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5 Fundamentals of Digital Marketing

Digital Marketing Digital Marketing

Digital Marketing has been evolving for more than 25 years, but far too many brand managers are still lacking a strong and cohesive digital marketing plan that effectively connects their brands to potential consumers in a meaningful and trackable way. This is especially true for managers of many small and mid-sized brands who use various digital tools such as social media or email, but they do so with very little coordination. Indeed, there is a lot of money being thrown at digital marketing, a category that now dominates the world of advertising, but these efforts must be well-coordinated to enhance a brand’s digital footprint.

Non-GMO Project

To be fair, it does seem rather overwhelming, since there are so many tools, so many metrics and so many potential audiences to reach. It is not surprising then that most marketers are tempted to choose digital marketing methods that can deliver on a tactical level, with measurable results available immediately. One of the foundations of digital plan development is remembering that digital marketing is only a part of the overall strategic marketing plan, which includes all elements of marketing communication among many other areas of marketing strategy (product, price, place and promotion). As such, the digital component must fit in with the entire brand marketing strategy.

Steps for Successful Planning

So how do marketers create and execute an effective digital plan to enhance awareness, shape attitudes and drive revenue?

1. First, establish clear objectives for the digital marketing communication component, which ultimately must be tied to the most important overarching marketing objective—revenue. The plan must be based on the SMART objectives concept: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. For a new product, obviously the marketer is going to want to drive sales at a retail level. And so, two digital marketing objectives could emerge: first to drive awareness of this new product to move the consumer through the Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action stages of marketing communication; and second, to drive sales of the product at the retail level. But SMART objectives require actual numbers, and so the marketer must think in terms of using digital marketing tools to achieve these specific measurable objectives:

a. Increase brand awareness to x% in the digital space to drive people to the website or partner sites to learn more about the brand, the product and/or its ingredients. b. Increase sales by X percent using digital marketing channels to drive people to purchase either through a commerce-enabled website or directly in-store.

2. The next step is to identify the audiences to be reached through digital marketing mediums. Brands are not necessarily choosing new audience segments for digital marketing; rather, they are choosing to use digital marketing tools to better reach certain audience segments in the digital space. The key is to use the hyper-targeting tools available in digital marketing mediums to effectively connect with the audience segments they are purposely trying to reach. Let’s use the example of launching a new product in a test market. Digital marketing choices will be made in conjunction with where that test market is taking place. Let’s use Denver, CO and Austin, TX as key places to launch. Based on the audience segment data already being already used, marketers can do hyper-targeted marketing within certain digital media, like Facebook. If the product is for female GenXers who shop at natural food stores and who do yoga, marketers can choose these attributes within the Facebook Adbuilder, in addition to choosing Denver and Austin as the geographic locations. This means that the ad will be shown within Facebook (and on other digital networks) to people who are located in Denver and Austin and who also have these behaviors and interests (shopper of natural foods stores, people who take yoga classes, etc.) Facebook, and many other digital marketing mediums, have these very specific choices that allow marketers to reach very specific audiences and then track the audiences’ reactions to the digital communication.

3. The marketer must then select digital marketing media that are being used by a majority of those in your target audience. Digital marketing media for the sake of this example mean things like social media or email marketing. A note of caution, especially for small and mid-sized brands; do not choose all digital marketing tactics within a single digital medium! Many brands think that if they are not present on all options of a medium, then they are missing out on potential customers and revenue. But a brand is much more successful if marketers are thoughtful and strategic in using the best digital medium to reach a smaller audience but one that is much more likely to buy. For example, Tik Tok has a huge audience. But is it the right audience for a supplement that is mostly purchased by people over 50? Probably not. But might Tik Tok be useful for marketing a functional energy drink? Certainly, until it is eventually replaced by the next cool platform.

