With 16+ years of marketing experience, Abhishek Sareen creates the easiest guide to execute a successful online campaign. From strategy to implementation, from SEO to social media, here are all the digital marketing basics you need.
Digital marketing may sound complicated and tech, but the same principles of traditional marketing apply at the core. Having started my career as an SEO analyst way back in 2003, I have seen how digital marketing has evolved over the years. Back then it was so new, nobody understood its importance. However we have come a long way, and marketing has evolved considerably. A majority of it happens online these days for most brands.
What is Digital Marketing?
Digital marketing is just marketing in the digital world of the internet, which includes websites and social media, to promote products and services. It is also called online marketing because all of the advertising happens online. A digital marketing campaign may include:
- Email campaigns
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Search engine marketing (SEM)
- Social media marketing (SMM) promotions
- Display advertising
- Content production like video or digital graphics/ images
- Influencer marketing
- Instant messaging to mobile devices, and more.
However, to create a successful digital marketing strategy, there are many steps involved, such as researching your target customer, and competition, creating a sharp marketing message, etc. So let’s go over each of these.
Digital Marketing Basics: Steps to Create a Successful Campaign
A digital marketing campaign has several elements that can make or break it. Creating a marketing campaign is a combination of art and strategy. You need to ensure the creative element is well thought out and at the same time, the delivery mechanism is well planned out so that it gives you your money’s worth. No amount of marketing business cases or lectures can teach you to execute a successful marketing campaign. You have to learn it by experience, as the world of digital marketing is evolving daily, and you need to be hands-on and updated.
Here I list down my experience and learnings that may help you plan and execute a successful marketing campaign.
Step 1: Define the Objectives of a Digital Marketing Campaign
Now, this may sound dumb to most people, but when you are a digital marketer, there are several parties involved to make and execute a successful campaign. These parties would be:
- Your company’s product development team
- Your production/supply chain team
- Your company’s sales team
- Your company’s customer service team
- Your creative agency
- Your ad-buying agency
In most companies, the objective is to drive sales. This is the only measurable for your company, as everything else like internet buzz is notional. It may sound obvious, but most stakeholders besides your sales team, forget the end objective.
It’s the job of a digital marketer to remind all the parties that will execute the marketing campaign that the main objective is to drive sales for the company. And thus every action should be focused on it. So what are the actions?
Step 2: Define Your Customer Segment for Target Group
The key to success in the modern world of marketing is understanding what customers want, need, and value. It is important to have a deep understanding of your customer needs so that you can meet them with your product or service. This is not as easy as it sounds because customers are not always aware of their needs until they experience a problem or meet a need themselves.
You also need to understand the sales process to get hands-on with digital marketing basics. What it means is how your product gets produced and how it needs to get delivered to your end customer. For example, when Mahindra launched its Scorpio N SUV, it would have produced adequate numbers in advance and shipped them to its dealers in advance, so that when the customer comes to buy an SUV after looking at an ad, they can test-drive the car and take delivery.
So a marketer once you identify your key people & stakeholders in the sales process i.e. the company’s sales team, their dealer, and the salesmen at the showroom, you need to ensure that your marketing message and material reach them, as they will eventually sell your product to your customer.
A digital marketing campaign is a systematic plan of marketing activities targeted at a particular group of people, usually in the form of an email, e-catalogs, social media posts, videos, or text or WhatsApp messages. Digital marketing campaigns are one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways to reach out to potential customers.
Step 3: Define Your End-Customer’s Profile
Understanding your end customer profile and segment is critical to the success of any marketing campaign. You may have the right message and objectives in mind for your marketing campaign, but these need to be directed to the right audience, who would be your potential customer.
Often people forget the digital marketing basics, and are more fixated on the campaign itself. All marketing campaigns have budget limitations, and it’s the marketer’s job to use them optimally. They need to spend an adequate amount of time & resources to develop the marketing message, based on their understanding of the customer. Ideally, 25%-30% of the marketing budget needs to be spent on creating the message and 70%-75% should be spent on communication. So it’s very important to be 100% clear on the message.
