What is Digital Marketing: The Ultimate Guide

Last updated: 07-29-2019

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What is Digital Marketing: The Ultimate Guide

Customers are online throughout the day and they interact with each other and with brands across channels via multiple devices.That is why, brands are striving to have personalized conversations with users and enhance customer experiences. This makes digital marketing an indispensable tool in your marketing arsenal.

But what exactly is digital marketing? Due to the rapid growth of the field, the term digital marketing has become so vast and all-encompassing that it’s become difficult to say where marketing ends and where digital marketing begins.

In this article, we will cover all the essentials of digital marketing. We’ll start with the basics, understand how to devise a rock-solid digital marketing plan, the best practices to follow, common mistakes to avoid and what the future holds for this field.

“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.”

Digital marketing is a primary category of marketing that uses digital media to connect with customers and prospective, target audiences.

Digital marketing is a broad term that comprises websites, emails, social media, audio, video and everything digital under the sun.

“Marketing is not the art of finding clever ways to dispose of what you make. It is the art of creating genuine customer value.”

Graphical Representation of the 7 Areas of Digital Marketing

The digital marketing landscape largely consists of the following areas. Although the topics may sound familiar, they are extremely dynamic in nature, and therefore require you to constantly stay on top of trends.

Content marketing is a long-term strategy that focuses on the creation and distribution of content that is engaging, informative, entertaining and educational and that will ultimately help your potential prospects. To take this one step ahead, focus on creating a content experience.  

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving your website’s organic ranking on search engines through on-page and off-page optimization techniques to increase the traffic to your website.

Social media marketing is the process of creating and sharing content tailored for each social media platform to drive customer engagement through likes, comments, and shares. Major social media platforms include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat.

Email marketing is the method of sending commercial and promotional messages to multiple users (who have voluntarily signed-up to receive electronic communication from you) using an email builder.

Digital advertising is the practice of employing online avenues to deliver promotional content to users through various online channels.

Mobile marketing is a multi-channel strategy that aims to connect brands to their audiences through their smartphones or tablets via responsive websites, emails, social media, apps, etc.

Web analytics is the process of measuring, collecting, analyzing and reporting web data, user behavior and data to further optimize web experiences.

Learn More: The Skills You Need to Thrive in the Era of AI As a Marketer

“Mediocre marketers think in terms of campaigns. Great marketers think in terms of growth frameworks.”

Graphical Representation of the 5 Steps to Create Your Digital Marketing Strategy  

Digital marketing consists of multiple facets and therefore marketers have a tough time when it comes to devising a strategy. Most often, marketers prefer working on an individual channel strategy for email, content, social media, etc. While it’s good to have channel-specific strategies, a 360-degree macro strategy will help you create a sound digital marketing campaign.

What is the final goal you are trying to accomplish? Identifying this will help you set the course for the rest of the strategy. Here are some of the common marketing goals to inspire you:

By further quantifying the goals, you turn them into objectives. The SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) objective framework is an excellent way to quantify your goals. For example, are you trying to create brand awareness? You can apply the SMART framework to this goal and create your campaign objectives:

It is necessary to understand your target audience before you begin any activity. When you know their interests, traits and preferences, it becomes easy to prepare a plan. Crafting 2 to 3 prototypes of the buyer persona is a good place to start. You can develop the personas in the following ways:

Having buyer personas in place will help you prepare the brand narrative, messaging, marketing mediums and campaign ideas.

The aim of this step is not to duplicate your competitors’ ideas, but to understand the dynamics of the landscape. When you monitor your competitors, you’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t. By analyzing their activities, you’ll understand what keywords they’re ranking for on search engines, what type of content they’re churning out, which social media platforms they’re most active on and what their advertising strategy is.

Pro Tip: Competitor analysis is not a one-time thing. Keep monitoring your competition frequently to stay on top of trends.

This is the step where the rubber meets the road. Now that you have defined your goals and spent a significant amount of time in researching and analyzing your audience and competitors, it’s time to define the ways to meet your objectives.

Start by deciding on a marketing budget and allocating resources. Based on your goals and audience, identify channels that will help you meet your objectives.

