For an entrepreneur, growth can mean increasing sales, attracting investment and/or improving brand awareness among a target market. Increasingly, growth also means building strategies around how to market a small business online.
Lyndon Johnson, founder of Comms.Bar, a niche public relations and marketing firm for entrepreneurs, shares surprising insights for small business owners about to launch their first digital marketing campaigns.
In an increasingly digital marketplace, startups’ marketing strategies need to keep pace.
Whether your business operates exclusively online, is a brick-and-mortar storefront, or manages a combination of the two, developing digital marketing strategies is one way you can tap into an ever-expanding market.
There are a few key points to consider before, during, and after you have launched a digital campaign.
Understand and Define Your Goals
Before you reach out to an online audience, you must first understand what drives a successful digital marketing campaign.
“Public relations is about building and maintaining relationships that are critical to the success of a business,” says Lyndon Johnson, founder of Comms.Bar, a Toronto-based public relations and marketing firm for entrepreneurs.
“Marketing is about using the relationships that you have in order to get people to take an action that supports your business. Digital marketing is about getting people to take an action that adds value to the business, online.”
Step one: clearly define what you want to accomplish. Do you want to attract 25 repeat customers within the next two months? Or are you more interested in creating brand awareness among a certain demographic? Whatever your goal, make it specific and actionable so that you can measure it and then tailor your marketing strategies.
“It’s why the majority of marketing campaigns fail: because people are trying to do too many things online,” Johnson says.
Start Offline Before Going Online
The next step in developing a digital marketing campaign may surprise you.
“Whether it’s to share something, to buy something, to make a recommendation, or to write a review, you’ve got to build those relationships offline first,” Johnson says. “You’re blending online with offline. You’re building relationships. You’re adding value.”
Cultivating offline relationships is as integral to your digital marketing strategy as the online work, Johnson says. Conducting market research about the demographics, needs, and behaviour of your target audience will help you focus your marketing time and resources.
“Everybody typically jumps online and tries to do the whole thing online,” he says. “So I think starting offline and figuring out who the key relationships are, figuring out how strong the relationships need to be, and then taking people online is really important.”
Don’t discount the value of cold calls or meetings, he adds. By making the effort to build genuine offline relationships, you will ultimately increase meaningful traffic to your online offerings and get prospective clients into your marketing funnel. This allows trust to develop in both the product or service and the entrepreneur behind it.
“It’s not about sales,” says Johnson. “It’s about mutually beneficial relationships. People buy from people.”
Creating Genuine, Consistent Content
Building awareness, interest, and trust in your brand will strengthen your relationships with customers. This can be achieved by publishing and sharing quality content in the form of articles, podcasts, or videos through blogs, social media channels, and websites. However, it's not enough to simply create content about your company, product or service. Digital marketing industry leaders say the content must be informative, interesting and relevant to in order to build rapport and move your customer further into the marketing funnel.
“If you’re asking for sales, it’s not marketing, it’s just sales,” Johnson says.
At this point in your digital marketing campaign, it’s important to include a call to action for your customer. Whether you offer a free giveaway, a first-time discount, or an opportunity to sign up for a loyalty program, these incentives can make all the difference to spark a customer to make a purchase. Even small businesses can create their own loyalty programs using systems like Vicinity, which can turn each transaction into a relationship and allow you to analyze trends to identify your most successful offers and campaigns.
Analyze: What is Working and What Isn’t
Now comes the number crunching. Driving traffic to your website provides key information that, when analyzed, can show you distinct trends and help you create a more robust customer profile.
Johnson says he creates a “playbook” for his clients that breaks down each step of the process and allows them to make changes to their marketing strategy based on the feedback collected through analysis. Google Analytics is a simple, free tool that allows you to gain insights into your customers’ behaviour both online and offline, allowing you to refine your strategy and keep building.
Ultimately, a digital marketing campaign can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. The key to its success depends on how well it integrates four things: defined goals, offline relationships, value-added content, and critical analysis. With these four ingredients, you can create an influential digital marketing campaign that not only responds to your current needs, it will also evolve as your business grows.