When digital marketers buy ads on a search engine or social media, they need to have a clear understanding of their target market. It’s one of the main jobs of a digital marketer to ensure the ad needs to be directed to only the intended audience.
Digital marketers may have agencies buy an ad for them. However, to oversee that the ad buying is done properly is extremely crucial. Depending on the size of the campaign, ad buying takes a significant portion of the advertising budgets, your agencies are at times more interested in making you spend more. Instead, you need to go in-depth into customer profiling and ensure the ad-buying is done right so that you tap the right target segment for your marketing campaign so that you get maximum bang for your buck or return on investment (ROI) for digital ads.
The customer profiling needs to be as detailed as possible. For example, you can segment them by demographics like age, gender, location, education, language, spending habits, purchasing power and household composition. You can also find their interests, digital media consumption habits, key influencers like friends, parents or digital influencers, etc.
You will ideally need to create a 2X2 matrix and list the demographics on one end and other characteristics like interests, digital media consumption habits on the other. Then place your customer segments and see where they fall on these matrices. Having a set of these matrices will help you create multiple customer profiles and target your ads accordingly.
Step 4: Have a Clear Marketing Message for Your Customer
The marketing message is the fundamental communication that will sell your product’s core value proposition and your brand. A marketing message could be an emotion or the philosophy behind your product or brand. For example, if you have seen the launch of Mahindra’s Scorpio N SUV, you would have noticed that throughout the campaign, they kept on reiterating, “The Big Daddy of SUVs”. During their product unveil, their technical presentations, their test drives, etc. they kept on referring to their product (Scorpio N SUV) as “Daddy”.
Having a clear marketing message is of utmost importance in digital marketing basics. Unless this message is well thought out and simple to digest by the end customer, your marketing campaign will fall flat. It is the single most important aspect of any marketing campaign and is most often overlooked. Having led several marketing campaigns, there are so many aspects to look at, the key communication message is often forgotten or is not sharp enough to make an impact.
Most digital marketers focus on buying ads and traffic. Since most of the ad spends in the digital space are pay-per-click, the marketing message needs to be well thought out in advance and tested. A good marketing message can improve your ROI drastically. A bad or unattractive message can hurt your brand and marketing campaigns and can be an easy way to lose money and the brand image.
A marketing manager needs to understand that the sole responsibility for a campaign’s success lies with him or her. Everybody else can easily wash their hands off, by blaming the other party. The marketing message needs to be communicated to not only the end customer but also to your brand’s internal stakeholders.
Step 5: Content is King, so Make Sure it’s Sharp!
Whenever you plan a marketing campaign, you need to equip yourself with good content that you can communicate or advertize. It’s like saying when you go for a hunt, you better have a sharp knife, as when the time comes for the kill, your knife’s blade needs to cut through the prey’s skin, or else your entire hunt will be a failure in the end. In other words, your advertising can make you reach your audience, but if your message isn’t sharp enough, you won’t be able to make an impact in your potential customer’s minds.
Apple does a great job during its product presentation. They go so deep into their product, even if it’s not needed, as their technical presentation tries to create engagement with customers making them feel intelligent, and their products look performance-oriented. A lot of the marketing campaign’s success depends on subconscious communication. People may think and find the content too technical and boring, but at a subconscious level, they would want it.
The presence of technical content may seem unimportant, however, the absence of it will raise questions in the minds of potential consumers.
Step 6: Get Hands-on with Digital Marketing Tech Tools
By now you have spent adequate time planning your marketing campaign, that is:
- You understand the customer
- Have the right message to sell your product and
- Know where & who to direct your marketing communication to.
Now you need to be hands-on with the online marketing tools. No tutorials in digital marketing basics can teach you these tools unless you use them yourselves. If you are serious about becoming a digital marketer, having hands-on knowledge is a must, else your digital ad-buying agencies can take you for a ride.
Digital marketing is a complex industry. A digital marketer needs to have a first-hand understanding of data intelligence tools that can help them give a perspective of consumers in the online space. The following are the digital marketing tech tools that can help you understand your online customers and increase the ROI of your digital marketing campaign.
