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Can Digital Marketing Save My Business?

By Harvey Ramer

Posted in Marketing, Branding

When you think your business is drowning, should you spend money on digital marketing?
When you think your business is drowning, should you spend money on digital marketing?
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The fear of failing in business sometimes weighs us down. It's hard to try anything new when we worry it may disappoint our customers and cost us sales. But inaction is a guarantee of failure. So what should you do when your business is struggling to make it through the next month? Can a digital marketing agency save it?

The personal budgeting tool, Mint, was months behind their competitor Wesabe when they launched in 2007. It was going to be a battle. Mint had an instantly recognizable name, a more compelling visual design, and they were better-funded. But Wesabe was a scrappy start-up, and they had built a loyal group of customers with almost no marketing budget over the previous ten months. Mint was facing a challenge, so they launched big and spent aggressively on digital marketing.

According to the founder of Wesabe, Marc Hedlund, "Mint aggressively acquired users by paying for search engine marketing (reportedly spending over $1 for each user), while Wesabe spent almost nothing on marketing; yet in the end we grew at about 1/5th the rate they did."

Given their ten-month lead, would Wesabe have survived the competition if they had spent money to acquire customers with digital marketing?

Without Clarity, Promotion Is Noise

Pouring money into a poorly conceived marketing message makes a lot of noise, but it doesn't get results. I have done it myself.

A few years ago, I started a consulting business. I didn't know much about who I was competing with or why customers might choose me. But I knew I was different from my competitors. After all, I was me. I was unique. I built a simple website offering services and sharing my qualifications, but it wasn't enough to attract business.

Since I was in a huge market, I spent some money to run pay-per-click ads. It seemed logical that I would get a bunch of website traffic. Leads would pour in.

The opposite was true. After bleeding cash for a few months, I closed the business. I was a well-qualified consultant; why didn't customers come calling?

Why should customers choose you? I assumed, given my skills and experience, that potential customers would see my value. It should have been obvious. But business doesn't usually work like that. I was too self-absorbed to demonstrate the value of my brand as compared to others. It was beneath me to explain myself.

Pouring money into digital promotions cannot rescue every company. Paid promotions buy your brand a megaphone. But without a clear brand message and a compelling offer, advertising only turns up the volume on your confusion, creating noise. Of course, prospective customers wisely tune out. If your brand and messaging are not compelling, digital marketing can't save your business.

We Must Sell Transformation

Customers do not care about brands—even the most compelling ones. Sorry. They don't.

They do care about what brands do for them. As a business owner, it is easy to believe our customers love our brand because of our company's intrinsic worth or snazzy logo. Perhaps, they care about our company and love our logo, but only because we help our customers achieve something they value even more.

All successful businesses are transformation-producing organizations. We create stories about changed lives, or we die.

A transformation story follows a familiar pattern. Perhaps you can use this example to think about your brand:

Our future clients or customers somehow manage to get by without us for a while. When the struggle gets too hard, they do some research. They discover we offer a solution to their problem and choose to do business with us. After we deliver our brand promise, our customers ________ because ________.

At FlareMark, we tell the story this way. Our future clients keep their businesses afloat without paying much attention to their website or digital marketing. They realize their credibility and viability are at stake when sales calls reveal the weakness of their marketing. After some research, they discover FlareMark, and we help them clarify their message, clean up their website, and connect with their audience through content and social media. After we deliver on our brand promise, our customers no longer have to worry about missing out on digital marketing opportunities because we are executing their marketing strategy on their behalf.

Amplify What Works

When you demonstrate a transformation in your customers' lives, the money you spend on digital marketing tactics is more likely to produce a return. But without that demonstration, investing in Google Adwords is akin to flushing money down the toilet. It's an efficient way to dispose of your excess cash. But if you have extra cash that's weighing you down, buy a stamp, stuff it in an envelope, and mail it to me.

Transformation stories spread even without paid advertising. We all love a good rags-to-riches story, and even though the change you provide may not seem profound, change for the better always moves our emotions.

Try this to prove the power of transformation. Share your customer testimonials along with your brand story via social media, in real-life conversations, in blog posts, and through podcasts and videos. Everywhere you share it, an authentic tale of transformation will resonate and amplify your brand.

But Will Digital Marketing Save My Business?

After you clarify your brand and messaging, digital marketing has its place. Wesabe was up against an attractive, well-moneyed competitor. Given Wesabe's head start and place in the market, strategic pay-per-click advertising may have kept Mint from racing past them. But it was not to be. Wesabe shut down its service in 2010 and sold its assets to Due.com.

Without a clear brand message and a transformation story, every business is winding down to a similar end.

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