To answer the question, what is Digital Marketing? We should begin with the fundamentals, what is marketing? According to the American Marketing Association, Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, partners, and society at large.”
Well, that would be the complex definition. I’m somewhat comfortable with this definition. Marketing is the management science of creating a relationship with a business’s customers and ensuring that our products or services meet their desires. With the basics out of our way, let us now delve into Digital Marketing.
Digital marketing is marketing that takes place on digital platforms on both the internet and electronic devices. It entails the same process of creating a relationship with a business’s target customers and ensuring the services or products meet their needs and wants.
Please note, electronic devices don’t always include the use of the internet. Telephone marketing, which is a form of digital marketing, can take place without the use of the internet. However, the use of the internet must always include the use of electronic devices. For instance, email marketing entails the use of both internet connection and an internet-enabled device like a smartphone.
Digital Marketing is Inseparable From Technology
Technology is the skeleton of digital marketing; without which it will simply not work. It can very well be said that the first act of digital marketing happened in 1971 when Ray Tomlinson sent the world’s first email. Ushering in a technology revolution era where people can send and receive files from one machine to the other.
Then in the 80s, computer development advanced to include bigger memory storage, though very rudimentary compared to today’s standards. Even then, a single computer was not enough capacity to store customer information for most businesses. Companies began using online techniques like database marketing to track customers’ information in a bid to understand customer behavior better thus improve seller and buyer relationships.
That process was very manual and less efficient. Things improve in 1990, with the creation of the Archie search engine, which indexed FTP sites. It was in the 90s that the term Digital Marketing was first used. It was a time of an improved server/client architecture and the growing popularity of PCs (Personal Computers) in homesteads and across businesses.
There was an obvious need for better ways of managing customer information among marketers. Leading to a rise in business opportunities for software developers and vendors who started creating early versions of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications. As time went by, competition among software vendors grew, leading to improved CRMs with advanced features.
Widespread Internet Use and the Birth of Smartphones in the 2000s
By early 2000, PCs and internet use were fairly common across many households and businesses in America. People used them to access information on just about anything. So much information was available readily online, including consumer products.
It was around this time that Apple introduced the iPhone. An interesting trend began; people were searching for information on products and making purchasing decisions online, completely cutting out the services of the traditional salespersons in the chain of events leading to a purchase.
Social Media and Data-driven Marketing in the 2010s
By 2007, businesses had begun segmenting customers’ information based on demographics. Then launching informed marketing campaigns tailored for a given market segment. The period between 2010 to 2013 saw tremendous growth in the usage of internet-enabled devices by consumers, particularly mobile devices. These devices include laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
Digital marketing began to become sophisticated between the late 2000s and early 2010s as consumers in their masses began using the internet for various reasons. Ranging from entertainment, research, education, communications, and shopping among others.
Social media platforms like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn were a flurry of activities. Marketers had to come up with a multifaceted marketing strategy, ushering an era of sophisticated digital marketing across different digital platforms and devices.
Competition among the marketers grew even stiffer as they all fought for the attention of the same base of consumers. There was, therefore, a need to be as stand out above the rest, and new approaches such as non-linear marketing were born.
Marketing campaign became no longer a one-way communication, but a mutual dialogue and benefit-sharing between the buyer and seller. Digital platforms like blogospheres and social media platforms became ideal as they were easy to launch to just about anyone with an internet-enabled device and connection.
Exchanges between businesses and their customers became non-linear, with information flowing freely from one-to-many and on a one-on-one basis. Each party could quickly decimate information, share opinions and experiences about different topics. It was indeed, the era of information.
The Increasing Complexities of Getting Some Traction
Digital marketing, compared to traditional avenues of marketing like newspapers, billboards, and to some extent, electronic media like radios and TVs, is much easier to access. In a matter of minutes, you could open a Facebook Page, send out a Tweet, or compose an email.
If it is that easy for you, it might be easier for your competitor. Who might even have a faster and unmetered internet connection, top-notch web developers, graphic designers, and videographers ready to push out a rich multimedia marketing content.
