These days the buzz is all about digital marketing. Everyone seems to be doing it. Facebook and other platforms are covered with posts which claim it’s the secret to unlimited success whilst trying to sell you a once in a lifetime digital marketing dream package. Other people say it’s all just the latest craze and doesn’t work for them. In the middle are all sorts of us ordinary people, just trying to figure it out and give it a go as something we know we ought to be doing – even if we don’t really know why.
Pinning people down to define it, or more importantly, to explain how to do it successfully, is a bit like Mission Impossible. Definitions are vague, jargon is rife, and everyone seems to have a different opinion.
So, if you’re not sure how or where to start your digital marketing or what it all really means, no problem. In this guide, we’ll explain all the jargon and terms, as well as outlining in clear, simple steps what you need to do to get started. In other words, this really is a beginner’s guide and the very first step on your digital marketing journey.
Should you be doing digital marketing?
The answer to the this is a categorical yes, without a shadow of a doubt. If you want to launch, grow or scale a business in the 21st century, digital marketing is the most effective (and fun – and yes, I really mean that) way to do so. If you don’t carry out at least some digital marketing, you’re not even really in the race. Why is it so important and effective? Well there is no one sentence answer to that, but I hope it will become clear as you read on.
What is digital marketing?
Hubspot define digital marketing as,
“Digital marketing encompasses all marketing efforts that use an electronic device or the internet. Businesses leverage digital channels such as search engines, social media, email, and their websites to connect with current and prospective customers.”
Meanwhile Neil Patel puts it more fully,
“Digital marketing is any form of marketing products or services that involves electronic devices. That’s the reason it has been around for decades (because electronics have) and why it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with content marketing, Google ads, social media or retargeting. Digital marketing can be done both online and offline. And, both kinds matter for a well-rounded digital marketing strategy.”
So, what is content marketing?
The Content Marketing Institute defines it as,
“… a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action… Instead of pitching your products or services, you are providing truly relevant and useful content to your prospects and customers to help them solve their issues.”
Other definitions of content marketing include:
You can bug people one at a time to get attention (sales). Or you can own attention by creating something interesting and valuable and then publishing it online for free.
David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR
So, should you be doing digital or content marketing?
Both. They are inextricably entwined. Of course, you don’t have to do either. You can carry on with more traditional interruptive marketing, such as using advertising or publicity. And these still have their place and can be very effective.
But to ignore content and digital marketing is a mistake. It would mean you’re simply ignoring a huge audience who are using a range of digital devices and searching for information, services and products. Who may be searching for what you offer. It would mean you are missing out on massive potential, on raising your profile and telling your story and it would mean, you’re leaving the door wide open for your competitors to dive in and get ahead of the game!
These days, most content marketing is done digitally but it doesn’t have to be just digital. You can still create great content via the press and magazines, by way of public speaking events, expos and even with good old-fashioned books. And in order to carry out digital marketing properly, you will need quite a large element of content marketing.
The key to the success of your marketing is all about figuring out what works best for your business and will reach your target most effectively. As an awful lot of people use digital devices… and because search engines can be really useful when it comes to helping you to get found… and because some very effective digital marketing can be done on a limited budget – using a combination of content and digital marketing is a very good place to start.
So, what do you need for your digital marketing?
You may need many things, and I am sure everyone will probably tell you something different but what we all agree on is that there are 4 absolutely essential ingredients to content and digital marketing:
- A clearly defined target audience
- Platforms via which you can distribute your content
- A strategy
And we’re going to look at each one in turn.
1. What is content exactly?
The content you create or curate (see more about curation below) can be more or less anything you can think of including: video, blogs, a research report, photos, an infographic, an illustration, social media posts, case studies, Google ads, podcasts, an ebook or webinars. It may be gated information that requires a sign up to access or it may be free.
The main thing that you need to ensure is that whatever content you choose, it must be useful, interesting, valuable, relevant and engaging.
What sort of content should you use?
There is no one size fits all answer to this. Ideally you will use a mixture of the above. Think of them as the ingredients of a cake. You will have to work out which ingredients work best and how much you need of each and you’ll do that using a combination of research, planning and monitoring. More of that anon.
By social media we mean the likes of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube or any other of the many social media platforms. All social media platforms allow you to post some sort of “stuff”, whether it’s a photo, text, video, audio, statistics, a link, a drawing, a profile or something else. All of these things can form part of your content.
What’s the difference between creation and curation?
When you create content, you write, design, draw or record the information yourself. It includes anything prepared by your marketing team or agency or commissioned and paid for by you in any other way. It’s yours and it’s original and unique to you.
What is curation / how do you curate content?
Hootsuite describes content curation as follows:
“In simple terms, the process of content curation is the act of sorting through large amounts of content on the web and presenting the best posts in a meaningful and organized way. The process can include sifting, sorting, arranging, and placing found content into specific themes, and then publishing that information.
