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A Simple Framework for Digital Marketing

By Harvey Ramer

Posted in Sales, Marketing, Business

NASA builds ground systems to provide a framework of support for deep space exploration. Do the same for digital marketing.
NASA builds ground systems to provide a framework of support for deep space exploration. Do the same for digital marketing.

When it works, marketing transforms potential customers; it turns strangers into friends. And it creates new economic value that builds businesses and creates jobs. A lot is riding on this practice.

We can think of marketing as four processes: prospecting, sales, fulfillment, and nurture. Digital marketing uses these four processes to produce value.

Every marketer must get the attention and interest of new customers. We begin by prospecting for qualified leads—people who want and need what we offer. Then we use sales techniques to convince those leads to choose our solution over our competitors. On receipt of payment, we fulfill the order by keeping the promises we made to get the sale. We continue the conversation after the initial marketing and sales processes with a nurture campaign.

Tools for Marketing Processes

More marketing tools are available than any business will ever use. We need to use just a few of them. With only our website, social media, search engines, and email or text messaging, we can build a marketing process that gets results. Appropriate engagement during each marketing process helps us succeed.

ProcessWebsiteSocialSearchEmail/Text
ProspectingBlogging, Podcasting, Landing Pages, Lead MagnetsSearch, Social UpdatesSEO, Search MarketingRespond to Request for Lead Magnet
SalesSales Pages, Contact Forms, Calls to ActionSocial SellingSearch Marketing, RetargetingSales Email Sequence
FulfillmentProject Management ToolsN/AN/ARegular Project Updates
NurtureBlogging, PodcastingUpdatesN/ANurture Email Sequence

Inbound and Outbound Marketing

The introvert's dream of making money without direct engagement is not viable. Digital marketing is an active social effort. Even with brilliant marketing tactics in place, retreating to a private workshop to churn out products rarely creates wealth.

Marketing on the web is also directional. We can attract inbound customers with content marketing, and we can seek out and recruit customers with outbound tactics.

The term inbound marketing was coined by Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan a few years ago. Inbound marketing advises us to create compelling and findable content our customers need. When they Google for a solution to a problem, they will find our expertly written content. These people become warm leads and potential customers. They need your products and services. They searched, saw your content, were intrigued, and clicked to learn more. Congratulations! Your content was worth trading their valuable time and attention.

Search engine visitors like this are called organic traffic. They arrive at your website at no cost to you. Still, it can be hard to get your content discovered on Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, and other search engines. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art and science of improving search engine results. It can boost inbound results by matching your content to the actual words of searchers. SEO practitioners also build incoming links to bolster your website's authority.

Another inbound tactic is pay per click advertising (PPC). It boosts the visibility of your content by paying for ranking in the search engine results. We refer to both SEO and PPC by the term search engine marketing.

Outbound marketing is active and social. It generates leads and sales by direct outreach on the web or in person. Digital outbound marketing tactics can work well if you use them to build relationships rather than chasing a quick buck.

Rather than sending direct messages asking for a sale, I recommend offering something helpful and asking for nothing in return. When you make an authentic effort to help, at least a few people will reward you with their attention.

To begin your outreach, you can use social search to find and connect with likely prospects. On LinkedIn, you can do this and then send a connection request. If you take a few moments to explain how you plan to help, many business people are open to your request.

When you are connected, follow up by amplifying your new connection's brand. Share a resource they have created and mention them as you do. After you have interacted with them, send a relevant direct message offering more value. For example, share a relevant article they will find helpful. Even better, share one you have written. Business people love to get free consulting, and why shouldn't they try before they buy?

Avoid being salesy. After you have built rapport, let your new friend know how you can help and how they can buy.

In your prospecting activities, don't overlook those closest to you. Check out the list of those with whom you are connected. Are there any you can reach out to in the same way? Consider standing out from those that only email or direct message by sending a hand-written note or making an old-fashioned networking phone call. Remember to be human.