There are also thousands of others more out there, and all of you are competing for the attention of the same customer base. On the other hand, the end consumer is feeling bombarded by advertisements left, right, and center. The information ‘overdose’ coupled with a short attention span (attention deficit), you find most consumers becoming numb to the conventional marketing campaigns.
Digital marketers must, therefore, strive to stand out, be unique and post attention-grabbing content. It is necessitating an out-of-the-box approach, a new line of strategies that will catch the attention of an audience feeling already too bored and perhaps frustrated with all the attempts online trying to sell them something.
Those strategies and developments must be mindful of the fact that the skeletal technology upon which digital marketing is riding on, is also fast-changing and always evolving. So what works now might not work tomorrow, and will certainly not work in the near future.
Digital Marketing Strategies
To ensure maximum return on investment (ROI), marketers had to optimize their marketing approach. Each campaign had to yield the maximum possible benefit to the business. It necessitated the need for new strategies and developments that better captures the attention of target customers. These new strategies entail:
- Market Segmentation: Grouping of consumers into various demographics such as sex, geographical location, gender, and age, among other things. Then creating marketing content tailored that will resonate well and be most relevant for each particular market
- Data-driven Strategies: The benefit of digital content consumption by consumers, both online and offline, is the fact that keeping track of that data is much easier — especially when compared to the traditional and analog platforms. Marketers have taken to study this data and using advanced analytical tools to come up with consumer behavior patterns.
These patterns can, therefore, inform a marketer on the best strategy to conduct a promotion campaign for a given set of consumers. These data can enable a business to position its services and products at the right time, place, and quantity that meets the prevailing consumer trend.
- Influencer Marketing: Digital platforms have given voice to the masses to such a scale the traditional methods could never. These days, just about anyone with an internet-enabled device and connection can disseminate information out into the masses. Leading to a huge following, thus commanding a vast audience.
Marketers have since identified an opportunity hinging on having the opinion leaders, thought shapers and celebrities within a given community to endorse their business or brand. These influential personalities often have huge followings on digital platforms such as vlogs, blogs, and other social media platforms.
- Collaborative Environment: As mentioned earlier, today’s businesses operate on a non-linear communication channel. The voices of both the buyer and seller get heard in an environment of free-flowing and freely shared information.
Businesses proactively seek out the opinion of customers about what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what they wished for on their product or brand. Marketers can then observe the customers’ feedback and design the company product or services to meet the desires of the customers.
Marketers refer to the customers generated data as User Generated Content (UGC), which they analyze, evaluate, and used in improving customer experience. UGC can be an in-expensive mode of advertising as it enables consumers to interact with a brand directly.
Digital Marketing Channels
Digital marketing can take place across multiple channels, and not all channels work all the time for all your marketing needs. It, therefore, follows that you must identify the channel where most of your target customers are for maximum ROI on your marketing endeavors.
Some of the common various digital marketing channels are as follows:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – A business needs to put its digital assets on the front line for consumers searching for information online. As you probably know, people turn to search engines first when searching for information online.
SEO is the process of optimizing a website to rank as high as possible on the search engine results pages (SERPs). There are three general ways to SEO:
- Technical SEO – This type of SEO looks at how your website backend is designed and developed. You need a website coded with modern-day standards. That means it needs to comply with current website security standards, be both mobile and desktop friendly. The images must be compressed to ensure fast page load times, and the CSS files must be optimized
On this front, there is a growing bad habit among some developers, who design websites to conform to the standards preferred by the popular browsers. Google Chrome is the biggest culprit for dictating how websites should be designed, as it takes the lion’s share (about 60%) of browser usage.
Ideally, websites should be designed to conform to the latest web development standards. That is standards that conform to established best practices as opposed to conforming to those standards desired by a specific browser.
- On-page SEO: A business needs to ensure all content existing on its website across all the web pages are search engine friendly. That is, they have been curated with the set best-practice standards with regards to the formula used by search engines to index information related to a given search keyword or phrases.
To achieve optimum on-page SEO, you start by searching the keywords and long-tail keywords for your product or service. Then establish their search volume and then incorporating the keywords (and long-tail keywords) to your website copy.