For example, if your goal is to establish thought leadership in your niche, content marketing will help you get there. Start by devising a content marketing strategy by choosing topics that support your goal. The other marketing channels such as email and social media will act as complementary mediums helping you distribute your content.

Once the strategic planning is complete, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Start by implementing the tactics that you know will help you achieve your goals. Along the way, measure the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) periodically to make sure your initial strategies are performing and to ensure that you’re on track.

Your KPIs should be in line with your marketing goals. For example, if your goal is to establish thought leadership through content marketing, your KPIs would ideally include branded queries in the search engine, backlinks from industry publications, most viewed articles, etc.

Pro Tip: You may not succeed at your digital marketing strategy in one go. Therefore, it is advised to adopt the ‘Test and Persist’ mindset early in the process. If certain activities are not showing any results, feel free to stop pursuing them. Instead, try a new method to find what works best.

Learn More: What Comes First: Strategy or Technology?

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.”

Graphical Representation of the 5 Digital Marketing Best Practices

To truly succeed in your digital marketing endeavors, integrate the following best practices into your day-to-day activities.

Companies are prioritizing customer experience as their main differentiator. The key to excellent Customer Experience (CX) starts by adopting a customer-centric mindset. When drafting a campaign idea, instead of thinking “What’s in it for me?”, ask yourself “How can my customers benefit from this?” Your goal is to inform, educate or entertain your audience. Be empathetic towards your customers to connect with them. The real change begins from this step.

Another way to be customer-centric in your approach is to ride the wave of personalization. Deliver personalized marketing through targeted emails campaigns, product recommendations, and tailored social feeds by remarketing and retargeting.

Content is king! and while content has massive importance, marketers miss out on the other part of the phrase, that is, “Context is queen.”

When working on your content strategy, cultivate a thorough understanding of your buyers and the marketing funnel. Knowing and tracking these will help you create content that targets the right person at the right time in their buyer’s journey, which can make all the difference.

When practicing omnichannel marketing, customers can connect with you via email, social media, mobile apps or a brick-and-mortar store. Your aim with omnichannel marketing should be to deliver a seamless experience to your visitors and customers regardless of the platform or channel they’re on. To successfully do this, start by segmenting your audience based on their preferences, creating content that targets each segment, measure performance and modify your approach accordingly.

Your digital marketing strategy is not a set and forget document. To know how well you are performing with your activities, regularly review your strategy against your metrics.

This will allow you to evaluate whether you need to take any corrective measures or make changes in the strategy altogether.

To successfully execute your strategy, you need the right blend of creativity and a data-driven approach. Add in a dash of periodic assessments, and you’re all set!

An important part of the customer-centric mindset is to be where your audience is. Smartphones have become an integral part of our daily lives and that presents a huge opportunity for marketers. Customers check email, post status updates, view websites, watch videos and use apps – all on their mobile devices.

With so much potential, it is a huge opportunity to prioritize mobile marketing as a key pillar of your digital marketing strategy. Identify and tap into the channels that best fit your brand and strategy.

Learn More: Tips to Market Across Multiple Channels

“Innovation needs to be part of your culture. Consumers are transforming faster than we are, and if we don't catch up, we’re in trouble.”

Graphical Representation of the 5 Common Digital Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

Digital marketing is a dynamic field with a constantly changing landscape. Amidst this volatility, try and avoid the common pitfalls that we have listed here:

In an age in which it is possible to measure the impact of every single activity; many marketers still choose to completely disregard the data-driven approach. However, that’s not a good practice as you will never be able to ascertain the performance of your campaigns with that approach. You would see that sales are dwindling but you wouldn't be able to put a finger on the causes.

When you monitor analytics for each of your marketing efforts, you understand whether your strategy is working or not and make changes accordingly.

Each marketing channel is designed for different audiences and purposes. Even though you might essentially be speaking to the same audience on different channels, your audience approaches each channel differently.

You might design the same ads for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for a marketing campaign, but since each platform is different, it might fail to impress on one but work well on another. The same goes for the tone, design and format of the ad, as the User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) differs.