Marketing Tactics for Inbound and Outbound Marketing

DirectionProspectingSalesNurture
InboundSEO, PPC, Blogging, Podcasting, Social Updates, RetargetingSocial Selling, Sales Email SequenceSEO, Blogging, Podcasting, Retargeting
OutboundSocial Search, Social Media Listening, Direct Messages, CallsPersonal Email, CallsPersonal Email, Calls

Telling Stories

Marketing has always been about telling stories, and digital marketing is no different. But digital marketing connects us with more immediacy. Social media platforms provide direct, inter-personal connections. Email and SMS arrive on the personal devices that define our lives with messages that demand our attention. This level of interaction without physical presence is new. Perhaps the best precedent from years past is radio.

On crisp winter nights in Northern Ontario, I listened to a country music broadcast from over 1,200 miles away. Between songs, the announcers spoke directly to my soul. They talked about songwriting, discussed the lives of the artists, and promoted upcoming events. They built their brand by showing up every day and sharing their enthusiasm for country music. In time, I became a fan of country music and Hamilton Ontario's 820 CHAM. But the radio waves transmitting their voices from far away did not tell the radio station I was listening.

Digital marketing improves on my long-distance love affair with country music. Using digital tools, we can understand and interact with customers directly. Yes, the added immediacy of telephone calls built talk radio, but radio will always be a one-way broadcast medium. Digital marketing tools make instant two-way communication integral to marketing success. Using digital marketing tactics and tools, we can broadcast and interact with people and know who they are in real-time.

Success follows companies that create a coherent brand story. 820 CHAM is no longer a country music station; the Internet disrupted it and the entire broadcasting industry. Still, I am talking about those voices broadcasting on cold winter nights from far-away Southern Ontario. When your story resonates, you have solved the chief marketing challenge.

Broadcasting

With a compelling story to tell, digital marketing uses all the tools available to broadcast it to those who are ready to listen.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is the generous process of sharing your story so others can learn and respond. We seek to help others succeed and to build mutually beneficial relationships with them. But with more than 4.4 million new blog posts published every day, it is challenging to rise above the cacophony of voices on the web.

Building a business based on content marketing is an exercise in patience, persistence, and intentionality. Whether you choose to share your story by writing blog posts, producing podcast episodes, or sharing videos on YouTube, you cannot expect instant results. Persist in telling your story with clarity and empathy for the reader, listener, or viewer. Above all, stay on message. Your brand will gain visibility through repetition and clarity.

Blogging: You may think the practice of blogging is recent, but it is nothing new. Blogging is generosity. If you share what you know in written form and make it available online, you're blogging. Some people think you must let readers comment to be a blogger. Some claim your website must make articles available by Really Simple Syndication (RSS) to be considered a blog. All this is unimportant. Just share what you know in writing, and I'll call you a blogger.

In the beginning, blog posts were informal, often typo-ridden pieces of "authentic" writing. Now, our expectations have increased. Put your best foot forward, use editing software to catch poor grammar, and write content that will help your customers grow their businesses.

To attract new people to your business, blog often. Some bloggers believe publishing on a schedule is essential. Instead, I spend a few minutes each day working on an article I plan to publish. When a piece of writing is ready, I share it on my website. Publishing deadlines take the joy out of my creative practice. But personalities differ. They make the writing practice of others thrive.

I don't care how you do it, but I know blogging will build your business. Just keep at it.

Podcasting: My friend Carey Green believes in using audio for content marketing—so much that he built a business around it. I asked him to explain. "It is a way to connect with an audience using primarily audio in an on-demand format. It uses an RSS feed to send out notifications that an episode is available. Listeners download episodes on demand. It's like a radio show you can listen to any time you want."