In other words, content curation is very different from content marketing. Content curation doesn’t include creating new content; it’s the act of discovering, compiling, and sharing existing content with your online followers.”
Most good content marketing strategies will have a mixture of their own content and curated content. In other words, they will create their own but also take time finding and collating content created by others which their target audience will find useful, and then sharing it with them.
A word of warning
It’s one thing to take inspiration from other people’s ideas to create your own content. It’s also ok to share other people’s content provided it’s still clear it’s created by them, not you.
But never, ever copy some one else’s work and pretend it is yours. It’s theft and will land you in a lot of trouble. But it also shows poor creativity and a lack of moral values. You have been warned.
2. A clearly defined target audience
Your target audience are the people you are creating your content for. Those perfect people you would like to attract to your business and convert into customers.
You need to be absolutely clear about who they are.
Why is this so important? Because there is a group of people out there who are your absolutely perfect customers for your business. There may be millions of them or just a small group. But they’re perfect for you for a number of reasons. Of course, as a starting point, they want your product or service. But they also totally get you.
They share your values and your moral compass. You speak the same language. They appreciate you and the value you provide. They’re loyal. And they are curious about the issues surrounding the product or service you provide – or in other words, they are interested in the sort of content you can produce.
One of the secrets (it’s no secret really) to any successful marketing campaign is to absolutely nail who these people are. The more information you can get about them the better: their age, lifestyle, temperament, background, right down to their shoe size if you can. The more you know about them, the more you can fine tune your content so that it really resonates with them.
You may have different sections of your target audience: one section might be female nurses aged 50, living in Surrey and divorced for example, and another section might be male doctors in Surrey. That’s ok, but keep each example clearly defined and then you can fine tune your content for the different examples.
Avatars and personas
Some people create what they call avatars or personas, and this is a really useful exercise. They imagine one person who is their ideal client. They might even give the person a name and a face and pin it on the wall in front of them. They build this person’s story and get to know them. Who are they, where do they live, how to the speak, what do they do in their spare time? In other words, they get as near to creating an actual person that they know as is possible and then when they create content, they create it as if it was created specifically just for that one person.
By doing this, you can create content as if you’re having a conversation with your avatar and it’s a great way of keeping it personal, relevant and conversational.
3. Platforms via which you can distribute your content
Once again, there is no one size fits all answer to the question which platforms you should use. But there are a few things you definitely need.
You will need a good website and your website needs to perform multiple functions:
- you need be able to add content to it. That may be a blog, a video, an ebook or a report people can download,
- you need it to collect data for you – if someone signs up for your newsletter for example, you want it to capture their details (and you’ll also have to comply with the law about collecting data),
- you want it to reflect your content and brand. In other words, if you’re writing upbeat blogs with bright colours and an inspiring message, then there’s no point having a dull, black website which has a serious tone and is full of gloom and doom. Of course, these things are much more subtle than that in reality but you get the idea,
- you want people to be able to find what they want easily and to enjoy being on your site. You may also want people to buy or enquire via your website,
- you want to be able to analyse how your website performs – who visits, where do they come from, which pages do they go to etc.,
- you want your website to provide information about you, your products and services.
You will also probably need 2 or 3 social media platforms via which to share your content. Once again, which ones will come down to a combination of research, planning, monitoring and some brain storming, to work out where your target audience hangs out and which platforms are best for you.
Finally, you need to consider whether you should also have the facilities to create and send a regular newsletter and or set up a Google ads account. Once again, these are both ways by which you can spread the word about your content.
4. A digital marketing strategy
Everything we’ve talked about so far really forms part of your digital marketing strategy. In other words, the first part of defining your strategy will be to identify and research: your target audience, the best platforms for you to use to distribute your content and what sort of content you are going to create and share. Of course, none of these are set in stone and you will need to keep reviewing, revising and updating all of them on a regular basis.
So what else do you need as part of your strategy? Well we’ve touched on branding already and that is another essential part of any campaign.
What is branding?
Branding can be quite hard to understand and explain so here are a couple of definitions:
A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a specific product or company…Branding is the process of giving a meaning to specific company, products or services by creating and shaping a brand in consumers’ minds. It is a strategy designed by companies to help people to quickly identify their products and organization, and give them a reason to choose their products over the competition’s, by clarifying what this particular brand is and is not.The Branding Journal
To understand branding, it is important to know what brands are. A brand is the idea or image of a specific product or service that consumers connect with, by identifying the name, logo, slogan, or design of the company who owns the idea or image. Branding is when that idea or image is marketed so that it is recognizable by more and more people, and identified with a certain service or product when there are many other companies offering the same service or product.Brick Marketing
People often think that if you have a company logo, that’s your branding. But it isn’t. Branding goes much deeper than that. To develop your brand and branding you need a deep understanding of who and what your business is and does: its values, its back story, its personality, the message and impression you want it to create every time someone comes in contact with your business (however short or small that contact is).
That means your branding needs to be consistent across all your materials and platforms: your website, your social media profiles, your newsletter and blog, your printed material and anything else you use.