Content is a priority for you. Week after week, you churn out epic content. But then what? Crickets?

Distributing your content across different platforms and channels is as important as creating great content. You cannot wait for readers to magically find you one day. You must be proactive in reaching out to them. Content distribution lets you make your content visible and easily accessible to those looking for it and those who need it. Investing in a social media management tool to automate content sharing across your social media channels will be a great help.

Another mistake along similar lines is not prioritizing SEO. Not having an SEO strategy makes it difficult for users to find you. When drafting the content marketing plan, spend some time to come up with an SEO strategy as well that will help you reach out to a wider audience.

You cannot simply be content with your digital marketing efforts just yet. The act of optimization is a continuous process. It’s easy to stop a campaign if you notice that the results are suboptimal, but when you get to the core of the problem, you have the opportunity to find what’s not working and improve it to impact its performance.

A/B testing or split testing allows you to experiment to see which version works best. When you keep testing different aspects of your campaigns, eventually, you will zero in on the sweet spot where everything is well-optimized.

One of the easiest traps to fall into as a brand is to buy social media followers. This immediately sends negative signals to your audience. Many marketers spend their budget on buying social media followers instead of spending it wisely on targeting or promotional activities. Smart customers can easily see through it as the organic engagement rate of a bought audience is minuscule, and it could lead to genuine customers walking away from your brand.

Click farms are another fraudulent technique to stay away from. This is where for a low price, brands can click on ads or downloads on the app that increase the impressions and downloads. But major crackdowns on social platforms ensure these numbers take a fall every time an audit is done. Gaming the system can only take your brand so far.

Graphical Representation of the 5 Digital Marketing Trends for 2019

Let’s look at the top five digital marketing trends that you should adopt to stand out in the crowd of online campaigns.

According to HubSpot, 81 percent of brands use video as a marketing tool. The reason for this is the rise of video SEO. Your videos hosted on YouTube and other websites get listed on SERPs, which is why marketers are making video an important element of their content strategy. Since videos require passive attention for comprehension, compared to reading, their consumption has increased significantly.

Along with this, live videos, 360-degree videos and vertical videos are rapidly gaining prominence giving marketers new avenues to explore and be creative in their campaigns.

You’ve probably read the prediction that by 2020, 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches multiple times, to realize that voice search can no longer be ignored.

Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update promotes semantic search and since voice search is conversational, it is necessary that your website is optimized for voice.

The growing adoption of social messaging apps, chatbots and digital assistants has ensured that 2019 will be the year of conversational commerce. Conversational commerce is an AI-driven technology that lets customers interact with brands via chatbots or digital assistants.

Digital assistants are already capable of helping us find stores, restaurants, classes, recommend products and deals and assisting with e-commerce shopping. And as predicted by Gartner, 25 percent of customer service will be powered by chatbots by 2020. Marketers need to capitalize on this opportunity to outrun their competition.

We all turn to our phones when looking for something and this has caused a fundamental shift in consumer behavior. Google calls such instances micro-moments. A micro-moment signifies an intent-rich instance when a person checks their smartphone to know, go, buy or do something. Analyzing voice search and conversational commerce data will help you understand how crucial these micro-moments are for your brand.

Google suggests following these steps to deliver micro-moments:

The digital advertising industry is facing challenges such as ad fraud, ad blockers and customers becoming wary in the way they use the internet. This has made it challenging for advertisers to connect with their audiences. A great solution to this is native advertising — paid ads that are not intrusive and do not obstruct the user experience.

Native ads are primarily displayed in social media feeds or websites under the recommended posts section or in a way that blends into the site content.

Learn More: Marketing for Success in 2019: Four Trends to Watch

Let this be your base, as you start planning your digital marketing activities for the next year. If you are a complete beginner, start simple, and build your strategy gradually. As it is said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Remember that digital marketing is not a sprint. It is a marathon.

Also, do not forget to try out the test and persistmindset, it will give you an insightful perspective when you least expect it. Patiently try out each of these strategies, keeping the best practices we’ve mentioned in mind. Consistency is key.

All the best!

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