Since consuming audio is more enjoyable to many than reading, it often reaches a broader and more dedicated audience than blogging. It is useful, Carey says, "If you have a message you feel will provide value, entertainment, or information people need." Podcasts have many uses. Carey says they help with self-promotion, content marketing, entertainment, PR, and internal communications. Emphasizing his love for the medium, Carey closed with this. "I think it is the most powerful form of content marketing in existence."

Video: While video can be intimidating to the camera-shy, it reaches a massive, engaged audience. The premier video search engine, YouTube, has more than 2 billion active monthly users who watch more than 1 billion hours of video each day. Apply the principles of blogging to the creation of short, informative videos and share them online. When you do, many new potential customers will watch your videos and learn about your company.

Search Marketing

Search marketing uses the tools provided by search engines to engage users when they are most open to new ideas. When a person types a query in a search engine, they are engaging in a learning experience. If your website answers their questions, it builds brand awareness and trust.

When your search result answers my question well, I reward you with a click. If you deliver on what the search result promised, I begin to trust you.

When I trust you, I am likely to respond when your website calls me to action. After all, you have shown yourself trustworthy. You have kept your word. I am open to a sales conversation.

The most destructive tactic any small business can use in search marketing is the bait and switch. Misrepresenting your content to get more visitors kills trust. Even search engines will stop trusting you, and they will penalize your website. Desperate acts like this make it clear you are running after clicks and visits rather than seeking to have a real impact on the people who need your help.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art and science of improving your website to produce maximum value for people who need your content. It does this by focusing your content on keywords and phrases gleaned from keyword research. SEO also uses link building to convince search engines to see the content you provide as authoritative.

Keyword research tools abound, and the best ones help us understand the search behavior of real people. They help us learn empathy. We begin to understand how people are learning about the domain we serve. With that knowledge, we can create content that informs them and equips them by building on what they already know.

Link building is sometimes a scam. When I hear that someone built 1000 links to a website overnight, I immediately wonder what under-handed technique they used to pull that off. Links are the currency of the web, but they should not be for sale. Content creators award links when we offer remarkable value. They put their reputation on the line by sharing our resources because they believe our content will help their audience.

But some link building tactics are above-board. And they do not require you to create tons of new content.

In most industries, there are many reputable business directories. Building profiles on these sites as well as your local chamber of commerce website provides reputable incoming links. Share resources from your website with others in your business community. Since you created helpful, well-written articles, they will pass those resources on to others. Sharing like this builds links over time.

If you give media interviews, always ask for a link to your website when journalists quote you. Over time, a habit like this will reap high-quality, high-reputation links that will enhance your reputation.

No matter how savvy your SEO campaign, results take time. It is best not to judge the impact of your SEO changes before three months have passed. The cost of miscalculation is high, but other tools can help mitigate the risk of making a mistake.

Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC)

While SEO campaigns take time, pay per click (PPC) campaigns get results quickly. When you type a query in Google, you see both organic search results and advertisements. These PPC ads mimic the look and feel of organic search results. Every time a user clicks on them, the advertiser pays a fee. Some low-competition keywords may cost only a few pennies, but high-quality leads are costly.

Using the Google Keyword Planner, you can research keywords and investigate the feasibility of PPC for your business. When I checked, the keyword "web designer" would cost us between $4.79 and $20.00 per click. For example, if our average initial sale was $3,000 and one in 100 leads chose to purchase, our cost to acquire a customer would range from $479 to $2000. If customers went on to spend another $10,000 on average, advertising would be economical. However, if a customer only purchased once, the economics would not work.

Regardless of the long-term profitability of PPC for your business, it can be a cheap and useful research tool. It can take a long time to test a new product offering or a new sales page with organic traffic. PPC offers a quick way to drive relevant visitors to your web page and gain insight into what works. You can test new variations until your message matches the market's needs. When you find you have created a landing page that converts well, you may even choose to keep a campaign running long-term.

Interacting

As your brand story begins to resonate through broadcast channels, others will respond to you. On social media, people can choose to follow you, like the content you share, comment on it, and share it with others. By being present and responding to these engagements, you build trust; a relationship blossoms.