You need to achieve what marketing experts call high SEO ratings, and it is a lot more technical than just filling the site’s copy with keywords. Another on-page SEO trick is, answering questions by customers in your FAQ and encouraging them to leave comments on your website.
- Off-Page SEO: Some off-page activities can also improve a website’s SEO rankings. That includes getting inbound linking (also called backlinks) where another business’s website links back to your website. The more ‘authoritative’ the website linking back to yours, the higher your SEO ranking for your site.
Of course, the more such websites link back to your site, the better. You can solicit backlinking by networking with related businesses, publishers and doing guest posts on their site.
- Content Marketing – The act of creating content for your website and other digital assets and promoting them to get as many views as possible is what marketers refer to as content marketing. It goes a long way in creating brand awareness, generating leads, and traffic to your business. It can happen in any of the following methods:
- Blog Posts – Marketing best practices dictate that a website ought to have a blog posts section. Where you publish up-to-date information on your brand and customers’ interest. It is an ideal way to organically generate traffic to your website, start discussions and improve your SEO rankings.
- Infographics – People are overwhelmed with information online, making it an uphill task to capture and maintain their attention. Don’t make your audience read long blocks of texts with advanced words and jargon. They will be exhausted even before giving it a second glance. Instead, use graphs, pictures, and videos to communicate your message.
- E-books and Whitepapers – On subjects that you as a business are an authority, you can write educational content and publish as eBooks and whitepapers. Then avail it to your target audience in other platforms in exchange for monetary pay, exchange contact information, or call to action.
- Pay Per Click (PPC) – In this form of digital marketing, you pay publishers every time your ad banner on their site is clicked on. The most common kind of PPC marketing is Google Ads embedded on websites across the internet. Search engines can also display your website at the top of their search engine results pages (SERPs) when a user runs a search on a related keyword. You can also run PPC campaigns on social media in the form of sponsored ads on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn among other
- Social Media Marketing – The use of the various social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. – to market a business’ product or service. In entails well thought out and executed plans geared towards drawing in traffic from the social media platform and get their attention focused on our product or service with the intention of making a sale.
- Email Marketing – Compared to other forms of digital marketing, email marketing is said to be perhaps the most affordable; the marketer can quickly send out a message to a select pool of potential buyers. More often, these are the users who willingly signed up for email alerts, thus more likelihood of impressive results.
- Native Advertising – This is advertising led mostly led by a website’s non-paid content. It could be the blog posts where you describe a currently promotional campaign to persuade visitors to make a purchase.
- In-game Advertising – In this type of digital marketing, marketers liaises with video game developers to include products or brands within the gameplay. The products or brands will be displayed in the form of advertisement banner or subtle ways in billboards and other real-life advertisement simulations within the gameplay.
- Affiliate Marketing – This is a type of marketing where a business liaises with another external website to redirect traffic to its own website in a referral arrangement. The company then pays the external website for the traffic attributed to the referral program. Although, over the years, marketers have cast doubts over the genuine traffic that can be attributed to the referrals. The affiliates cannot reliably quantify the number of new customers they direct to businesses’ websites.
- Social Networking Platforms– People or businesses with the same interests tend to form a platform where they can connect and network with each other, sort of like a social club. In this age of digital information, these platforms are now formed online connecting parties with the same interests, backgrounds, and activities.
With regard to marketing, a business joining such a platform that has other businesses with similar interests. Two or more companies could achieve synergies in the form of one buying a product or a service from the other, and in turn, the other reciprocates.
- Online PR – This is the practice of soliciting online coverage for your products or services from independent publishers, bloggers, and reviewers. It is more or less what used to happen with traditional PR, except this time it is taking place online. There are various approaches, including:
- Independent Review – A past customer or an authority in a given subject may take it upon themselves to leave a review of your business. While in the old days, businesses used to ‘not touch’ the reviews, modern marketing management best practice dictates that whether good or bad, a business should give their feedback on the reviews. That serves to humanize the company and make it appear approachable.
