Digital marketing is any marketing effort that uses either an electronic device or the internet. The rise of the smartphone definitely helped, but audiences have been shifting their attention to digital spaces since the internet became something we couldn’t quite live without.
Digital marketing is important for today’s businesses for two reasons:
- Digital is where your audience is. Where radio and local penny pincher advertising worked wonders in years past, digital channels work today. The vast majority of buyer journeys begin at the search engine. That’s all you really need to know.
- Digital makes measuring ROI easier than traditional channels. Reporting on ROI for ad spend across radio, television, and busy highway billboards was a fool’s errand. Not to say brands couldn’t generally gauge success. Digital just offers a clearer window into the data that shows where every campaign dollar goes.
That data is important, but it’s also what makes digital marketing so daunting—for beginners and seasoned veterans alike. It’s an entire universe of marketing concepts and channels. Of campaigns and programs. Some fundamental digital marketing channels include:
- Search Engine Optimization
- Content Marketing
- Email Marketing
- Social Media Marketing
- Pay Per Click (PPC)
- App Store Advertising
- Email Marketing
- Sponsored Content
There are dozens more, each coloring the experience consumers have across their online touchpoints. Sophisticated digital marketing programs find audiences everywhere they go—from email inboxes to social channels to news publications to bingeable streaming networks du jour.
But just because these various avenues and channels exist doesn’t mean you should double down your marketing efforts there just yet. Can you reach your audience on this channel? Do you have a strategy in place? Do you have the bandwidth to do this well?
If you’re thinking about building out or refining your brand’s digital strategy, there are three areas where you should start (and some takeaways for each)—content marketing, email, and social media. Consider this the first few stops of your Digital Marketing 101 journey.
Content marketing means playing the long game
Content marketing is strategically creating and distributing valuable and relevant content to a targeted audience to get them to do something. But it’s more of a conversation than a monologue—effective content marketing shares what the audience wants to read, not what the brand wants to brag about.
Content marketing was a thing even before our eyes became glued to pixelated screens. John Deere launched a magazine, The Furrow, in 1885 to share advice to their audience: farmers researching ways to build better and more profitable farming businesses. Instead of throwing ads around—which they absolutely could have—the magazine shared tips and stories. It became a huge hit. (And it’s still around today.)
The Furrow is a great example of the extended power of content marketing. With the right amount of care and attention, your content marketing efforts can also flourish with long-lasting impact.
The mediums have largely evolved, with brands trading real estate on paper for real estate on screens. But content marketing today still aims to do three primary things:
- Start a conversation. Treat your audience like they’re humans—no matter how enticing it is to suck up to search engines. Content creation should be targeted and ultimately meet people where they are, providing them value at every touchpoint in their journey.
- Build trust. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Create content that adds value for your audience, while subtly letting them know who you are and why you’re on this journey with them.
- Inspire action. Great, you’ve made them land on your page. Now what? Craft messaging for unique segments, delivering value and motivating them to make a decision.
And here’s the kicker: Investing in content marketing reduces costs for your organization. Compared to other types of marketing, content marketing costs 62% less and generates about three times as many leads.
That bang for the buck frees you up to experiment with content distribution—especially via paid and syndicated channels. Use content marketing across digital touchpoints to educate your buyers and pique their interest. Why?
Nurturing your audience turns them into buyers. Leverage email and retargeting strategies to keep your database engaged. Think beyond awareness campaigns and lead generation to motivating real action.
Email’s not dead (if you think beyond the monolith)
In every good superhero film, you’ll know you’re in the final act because the protagonist claws up from their lowest point to win something back: their pride, their partner, the peace of the planet.
Contrary to popular belief, email marketing isn’t dead just yet. Digital noise and sexy communication platforms have threatened email’s visibility (not to mention its viability). But the numbers don’t lie:
- Pretty much everyone’s using it. More than 90% of people over the age of 15 use email regularly.
- It’s gonna get delivered, rain or shine. Emails reach 85% of inboxes you send them to.
- It crushes social engagement. The overall engagement rate for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter is a hair under 0.6%. Emails? The average open rate is 22.86%, and the average click-through rate is 3.71%.
What marketers must be wary of is keeping users engaged enough to keep them from unsubscribing. How do you do that?
