Digital marketing strategy: What you can expect—and how to manage it

Date: November 6, 2020
Author: Kristin Zhivago
People in an office looking at a computer together

We’ve all heard the management adage: “You can’t manage what you don’t understand.” Unfortunately, digital marketing has gotten so complex, specialized, and fast-moving that it’s harder than ever for busy CEOs and entrepreneurs to understand what is really going on. Their digital marketing strategy often consists of hiring the best channel specialists they can find and managing them the best way they know how. But there are too many times in meetings when they think, “What is the meaning of [some digital marketing term or method] and why does it matter?” 

My goal with this article is to clear up some of the confusion, while at the same time shedding some light on 1) what you can expect from your efforts and 2) how to manage them more effectively. 

First let’s look at some realities. 

Digital marketing strategy: realities

1. What worked for another company may or may not work for you. The problem with the guys who claim to be able to get you on page 1 of Google results in two weeks—or any other big promise—is that what worked for another company is absolutely, positively, not guaranteed to work for your company. 

I can point to one of our clients, who was literally swamped with leads—hundreds of leads per month—after we added two words to her advertising campaign. Yes, they were the right words; we were appealing to the Mindset of her customers. Yes, we try like crazy to get this same success for all of our clients. But every client, product, service, market, and customer base is different. It takes a lot of focused effort to figure out what is going to work for you. Which brings us to my second point.

2. Digital marketing is a lot of work. It takes time to find the winning strategy. Don’t be fooled by the folks who make it sound easy. There is so much to this. Before you even develop your strategy, you have to interview current customers to find out why they bought from you, and understand their Mindset when they set out to buy. 

You have to look at what the competition is doing and what’s working for them, including the keywords they’re being found for and the keywords that are resulting in the most clicks; the ads they’re running and which ones are working best; the content they offer as click bait; the promises they are making and how those promises align (or don’t align) with the customer’s Mindset. 

You have to be honest with yourself about how well your company is going to be able to keep the promises you make in your marketing. 

You need to understand the channels where they expect to find you, and the role of those channels.  

All of this takes hard work. 

3. Not all specialists are good specialists. So many people have moved into the digital marketing specialist space. There are probably millions of people specializing in the various channels: SEO, online ads, sites, social, video, email . . . and within those channels, each specialist has his or her own favorite set of tools and methods. There are also people who specialize in the creative, data, and project management sides of the equation—copywriters, designers, researchers, metrics specialists, and project managers. 

Unfortunately, the skill level of each specialist is all over the map, as is the character of the individual offering the service. There are testy types who never give you control over your own content and don’t go out of their way to help you understand what they’re doing and why they are doing it. There are writers who can write well on one subject but not others. There are designers who have a great-looking portfolio, but after you hire them, you discover that they can only do one style. 

Thanks to the video/Zoom age we live in, everyone has gotten pretty good at pitching or interviewing. It all sounds good, it all makes sense, and so you hire the person. And after a few days, weeks, or months you start to realize that there are some difficulties you had not anticipated. 

[I have to stop here and say this is why I structured our company the way I did. I wanted to save clients from all that searching and disappointment, by finding the best possible people, weeding out any that didn’t work out, and continuing on with the best possible team. I have also made this a safe place for nice people to work; character counts hugely in our everyday operations. Anyone who doesn’t work well with others doesn’t last long. If I were a CEO or entrepreneur trying to succeed at digital marketing, I would much rather work with a company that had been doing all this vetting for me than to try to find and hire and continually vet individual specialists. OK. Back to the other realities.]

4. All of the channels are saturated now. You have to be super helpful and somewhat exciting to stand out from the crowd. Being newsworthy is great, but the company that is the most helpful wins in the long run. 

One of my favorite ad men from back in the day was Howard Gossage. Howard once said in a speech that the trouble with marketing is it’s a lot like fertilizer; it’s ok in small amounts, but it really starts to smell when it’s spread all over the place. All marketing channels get saturated and odoriferous after a while. 

All of us, as buyers, are tired of the way marketing tends to overwhelm our private spaces; the “ad to content ratio” can pollute our gathering places to the point where we stop paying attention to them. Video is well on its way to being the overdone channel. 

The trick, as Steve Jobs proved to all of us, is not to be the first, but to be the best. If your site, videos, emails and social tweets are the most helpful, if they answer questions that your buyers are asking, you will build momentum and reputation. 