Moving from broadcasting to interacting is a clear win. Those weak connections who were aware of you but disengaged are moving closer. Responding to each engagement encourages even more interaction. Soon a sales conversation can take place.

Weak Ties

Social media marketers use strategies and tactics to connect with people online. Social media platforms can get your message out to weak ties—those who only know about you indirectly. Because they are at the periphery of your network, they learn about you through your relationship with their friends. If you have a good reputation, they will recommend you and respond to your calls to action.

Businesses often use social media to broadcast their content. If you think of your website as the hub of your business, social media platforms are spokes extending from it. With useful summaries of your website's content, they amplify your message to reach a broader audience. When done well, social media broadcasting is relevant to your market and arouses enough curiosity to provoke a click through to your website, a comment, or a connection request. Any of those micro-commitments moves your prospect closer to your business.

To benefit from social media, listen to what others say about your brand. When someone posts a message about your business, shares a link to your website, or comments on your social media posts, note what they say. If you let the world know you employ friendly, helpful people, you will build a feeling of trust.

But listening is not enough. Ever hang around a group of people and notice someone who is always listening—but never speaking? At first, it's nice; then it's creepy. Don't be that person. When you hear someone talking about your business, join the conversation with thanks, encouragement, context, and new information. Over time, these small actions will build a powerful brand. Each engagement moves your connections away from a tenuous weak tie toward a close bond with you and your business.

Prospecting for new leads may be more effective at an in-person event, but social media tools shine here. You can find relevant buyers with a few savvy searches on LinkedIn. Cold approaches on social media are difficult. They can feel a bit like stalking. If you treat people like human beings rather than vending machines and offer real value for free, you may be able to move into a sales conversation.

Close Connections

You are obsessed with attracting new leads and business. Good for you. But don't overlook what is right under your nose. Your current customers are your best source of new business. They've already bought from you at least once. No one else is more qualified to buy from you.

To start a conversation with your existing customers and leads, send personal, thoughtful messages. Communicate without being salesy. Every time they hear from you, they remember you are available to serve them. But keep both your words and also the medium by which you send them relevant and timely.

Email: It is quick, easy, and free to send an email message that offers a resource, tip, or word of encouragement. Use it often to reach out to your customers and prospects. Every helpful, personalized message deepens your relationship.

The same attributes that make email powerful make it easy to misuse. Since you don't need to pay to send an email message, you may want to bombard prospects and customers with messages. Before sending an unsolicited email message to drum up calls or sales, stop. Ask yourself, "If I had to buy a postage stamp, would I send this message?" If you wouldn't pay to send it, why should they have to read it?

Texting: The abuse of email by spammers continues unabated with negative consequences. E-commerce personalization company Barilliance says email conversion rates fell to 1.22% in 2020 from 1.44% in 2016. Customer buying behavior based on email messages is low and not likely to improve. In contrast, text messages garner a nearly 14% conversion rate, as stated by text messaging company Textedly.

In 2019, global tech care company Asurion said the average person looks at their cellphone 96 times a day—up by nearly 20% from 2017. RescueTime reported in 2020 that their users spend 3 hours and 15 minutes on their phones each day.

This incredible engagement with personal smartphones makes them an engaging platform for business communication. Messages should be short, personalized, and highly relevant. Because we pay so much attention to our phones, message timing is critical. You are a business person, so respect the boundaries of others like you. Send text messages during work hours, and only when you know your customers and prospects will be receptive.

As with email, if you wouldn't pay for a stamp, don't send that message. Respecting this principle will build trust and gain you a ready audience.

Phone calls: While phone calls are used more in sales than marketing, consider pre-qualifying leads with a call before sending them to a sales department. Making phone calls can be nerve-wracking. Unlike text messages, which the recipient can ignore, phone calls make an immediate demand for attention. Perhaps that's why we are reticent to pick up the phone. However, the relationship-building impact of a phone call cannot be overrated. The tone of voice and speed of response to a statement all speak volumes about how well we are connecting.

