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Figuring Out What Matters: A framework for sustainable digital marketing

“Should we be doing this?”

That’s one of the most common questions clients ask me as they’re being barraged with various advertising and marketing opportunities.

What they really want to know is, “How do I know what will work?”

There are nearly innumerable ways to spend your marketing budget, and not all of them cost money. It’s easy to get sucked into platforms, apps, solutions, and other activities that are technically free but, at best, consume many hours of your precious time. If you’re going to market your business, you need a strategy that will help you to screen opportunities and identify the best areas to invest your limited resources. Sure, you can jump on all the things, all the time, but you don’t have to, and will probably be on the fast track to burnout in one form or another if you do.

Sustainable Digital Marketing Framework

Most business owners are looking for ways to market their businesses that will enable them to reach their goals. When we talk about sustainable digital marketing, we mean choosing activities that you can maintain over time, as well as investments that will deliver the desired results. Our approach to developing a sustainable marketing strategy is to plan for the long haul. Below is an eight-step framework for sustainable digital marketing that we’ve tested and refined over time.

First, understand why you’ve turned to digital marketing.

Most of our clients come to us for one of three reasons:

  1. They need a better online presence (or to establish a presence for their business) so that they look credible when people look them up.
  2. Something about their current online presence isn’t doing what they want it to do. The business is in a good place, but they’re thinking about the future or afraid of missing out on an opportunity.
  3. They’re launching a new business, new product or service, or otherwise in growth mode and want to generate leads.

Digital marketing is a way to get the word out about your business, and it’s also the way you demonstrate your credibility online. As the world continues to trend virtual, even very well-established businesses that haven’t paid much attention to their digital marketing strategy over the years are likely to struggle. Taking time to clarify the why for your marketing activities will help to guide your decisions in the next steps.

Second, determine what your marketing should accomplish for your business.

Once you know your why, it’s pretty easy to set targets for marketing. That said, be careful not to fall into the trap of adding more weight than a marketing strategy can possibly hold. Many parts of your online presence are under your control; your reputation, however, can easily slip from your grasp on sites that allow reviews of businesses. If you aren’t already getting the customer experience right, a digital marketing strategy will be limited in terms of what it can accomplish for your business.

If your internal ducks are in a row and you’re ready to start showing up online, setting some actionable and measurable goals will help you to evaluate what you’re doing (which is crucial to continuous improvement). While stretch goals can be motivating, be careful not to expect more than is reasonable when you’re just starting out. You can avoid burning through a lot of resources by starting small, testing, and being strategic with your investments.

Third, clarify your value proposition and target market.

This is where we get to the good stuff. What problem does your business solve better than anyone else out there, and for whom do you solve that problem the best? Most business owners intuitively know the answers to these questions but haven’t ever clearly articulated them. When you commit to going through a value proposition exercise with your team, you may be surprised by some of the hidden gems you can uncover. Once you can state your value proposition and gain an intimate understanding of your target market, the rest of your marketing strategy falls into place. You begin to understand what content will resonate, where you need to show up online, and what may need to change in your customer experience.

Honing the value proposition and target market (what many marketers refer to as buyer personas) is an area where the right consultant can add tremendous value. Bringing in someone from outside of your business enables you to get out of your own head, start to see your business the way the market sees it, and often leads to new insights about the problems you actually solve for your customers.

Fourth, build a solid website, optimized for search engines, that will be the foundation of everything you do.

Regardless of what type of business you’re in and how long you’ve been around, you need a website. Not a page on a social media site or online marketplace, but a website that you own, control, and keep up to date. It has become alarmingly common for small businesses of all types to forego a website and build their business on another platform. It’s a tempting strategy. Why not save a ton of money and go where the prospective customers are already spending all of their time?

I liken this decision to renting your home compared to owning. Sure, renting has its benefits—you aren’t substantially tethered to a place. If the furnace dies or the roof leaks, you aren’t on the hook for a huge repair bill. In some life circumstances, it’s an ideal situation. However, renting has significant downsides, beyond the obvious lack of growing equity from those monthly payments. You can easily be evicted for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with your behavior—say the landlord decides to sell the building or defaults on his debt. There are also less dramatic annoyances. You have no say over when and how repairs are made, or whether the owner keeps up with maintenance. If an appliance dies, you could find yourself with an undesirable replacement. You don’t ultimately control your space.