Challenges of Digital Marketing
Digital technology and marketing experts believe that as long as new technology keeps getting invented. The capacity of digital marketing keeps increasing. According to a 2015 report by World Economics, marketing budgets for digital marketing are growing, while traditional media advertising, are declining. However, to ensure maximum ROI, a marketer must balance out the following:
- Display Click Ads – By their nature, click ads are a simple, fast and affordable form of display ads. However, a 2016 report released for the US market, showed click ads were only 0.10% effective. That means, out of a thousand visitors to a website, just one person will click the ad banner. Much of the ineffectiveness has been attributed to the fact click ads tend not to be relevant to the visitors. Though that has been improving with the use of data analytics from user online activities as captured by cookies among other tools.
- The Era of Mobile-first – Experts estimates that 64% of consumers in the US now access the internet or consume digital content from mobile devices, smartphones, and tablets. Regular use of desktop computers and laptops has declined significantly, and much of that can be attributed to the convenience of these mobile devices. Therefore, a digital marketer must optimize their ad campaign for viewing over these mobile devices.
Though, that by itself will not be enough. You must also understand the platforms where consumers spend much of their time. It has been established that mobile apps take up 50% of the user’s time while they are on their mobile devices. Of that time, 85% is spent on the top four most rated apps.
Mobile ads have been praised for being very effective due to the capability of a commercial taking up the entire screen. However, it must be approached carefully lest the user deems the ads too intrusive and ruining their experience of the given app.
- Unique Audiences Across the platforms – As we mentioned earlier, the number of digital marketing channels continues to increase with each new development in digital technology space. That is good news to the marketers on the surface, but how effective is each of these available platforms? Most of the cross-platform campaigns involve duplication of the marketing content and customizing them for the various channels.
You must avoid reaching out to the same audience across the different platforms, with precisely the same message fashioned in precisely the same way. The goal should be reaching out to different sets of audiences across the various segments with content tailored for the specific group.
- Content Viewability and Validity of the Traffic – Marketers need to substantiate the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. That include having the statistics on the impressions and engagements of the Ad content they put across the digital marketing platforms.
Thanks to technologies such as web browsers cookies, marketers can effectively establish the number of new visitors, how many have seen a particular ad thus need to be served with new ones, among other things. The accuracy of these statistics depends on technologies such as cookies on the browser.
Challenges arise when multiple users access the internet using the same browser on the same device, a user keeps deleting cookies, installed a VPN, or using proxy servers among others. These are just some of the things that make engagements and impressions statistics not completely reliable.
We have now covered the overview of digital marketing thus far. Let us now dig into the implementation. The first thing you want to do is understanding your target market, which will enable you to zero in to the target audience with relevant content.
Understanding the Market
You need to understand your target market, and marketers have been doing that by understanding the thought process of their target audience. The following is an example of steps towards understanding a market:
Ask Questions – Ask the potential consumers questions on their tastes and preferences. This step will help you establish what the market already has and the gaps which your product or service needs to fill. So work your way backward, understanding the demand in the market before embarking on the productions. As opposed to blindly producing, then trying to hard-sell the products to the market.
Empathize With customers’ feelings – Understanding the feelings that the consumers might be having; you can only do that after speaking directly to the consumers and get to understand the frustrations they might be facing and their desired improvements. Once you know their feelings, you can effectively address their desires.
Preempt Their Actions – So you know what the customers feel about their current basket of choice for products or services. Based on that, you can make an informed decision on what the consumer wants. Then design your product or service to fit those desires.
The good news is some of these tasks can be automated and have been made simple with technology such as Web Analytics. Predictive analytics uses data gathered to come up with projections on the changes in consumer trends.
The fundamental difference between digital marketing and traditional marketing is that the former exists on digital platforms on either or both the internet and electronic devices. The latter exists in pretty-much analog platforms such as print media and physical marketing.
Today’s marketers have more advantages compared to their earlier counterparts because of digital marketing. There are so many platforms for running your marketing campaigns and a wide array of strategies. It also cost less to deploy an online campaign compared to traditional methods.
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