Because a phone call can be an intrusion, I advise against cold calling. Use marketing tactics and networking to build relationships first. Phone calls are best for building relationships with warm leads. Perhaps you could call everyone who downloads a resource from your website and ask if it helped solve their problem. Add value by answering their questions. Personal outreach can turn someone casually interested in your business into a raving fan. And you will discover what products and services best meet their needs before making a sales offer.

In-person meetings: Years ago, I didn't get it. I suffered through mandatory networking events. Crowds of socializing businesspeople were depleting when they should have energized me. I was anxious because I didn't know what to say. However, learning the purpose of networking has helped me see its value. We attend networking events to meet colleagues and to identify their business challenges. Either we can help, or we can refer them to someone who can. Viewed this way, networking is essential to success. Helping others is what makes us human.

Capturing Results with a Sales Funnel

A sales funnel describes the journey your customers take from weak ties to close connections. First, your business is unaware of them. Then, they introduce themselves by responding to your calls to action. You verify that they need your product or service, then make a sales offer. If you behave authentically as your customers progress through this journey, you build trust. Trust builds your business.

All the tactics discussed here help to develop your sales funnel. To avoid becoming pedantic, I want to discuss at a high level how to qualify leads from your marketing effort and move them into your sales process. I know only two ways to attract customers into your funnel.

1. Write such great content clients come to you pre-sold. It may sound impossible, but it isn't. Articles that provide wisdom to solve your ideal client's current problems are an instant credibility enhancer. Sharing the same content through more intimate media like video and podcasts increases its power. Good social media hygiene also boosts your profile. Make a plan to create and share content often. Many small commitments kept can bring customers to your business door and your website contact page.

2. Offer a free lead magnet. Building a sales funnel around a lead magnet is not quick and easy. But it allows your sales effort to scale.

It all begins when you identify a problem you can solve with a digital resource like a mini ebook, a short online course, or an exclusive video series. Share that resource on your website and through your social media channels and require an email address and phone number in return for access.

On download, register your future customer's email in a drip campaign that shares even more valuable content. After the third or fourth email, make a sales offer with a series of two to three email messages. If they respond, you've made a sale!

Developing a lead magnet takes empathy. To get started wee make educated guesses about what our customers will want from us before purchasing. It is less daunting if we isolate the project into phases: discovery, development, and maintenance.

In the discovery phase, we answer the question, "What do my future customers want?" We try various calls to action while doing the minimum work required to create a resource worth downloading.

When the response rate is big enough to excite us, we move into the development phase. Here we create a high-quality resource. If it's an ebook, we may hire a designer and an editor at this point. We complete the project by writing an email sequence that culminates in a sales offer.

With that work done, we use analytics to monitor and maintain the sales funnel. We watch email engagement closely. If email messages go unopened, we improve the subject line. If calls to action do not produce fruit, we try variations to get better results.

Why You Don't Have to Do It All

If you spend much time researching digital marketing, you will find enough recommendations to confuse a savant. While many marketing experts suggest tools that produce results, they may not be right for your company. You know who you are, and you know your customers better than any external expert. Your marketing tactics need to reflect your values and the needs of your customers.

Know your strategy, but optimize your tactics. Test new tactics, tune them for maximum impact. Find what works, and stick with it.

Take your time. I don't see good things happen when I chase quick results. Choose the tools and strategy that will let you prospect for leads, sell, deliver your product, and nurture ongoing customer relationships. Reject advice that encourages you to chase what's new simply because it's trendy. Whatever tools and tactics attract customers and turn them into repeat buyers are perfect for your business.

Further Reading

Website Audit Checklist for Effective Digital Marketing

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  • Is your digital marketing communicating clearly?
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