If you are working for a reasonably marketing-savvy company, you would have a website that showcases your products and services. A digital marketer needs to have access to the visitor or traffic information of your company’s website. You would have an analytics software installed on your website like Google Analytics. This is pretty standard practice, in case you don’t have a website and don’t have Analytics installed, you need to work first on this. It’s fundamental to have an understanding of your website traffic.
Website traffic analytics tools help you understand how people use your website, and get a profile of visitors like age group, interests, and other demographics. It can also provide insights into the effectiveness of different marketing campaigns and allows you to compare data with other websites to improve your site’s performance. It gives you a profile of your website visitors like age group & location demographic, interests, etc. Using this you can direct your ad-buys better.
Other Digital Tools
There are a lot of third-party paid tools like SEM Rush, Similar Web, etc. which take the analytics data for websites, and process it to provide an analytics dashboard for a digital marketer, to get a better understanding of the website traffic, their competitor’s website analytics, etc. A lot of digital marketing agencies use these tools to provide SEO consulting services to their clients.
Step 7: Buy Digital Ads on Search Engines
Digital ad buying is one of the most important activities when it comes to digital marketing basics. In digital advertising, almost 75% percent of the ad revenue is taken up by two companies i.e. Google and Meta (including Facebook). They dominate the digital space, and thus it’s extremely critical to understand the digital ad marketplace.
A digital marketing manager needs to understand the bidding process of ads, how Google & Facebook (or Meta) defines their audience, what are the different types of ads, what are the payment terms, etc. It’s a must for a digital marketer to understand these platforms, how ads are bought, and campaigns are run on these platforms.
Google dominates the search, display ads, and video markets through its platforms like Google search, Google ads, and Youtube ads. A digital marketer needs to be hands-on with tools like Google Ads where you can buy ads on Google properties as follows:
- Google search ads are those ads, which are displayed when a user does a Google search. The first few results are sponsored, thus when a user searches for some content, an advertiser can display a relevant ad and direct their user to their site. A marketer needs to bid on these search terms, and when a google search user clicks on the ads, the advertiser pays for that click.
- Google Ads are display ads that appear on websites across the internet. A digital marketer can upload their ads, and buy ad inventory on relevant sites. This works like a bidding mechanism. You need to rightly bid for ads. The highest bidding ads will be the ones that will be displayed first on relevant websites.
Besides bidding high, one also needs to have high-quality ads i.e. they should be enticing enough for a user to click on them. If your ad is low quality (not enticing enough), then it’s unlikely anyone will click on your ads, and Google’s ads algorithm will not give priority to your ads, despite higher bids. So having high-quality ads is very important, one can get lower rates as well as spend their ad’s budget.
If you are not able to spend any of your ad budgets when you intended to, it is also a big problem. A bit depends upon the demand and supply of ads at any given point in time, thus in digital marketing, one needs to understand the objectives of Google’s algorithms which is to provide the most relevant ads concerning the content that is being read by its users.
- YouTube ads are video ads that have multiple formats like non-skippable video ads, overlay ads, skippable video ads. Ads are priced according to the bidding mechanism. It’s important to know about each format so that you can plan your ads in a way that they maximize your ROI.
For example, skippable ads appear before the videos, so if you’re going for this format, make sure your ad mentions your product and value proposition within the first 5 seconds. This will enable users to learn about your brand messaging even if they choose to skip the ad.
- Besides Google ads, you can use Bing ads to buy ads and run marketing campaigns on Bing Search, Yahoo!, and DuckDuckGo search engines, which are similar to Google Ads.
Step 8: Use Google Search Itself to Mine Keywords
This may sound very rudimentary, but Google search itself is a great tool to find keywords for your ad-buying campaign. Using Google search and tools is one of the key steps when it comes to digital marketing basics. In fact, many pro content marketers and SEO experts use Google search terms as a critical part of their keyword research, including we at Shilpa Ahuja Media ourselves.
