Today it’s hard to find even a small business that doesn’t have its own website. An online presence has become an essential marketing tool, helping companies connect with customers in a competitive economy. But there’s a lot more to digital marketing than simply getting the design and content of your site right.
Launching a digital campaign can seem a daunting task at first, partly due to the number of options. Do you want to directly advertise to potential customers, or use social media and other content marketing techniques to build the profile of your brand?
Broadly speaking, digital strategy decisions can be broken down into three main areas: owned, paid, and earned media. A little research will help you choose the right way to get the word out about your business – depending on your time, budget and other resources. Of course, it doesn’t have to be an “either/or” decision – most successful strategies use a combination of all three.
Your company’s website is the most obvious example of owned digital media. As your “shop window”, you have complete control over its design and content. As well as promoting your products or services, it should reflect the qualities you want people to associate with your brand – whether that’s classic luxury, reliability, or quirky and fun.
Social media profiles are another area where you control the content. They’re sometimes classified as “partially owned” since they’re hosted on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other platforms. These are great tools for building a buzz about your brand. But getting a dedicated following and refining your message can take time. Instead of simply pushing your business, the key is to engage followers, entering into conversations, and sharing useful or entertaining content.
Ideally all these strands should be linked. Aim for a consistent brand “voice” across all these platforms, and use social media to drive traffic to your website.
When we think of advertising, it’s often TV spots or glossy magazine ads that spring to mind. But the internet has opened up a huge range of options. These include display ads, site sponsorship and pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns. Although search engines keep paid results separate from “organic” results, the lines can often be blurred on other parts of the web.
A recent survey by advertising think tank Credo sfound that that fewer than 50 per cent of consumers have any trust in digital marketing, compared with 69 per cent who trust printed ads. This is worth bearing in mind, but that doesn’t mean web advertising isn’t a useful tool.
PPC advertising is a relatively inexpensive – and fast – way to get your brand name known and build traffic to your site. As the name suggests, you only pay if someone clicks on your ad, and you can set campaign budgets to limit your spending. Another option is “pay per impression” where your banner ad is displayed on a site – a good way to quickly make a splash.
While it can take months of hard work to build your profile through “free” channels, paid ads deliver results within days.
For most online marketers, the elusive pot of gold is a video, blog or picture that goes “viral” – reaching tens of thousands simply through the power of word-of-mouth marketing.
Earned media is a term for positive publicity gained through your own promotional efforts, rather than paid advertising. This includes online reviews, shared blogs, videos and other content, and posts on social media.
It can be one of the most valuable – but also the most difficult – parts of web marketing.It’s not hard to see why. As the Credos report shows, people tend to be suspicious of direct advertising, but trust their friends, colleagues, and sources seen as objective or neutral. Earned media is all about creating a buzz around your brand, getting people talking about you and sharing your content.
Creating high quality “shareable” content is one step towards that goal. Think about what you can offer an audience that has value – whether that’s advice on financial planning or videos of cooking demonstrations. Take time to engage with social media communities, and find out what they’re interested in. Encourage your customers to leave reviews, especially on external sites such as Tripadvisor.
There are few shortcuts to building a good reputation. Keeping customers happy and delivering a great service are the best ways to ensure people are talking about your brand for the right reasons. And of course, it’s vital to proactively monitor your reputation, responding to negative comments and reviews.
Of course there’s a high degree of overlap between these three approaches. A PPC campaign will direct searchers to your website, while your social media strategy is designed to encourage people to spread the word about your brand.
SEO can be seen as a combination of “earned” and “owned” media. While there are plenty of tricks you can use to optimize your site, your rankings will also depend on back-links from other sites and how it is perceived by Google and other search engines.
Managing successful campaigns requires careful planning, plenty of research and ongoing efforts. How much you can commit will depend on your staff, budget, and other resources – as well as your target audience. But using a combination of paid, earned and owned media can help you stand out in a crowded marketplace.