it does give you the flexibility to make the most of your budgets. 

7. Digital marketing is more measurable 

Digital marketing campaigns give in-depth, specific results that can allow you to review the impact the campaign has had on engagement rate, website visitors and sales to name a few. When setting your objective, strategy and plan also note what metrics will be useful for you to record in order to achieve your objective. Digital marketing analytics can be viewed in real time helping you to quickly respond to changes and optimise future campaigns.  

Purpose of Digital Marketing

Like its parent, digital marketing is a broad catch-all phrase. However, in many cases people use the term digital marketing as synonymous with digital advertising. But in reality, it’s far broader than just advertising and can help you achieve many goals.

1. Market Research 

Market research has typically been extremely expensive and out of reach for many smaller businesses. In the past a company would need to contact a specialist company and then pay for a study. 

In today’s world, effective research can be implemented in-house. You can use website analytics to explore the data of visitors to your website, send out surveys to existing databases using emails, and organise interviews and focus groups in person or online. There are also thousands of reports available online from trusted sources that allow you to form a basis of understanding.  

The key is to always agree your objective first. One such example is comparing your web traffic against category generic search terms (such as “law firms near me”) as an indicator for overall market activity. In marketing, performance is relative. This means that if your web traffic is trending downwards or upwards with generic search traffic then it is likely that you are only growing or declining with market movements. This simple exercise can help you understand if it’s your efforts that are working, or not working, or if it’s the external influence of overall demand in your marketplace. 

2. Communication  

The key purpose for digital marketing is communication. Clear and consistent communication is vital for both internal and external communications in every business. All communication should have the aim of connecting with customers and encouraging a two-way conversation. A business might use email marketing or social media to communicate with new and potential customers but must ensure branding and key messages are consistent yet tweaked for each audience type and channel of communication. For example, communication shared on Instagram will read very differently to a news release.  

3. Advertising  

Advertising online is a large part of digital marketing activity performed by businesses; it can allow you to be targeted or have a broad reach by utilising relevant context in your advertising campaigns. The main benefit is the ability to stop and start spend, without the commitment to upfront costs that are required for other media. It also acts as a multiplier for other forms of media; there is no traditional vs digital advertising, in truth these work side by side. For example, a successful PR or radio campaign will be boosted by digital advertising that’s there when someone searches for the product or service. 

A simple analogy is of a man reading a newspaper on the bus. He sees an advertorial about a new restaurant opening in his area. He gets off the bus, forgetting about the story. When he gets home, he searches for places to eat, and there he sees an advert for the new restaurant, prompting his memory and nudging him towards this restaurant rather than its competitors. 

Although simple, this story illustrates the fact that all media are connected and that businesses should always find ways to connect the dots with effective marketing planning, using every resource they can afford to in creative and clever ways that appeal to their customers. 

4. Measurement 

There is a myth that digital marketing is better because it’s more measurable. The reality is that all marketing is measurable and always has been; the problem has always been with access to measurement systems. It is certainly true that digital marketing offers more metrics of measurement which can be accessed in real time, like website analytics or social media engagement rate. 

Large companies use complicated forms of measurement such as econometrics and marketing mix modelling to look at the sales impact of their efforts. Smaller businesses can use the principles of these forms of measurements with readily accessible and common software such as Excel, Google Data Studio and subscription data connectors to create marketing models and evaluation reports that create full picture views of their marketing. In recent years there has been a spotlight on ensuring that companies which specialise in analytics are compliant to privacy laws.

Types of digital marketing

Effective marketing uses a mix of paid, owned and earned media; paid media is what a company pays for eg PPC, owned media are the channels that a company controls eg social media, and earned is what you generate eg reviews.

The mix of paid, earned and owned media that a company uses in its strategy should be spread over traditional and digital marketing methods. Below are types of digital marketing that can be included in your strategy:   

1. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) 

Having a strong SEO strategy will improve your website’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP) ranking, which means your business has a better chance of being found organically when searching on Google or any other search engine. You will need to ensure your technical SEO, on-page SEO, off-page SEO (so a good digital PR strategy) and content are all addressed before you start to see real results. 

