Integrated Digital Marketing in the Post Pandemic Era.
Updated: Jan 28
If there’s one thing the pandemic has done for businesses, is that it’s forced the companies to enhance their existing online presence (or start building one in case there wasn’t one, to begin with) and further fine-tune it to develop a frictionless sales experience, which is easier said than done though.
Digital Marketing (the kind that actually delivers results) has a lot of key modules to be implemented and utilised and each module is no less than an ocean in itself. It is pretty difficult to become an expert in every module possible. Even for someone with 5 years of experience, mastering all the subjects is almost next to impossible.
The more I think about it, the more evident it becomes that it is more important to execute digital marketing in an integrated fashion, than build expertise in each digital marketing module.
Each module such as SEO, Email Marketing, Content Marketing, and Social Media Marketing is powerful on its own, but when they are combined in an integrated manner, its effectiveness goes up exponentially. It creates a snowball effect that is unstoppable.
So, what is Integrated Digital Marketing? It is the art and craft of using all the digital marketing methods available today in such a manner that each digital marketing channel complements the other by playing to its strengths rather than trying to reach the goal of increasing revenues and customer base single-handedly in isolation.
Investment of time, energy and money in building an integrated digital marketing process for your business is like investing in machinery which will magically multiply the effectiveness of each component in it. In Isolation, each digital marketing pillar has challenges galore. There’s enough data to actually build a strong case against why these methods in isolation can be too risky and probably not that efficient to implement in the first place. Let’s have a brief look at why!
Some of the common digital marketing methods are:
1. Search Engine Marketing
2. Search Engine Optimization
3. Email Marketing
4. Social Media Marketing
5. Digital Display Marketing
6. Content Marketing
1. Search Engine Marketing [S.E.M]
Of all the above digital marketing methods available, SEO and SEM caught everybody’s attention in the early days of digital marketing. SEM (Pay-Per-Click Ads) was so powerful because it helped marketers connect with prospects who are already interested and looking out for them. For example, if someone is searching for Montessori preschools, the ads will be only be shown to people who are specifically looking for preschools who follow the Montessori curriculum, and the best part is charged only when they click on it. This helped marketers save a ton of money because no money was wasted on an untargeted advertisement.
The reason why search engine marketing was so powerful, (the key operative word being was) was that it was measurable, targeted and active in real-time. Not that SEM is not measurable or targeted today, but due to heavy competition for high-value keywords, the prices have shot up – sometimes as high as $25 – $50 per click for certain keywords such as insurance loans etc. While SEM is still effective for many marketers, a large percentage of the marketers – especially the ones in the start-up environment find SEM no longer a viable means of marketing online. For instance, when Dropbox was launched, they were spending $228 to acquire a customer who paid $99. They eventually had to abandon SEM.
2. Search Engine Optimization [S.E.O]
When the cost of PPC ads got higher because of increased competition and higher bidding of keywords, marketers switched their focus towards search engine organic traffic (SEO) because investing in SEO produced long-term returns. If you rank in the top 3 for a highly contested/paid keyword, you would get much more traffic than the advertiser who is paying a lot for every click on the ad.
But “investing in SEO” has today become obsolete because of the frequent updates in the ever-changing algorithm by the search engines. Old school SEO techniques are actually back-firing now because the search engines do not like to be tricked or manipulated.
3. Email Marketing
Email marketing was (and still is) a separate wing by itself without much dependency on other digital marketing verticals. The chief goal of email marketers was to collect leads and subscribers and send marketing messages to them. While some marketers (and that’s a minute no.) still do content marketing within the emails, most of them just use email to “blast” marketing messages to enhance short term sales.
It works for a while – until people start getting too many emails and eventually start unsubscribing to all the marketer’s messages which usually adds no value to their life.
4. Social Media Marketing
As social media became famous and websites like Facebook and later on Instagram started posting record traffic numbers, it became the go-to place where marketers flocked to for social ads. But sooner than later marketers realized that social advertising gives a very low conversion ratio and can never replace the ‘Search Traffic’.
That’s because people ‘hang out’’ on Facebook or Instagram like they hang out in a bar or a restaurant and they are there to connect with their friends and to have a good time. Interrupting people on social media with a marketing message (especially if it's poorly designed or not well thought of) is not as effective when they are proactively looking for a product or service like they do while searching in the search engines.
But marketers are smart enough to not completely abandon social media or treat it as an afterthought. Social media, when used in a proper manner can bring both tangible and intangible benefits that other channels never come close to.
