How do you build a digital marketing strategy?
There are so many tools available to us. A lot of them are free or low-cost. There’s even more advice written to tell us how to use those tools.
When you’re left to figure out your entire marketing strategy on your own, it is overwhelming to even know where to start.
It’s not because there aren’t enough resources out there to guide you along, but rather the opposite.
There is so much information available to those for whom time, money and workforce are short that it can lead to choice paralysis.
So if you’ve ever thought: “Thanks for all the information but where do I begin?” this is for you.
We’re going to explore how to properly build your marketing strategy so you can take advantage of all the amazing tools that are out there and when you read your next article on how to get 344% more traffic, you’ll know exactly where to slot that information.
Start with your brand
Your brand is at the core of everything you do. It is the expression of your company. It is who you are.
At risk of sounding mystical here, your brand is formed in the space between elements. It is intangible and elusive.
The home page for apple.com/ca. Every element supports the tagline: "Say hello to the future." The deep black and the curves of the phone make us think of a space ship while the typeface is simple, elegant. It's within our reach.
Your brand is born of your values (who you are) and your dreams (what you want to do). The elements that make up your brand are:
Your visual style
But ultimately, what creates your brand is the choices you make.
Creating your brand is hard and we go into details on how to do it in this post. But let’s just say you’re at the point where you just need a logo.
If your brand is the expression of your company, your logo is the idea of your company. That’s what you’re trying to capture.
A great logo lasts forever (and a smart company doesn’t touch it). Good logos fade in the background, without drawing attention to themselves. They give you the information you need when you’re looking for it (who’s this company?) and they don’t make a scene. Bad logos will drive your audience away.
Do it yourself: stay away from most online logo makers (unless you have serious artistic gifts and can’t afford Adobe). There are too many sketchy results. If you have to do it yourself, then check out Canva’s logo templates and keep it simple. A simple wordmark will go a long way.
Build your website
One of the biggest misconceptions people have of their websites is that it serves as an info dump. So tell your HR people that your website is not meant to reflect your organizational structure, tell your IT people that it should not showcase the complex processes built to take customers from A to B.
sonnet.ca is currently my favourite website. It goes to show that even an industry like insurance can be compelling.
Your website is a marketing tool. Everything that is on your website serves a promotional function. That’s how you need to think about it. It doesn’t mean it’s salesy. But each image, each line of copy, each call-to-action builds on what came before to answer your prospects’ questions and to excite them about your company. Dare them not to click the button.
If something exists on your website because it serves an internal process need, get rid of it.
Your website is your central hub. From there, you get to see where people are coming from, where they’re going, what they want to see, what they want to know, what they love and you get to do something about it.
All of your other marketing channels need to point to your website. Eventually. Or you’re wasting a lot of energy.
The biggest trick with your website is to keep it simple. We’re past mobile-friendly, design mobile-first. Keep it visual, like a comic book but with less text. No more than 2 fonts (headlines and body copy) and try to stick to one colour plus your black and white.
Do it yourself: Squarespace, Wordpress and Wix all make it quite easy for you to create your own website. Shopify is another great option if you're focusing on your online store. Of the four, Squarespace is probably the easiest to get into, with gorgeous templates, free unlimited forms, built-in hosting and domain registration, e-commerce capabilities and integration with Mailchimp and G-Suite.
Connect to your analytics
Are you reaching your target audience? Are there certain pages that bring in the most traffic? Where is your audience coming from? How are they getting to your site? What do they do once they’re there? Is that where you even want them to go? Why are more people reading your Terms and Conditions that your blog?
Without your analytics, you’re blind. You have no idea how successful you are. The better you are able to answer those questions, the better equipped you will be to refine your marketing strategy.
Analytics also allow you to set up goals and easily track conversions and campaigns.
Do it yourself: create a Google Analytics account. It’s easy and free and it’s the most widely used, which means if you have questions, you are more likely to find an answer.
