Ever heard a street peddler with his well-practised marketing spiel, spinning a yarn about his quack cures or junk jewelry or assorted kids' amusements? If not live - they're disappearing fast - maybe in the movies? That is one of the oldest examples of marketing right there - the energetic street seller extolling the virtues of his products, yelling away to all who will listen (and all who wont...).Build Your Own Website Or Online Store >
You wont see professionals like that anymore in many of the world's big cities. The lung-powered sales pitch of the street peddler has been replaced by digital hoardings, television, high-street branding and the ubiquitous smartphone screen, with millions of digital marketing messages getting zapped out every minute.
There is a high-powered media din everywhere. The street peddler has followed you home. He is on your TV screen, on YouTube ads, at one corner of the screen when you are chatting with a friend online. He is in bed with you when you flick open your laptop for a quick midnight shopping session. Very soon he'll follow you into the twilight zone, when some tech company figures out a way to monetize the dream-time and sell you a vacuum cleaner in your sleep.
Digital marketing. How far can it go?
Pretty far and you can be sure there's folks trying to invent the future right now.
So what is digital marketing and what separates it from traditional or offline marketing?
Traditional advertising, marketing and sales processes have been deployed successfully by many companies in the last century, right from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to the birth of the Internet. Big corporations and small businesses have survived on tried and tested marketing and sales techniques all through the 20th century.
You start a news or media publication, grow your circulation and sell advertising space on your print or tv channels to advertisers. Or you have a sporting event and you sell physical advertising space. Then you have door-to-door selling and print media - brochures, flyers and sales letters - getting mailed to your physical address.
The internet started changing all that. Or maybe the game just shifted online. Print publications just switched to online operations. Established, hundred-year-old media empires gave way to brave new internet news companies who knew how to monetize the wired economy. Luxury brands moved from glossy, full-page magazine ads to rich-media banners and product microsites. The 30-second TV spot switched to the 5-second YouTube (Skip Ad) spot.
The static product advertisement changed to an interactive new media experience that you could engage with in real-time. The intelligent-looking new media consumer experience was actually even more intelligent. It collected information on your behaviour, your geographical location, the time of day, your journey through the internet, and fed all this data back to the advertiser. Big data was born!
The door-to-door salesman switched to emailing their propositions instead. Brochures and flyers were replaced by email newsletters and animated banners. The entire supermarket came home!
In the last century there was a distinct time lag between brand awareness, driving out to a physical store, and then brand purchase. Now the difference between learning about a new brand and purchasing it online is potentially a matter of minutes. Your entire advertising, marketing and sales process has shrunk to the size of your smartphone.
Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, countless online news channels and product sites are all vying for the consumer's digital attention. And then you have mobile apps, SMS marketing and digital TV. There is also a lot of jargon thrown around - search engine marketing, pay-per-clicks, search analytics, retargeting, inbound marketing, blabbety-blah. So where do you start?
The 'Social Media Marketer' will tell you to immediately start a Facebook campaign (Facebook is the flavor of the millenium for this lot and a cure for all the ills of civilisation). The 'Search Engine Marketer' will tell you to invest in Search Engine Optimization for sure shot results in 6-9 months time. Another bunch of people masquerading as the 'Digital Marketing Agency' will ask you to fork out a small ransom in something called Pay-Per-Click advertising.
When all this fails you will be forced to call in Seal Team Six, the elusive, but highly mercenary 'Growth Hacker'. This person is a special breed, knows all the dark arts of marketing online, and will not easily condescend to committing his arsenal of internet-bunker-buster acronyms to your lowly digital marketing project, whatever it may be.
All these pros have their own rituals for appeasing the gods of internet traffic. Its all very glamorous but you need to remember just one thing. You have to sell your product. At the end of the day you just need good old marketing - digital or archaic, a hand-woven sign on the back of a camel, street jugglers, fire-eaters, whatever gets the job done.