5. Digital Ads
Display ads are synonymous to distractions. Just like ads in the Newspaper, they find their place between useful pieces of content and interrupt the user with a promotional message. In newspapers, however, barring the full front-page ads or the one’s at the back, the ads are subdued and cannot be presented in an animated manner through the occasional reader might even take some interest in them.
Online ads, sadly are despised at best. “Those animated and interactive banners do nothing but distract the readers – and the very nature of the internet with so many distractions auto-built in make it a very poor branding channel”.
Adblocker plugins for browsers are hitting record numbers in download volume. Further, as people spend more time online, particularly on social media they develop ad-blindness. Forbes recently published an article about how display ads cause a brand awareness black hole. It should be an interesting read if you feel the same about display ads”.
6. Content Marketing
Content marketing is essentially an inbound marketing tactic where you attract visitors, readers and potential customers by creating top-notch content. This is one of the best ways to do online marketing and it does not interrupt itself in anyone’s face rather is the other way around where people come to valuable content looking for solutions or information in general.
Forbes in one of its recent articles had mentioned: “The bottom line is that there is only one true branding mechanism online and that’s content marketing.” Even though the world’s information is exploding, content marketing can still find its way in several markets. But content marketing won’t be as effective if the other digital marketing methods are not used in conjunction with it. That’s what integrated marketing is all about. Integrated Digital Marketing is on the hindsight, content marketing on steroids.
The Integrated Digital Marketing Process
Integrated Digital Marketing is like a team with content as the leader and the various other digital marketing methods are like its team members. Instead of asking each member to achieve the goal of increasing the company’s customer base on its own, Integrated Digital Marketing will make use of each member’s strengths and produce a result which is more than the sum of the individual achievements of each member.
The above flowchart describes the process of integrated digital marketing. Each one serves a unique function:
Content: Quality and relevant content help establish authority, build trust, engage the audience with the brand and build a strong customer base who turn into loyal customers and eventually strongly advocate your brand. Content also helps in educating your target client about the industry and how and why your product or service is better than others.
Email: An Email is simply hands-down the best communication tool available to digital marketers today. Swiggy and Zomato are prime examples of how they utilize email’s and ensure their brand stays at the top of their minds. Caution: Email works best when used with permission and not when it’s blasted to 1000 people without proper segmentation. It helps send out information about new content and follow up with the prospects to remind them about the product or service they want to buy.
Social Media: People don’t generally hang out in their inboxes but definitely do so on various social platforms and are also more authentic and honest with feedback and suggestions in a social atmosphere. Even though Social Platforms have not yet matured enough to directly convince people to transact within the social environment, but it certainly helps enhance brand awareness and generate leads. Awareness coupled with honest feedback about your product or service from your brand advocates converts the whole social environment into a self-sufficient sales team working to get customers in an inbound fashion.
Paid Ads: Paid ads in various formats and on multiple platforms can help in enhancing brand awareness and increasing conversions as well. The integrated digital marketing process is like a catalyst for ads which maximizes the R.O.I on every penny that is invested. For every business that is starting small and starting fresh – ensuring how ads work and how to squeeze out the maximum ROI from Ads should be of utmost importance.
Search: S.E.O helps potential customers to find your content and your offering because interested users are directly searching for it. If your content ranks high, it can dramatically reduce the Search if realised is the most powerful tools (not just one of the most) in online marketing and works best when you do not try to manipulate it. Most Search Engines are smart enough to know where it’s being double-crossed. Doing basic on-page SEO and then doing all the other things right (easier said than done for most) should be enough to get truck-loads of targeted traffic from the search engines.
Let’s have a deeper look at each process!
1. Quality Content
At the core of an integrated digital marketing workflow is the quality content which drives the entire process. People use the internet to find information, do transactions etc. Finding information though is a major part of the time spent on the internet.
When consumers want to buy something, rarely do they blindly trust an ad and buy the respective product or service. How many times have you done that? Most of us have burnt our fingers more than once and almost everyone today does some research before buying anything.
The internet has just made the process frictionless – we can go and find reviews of products and services online or simply ask our friends on Facebook or Instagram. Before purchasing anything, consumers collect relevant data and information that helps them make that purchase decision.
The key point here is that information comes before the transaction. In other words, investment in content should be first in the order of priority as compared to spending money on ads. So instead of blindly pouring money in ads for branding and taking people to landing pages, it is much better to educate the customer about their needs, ignite an interest in them and then present your product or service in front of them when they naturally feel ready to buy and are convinced that you are the best one in the market based on how you have differentiated your offering from the rest.
