In a presentation for an international conference, I summarize core concepts for digital marketing success based on years of experience, a deep knowledge of marketing (I hold a Ph.D. in marketing and have taught for over 20 years), extensive and continued reading what experts have to say, and trial and error across dozens of clients.
Core concepts for digital marketing success
Above, you can view the entire presentation, although I warn you it’s a long one but well worth your time, especially if you’re a newbie to digital marketing strategy or currently find you don’t get the results you hoped from your digital marketing strategy. For those who prefer a more succinct version of the presentation, I included a Slideshare of the slides at the end of this post.
This post is a compendium of various tips built on concepts of digital marketing shared across this blog over several years. Hence, you’ll discover a discussion of my top tips for effective digital marketing as well as links to recommended reading on specific topics from my website as well as other leading authorities on concepts of digital marketing that deliver results to rock your marketing and grow your business. Here’s the agenda, from the presentation.
So, you choose which delivery method works best for you and your current needs. I encourage you to bookmark this post so you can return as your experience and needs change.
Without further ado, let’s move to our discussion of core concepts for digital marketing success.
What is digital marketing?
To understand concepts for digital marketing success, you must first understand what digital marketing is. First, let’s talk about what marketing is as a basis for understanding digital marketing.
Marketing is (according to the American Marketing Association (AMA):
Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.
Embedded within this definition is the notion of the 4 Ps, which is the guiding principle for marketing and, by extension, digital marketing, which is simply marketing based in digital spaces (ie. the internet, email) or on electronic devices (such as mobile and laptop computers but also beacons). Now, there’s a lot of discussion around the 4Ps and whether that’s the right construction of core concepts for marketing and you can see other constructions of the marketing construct.
While digital marketing and marketing, in general, share many core concepts for success, the tactics used for succeeding in the two platforms involve very different actions. I shared a comprehensive post outlining the differences between digital and traditional media in an earlier post.
Why invest in digital marketing?
Unless you lived under a rock for the last few years, you know the usage of digital marketing rose substantially, especially during the pandemic. It’s unclear whether trends observed during the pandemic, such as a dramatic decline in shopping in physical stores, people got used to the convenience of shopping online and we’ll likely never return to the days when brick-and-mortar stores dominated our shopping choice except for certain products such as clothing and shoes, which require consumers try the products before buying and grocery purchases. Here are some other clear reasons why you should invest in digital marketing.
Digital marketing is less expensive
Let’s harken back to the core concept for digital marketing, or any other form of marketing, success — reaching your target market with a message, product, and price that meets their needs. Reaching consumers who lack the need, money, authority, or desire for your product (products involve both tangible goods and services) is a waste of time, money, and other resources as you can’t sell these consumers regardless of how well you do your marketing. PERIOD.
So, how does the concept of target marketing impact cost, you might ask? The answer lies in the ability of digital strategies to laser focus on specific targets for your marketing efforts through operational aspects of digital platforms. Whether it’s advertising to a highly targeted group on online users or SEO (search engine optimization) tactics that bring the right users to your website by matching search intent, digital marketing reaches a much smaller, more valuable group of users versus traditional marketing efforts that reach a large group of consumers who don’t want or need your product. Since you pay for your marketing efforts based on reach, regardless of whether you reach appropriate consumers, digital marketing is less expensive.
The same is true for e-commerce, which is commonly much cheaper than building brick-and-mortar locations. Using third-party e-commerce options, such as Amazon and Facebook Marketplace, offer the ability to reach large markets without the expense of even operating your own e-commerce platform.
Not only is digital marketing less expensive, but it’s also highly effective in generating ROI (return on investment). For instance, as the graphic below shows, digital (and various digital strategies such as reviews) influence most buying decisions. Also note in this graphic the broad impact of marketing on purchase, including elements of place (distribution), product, and price.