Intermission: Relationship marketing
Build relationships. Whether you’re a small business, a nonprofit or a theatre company, the bulk of your business (especially at the beginning) will come from your immediate social circle.
Learn to build relationships and share your passion with the community that’s around you. Of all available tactics, face-to-face requires the most time and has the lowest reach (usually one-on-one), but it has the highest conversion rate.
So never forget it, never forsake it, never share something online that you wouldn’t share with your closest friends.
Set up your social channels
I’m surprised that people still wonder whether or not they should invest time, money or energy in social media.
Imagine if in the 50’s you told your boss you got billboard adspace on the busiest highway going into the city for free and their response was, “Do billboards work?”
Facebook for Business does a whole lot more than just post "What's on your mind."
There were 2.46 billion users on social media in 2017, with 2.2 billion active users on Facebook. Now it’s true that on Facebook, the cost to having your content seen is going up and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a nonprofit, an arts organization or you’re the NFL: it’s a level playing field and you pay the same.
But the ability to get your content in front of a poised audience is just too good to ignore.
Social media is where people are. In the days of billboard advertising, you tried to get your ad on the side of busy roads. Social media are our highways today. And the good news is, the ad space is a lot cheaper.
Do it yourself: There are so many social media platforms for you to choose from and they are all (generally) free. Pick one that you can do really well before you expand. Choose the channel that makes sense for where your target demographic is. For example, if you’re trying to reach teens, Facebook might not be your best option. Likewise, if your target audience is over 40, maybe don’t spend all your time on Snapchat.
That said, I really like Facebook's Business Manager and unless you think for some reason your target demographic is not on Facebook, the giant is a place to start.
Launch your email program
Email is a great channel to nurture your relationships. A lot of people tend to think of enewsletters as a way to update your audience. And it’s true. But it’s so much more than that.
The best email campaigns will create engagement. A good email sinks its teeth into you as a reader and you can’t get enough. You want more so you click on everything you can. You go back to it, and open it again. You flag it and hope it doesn’t get lost in the void of your inbox.
Email is targeted to an audience that has asked to be targeted and it is one of the most effective ways of turning prospects into patrons, patrons into returning patrons, returning patrons into subscribers and subscribers into your most passionate evangelists.
Do it yourself: Mailchimp is free if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers and then the costs are very reasonable. It’s easy to use, has great analytics, allows some fairly sophisticated segmentation, offers automation and integrates with your social media channels, website and analytics.
Advanced techniques: SEO and PPC
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is something you should be doing from the moment you start thinking about your website. Search engine optimization really is end-user optimization. It is equal parts strategy, creative and technical.
The basic idea behind SEO is "What are users looking for?" and "How can your website best provide that?"
Your Pay-Per-Click (PPC) strategy uses Google Ads and/or Facebook Ads to engage your target demographic in hyper-targeted ads that are intended to solve their problems.
For a theatre company, for instance, it could be to remind them that a show they expressed an interest in seeing isn’t going to play forever so they should hurry up and check their calendars, chat with their spouses or coordinate with their friends and buy their tickets before it’s too late.
For best results, most effective PPC campaigns will leverage all the other channels we’ve discussed.
Do it yourself: if you are a registered non-profit, you are eligible to receive $10,000 of free advertising a month with the Google Ads Grant. There are some restrictions that reveal that Google is not just doing this out of the goodness of their machine-learning hearts. But with the right strategy, you could use most if not all of that.
Building a digital marketing strategy
All of this may seem like a lot. That’s because it is.
Large companies with millions of dollars in budget have entire teams running their digital marketing strategies.
And even they often outsource to marketing agencies because there’s always more to do than time to do it in.
Start simple. Don’t try to do everything and end up spreading yourself too thin and creating mediocre content just to maintain something. In everything you do, simplify so you can make it better.
Here’s the trick about marketing: do it well. If you just do one or two things on this list but you do it really well, you’ll see results.
So write great copy, use beautiful images, tell interesting stories.
I guarantee you’ll grow your audience.