Marketing and Customer Engagement in the Digital Age
Before we even begin talking about online promotion it’s important that we define and really understand the meaning and purpose of marketing. What is marketing? Try to define it in one word. Many will answer sales, advertising or branding. However, marketing simply put, comes down to one thing: education. Successful marketing is your ability to effectively educate your prospects and clients about what you have to offer so they will be compelled to do business with you. Educating your clients and prospects is all about creating the emotional response, crafting and delivering the story that not only educates but also inspires and elicits action. In today’s market people do business with those they know, like and trust. Online marketing is a way for you not only to create an educated and informed client base but also to build relationships via interaction in a virtual world.
Be Where the Eyes Are
In light of this, digital and online marketing must be an integral and essential part of any company’s overall marketing strategy. There are many options so business owners have to make decisions when developing and creating their online marketing plans and budgets. The following three factors need to be considered when deciding which online marketing channels to focus efforts on: 1) the channels your target audience prefers; 2) the channels that align with your goals and objectives; and 3) the channels that match your customers’ buying cycle behavior. It is important to keep in mind that the buyers are in control now and many will not initiate contact with a vendor until they have completed their initial online due diligence and fact-finding. It is impossible to cover all of the possible channels in one article, so we will focus on the key essentials: websites, social media and content marketing with a little touch on search engine optimization.
The Right Presence
Simply having a website is no longer enough. You need to have the right type of website. How much should building a good website cost? Well, that depends. What do you need? Who is your audience? What do you expect the site to do for you, and what functions does it need to perform? Do you have a budget? Do you have your content (text copy) ready? Do you have graphics or pictures? Without a plan and knowing exactly what your site requirements are, the price to build a website could be in the range of under a $1,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Your website needs to be treated like a business and employee. Consider it much like a micro business within your business and it is on the payroll. Just like any new hire, it needs to be trained, given direct instruction and have performance expectations and goals.
You’ll need to do some homework to lay the groundwork for building a site that will be able to deliver your desired results. Conduct research to determine what your peers and competitors are doing online because it can give you a sense of where the market and the industry is leaning. Also be sure to determine your visitors’ buying decision cycle. If it is long and complex and includes multiple touch points you’ll need to cater site content to fit the audience needs. Next develop a written plan and strategy for the website just like you would for your business that includes a budget, a clearly defined action plan, goals and expectations. This plan should also include methods and frequency for monitoring the website’s performance results and how you will react to doing more of what is working and changing or eliminating what doesn’t.
Keep in mind, your target visitors don’t want advertising when trying to make a purchase decision. They want valuable content. A certain amount of marketing speak is expected on company websites but it should not be the bulk of the content presented to the prospective client.
And even more critical, the content needs to be kept updated and fresh with new content being populated on the website on a consistent basis. Interactive content and videos provide an excellent method for engagement with the visitor to keep them on your site for longer periods of time as there is a very short window of opportunity to grab their attention.
Your website should not be thought of as a static entity but rather a living and breathing member of your company team that requires an investment of time and financial resources to keep it viable and a high performing indispensable marketing tool. Now that you’ve done your planning, the building process can commence. So, DIY or hire a professional? Good question. Honestly answer these questions to determine what the best course of action is for your firm: How computer savvy are you? Do you have graphics software and design skills? Are you good at writing copy? Do you know any programming languages or at least have some familiarity with HTML? And most importantly, do you have the time?
You could spend weeks or months learning how to design a website, or take that time to focus on your field of expertise and generating more business for your firm. What will provide the best ROI? You may have considered the free, build-your-own services from godaddy.com, yahoo.com or other online services, but remember you get what you pay for. These services are often very limiting, and you need to be aware of who owns the content of your website should you discontinue using the service. If you are not ready, it is better to wait and launch a site that is a true reflection of the professionalism and expertise of your firm than rush to create one that will leave that hot prospect wondering if you can handle the job or if your product is the solution they’ve been seeking.
Whether do it yourself or through a designer, be sure that your website is designed and developed to be responsive. It must be smartphone and mobile device friendly. Mobile internet traffic is steadily on the rise and is quickly becoming a preferred way of accessing web-based information and resources.
Search Engine Optimization
“If you build it, they will come,” is only in the movies (Field of Dreams, 1989). You need a game plan. How do you drive traffic to your site and achieve those high rankings in the Google search engine results? Lots of things come into play in this facet of online marketing.
Content is king. Probably just as important or more so than keywords, meta tags and page titles. Content now works hand in hand with these tried-and-true methods to help boost your overall rankings and visibility. As Google changes its algorithms on a rapid basis it is important to keep pace with current trends and use content to your advantage to stay ahead of the curve.
Content marketing is the process of creating, publishing and promoting custom content for marketing purposes on a regular basis. Here’s how it works. Let’s say you have a website that provides drain cleaning services and plumbing repairs. To get your firm more business, you or a content marketing firm creates content about drain cleaning and plumbing. The types of content and information can be articles, info graphics, videos, blog items or photos that are interesting and will grab the visitor’s attention. The content also needs to be developed to be search engine optimized.
Once the content is created, it is published on your website and other popular sites on a regular basis. Because the content is optimized, visitors find your website listed and ranked highly when they search for information related to drain cleaning and plumbing. By constantly updating your site with useful, relevant content, visitors keep coming back to see what’s new and stay longer. This repeat traffic helps build brand awareness and people then share your content in their social media channels. The result is more traffic, higher link popularity and potentially higher search engine ranking that may lead to higher conversion ratings and more business.
Personal social media activity presence and interaction as well as content on YouTube, now the second most popular search engine, are also factors in boosting rankings and overall popularity and getting “Google love” for your site.
Although many of us hate to admit it social media is here to stay. Social media is where the next generation of buyers are circulating and residing. However, it’s important to think before jumping in. Refer back to your marketing and business plan and also your website strategy plan to determine the best venues for your business. As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, you need to be where the eyes are and the channels that your target audience prefers. Knowing this will help you determine where you should devote your social media efforts. And like any successful marketing initiative you need to have the resources available before you launch and engage. This does not necessarily mean monetary resources, but time is money and time is the largest investment you will need to be making for social media. Social media does not have an immediate ROI, and you must be willing to give before you can look to receive. Plan to spend a set amount of time each week or day participating in social media. Keep personal and professional content separated, and always be sincere and genuine.
The platform of social media has been designed for people to share and exchange information and certain etiquette needs to be observed. Be consistent in the way you present your communications, no hard sell, just good information as often as you can and non-invasively. Follow up and respond, acknowledge others, offer help and don’t be shy to repost, retweet or share content you find valuable. On venues such as LinkedIn, direct sales pitches are often frowned upon and members are quick to discount those that they feel may not be involved for the betterment of the group’s knowledge but are only there for quick personal financial gain.
And again we come back around to what marketing is … education. Social media provides one of the best platforms for one to EDUCATE prospects, share expertise and present themselves as a solutions provider. This approach creates indirect sales, referrals and recommendations. A word of caution: The various channels of social media are like the fingers to the hand. They branch out from the source or central gripping mechanism … your website. The social media activity, SEO and content marketing efforts are to drive traffic to your website. With that said, having the right website is key before spending efforts on SEO or social media. A company’s social media efforts may be strong, but if it is not supported by an effective website, these efforts may be wasted.
Suzan Marie Chin is CMO and artistic director of Creative Raven, marketing specialists for the wastewater, water and underground infrastructure industry, offering a broad range of creative production and consulting services. To learn more, call 760.325.3317 or visit creativeraven.com.