As you can see in the video or Slideshare, other factors scream for digital marketing as a component of your marketing strategy, including:
- social media impacts 71% of purchase decisions
- 60% of users don’t trust a business lacking a website
- digital produces a high ROI of up to 4400% for email marketing
- businesses surveyed by emarketer report spending 60% of their advertising budget on digital
- spend on digital advertising increased by 10% per year
- average time spent on digital reached 4 hours/ day in 2021
Maybe the most critical advantage to using digital marketing is that you no longer have to guess about whether your strategy delivers, how much it delivers (ROI), or how to optimize your performance.
I come from the direct marketing world where analytics offered key insights for making strategic decisions. We even used direct marketing as a tool to guide the development of traditional marketing materials based on results from direct marketing campaigns.
I always stress to clients and students that no one has a crystal ball when it comes to determining the proper, best marketing efforts. For instance, I might offer insights based on prior experience to guide the development of your digital ad or message, but I can’t ensure that’s the BEST option. Only testing and evaluation offer insights to guide optimal performance. Traditional marketing strategies often lack this ability to provide insights.
For instance, I once had an executive from Walmart address the class. They use sales based on SKU (stock-keeping units) to inform reorder volume and other marketing decisions. However, there’s a lot of guessing involved as so many factors determine purchase volume so that forecasting based on this single number is suspect. With digital marketing, you can control for many of these variables such as product position in the e-store (since you only have 1 store location, not different locations in different stores), stockouts, price, sentiment, and other variables that impact purchase decisions.
Tools like R, applied to data, provide insights to evaluate current sentiment, for instance, as you see in the graphic below.
Next, we’ll turn our attention to the 6 key concepts for digital marketing success.
6 key concepts
Here are the 6 key concepts for digital marketing success:
- Website design
- Content marketing
- Email marketing
- Social media marketing
Note that none of these exist in a vacuum and they’re not like a Chinese menu where you can choose 1 from column A and 1 from column B. Instead, you must use ALL these tactics and integrate your efforts across them. This makes digital marketing very different from traditional marketing in that, with traditional marketing, you can choose campaigns using different channels and strategies independently, although you still must integrate across the channels used. Thus, you can’t just have a website and ignore SEO. SEO relies heavily on content marketing, so you can’t just do one or the other. You get the point, I hope. And, none of these work without analytics to guide your strategy based on insights gleaned from current performance.
So, let’s now move on to the various concepts for digital marketing success, taking them one at a time.
Website design is somewhat different from website development as the former concentrates on design elements of the website, while the latter focuses on the technical aspects including HTML/CSS and PHP coding. For today’s discussion, we’ll focus on design as this element represents a marketing focus while development involves an IT focus.
If you’ve never created a website before, I wrote a nice ebook (FREE) for building a website that walks you through the process step-by-step so you don’t need to hire a developer, designer, or learn to code. In fact, you can build your own website in an afternoon for about $150 and ongoing costs of about $100/ year.
Don’t fall for easy drag-and-drop website options such as WIX and Squarespace. It’s really hard to make them look unique or even attractive and their SEO sucks. Don’t just take my word for it. Every major SEO expert says the same thing. They also don’t offer great functionality or good analytics tools.
Customer journey mapping
A key concept within the website design domain deals with customer journey mapping. The concept underpinning journey mapping is that customers don’t just buy products, they proceed toward the purchase, consumption, and after-purchase evaluation in a series of steps. Often, this journey is depicted as a linear progression but the journey actually involves loops back to earlier steps, repeat journeys that look somewhat different depending on a variety of issues, and stalled journeys. If we just look at a linear customer journey, we find something like the diagram below.
To a certain extent, this looks much like AIDA (awareness, interest, decision, and action), which existed in marketing for a long time. However, the customer journey might look more like this in real life, especially when marketers don’t do a great job of managing the customer experience to ease the journey.
Obviously, this is a marketing failure. So, how do you do website design to optimize the customer journey?
The first step is to think like a customer, which often involves research to understand your customers better. This may require traditional market research or you might choose to get answers quickly and more accurately by listening on social media to understand how customers construct the journey and challenges they face along the path. Then, build a content strategy to deliver on the customer journey, with content designed for each step that involves addressing concerns and answering questions customers encounter at a specific stage. We’ll discuss the issue of which types of content deliver at which stages of the customer journey later when we discuss content marketing.