Such information can be given to the potential prospects via content that is distributed well. Content marketing can be done via a stand-alone blog or through the various platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram etc. Every brand can afford to become a publisher today because the barrier to entry is at an all-time low.
So, what’s the catch? Creating quality content is neither easy nor free. Compared to paid ads, content marketing appears on the surface to be free because you are not paying for the traffic – but creating quality content costs a lot. Even having a full-time writer in-house to publish blog posts will cost a ton of money. But the investment in content marketing is worth every penny because it produces consistent long-term returns.
Content alone though does not convert raw customers into paid users. Many bloggers have built great blogs and believed that content alone will convert leads into customers but the traffic itself isn’t guaranteed in the first place. Marketers should not forget about the marketing aspect of content marketing. Content in isolation without marketing is of no use and that’s where all the other digital marketing methods come to rescue.
Key Tips for Content Marketing
Start with keyword research. Writing content that people are not searching for can be a waste of time. Publish posts that people want to read and are interested in.
Do not stop with keywords. Think about various forms of content that people in your circle may like and want to share.
Embrace other forms of content. Look beyond just the plain text. Videos, Infographics, MEMEs, Podcasts, E-Books, etc. can massively help in generating the much-needed engagement.
Make the content useful and relevant but incomplete. Ideally you want the user to take some action such as subscribing for more information. Have the hook in place. If you give away everything, there is no reason for people to connect with you. For instance, you put the worm in the hook of the fishing rod, you just don’t throw the worm into the water.
2. Social Media
Putting out content on Facebook, Instagram or other social platforms can be one of the most straight forward ways to share content and spread the word. If you have like-minded people in your circle in any of the social networks, sharing the links to that content on those networks will massively help in increasing its organic reach. When people discover good quality content whether it's entertaining or informational which adds to their personal, professional or social quotient, they are compelled to share it with their network which in turn enhances their social quotient.
People gain good karma points when they share good quality content with their peers. Poor content or even just mediocre content will not be shared by people and that why the emphasis on the word quality when talking about content.
If you are reading this right now and if you have someone who may find the concept of integrated digital marketing useful, you are more likely to share it with him/her. If I post this content just for the posting sakes, then it will just stay in the blog and not much would happen. As content is shared on various social platforms, new followers can be gathered through the spread of information and those new members will come back to the blog when some fresh content is published. As shown in the above figure, content and social media can have a symbiotic relationship.
P.S. – The format in which content is presented in a blog vis-à-vis the format in which the content on each platform works the best is very different. To keep it short, let’s just say it’s far from a simple ctrl-c, ctrl-v.
That’s why Social Media can be an uphill or a downhill ride depending on the quality of the content. Really good content is the backbone of an effective social media strategy. A good piece of content when shared on social platforms can have a snowball effect. You can use your social profile to get the ball rolling.
Key tips for Social Media Marketing
Social sharing buttons should be integrated seamlessly into the content. You’d ideally want people to share your content and make it as easy as possible for them to do so. To that note, People will not hunt for the sharing buttons in most of the cases, but when it is right in front of their eyes, they are more likely to share it. Have sharing buttons in the beginning and also at the bottom of the blog posts.
It pays in more ways than one to be active on various social media platforms. Engage with users. Social media is a big listening tool and not just a broadcasting tool. Ask for suggestions for new posts and respond to questions and comments on social media. If you are more active on Facebook, for example, it will help reach more people from your connected page.
Have a well-designed social media profile. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and almost all the other social networks give options for customization and it doesn’t cost more than a Rs 10,000 to get a good designer set up your profile and it a professional appeal. People can instantly differentiate between channels who care about their followers and those who don’t.
Leverage social ads but know the intricacies. Social Ads work best when primarily used to generate awareness or leads within that social platform. For example, on Facebook, you can increase the followers on your page using Facebook ads which usually gives a very high conversion rate than using Facebook Ads to drive traffic out to your website or landing page.
3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
For many businesses, traffic from the search engines contributes to a high percentage of their revenues and the traffic they get on their brand online. In the early days, people used to “invest” money in SEO by hiring an SEO agency or freelancer and have them do back-linking and other optimizations on their website. Sadly, such practices no longer work because Google owns the search algorithm which is smart enough to determine the low quality and manipulative link building activities.
In reality, there is virtually no SEO agency who can do SEO the way it should be ideally done – it can be done in the right way only by the owner of the website. The right way is to link earning and not link building. When good content is published and shared on social platforms it has the potential to attract natural links and that’s off-page SEO optimization at its best.