But it also needs to include how you write and talk. In other words, the writing style of your blog, the style of any videos you create and even how you answer the phone. It will involve you making decisions about colours, fonts, words, layouts, themes and a lot more.
Your branding should become one of your most valuable assets – so that when people come across your brand, they instantly feel and understand the very essence of your business!
The content of your content
We’ve talked briefly already about the many different types of content and part of your strategy planning will be to decide what type of content you will create (blogs, infographics, video etc.) and what your content is actually going to be all about. If you’ve worked on your branding, you should already have an understanding of your brand story, your values, the message you want to convey and how you want to convey it.
You should by now also have a good understanding of the audience you want to reach and the language they use, their personality and what’s important to them.
Now you have to create content that they will find useful, interesting and valuable, creating it in a way that resonates with them and is true to and representative of who and what your business is.
Useful, interesting and valuable content isn’t a 250 word blog on, “How to instal a plug”. You’ve got to go deeper than that. If a quick search of Google reveals 300 short blogs and videos on installing a plug, well… there’s not much value to anyone in you creating another one!
Try and give your audience information that isn’t freely available elsewhere – a comprehensive guide to something (really comprehensive so they can use it as a reference for years to come), unique industry insights and secrets, new ways of doing things, interviews with significant people, the list is actually endless.
Your job is to sit down, get creative and come up with ideas. But remember, both digital and content marketing requires long term commitment. There’s no point just writing 3 amazing blogs and then finding you’ve run out of ideas and don’t post any more.
Finally, whatever form you content takes, it needs to be easy to find, access, read and understand. It needs to be conversational so that your audience feels like their chatting away with an old friend (even if they’re listening to a podcast or looking at some illustrations). You need to think about layout and formatting (to make sure it’s easy to read and easy on the eye), illustrations and imagery.
How often and how much content does your digital marketing need?
Apart from working out what sort of content you will produce, you also need to plan how much, how often and long your content will be. What days will you post, where, and at what times? How else will you help people find your content? Will you send them an email to let them know about your latest blog or video? Will you pay for some promotion on social media? Will you set up messenger alerts? All these factors need to be researched, planned and regularly reviewed.
You will therefore need to be able to analyse how your content performs, in order to improve and build on what you do. So familiarise yourself with the analytical information that your chosen social media platforms or mailers (like Mailchimp) provide. Don’t allow yourself to be daunted by this, most platforms usually have fairly easy analytical systems, which just require a little time to learn and understand.
Search Engine Optimisation
You can’t talk about digital marketing without talking about search engine optimisation (SEO). If you ask 10 different people what it is, you’ll probably get 10 different answers! But in a nutshell, SEO is about helping people find you via search engines.
MOZ describe SEO as “There are many aspects to SEO, from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web. Sometimes SEO is simply a matter of making sure your site is structured in a way that search engines understand… SEO isn’t just about building search engine-friendly websites. It’s about making your site better for people too.”
As you can see, there are many different ways to perform search engine optimisation but at the heart of them all, is the use of keywords.
What are keywords?
Keywords, or to put more accurately, key words or phrases, are the words people use in order to find your web content using search engines. So, if I want to find blue open toed sandals that might be what I type into a search engine.
The first thing you will need to understand therefore, is what sort of words or phrases people will use to try and find your product. And the more accurate you can be the better. If you use a very generic term like sandals, then you will be competing with millions of other businesses selling sandals and it will be very hard for your business and your blue open toed sandals to be found. But if you are super specific – blue open toed Scholl sandals in size 6 in Sussex, well you’re likely to have a lot less competition but you’re also more likely to attract people who are really interested in your product.
There are lots of tools available to help with keyword research – some paid, some free and some better than others. You can also do your own customer research and use website analytics to help.
Once you have your keywords (and again these will change and need regular updating and checking), you will of course need to use them both in the content you create and behind the scenes in the back end of your website.
You also need to make sure that your website is set up and structured properly, with appropriate backlinks.
At this stage however, what you need to understand is that SEO and keyword research is an essential part of your digital marketing strategy.
We’ve touched on this already and analytics also takes many shapes and forms and is all about monitoring how your content performs. Knowing what content does well is essential to improving and refining the content you produce but your analytics can help with lots of other details as well, such as what time or day does your content perform best on and how long do people stay looking at a particular page of your website or blog.
Most social media platforms have their own analytics as do newsletter platforms like Mailchimp, and of course, your website. Once you have the tools in place you also need to make sure that reviewing your analytics and making any tweaks and changes to your campaign is an essential part of your digital marketing routine.
By now, you should have a good understanding of the basic and most important parts of your digital, content marketing campaign. They key is being thorough and consistent in your research, planning and execution. As we said right at the beginning, producing great content and spreading the word about your business and all that it stands for can be exciting, fun and very effective. But it does take commitment and a little hard work. So if you need or would like a little extra help, getting started, why not drop us a line or share your story in the comments below!