Integrated Digital Marketing in the Post Pandemic Era.
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.
Search engines rank websites according to their quality and how relevant they are. The quality and relevancy of a certain website for a certain keyword are determined by two factors.
One factor is the On-Page SEO where the webmaster communicates to the search engines about the quality and relevancy of a website.
The other factor is Off-Page SEO where the users of a website communicate to the search engines about the quality and relevancy of a website.
Though On-Page SEO is an important factor in SEO, there is only so much on-page optimization that you can do. You can have your web page elements designed and organised in a structured manner such that the search engines can understand what your content is about. But since, how the webmasters communicate with the search engines cannot be influenced, on-page SEO has a limited potential to convince the search engines that your content is quality and relevant to certain keywords.
In Off-Page SEO – the users who visit that website communicates to the search engines about the quality and relevancy of a website – not directly but through their behaviour. In the above figure, you can see that the search engines send some traffic to the content but at the same time, the search engine also picks up on user behaviour, for eg. How long is the visitor scrolling through the page or for how long is the visitor staying on that particular page in proportion to the quantity of content.
There are multiple other factors based on which the search engines decide the quality of the content and further decides how to rank that page accordingly. If a user doesn’t stay on the page for long or quickly switches between the different pages of the website – that typically means that the user didn’t get the relevant information for the particular query he searched for on that search engine.
Besides user behaviour, search engines also pick up signals from various social platforms. Quality content when shared on social media gets engagement and is further shared – such activity gets picked up by search engines. It is an obvious signal that the content quality should be good. Off-Page optimization takes care of itself when the basic on-page optimization is done, the content that is published is of high quality and a social strategy is properly executed.
Key Tips for Search Engine Optimization
Do on-page optimization for your sites according to the guidelines given by the search engines. Google being the biggest search-engine has its webmaster tools which can help you in on-page optimization. Tools like SEO Moz can help a lot when you need suggestions to improve your on-page optimization.
Off-Page SEO optimization cannot be directly acted upon. You might be thinking that's not exactly a tip but that's the truth. You cannot off-page-optimize a website. There are only off-page signals and those signals are indirectly sent in the process of your user accessing your content. If you try to send fake signals on behalf of your users, then you will be caught by the search engines sooner or later and worse be penalized for the same. Publish good content and share it and keep at it consistently. Have a good distribution strategy so that your website and in essence your brand gains value in the market place.
4. Email Marketing
Email marketing is one of the most powerful tools available to a digital marketer even in 2021. Emails are around since the beginning of the internet and people will always use emails and even more so in a post-pandemic world.
An email inbox is a personal space and unlike social networks, it is not easy to interrupt a user with a marketing message and seek undivided attention. But with a permission-based email approach where people have opted-in to receive communication from the sender, the email subscriber will open an email and most likely pay attention to the message.
Email marketing is effective only when useful and actionable content and promotional messages are sent alternatively. If you bombard the subscriber with too many promotional messages, the user will eventually unsubscribe. If you do not up-sell your product or services at all, you are essentially doing free charity.
So how does email marketing fit into an integrated marketing framework? The one thing you need to do email marketing effectively is that you need qualified leads/subscribers. These subscribers when engaged in a proper manner and nurtured with quality and relevant content can turn into long-term paying customers.
Usually, email marketers gather leads by advertising on other social platforms. But when you have your own content channel, you can use it to accumulate subscribers. A variety of niche bloggers have effectively generated leads by using tools such as subscription boxes and popup forms on the webpage etc
Instead of creating content specifically designed to gel well in an email, you can publish that content on the blog and email your subscribers a link to that page. When subscribers visit that blog post article and find it relevant, they are likely to share it on social media and check out your products and services again. Also, this piece of content on the blog has the potential to attract new visitors from search engines and social platforms and those visitors may eventually become subscribers as well.
A large proportion of subscribers can come via the search engines as well if the strategy deployed is optimized and refined. This can reduce the cost per acquisition of a customer drastically thus increasing the bottom-line and invariably your profits.
Key Tips for Email Marketing
Optimize lead generation on your content delivery channels. A lot of tools are available in the market place which helps you collect leads through blogs, videos and so on.
Automate your email marketing process. Time is money and effeicient follow-up is the difference a lead and a conversion. Use email marketing tools such as Aweber, MailChimp, Get Response etc.
Send a mix of marketing messages and valuable content. A good balance depends on the tolerance level of your market. Don’t just sell, sell and sell. Don’t just do charity either.
5. Paid Advertisements
Paid advertisements, whether it is display ads, social ads, or PPC ads on search engines – all have a good potential to ignite and speed up the entire integrated digital marketing process. Instead of using paid ads to directly close a sale or generate leads, the traffic from the ads can be channelled to your content which will help build trust and educate the prospective customers and in turn increase social media engagement, search traffic and email subscriber list.
The Search-Social-Email trio along with quality content is like a steroid for the paid ads which increases the ROI on ad-money spent and also gives intangible benefits like building a highly engaged social community. A tribe helps in improving the product offering, generate ideas for new products and sometimes can even double as a free support group and a team of evangelists.
Driving the Sales
No one buys a product at first glance. Impulsive buying for many products even more so for services is far and in between. The general consensus is that it takes an average of 7 points of contact with a prospect to turn him/her into a customer. With Digital marketing, the best way to turn a prospect into a customer is to follow-up with the lead. The lead data can be an email, a phone number or both.
Email marketing is the most cost-effective and effective way to follow up with prospects. With automated marketing tools like Mai-Chimp and Ge-Response, it is easy to set up a sequence of automated messages to be sent to a prospect once he/she subscribes to your Email Newsletter.
A subscriber will open the email and visit the blog only when there is some useful and quality content to look forward to and a sale can happen directly by clicking on an email link or a link from the blog. The email newsletter and the blog are the primary value delivery platforms and the probability of conversion is pretty high in this case.
The above integrated digital marketing framework effectively utilizes all the digital marketing options available to us and more importantly in such a way that the strengths of each method complement each other and enhances the effectiveness of the respective marketing campaign.
Quality Content, when distributed effectively, has and will always be one of the most effective lead generation frameworks and because this process revolves around quality content, we’d highly recommend businesses to invest in quality content and start looking at them as assets and not as a one-off out-sourced activity.
This framework is applicable even more so in the post-pandemic era. People are working from home and that gives them a considerable amount of spare time than before. A huge chunk of that spare time - is spent in consuming content. Be it in the video format on Youtube, Facebook or Netflix or reading news and informational content or scrolling through photos on Instagram or Facebook.
Business which win the content game in the next 1-2 year time-frame will have a considerable advantage over others. That's why just generating leads via ads wont be enough. Users will have to be nurtured and engaged via email and relevant content on blogs and social platforms. Brands will have to win over their trust and over a period of time once this trust is earned, this can then be easily leveraged into sales.