Ultimately, the marketer would want to consider how many GenXers and Millennials are using Tik Tok. We think of social media as being used by younger people, yet GenXers, who include people between 45 and 60 and are the largest demographic group on Facebook. Given this information, Facebook does makes sense for reaching this part of the target, but the younger Millennials are using Facebook as well, and they also have started using SnapChat and Tik Tok more frequently. In terms of social media as a digital marketing strategy, the digital tactics the marketer is likely to use are Facebook to reach both audiences and Tik Tok since it may be a good way to introduce a multi-functional product to a younger audience. And the marketer would be able to focus paid social ads specifically to people in the Denver and Austin Metro areas, which are the two launch cities. Pretty cool.

4. The next step in creating a plan is to determine the appropriate metrics that the marketer will use to evaluate success. Digital marketing channels tend to provide a huge amount of useful information, but the marketer must first decide what metrics should be tracked in connection with the initial digital marketing objectives. All other data gleaned from the campaigns will be helpful in making changes to the plan or future decisions.

If we look back to the two main objectives, increasing awareness in the digital space and driving sales online or in store, then the metrics to trace must connect with those objectives. Metrics will be different depending on the actual digital channel and tactic chosen. For example, brand awareness in the social media space is measured by views of a post, engagement (likes, shares, etc) with a post, clicks to more information on the post, and increases of followers of the brand. Conversions (inquiries that turn into sales) are tracked by the click-through rates (clicking on the post to the product page on the website) and the sales transaction online. The consumer may need to click to a product page on a retailer site like Whole Foods Markets and then make the purchase. But the marketer will also want to track the sales increase in the stores of the two launch cities (Denver and Austin) to confirm the level of success of the digital campaign. Increased foot traffic and in store sales are still traced back to digital campaigns, especially if that’s the only marketing being done.

5. In addition to writing the plan out in a simple word document, the digital marketing strategies and tactics should be mapped out on a timeline-based spreadsheet that includes a dashboard of the metrics you are tracking. Yes, there are other tools like HootSuite (social media management tool) or HubSpot (multiple digital marketing products platform with dashboard for management) but the smallest of brands can use Excel to create a map of planned digital marketing activities based on a timeline in connection with market launches.

So now that we have the framework for a digital marketing plan, what do we put into it? Digital Marketing is an umbrella term that encompasses both advertising and non-advertising strategies and tactics brands choose to employ in order to reach their audiences effectively. Brands need to focus on some elements of digital marketing first, such as the solid structure and design of their website, and then utilize digital advertising appropriately. We have outlined some major digital marketing strategies below that most brands use in one way or another to develop a cohesive digital marketing communications platform. One more note about digital advertising: advertising remains the cornerstone of successful marketing and digital advertising spending has overtaken traditional advertising in terms of spending: in 2022, digital ad spending represented 71.8 percent of the total ad spend (eMarketer). Digital advertising takes on many forms and is now offered across several mediums; for example, when a brand uses paid SEM, they are also offered the option of running digital banner ads across the Google network, which includes the websites of thousands of publishers.

Website Management and Search Engine Optimization

First and foremost is the website structure for the brand. A brand’s website is the “digital store front” and must be visually appealing as well as easy to navigate. Before marketers try to drive consumers to the website, the website must be in good order. A brand’s website must also be optimized for search engines so that the people who are interested in the brand or specific products can find the site. In connection with this, any form of digital marketing used should ultimately direct the consumer back to the site, and so the site has to deliver what the consumer expects.

If the marketer places a social media ad with an image of the product and a call to action to learn more, about it, then the link needs to take the consumer to exactly where they can learn more about this new product and where to find it. Website metrics help brands understand which pages people visit the most, exactly when they add things to carts and then leave, how long people stay on pages, and how often they visit the site, among others. These and other metrics help brands make better decisions about how the website retains consumers and promotes the products.

Content Marketing

Once the website structure is in place, it’s time to focus on content. Content marketing is the art of using creative and well-placed content to connect with consumers about the brand and its products, and it helps the search engines drive traffic to the site. This includes the website itself as well as social media and other content to showcase products. Content could include a written blog about the condition a particular supplement is intended to address (or perhaps the ingredients themselves) with informative videos that might be of interest to the target audiences. Brand profiles on social media are also considered content as are any posts that the marketer would create and manage. Paid content marketing would include paid social ads. Good content helps brands rank higher in organic searches on search engines. Content is measured by consumption; how many people visited and read a blog, how many videos were watched, how many people completed a form to “learn more” after reading about a new product.