Building your business on someone else’s platform is like renting your home. Sure, it might be inexpensive to set up and give you quick wins on traffic, but your influence over important aspects of your online presence is incredibly limited. If you believe that being present in the digital realm is critical to your business success (there are very few exceptions here), then you must control (and devote the most significant portion of your marketing resources to) your platform. And if you’re going to the trouble of building a website, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to optimize your site for search engines. Driving organic traffic to your site (which means showing up in search engine results and getting people to click on your pages) is a long-term effort that has the potential to pay unlimited dividends for as long as you keep the site active.

Your website should be the foundation from which all of your marketing rises, as well as the central location to which all of your efforts point. Spend the time to get it right and do it well, and you’ll see your equity grow over time in the form of organic traffic, inbound leads, and eventually customers.

Need an affordable way to launch your website, fast? Check out our Digital Marketing Starter Package.

Fifth, have a way for people to opt into your contact list.

Another reason it’s so important to own your website (rather than building your online presence on someone else’s platform) is so that you can own your contact list. Algorithms change like the wind, and it’s incredibly common for businesses to see their social presence suddenly overtaken by tumbleweeds due to capricious decisions made in Silicon Valley. Don’t let your business be a victim of circumstance. Own your list by collecting email addresses from all of your customers and leads. Communicate with them on social media and other platforms, but protect and preserve the ability to land directly in their inboxes.

There are lots of ways to get people to give you their contact information, even if they aren’t ready to purchase something. It all comes down to adding value for your target customer, which you can do by showing them a new way to solve the problem you solve best.

Sixth, layer on all of the other places you need to have a presence.

Where does your target market/desired customer spend time online? That’s where you need to be first. For example, if you’re running a restaurant, you need to be on Yelp, set up a Google Business profile, and decide whether you’ll accept reservations on Open Table. A home improvement contractor should be active on Nextdoor and Facebook; Pinterest and Instagram may also be important if your service lends itself to beautiful visuals or dramatic before-and-after reveals.

The point here is that you don’t need to be on every app. In fact, you should choose the platforms that are most important to your desired customer AND where you can reasonably expect to maintain an up-to-date presence. If you sign up for 20 different apps all in the same day, you’re dooming yourself to a bunch of ghost-town profiles. Remember the part about sustainable digital marketing? Eventually, you might get to the point of having a presence on those 20 apps, but do it in a way that’s manageable for you and your team. When getting started, consider 3-4 places where you absolutely need to show up. Those are the places where your target customer goes for information about the products you sell or the problem you solve. An outdated social presence can be more detrimental than no presence at all.

Seventh, add lead generation activities that fit your sustainable digital marketing strategy.

Now that you’ve built your foundation, you’re ready to jump into all the other shiny flashy stuff that is notorious for distracting business owners from having a real marketing strategy. These are the types of opportunities you want to evaluate, and maybe even allocate some funds to test out. Because your website is your foundation, your goal for other opportunities is to drive traffic back to your website. This could mean that someone sees you on social media, comes to your site, and makes a purchase. The more likely scenario is that social media activity, online reviews, paid advertising, podcast appearances, guest articles, and the myriad other opportunities in the digital world will contribute to raising awareness of your brand, showcasing your credibility on the problem you solve best, and helping people to remember you exist when that problem arises for them. How you approach these opportunities really depends upon the type of business you’re running, who your ideal customer is, and what problems you solve.

See how it all keeps coming back to understanding your target market and value proposition? That foundational work is absolutely crucial to sticking to your marketing strategy. One other note here: you’re probably ready to add some automation to your marketing tech stack. We recommend ActiveCampaign as our email and marketing automation platform of choice.

Eighth, establish metrics, monitor activity, and be nimble.

Marketing metrics can be tricky. Sometimes a campaign can appear to perform incredibly well, when in fact it didn’t have any impact on your ultimate goal. For example, if a pay-per-click campaign is driving tons of traffic to your website, but none of that traffic is converting into leads, you may need to reassess the campaign. Now if your goal for the campaign was simply to increase traffic, then it’s having its intended result. Keep an eye on what’s happening out there, understand what’s reasonable to expect from a particular investment, and make changes based on what you see.

Sustainable digital marketing doesn’t happen overnight.

Remember, when we say sustainable, we mean something that can continue to bear fruit over the long term. Quick-hit activities are fine as long as you understand how they fit into the overall strategy. By taking a long-term view, you can build up a platform that addresses the why you identified in step one, enabling the business to solve the problems it solves best for the right customers.

Need help? We offer a variety of digital marketing packages, as well as coaching and consulting for business owners. Contact us to learn more.

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