2. Digital PR 

Technically digital PR is part of off-page SEO. It is a tactic designed to build backlinks from high-domain authority news sites back to your website, thereby increasing the authority of your own domain. There are many benefits of digital PR; it is essentially a key tool to increase your reputation and drive traffic to your website and can include news releases that have been published on news sites, directory inclusions, mentions of your company on other websites (even unlinked) and writing a guest blog post on someone else’s website.  

3. Digital advertising  

Digital advertising encompasses: 

  • Paid search ads – Google and Bing listings with ‘Ad’ in front, found at the top and bottom of SERPs.  
  • Product listing ads – Google Shopping ads. 
  • Display ads – usually activated via Google Display Network or Facebook Audience Network.  
  • Traditionally visual banners or squares with minimal text and a call to action, seen at the top or to the side of websites. 
  • Responsive format includes a headline, image and text that adapts to suit opportunity or user. 
  • Retargeted is shown to a user who has previously viewed a particular product or service but has not yet taken action. 
  • Native ads do not look like adverts, they are more subtle and tailored to suit the existing content you might be reading. Another version of native ads is discovery ads, found on YouTube, Gmail and Google Discover – these are used to reach audiences ready to discover new products and services, people displaying high-intent behaviour.  
  • Affiliate ads – advertising on third-party websites to generate more traffic or leads. 
  • Video ads – showing video adverts either before, during or after a video stream or as a standalone advert. 

When creating your digital advertising campaign, you can do this via the individual platforms like Facebook or YouTube, or you can use a Demand-Side Platform (DSP) which automatically manages adverts across several networks at the same time. Top DSPs include Google and Amazon.  

4. Content marketing  

Content marketing is an excellent strategy to assert your authority and deliver expert knowledge in your area. It is used to engage and educate an audience by sharing content like guides, videos or podcasts. It could be a landscaping company that releases a ‘how to’ video which demonstrates the perfect way to cut your lawn.  

5. Email marketing  

A direct way for you to communicate with new and existing customers. This tactic requires a quality database of contacts that has been collected through various lead magnets e.g. newsletter subscribers, competition entrants, free quotes or samples etc. This data must be segmented in order for you to send targeted communications.  

Email marketing could be a company’s quarterly newsletter full of the latest news or a promotional email full of snappy calls to action and visual elements. Don’t forget that transactional emails are also an opportunity to provide key marketing messages or you could also utilise behavioural emails, for example requesting a product review, providing recommendations or birthday/anniversary renewals.   

6. Social media  

There are many social platforms out there and it is important to ensure you pick the right platform suited to your business, for example a B2B business might utilise LinkedIn and Twitter whereas a hairdressers might use Instagram and TikTok. Ensure that you have creative and engaging copy for both your organic and paid content – it helps to plan your campaigns and posts in advance and use a platform like Hootsuite to schedule your posts. You can also enlist the help of social influencers to promote your product or service – sometimes these agreements are in exchange for a free product, and some are paid depending on the requirements and influencer reach, although there is some debate as to the effectiveness of social influencers now. Social media is also often used to support a viral marketing campaign, for example using ‘TikTok made me buy it’ to promote the latest must-have product.  

7. Mobile marketing  

As the name suggests! Utilising mobile devices to deliver marketing messages via SMS and MMS text messages or advertising via apps and mobile optimised browser sites.  

A shining example

Shooting Star has completed many digital marketing campaigns but we’re particularly proud of our award-winning work with Team Ricky and Ryan.

Ricky Stevens and Ryan Charlwood are an F1 sidecar racing team and double British champions. We were approached in 2016 with the key goal of increasing their Twitter and Facebook following. In just eight months we managed to increase the combined social following from 686 to 7,648 – read the full case study.  

Get started with digital marketing

There are so many elements to consider when implementing a digital marketing strategy and plan. The key is to ensure it aligns with your wider marketing strategy and business goals. Implement your campaigns, measure, analyse, optimise and repeat!

A good place to start is to audit your current marketing activity and channels which will highlight any holes that need addressing before implementing a new campaign. For example, you might test your website and find the SEO is poor and in need of work which is essential to address before implementing a new paid search campaign – a PPC campaign will perform better with a good-performing website to back up the ad spend. Once you have completed your audit you can create your own strategy and plan which will map out your objectives and activity for the next six to 12 months.  

If you would like guidance on developing your marketing strategy or plan, or would like Shooting Star to lead on implementing a new marketing campaign, get in touch with our friendly team.  

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Article created on March 16, 2023