You need to consider a few key design elements as you build your website. Here’s a list of the most important design elements in no particular order:
- Logo, brand colors and fonts, as well as other designs that support your branding efforts
- Easy navigation so visitors can easily find whatever they’re looking for on your website without stumbling around. A search tool also makes it easy for visitors to find what they need. Most websites use a single navigation pane with several drop-downs within the pane. More complex sites offer additional navigation panes either on the left sidebar or the right sidebar. In line with navigation, sites containing a large number of options should use filtering tools that reduce the effort visitors must expend in finding the correct product. Again, think like a consumer to determine how they want to filter products rather than what’s easy.
- Visually appealing design including white space, images, and content that’s snackable. To ensure visual appeal, consider wireframing before developing the website, such as in the image below.
- Mobile friendly and updates to newest trends. We’ve all encountered websites from a different era that look like crap on a mobile device (and 68% of global traffic arrived via a mobile device; slightly lower at 61% of visitors in the US) or look like they were designed in 1985. Sliders are a give-away that the site hasn’t seen a designer in decades, as are elements such as Flash, which was deprecated last year.
- Ease of conversion, which benefits both visitors and website owners.
- Always ask for the sale using a CTA (call to action) and don’t confuse things with multiple CTAs on the same or related pages.
- Next, don’t ask for information you don’t absolutely need to achieve the sale and offer visitors the option to store their information (securely), to speed subsequent purchases.
- Don’t go overboard in offering additional products to increase the value of the sale
- Reduce the number of steps in the conversion process. The same goes for the number of options you present to buyers. Reduce the number to increase the conversion rate.
When users search online using search engines such as Google (Google accounts for 92+% of global searches) and Yahoo, the search engine uses a complicated algorithm to deliver a list of search results (SERPs) with the links shown first reflecting the best option to answer the user’s query. No one knows exactly what the algorithms look like but Google provides hints and SEO experts conduct experiments to determine which factors appear in the algorithm and the weight assigned to that factor within the algorithm.
Why do you care?
Because users click on links displayed in the top position in SERPs, as you can see below.
You have a huge incentive to show up on the first page and, if possible, in the top position on the page to drive as much organic traffic to your site as possible. Here’s what to do:
Demonstrating the inexorable link between SEO and content marketing, creating valuable content on a consistent basis is the most critical factor in SEO. Primarily, search engines consider website content most important, hence why many websites host a blog, but social media content (and, more importantly, engagement on social media) also counts as content in the algorithm. Content not only drives SEO, but it also impacts conversion rates, as you can see below. Note, you should plan to create valuable content at least once/ week based on this graphic.
You can’t just throw anything together and hope for the best when it comes to content marketing. In the old days, that worked. Today, that earns a penalty from search engines and most search engines use metrics such as bounce rate, backlinks, and social media engagement as signals that visitors find your content valuable. Instead, focus on creating valuable, well-researched content around keywords (actually phrases now rather than a single word) that match your customer needs. Don’t create teaser content or offer generalities to entice users to pay for the really valuable stuff. Give the good stuff away as a means to build your reputation and take a long-run view on making money through blogging.
Spiders crawl the internet looking for and categorizing fresh content based on keywords featured in the content, especially in the meta description, title, and headlines. Image alt tags also help spiders determine what your content is about. The information is stored in a database along with an assessment of the quality of the content (on-page SEO) and other factors indicative of quality (off-page SEO. Thus, when a user enters a query into the search engine, the search engine thumbs through their database and ranks content to deliver search results that represent the highest quality content first.
Common SEO factors?
Determining how to assign a quality score to a piece of content involves both on-page and off-page SEO factors. There’s also technical SEO dealing with canonical and other factors that fit more within the realm of website development, so we don’t deal with them here. Here are some examples of on-page and off-page SEO factors:
- On-page factors
- Keywords match user intent based on the query and recent search history
- H1, as well as some H2 and H3 tags (title, heading, and subheading), contain the keyword
- Expertise and other indicators of social proof, such as backlinks from other websites, engagement on social media, low bounce rates, etc
- The meta description contains your keywords
- Content optimized for keywords
- Outbound links that represent your research on the topic rather than just opinion
- Images are optimized
- Load speed
- Off-page factors
- Domain age
- Social media engagement
Content marketing is one of the key concepts for digital marketing
We discussed quite a bit about content marketing in our discussion of SEO. I hope I convinced you that content marketing is really one of the key concepts for digital marketing success. Here’s a nice little infographic with more details on this concept.