Offline marketing campaigns are more straightforward, with techniques that have been polished over decades. But with digital marketing there is no rule-book. Or at least none that has been written yet. Digital marketing pros are experimenting all the time. If you are a business owner you will have to experiment as well.
You might look at the phenomenal growth of tech companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Linkedin, and newer companies like AirBnB and Uber and think that digital marketing is some kind of magic stardust that can send your business on an orbital trajectory within weeks of deployment. The thing to remember is that all these companies are tech companies and their success has little to do with digital marketing.
Facebook and AirBnB actually went around physically asking colleges and individual homeowners to sign up. Google and Amazon just made great products and there was not much competition around while they were growing in terms of search engines and ecommerce. At least, not as much as some other industries. If you are selling jeans or women's accessories or car parts and kids' toys there is simply too much competition around.
The growth of Facebook and Linkedin has more to do with the internet phenomenon known as 'Virality', more than marketing. Take the telephone. Your instrument is pretty much useless unless you have someone at the other end. So you tell a friend about it and they also get a phone so you both can talk. That is the strategy deployed by these networking companies. Users are incentivised to add more connections, hence the growth of FB and Linkedin. Now the whole world is on these two platforms.
You can use digital marketing techniques to grow your business and reach out to people way beyond your immediate geography - that is one of its biggest advantages. The main thing to undertand with digital is that a lot of it is about measuring your results and fine-tuning them over time.
When you put up a paid ad on Google you get a lot of information on the kind of people who are clicking it, their geographical location, the kind of keywords they are searching for. You can then tweak your ad campaign accordingly, change the geographical area of your campaign and use keywords that people are actually looking for, rather than using ones you think they are looking for.
There are a number of ways to get started with digital marketing. The first one, also the oldest, is Search Engine Optimization (SEO), where you optimise your website or online store for keywords that your customers might use. Next is Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising, like Google Adwords, for example. Your paid ads appear on Google's search page alongside organic search results. You pay Google each time someone clicks on your paid ad (hence Pay-Per-Click).
Combine SEO and PPC and you get SEM - Search Engine Marketing, cause all the action happens on a search engine (actually they should just call it Google Marketing...). Then you have Social Media Marketing, where you basically get active on Facebook and then start using their ad campaigns. Follow that with Email Marketing, where you just email propective customers and engage with existing ones.
There is also Inbound and Outbound Marketing. These are not exclusively digital marketing concepts but two of the ways you can interact with prospective customers online.
Lets say you make running shoes. So you go around and knock on your neighbour's door and show them your shoes. They don't like running and never exercise so you draw a blank. Maybe they don't have legs. So you come back home and email 20 people. No response there either.
So you find another 200 email addresses and call up another 100 people on the phone and finally sell 2 pairs. All this is 'Outbound' marketing, where you are cold-calling people and hoping to get a response. You could go a bit further and get a list of people you know are interested in running and sports and then you email them. This time you get a 15% response on your efforts. You tweak this figure over time.
Outbound marketing works when you have done your research and you are sure that you can come up with a qualified database of people to market to.
In the 'Inbound' scenario, you write a 1000 words on the benefits of running and a healthy lifestyle and put it up on your website. Then you link to it with a post on your Facebook page. You will need to optimise your web page with keywords that people interested in running might type into Google.
Voila! By a stroke of luck (and some hard work), people searching for running or weight-loss tips find your page on Google, land up on your web page and start buying your shoes. Moreover, your FB followers start recommending your healthy lifestyle tips to their friends and send some more traffic to your webstore.
That's it. You have just cracked Content Marketing, one of the best ways to boost your search engine presence and make a long-term, digital marketing investment. This is also called 'Inbound' marketing, cause your customers came and found you on their own.
They came looking for you, instead of the other way round, cause you created some online content that was of benefit to them. Inbound Marketing lets you reach out to more qualified leads, as these consumers were already looking for a solution that your product happened to solve.