Digital marketing has developed exponentially since the term was first conceived in the 1990s. It is now seen as a crucial part of overall advertising, sales and brand recognition. As e-commerce continues to overtake high street sales, and we all spend increasing amounts of time online, digital marketing is arguably the single most important strand of a company's promotion, advertising and brand management plan.
At the same time and for the same reasons, digital sales are also increasing. For businesses, digital selling has many advantages. The cost of a physical storefront and hiring sales people is avoided, and in many cases, extensive warehousing or office space is unnecessary. For the customer, shopping online means being able to browse and buy 24/7 from the comfort of their own home.
Digital sales can be a boost to almost any business sector, and technology now means that even small companies can take advantage of digital marketing techniques to compete with the major players. A dedicated business Internet service could be a first step in facilitating your digital strategy, such as the various options offered by Primus Business. There are also various CRM and SEO tools that can be downloaded at no great expense to help you better understand your digital reach. Digital selling is all about making your brand stand out online, and this is done by smart thinking and understanding the way digital media works rather than throwing money at a problem.
A trustworthy face
Presentation is important. Your company's digital presence has to be attractive and enticing to potential customers. Use genuine testimonials from satisfied customers or influential figures within your field. These really work as the public is still understandably wary of the way the internet can allow unproven or untrustworthy enterprises to open a respectable-looking Shopfront right there on the information superhighway. How can they tell the reputable traders from the fraudulent and incompetent? Testimonials are one way. Ask permission to use positive customer feedback for promotional purposes, and if possible add a photo; people respond much more favorably if there's a face beside a name.
The world of digital sales and marketing has its pros and cons. The upside is that it provides an instant and constant connection with your customers whenever they are ready for it. The downside is that we are bombarded with so much material online that it's easy for people to get cynical or tune out your message altogether. The way to avoid this is to make a human connection with your customer base. Don't let your digital presence come over as cold, mechanical and impersonal; the best way to gain loyalty and to make a sale is to have a two-way conversation on common ground.
In this sense small businesses sometimes have an advantage as they don't have to struggle to shed their corporate façade when they don't have one to start with. Talk to your customers on social media rather than just publishing announcements. Make them feel like they're part of an online community based around their common enthusiasm for your brand.
Making friends and influencing people
If you haven't yet got a customer base, or are finding that your website isn't attracting that much traffic, you might want to consider establishing an affiliate program. Offering a commission to established bloggers, websites and other third party outlets, in return for a referral, are a great way to build up a customer base from scratch. You will need to actively recruit your affiliates at first; seek out the online tastemakers and influencers in your field, or even just approach your existing customers and offer them an incentive to tell their friends about your brand. If it results in a sale, you can reward them with discount codes.
Simply getting positive reviews on blogs and online retail outlets like Amazon can also have a huge impact on your sales. Customer reviews online is increasingly seen as much more influential in terms of driving actual sales than those written by professional reviewers, as customer comments are seen to be more realistic and impartial.
Building a relationship
Establishing a digital marketing list is something large companies spend a large amount of money on, and for good reason. Direct email marketing, especially combined with exclusive, time-limited offers, is one of the easiest and most effective digital marketing techniques. Harvest the email addresses of potential customers with an attractive free offer, or by offering them exclusive content and/or discounts via your website. Use an autoresponder to make sure they get regular updates, keeping them aware of your brand without spamming them. Sending annoying emails too often will cause them to either unsubscribe or consign your emails to their junk folder unread.
Engaging the customer
According to experts, the future of digital marketing is going to be increasingly interactive. For some time now, companies have realized that maintaining a blog or posting articles on social media is a great way to engage potential customers, and of course this approach is feasible for small companies with a limited budget. But with so much content now available online, digital marketers are realizing that quizzes, videos, games and infographics have a much better score rate in terms of capturing and keeping the public's attention. So if you really want to engage with your customers, give them content that's fun, interactive and easy to digest, and make sure the positive association carries over to your brand.
The point of all digital marketing is to create positive associations with your brand. Depending on your product and your target market, your emails may be witty, thought-provoking, inspiring etc. The important thing is to provide value and to keep the tone and message consistent across all marketing platforms, including traditional channels like print, TV and radio.
Whatever your approach, remember that you need to build trust and credibility in order to distinguish your brand from the competition and ultimately make sales. The focus is on the individual customer and providing them with a positive, engaging digital experience that will keep them coming back, spending money and spreading the word about your company and its products.
Sawaram Suthar is head of marketing at Acquire, and also a founder of Jagat Media, a digital marketing agency. A digital marketing consultant, he has experience in things including branding, promotions and page optimization, along with research and strategy. He has an MBA from the University of Pune. Anyone can find him on @sawarams.