Hence, content marketing offers a plethora of benefits to help improve your ranking, increase your reputation, drive traffic to your site (since showing up is only half the battle, you need content signals to entice users to click on your link), and, when content matches your customer’s journey, you move visitors toward conversion.
However, creating great content isn’t easy. Rather, it’s expensive and time-consuming, especially if you determine that using multiple tactics and channels is necessary to reach your goals. If you consider the following post-frequency guidelines, you’re looking at a ton of content needed on a consistent basis.
- Facebook and Instagram – post content once or twice a day
- Blog – once a day produces superior conversion, but you need to post at least once a week to stay relevant. You can post more frequently than once a day if you have sufficiently good content to support that schedule.
- Twitter – 6-15 times per day
- Pinterest – go crazy and post as much as possible
- LinkedIn – once or twice a day
- TikTok – once a day
We’ll expand on our discussion of how social media functions as one of the key concepts of digital marketing later. For now, just recognize the herculean effort required to maintain your content marketing efforts at peak performance. You need a plan to achieve such extensive content marketing.
Content marketing calendar
Content calendars make your task of creating valuable content on a consistent basis much more manageable. You can do anything you want to craft a content calendar from using an Excel spreadsheet, which is how I manage my content efforts, to downloading a template.
Below are the elements I recommend including in your content calendar:
- Links to resources needed – content containing links to high authority sites improves the perception of your content just as citations improve your scholarly writing.
- Images and infographics – preferably ones generated by your graphic design staff or borrowed (with attribution) from other websites. Using image downloaded from depositories such as Pixel, suffer from overuse and can reduce your SEO. Great graphics you generate are one of the best tools for gaining backlinks as other blogs search out quality images.
- Topic – I like to set up a schedule to make things easier by matching a topic area to the day of the week. A great example comes from Moz, where every Friday is Whiteboard Friday. Setting up a topic, especially when you have a topic-of-the-day calendar makes it easier to write great content, as you’re not looking at a blank screen and trying to come up with something to write about. You might keep a little notebook or phone app so you can jot down ideas for topics when they come to you (this is a trick I learned as a novelist).
- Keywords — keep a list of appropriate keywords and cycle through the list. Current SEO advice suggests you only use a keyword once. To craft additional posts around that keyword, either eliminate older posts (which is a good strategy in itself) or extend your keyword to make it long tail.
- Roles – if you’re a large agency, you often require approval prior to publication. Assign roles to various members of your team such as author, editor, and publisher on the calendar.
- Deadline – to ensure you create content on a consistent basis, set a deadline for various steps in the content creation process.
Let’s turn our attention to creating content.
Here’s a great graphic on creating content. Obviously, this element overlaps with analytics, which we’ll discuss later.
This infographic is chock full of great information. Among the most important concepts for digital marketing you should glean from this image are:
- The role of analytics and knowing your customer in developing great content
- Matching content to the stage of the customer journey so visitors see content tailored for where they are in the process and which products they find interesting. We discussed the customer journey earlier and we’ll share some perspectives on match content to stages in a little bit.
- In addition, here’s some other advice on creating content:
- Don’t continuously promote your products and brand, instead, solve problems for your community
- Content isn’t PR and doesn’t require the same polish or formality. Feel free to make content conversational and informal. When I create content, for instance, I visualize talking to a client or another type of visitor frequenting my website.
- Find a voice and stick to that tone
- Read to stay relevant
- Consider the type of content that works for your competition
- Manage your time to allow for excellent content
- Consider reusing old content in a new way. For instance, update some old blog posts to make them relevant to today. Take a blog post and turn it into a video or podcast or vice versa, which is what I’m doing today. Turn content from your blog or other long-form content into short social media posts.