Segment, segment, segment. Your audience is not a monolith. If you dig into the data enough, you’ll start seeing where members of your audience overlap and where they diverge. There are distinct persona considerations, and segmenting your audience lets you understand what (and how) you need to communicate to each group.
Make your emails matter. Once you have the segments, move on to the communication strategy. Carve out the right messaging for the right groups. What matters to each segment? What will motivate them to open, click, and stay tuned? How many emojis are too many?
The more resonant your messaging is, the more likely they’ll engage—and the more likely they’ll stay subscribed.
Test everything. A major feature of any digital marketing plan is all the available data that enables you to learn and iterate flexibly. For emails, run A/B tests to learn even more about your segments’ tendencies and how best to cater to them. Is only one segment really opening emails with emoji-laden subject lines? Is the dark blue button getting more clicks than the dark red button?
Email isn’t dead yet—it’s alive and thriving. It’s up to marketers to use the power of email marketing metrics to their advantage.
Social media works (when there’s a plan)
With organic posts, the world is your oyster—just know how to use each channel to showcase what your brand is about:
- LinkedIn keeps things professional. This is primarily where job seekers go, so your content should showcase the brand’s purpose and make people want to explore joining forces with you.
- Instagram and TikTok are hip. Typically appealing to younger audiences, but don’t write them off entirely. Learn a thing or two from financial brands—they’ve learned the value of reaching these future users with interactive content experiences that build awareness over time.
- Twitter is fleeting but powerful. The average half-life of a tweet is 24 minutes, so there’s definitely a risk of blink-and-it’s-gone. But Twitter is also where users typically go to get their news and industry updates. Staying connected on Twitter means staying in front of industry news and updates.
- Facebook is still where everybody goes. There are entire documentaries and films on how powerful Facebook is. With over 2.7 billion monthly active users across the globe, it’s got the kind of reach and power a lot of nations wish they had. Use Facebook to stay top of mind with broader audiences.
But organic social campaigns only go so far. When should we promote something we shared? How do we put this piece of content in front of more eyeballs?
These are questions answered by paid social media.
Paid social is a superpower (if you know how to use it)
If you’ve ever put vegan marshmallows in your Amazon shopping cart and then wandered away from the browser tab, you’ve probably seen ads for vegan marshmallows pop up when you were scrolling The New York Times the next day.
In some ways, it feels like the internet is spying on us. Marketers know, however, this is just an example of clever digital marketing. Today, social media channels aren’t just meant for organic social posts. They’re also an avenue for reaching users through paid campaigns.
Unlike email marketing and organic social, paid social campaigns require—duh—paying for it. But the possibilities are endless:
- Meet users where they are. Keep your brand top-of-mind to build awareness or reinforce authority by showing up in ads as they scroll through their social feeds.
- Pop up across the digital journey to reinforce something. The aforementioned abandoned shopping cart example is one way brands can use ads to retarget users. Maybe they were close to buying. Maybe they visited a product or pricing page. Reinforce the action or your brand with ads that follow specific users around online to bring them back into your orbit.
There are plenty of channels to distribute your ad spend across—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn would each like to have a word—but remember to think strategically for the optimal ROI.
There’s one other thing to keep in mind:
Create consistent experiences. Beyond the obvious recommendation to be consistent with branding and messaging, make sure the journey makes sense.
Your ad should look and feel like the landing page you send them to—and the white paper you eventually want them to download. Make it look like the blog post you want them to read. Include the product or message they were already looking at. Make the consistency a positive experience—customers spend 140% more if the journey is worthwhile.
When used strategically, paid marketing can be a useful cog in any digital marketing machine. But the fine line between convincing and confusing is a thin one.
Expand your horizons
It’s important to start with digital marketing basics. Email, paid advertising, and content marketing are great avenues to begin building out your marketing stack.
As audiences move deeper into digital spaces—as we all begin engaging with newer channels on faster devices—brands are in a unique position to keep conversations alive. Beyond the storefront and the website, marketers are beginning to create seamless experiences that turn anonymous users into real-life buyers and ambassadors.
Digital marketing is complex, but it isn’t rocket science—think about where your audience is and meet them there. And with the digital universe constantly expanding, find how you can meet them everywhere.