5. SEO: There are only 18 spots on page one of Google results—10 unpaid results and 8 paid results. And hundreds of companies vying for those spots every minute of every day. Digital marketing is VERY competitive. 

Getting on page one in the unpaid section is best done with content that is well-organized and answers the questions that your customers are asking. 

What are they asking? Don’t guess—interview them to find out. I give very specific instructions on how to do this in my book

6. What do your customers want to see when they go looking for you? Any time someone sets out to buy, they’re going to find several alternatives, and then they are going to go digging. It doesn’t take much effort; numerous sites and social channels can be clicked through in the blink of an eye. 

  • When they come to your site, do you answer their most burning question immediately (as in, “Can you help me with this?” and “How can you help me with this?”).
  • Are you in the channels where they’d expect to find you? 
  • Are your social channels active, with content refreshed at an appropriate cadence for your industry? Is the content boastful or helpful?
  • Are you constantly making new offers that appeal to the Mindset of your buyers when they set out to buy?
  • If you’re selling a service, are your LinkedIn and Leadership pages up to date? Based on thousands of customer interviews and site heat maps, there is no doubt that is where your customers are going to answer one of their first questions: “Who are the people running this company?” 
  • Are you aggressively gathering reviews, testimonials, and use cases, and publishing them wherever you can? “What other people say about it” is the biggest driver of any type of sale these days.

Managing your digital marketing team

Here are some tips for managing a digital marketing team:

Give great instructions. I hope you are good at giving instructions. Because you will be doing a lot of that. The folks who give instructions most poorly are the diva types (male or female) who just blurt out what they are thinking and have a “make it so” attitude toward their team. They provide about one-fifth of the required instructions at the start, forcing their team to ask all sorts of questions, which can go on for 20 minutes in a Slack channel. 

Instead, team members can read the instructions and just get to work, if you spend just a few more minutes spent organizing the assignment, providing context and answering all anticipated questions, and stating the desired result. 

Divas and other not-so-nice people actually enjoy the attention they get by being vague. They like to think of themselves as the “Main Source of Wisdom,” and they enjoy forcing others to ask them a lot of questions. It’s narcissistic and rude.

So that’s requirement number one. It’s worthwhile to take those few extra minutes to provide the full instruction set, for every assignment. 

Pay attention to the vibe of the team. The other thing that matters is the attention you pay to the environment you have created for your team. One lazy or vindictive person can poison the daily experience for all. And unfortunately, you will be the last to know. So you really have to keep your eyes open and move swiftly when you discover the problem. You don’t want to lose great people because of one bad apple. Anyone who is good at any aspect of digital marketing can easily find employment somewhere else. Fortunately, they will stay a long time wherever they are cared for.

Don’t be afraid to ask. Digital marketing changes constantly. New tools, methods, and strategies emerge on a daily basis, and one of them might make a very positive difference in your own results. If someone mentions something you’re not familiar with, don’t be afraid to ask questions. The truth is, the people who are best at digital marketing are learning all the time. 

Digital marketing: What you can expect

If you pay attention to all the aspects I have just described and have strong, dedicated people on your team, you will find a way to communicate successfully with your audience and compete effectively. It will take some time, but don’t give up; sometimes the winning combination of message, channel, and methods are just around the corner. 

Our most successful clients understand that successful digital marketing is not linear; it is cumulative. Each effort and each appearance feeds upon the others. And it is seldom true that one channel is sufficient. The most profitable marketing efforts use a number of channels, because that’s where the audience is (all over the place!). Reinforcement/reminders lead to familiarity; familiarity builds trust.

Small gains can lead to bigger gains; a strong increase in the responses to a specific ad, for example, will help you realize how and what your customers want to buy from you, and you’ll be able to create a whole new set of offers or products/services based on that new data. 

One of the most rewarding aspects of digital marketing is the feedback you get from your prospects via their own online activities. The content they find most useful; the ads they respond to most aggressively; the social posts that get reposted; the emails that they read and click on; and so on. 

None of this is a substitute for those deep but easy-to-do customer interviews. But if you combine the insights you get from interviewing with the interactive feedback you get from your campaigns, you will definitely keep moving in a positive direction in terms of leads and sales. 

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