- Let your ideas percolate. For instance, for a long, well-researched post such as this one, you can easily run out of steam, which might lead you to rush through in an effort to finish the post. Instead, a major piece of content such as this one deserves your strongest efforts. Putting in the time necessary for such a broad topic allows you to spread content creation over multiple days. The result is you increase your stamina by only writing as much as you can before you lose steam while simultaneously giving yourself time between writing efforts to consider new topics, resources, or angles to improve your content efforts.
Match the customer journey
We discussed the customer journey earlier. Next, let’s look at matching content to your customer journey with this infographic. Again, I’ll share an infographic that encapsulates the main concepts of digital marketing that converts.
Email marketing is actually a two-headed strategy: first, you must collect subscribers, then send email messages that help you reach your goals. Making this one of the top concepts for digital marketing, email marketing returns ROIs as high as 4400%, or 4 times as much as any other digital marketing strategy.
Let’s talk about subscribers first. In the old days of direct marketing (which is the parent of many digital marketing strategies), you simply bought lists of folks who matched your target market. Now, things are that easy due to regulations in the US and EU that assess hefty fines for companies sending unsolicited emails. Creating a lead magnet usually does the trick to encourage visitors to subscribe. For instance, I created an ebook that steps you through the process of creating a website from scratch for about $150.
Another trick for gaining subscribers is in the form you use. Here are my suggestions:
- Don’t ask for information that isn’t absolutely necessary. Each additional piece of information requested reduces the response rate.
- Make your newsletter appear valuable by jazzing up the form.
- Use a popup to display your subscription form as an option when you detect exit intention. However, don’t block content with the form as soon as the visitor arrives or you might increase the bounce rate.
- Offer webinars, meetings, and other events, such as trade shows, to solicit emails to add to your subscriber list.
- Add customers.
Next, segment your list to improve the performance of email messages. Code subscribers with the product page generating the subscription, where the subscriber came from (ie. webinar topic), their response to prior email messages, or really anything you can think of.
Once you have segments, custom craft messages to meet the needs of subscribers in that segment. For instance, if the subscriber filled out the form from a product page, send more information and discounts about that particular product. Segmented email messages outperform unsegmented ones.
Subject lines determine open rates to a large extent. Experiment with different subject lines, emojis, and offers to determine which perform best. Also, test out the number of emails/ month that optimizes performance. Some markets respond to weekly emails, while others want them less frequently. Follow your open and unsubscribe stats to determine optimal outcomes.
Social media marketing
Social media marketing represents one of the core concepts for digital marketing. Today, you have a number of choices when it comes to social media platforms. The newest platform, TikTok, is poised to take off as a marketing platform for consumer products, while older platforms, such as Facebook, continue to grow and expand their reach into new markets both internationally and generationally.
One of the keys to success in social media marketing is finding the right platforms for you since you can’t effectively manage a number of platforms unless you have a large team. Here’s a graphic to help you make wise decisions at least with respect to age, although this changes over time.
You can find similar information in terms of other variables. For instance, Pinterest is a great platform to reach women, TikTok for young folks, and LinkedIn for professionals.
Once you decide on the platform(s) to optimize performance, next consider the appropriate posting schedule. Each platform has an optimal number of posts per day, as you can see in this graphic. When to post content on each platform is also important and here’s a resource for that.
That’s a lot of content needed on a daily basis, so add this content to the content marketing calendar we discussed earlier. The same discussion we had earlier about creating valuable content still applies but we need to modify that for each platform. For instance, Instagram relies on images and hashtags while TikTok is a video-sharing platform containing short videos. Twitter mostly uses text and hashtags while Facebook offers a variety of content options.
To ease the burden of publishing enough content to your social media platforms, consider using an automation tool such as Buffer or, if you have deeper pockets, consider more expensive automation tools such as Hubspot. These tools allow you to publish on the right schedule without restricting your time. Hence, rather than logging in to each platform at the right posting time, you can set up an entire day’s worth of posts in a few minutes or hours, if you have more platforms. This allows you to chunk your efforts and makes you more productive.
