hall of fame
Alyssa Young

When a small business owner thinks about marketing, traditional tactics might come to mind first: a print advertisement, a postcard in the mail, a television or radio commercial. After all, they’re familiar and tangible. On the other hand, the term “digital marketing” can feel intimidating and ambiguous—especially for less tech-savvy folks. While you can hold a door hanger in your hand, a display ad that appears on one or a few websites (among billions of websites), or a plain-looking text ad among hundreds of search engine results, might seem insignificant or unnoticeable.

If business owners consider where their potential customers spend most of their time, however, they will quickly realize that having a strong digital presence is anything but inconsequential. People today rely heavily on electronic media, Internet resources and social media to communicate, do research and make connections with people and services. As such, companies cannot afford to ignore this captive audience.

With a little education, business owners can put aside their trepidations and capitalize on digital marketing opportunities, leading to smart strategies with a healthy return on investment.

What is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing refers to methods of promoting a company’s services via electronic media. Examples of these tactics include search engine optimization (SEO); search engine marketing (SEM), such as pay-per-click campaigns; content marketing, including eBooks and blogging; display advertising; social media; and email.

The platforms on which these efforts appear allow for various approaches in size, format and content. They range from a small, simple display ad with a few words and a link, to a video, to an in-depth, 12-page guide that educates consumers about a specific topic. This flexibility enables creativity and customization.

Even more, hyperlinks transform the marketing piece into a gateway, escorting prospective customers through the sales funnel by serving up relevant information that makes it easier for them to decide to do business with the company. Businesses use links in their digital marketing efforts to show the consumer something else that they want them to see or know.

This extra layer brings the company into the conversation while the lead is still in decision-making mode. Printed pieces, on the other hand, have many valuable uses, but they’re less interactive. The ability to engage someone electronically with more information that proactively answers their questions or puts them at ease could be the trigger that converts them into a customer.

Who Sees Digital Marketing?

Among the advantages of digital marketing are the size of the audience that a company can reach, as well as the company’s ability to target specific types of people. It’s less expensive (and a lot speedier) to reach thousands of people digitally than by conventional tactics, which can incur printing and distribution costs.

For example, it can be expensive to write, design and publish three different advertisements to reach three different target markets, but sending three customized emails to filtered mailing lists is much faster and costs much less.

Search engines gather data and history about web surfers, which allows advertisers to serve their ads to specific people. Ads can target web users based on their location, income level and interests, for example. Remarketing is a tactic that ensures people who have expressed interest in a company’s product or service will continue to see its advertisements, so that the brand stays top of mind.

Social media is another way to stay in front of already-engaged customers on a regular basis. Once they have chosen to become followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest, they will see a company’s posts in their activity feeds when they’re scrolling (which they do often). Since they already have a connection to the company, they’re more likely to do business again.

What Determines Success?

There is no way to count how many people actually read a print advertisement or pay attention to a radio or television commercial. Electronic marketing efforts, however, can be tracked and measured.

Here are examples of measurements that are available for typical types of digital marketing:

This detailed information helps a company to measure the success of its digital marketing efforts, test the effectiveness of new methods and adjust its marketing budget accordingly.

Digital Marketing is Efficient and Effective

Taking advantage of consumers’ reliance on digital technology, companies can enjoy measurable results using cost-effective tactics. Digital marketing is efficient in that it’s less expensive per impression, and it’s also much faster to execute—not to mention faster for customers to convert.

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