Social Media: Using social media to reach targeted audiences is certainly an important component of any digital marketing strategy. Not only should the brand marketer tie these relatively inexpensive efforts in with advertising and other marketing communication activities, but a brand should use a limited number of platforms that make sense for reaching the target audiences. Social media is also a part of an overarching content marketing strategy, and messaging should come from the overall brand strategy, and not left solely to inexperienced recent college graduates, influencers and brand ambassadors. It’s easy to lose control of the brand’s messaging in the social media space.

Paid social media advertising can be a really important communication choice for brands as well. Social media ads are considered standard digital advertising and are an affordable way for brands of sizes with varying budgets to reach their target audiences online through hyper-targeting. Paid social ads are also a way that brands can maintain control of their messages and get those managed messages to the right people at the right time.

In addition to a branding function, social media can also be used to direct consumers to the retailers carrying the products. The marketer may wish to share in the cost of paid social ads with a retailer like Whole Foods or Sprouts to drive people to product pages on their websites; or, the marketer might use paid social ads to deliver people to the website where they may access content directly from the branded product marketer. Social media metrics include views of the posts, engagement (likes, etc.), if a brand gains followers, if posts are shared, and of course, clicks back to the product page on a website (or some other call to action).

Search Engine Marketing (SEM): For nutritional supplements, search engine marketing can grab the attention of people who may be using Google, Bing or some other search engine to discover solutions to meet their condition-specific or overall wellness needs. A creative headline or even an image ad (which appear at the top of search results) can quickly get the attention of relevant consumers, especially if it is a brand-new product that no one has heard of yet.

SEM is generally good for three things:

1. Increasing brand/product awareness before and during the launch phase,

2. Making a brand/product available in a transactional moment (think car accident attorneys), and

3. Protecting a competitive search landscape (Sprouts buying certain key words to appear higher than Whole Foods in searches).

If the product is “new to the world” as opposed to “new to the brand’s product mix,” SEM could be good for driving people to the site to learn more about it, especially if they can get in front of people who have specifically searched for ways to address their health concerns. Clicks on SEM ads are the most tracked metric, and so marketers tend to follow what happens on the website from the SEM click.

Email Marketing: Like traditional “snail” mail, email marketing communications are here to stay. Marketing communications media may lose popularity over time, but they never really disappear entirely. Once a brand captures the interest of the consumer (and perhaps even an email address), email can be used inexpensively to communicate with consumers and potential consumers in perpetuity. Brand marketers can build unique email campaigns and also manage how much email communication they want to deliver. Email metrics are very detailed and allow brand marketers to see who opens email, send follow-up emails to remind consumers to open an email, send emails to encourage consumers to go back to the product page they were looking at yesterday, and track the reaction to all these triggers to see what really works and what leads to an actual sale. Email is also the most cost-effective digital marketing strategy, once the brand has your email address in the system.

Digital marketing has become a crucial component of any brand’s marketing strategy. Marketers develop a digital marketing plan as a subset of an overarching marketing plan. This communications platform allows marketers to use tools that can reach audiences who may not be easily accessible through more traditional marketing methods, or it can simply be a cost-effective way to introduce new products and communicate with customers as a complement to more traditional marketing strategies. It’s affordable, it’s efficient, and, like any other marketing effort, it’s effective if done well. NIE

Laurel Lane was a digital marketing professional and leader in the newspaper industry from 1998 until 2016, and then joined Metropolitan State University of Denver as a marketing lecturer, where she teaches digital marketing courses. Darrin Duber-Smith was president of Green Marketing Inc. from 2000-2016, was the recipient of two Wall Street Journal Awards and has been one of the most interviewed marketing experts in the U.S. since 2005. He has been senior lecturer at Metropolitan State University of Denver since 2003 and can be reached at ddubersm@msudenver.edu.