And, don’t sell all the time. Social media users won’t put up with that and it can hurt your reputation rather than support your marketing efforts. Experts recommend using an 80/20 or 90/10 split with the lower number reflecting your efforts to sell or promote your brand.
Instead, use your social platforms to:
- Share interesting, entertaining, and informative posts, using images whenever possible.
- Encourage engagement by asking questions or hosting contests such as a giveaway for users who share an image of your product
- Highlight customers, employees, and supply chain partners
- Share content from other brands as a means to encourage them to share your content
- Demonstrate your commitment to social issues such as social justice, the environment, etc. This works especially well with Millennials and GenZ who use such efforts when making purchase decisions
- Frankly, any content that resonates with your target market
I come from the world of direct marketing, which morphed to include digital marketing in recent years. One of the biggest advantages of these concepts for digital marketing is the rich analytics available to users. I’m a big advocate of using analytics to provide insights that optimize the performance of your brand.
There are many sources for metrics including Google Analytics, which is free and wonderful, analytics on the various social platforms, email marketing program, and in your marketing automation platforms.
You can make your analytics more valuable and provide better insights by constructing your website with analytics in mind. For instance, offering a thank you page after conversion allows you to track completions. With Google Analytics, you can even add a value to these events when setting up event tracking to estimate the ROI of your marketing efforts.
A great option to enable better tracking is to use tag manager. This adds a small snippet of information to a URL without interfering with navigation. The snippet allows you to track things like search terms that brought visitors to your pages, visits to off-page properties (such as the app store), and helps you understand how visitors move through your site better.
When we talk about analytics, we have descriptive analytics, such as the number of visitors and bounce rate, predictive analytics, which builds a model based on existing data to predict future behavior, and prescriptive analytics that are used most commonly in marketing for optimizing things like scheduling shifts and logistics.
Prescriptive analytics uses tools like R and SPSS to build algorithms that predict behavior and outcomes. These insights are especially useful for understanding and optimizing performance.
We discussed segmentation earlier with respect to email marketing. We should also look at segments within our data, such as various demographic, geographic, and psychographic variables to help make better decisions. For instance, we might discover that visitors between 45 and 60 represent a higher order value than younger consumers, but their conversion rate is lower. That’s valuable information as a business might create content that resonates with older visitors to increase conversion rate.
Attribution modeling, especially multi-channel attribution modeling, helps businesses understand which marketing channels deliver the best results. Check out the image below to see how multiple channels perform on metrics that matter.
Armed with this information, businesses can make better decisions about where to spend their marketing budgets, identify underperforming channels, and optimize performance.
Building a cohesive marketing strategy
Finally, we can talk about how to build a cohesive marketing strategy based on the core concepts for digital marketing success. A cohesive marketing strategy includes strategies for each of the elements listed above, paying careful attention to all the advice shared under each section. Marketing strategy commonly involves building a detailed strategy for the next 12 months, and less concrete plans for 5 years or more into the future. As each year finishes, a business uses data to adapt the plans established in the strategic plan to optimize performance and flesh out the plan for the next 12 months with tactics and KPIs.
Once you build your marketing strategy, break that strategy down into action plans for various tactics employed in the strategy. As you can see from the template below, action plans contain sufficient detail to guide implementation of the tactic, including responsible parties, roles of individuals, timelines, budgets, the various tasks necessary to complete the overall task, and the resources needed to complete the plan. Action plans are critically important for success and the more detail provided in the action plan, the more likely the plan is to achieve the marketing objective established for that plan. I always recommend students craft an action plan in sufficient detail then hand it to another student to determine whether that student can complete the task as envisioned.
I realize this is a massive post and covers a lot of territory. You might bookmark this post for future reference as you flesh out or adapt your digital marketing strategy over time. I hope you find it valuable and the table of contents should help you find the specific areas of interest. Consider following me on one of the platforms below to get up-to-date information and insights to help build on these core concepts for digital marketing success.
Feel free to enter questions or comments in the section below.
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