When you type something in the Google search bar, it automatically gives you auto-fill suggestions for search terms. It would also show you related search terms at the bottom or questions and additional searched phrases in the middle of your search page results. These are very important ways to get an idea of what people would be searching for on Google at least, and these terms can be used to buy ad inventory on Google Ads.
Since Google currently dominates internet’s searches, it’s a great idea to really narrow down on the right keywords to bid on. The way to do so is to try to understand the “intent” of the user typing in a search term. Is the user looking for content to read on a website, an answer to a question on the search page itself or for a product or service. And that’s where your ad needs to be.
Step 9: Buying Digital Ad Social Media Platforms
It may seem that social media allows easy and free promotions for marketing campaigns, however, this will be far from the truth. Digital marketers need to buy ads to reach out to their audiences to promote their campaigns on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. All these social media platforms have their own ad buying interface to buy ads and promote campaigns.
We’ve already talked about YouTube ads in Step 7, so let’s focus on other social media channels here.
Meta dominates the social media space with its platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Meta has a tool called Ad Manager that allows you to buy ads on Facebook and Instagram. Their process is also very similar to google ads, however, one needs to get hands-on with these tools on a continuous basis to understand them. Both these tools are a great way to get online traffic and provide a dashboard that gives a performance of your ad campaigns. Their ad-buying process may not be very transparent, but this is the best we have for now.
Besides Facebook and Instagram, LinkedIn is a very important social media platform, which shouldn’t be overlooked, as you find a lot of engagement for your digital marketing campaign there using LinkedIn marketing tools. Since there are so many social media platforms, it’s best to focus your efforts on 1-2 that best suit your brand and that your target customer is most likely to be using.
Step 10: Influencer Marketing Promotions
Besides the conventional digital ad buying and marketing spend, a digital marketer also should find who are the biggest influencers of their product categories. These influencers use media channels like Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, blogs, etc., and have dedicated followers or a subscriber base that can be your target audience.
As a digital marketer, you should reach out to these influencers, and incentivize them with monetary reward and/or test samples to review your products or categories. Influencer marketing is a great way to reach out to your audience and brands are spending a lot of money on them. A lot of electronic and apparel brands use influencers to popularize their products. When it comes to digital marketing basics, most people think of selecting the most popular influencers, but the process is actually much more complex.
Influencer ad spends vary according to the size of their following, their offline popularity, the medium and the genre of their content. Whether you go for mega influencers (1M+ followers) or micro influencers (10K followers or less) will also have an impact on your campaign. This choice depends on who your target customer is most likely to trust.
Really try to sell your product’s value proposition to the influencers first so that they believe in it, especially if your product is new. That will help them create authentic content that their subscribers trust. Finding the right influencers who align with your brand’s ethos is also key, otherwise their following will not be interested in those promotions.
Try to take interest in the content production process, and work alongside them as a team, so that your synergy with the influencer shows. This will go a long way in creating impactful content that people remember.
Step 11: Stay Focused, Put Your Eggs in Fewer Baskets not Many
Digital marketing is a great way to run a campaign, but marketing is not a science, it’s more of an art. When planning and executing a marketing campaign, it is extremely important to coordinate your activities and strategic marketing resources.
By strategic I mean concentrating your resources on limited campaigns, which can give you the best result. If you do too many things at the same time, you are bound to fail or won’t create an adequate impact anywhere. If you run a campaign without spending adequately, it will most likely go unnoticed. In advertising, it’s thus important to run a campaign that can create a substantial impact or not do it at all. This is something most marketers learn from experience.
No marketing campaign is alike – every marketing campaign is unique in its way, and one becomes good at digital marketing only by experience. So it’s important to study campaigns that have done very well and also learn from campaigns that have not been able to make an impact.
Digital marketing is just marketing. The conventional theories of 4P’s that is Product, Price, Place, and Promotion are still relevant in the online space. Marketers need to have a hands-on approach toward digital marketing basics to really understand their working.
The Future of Digital Marketing and How It will Change the World
We are living in a digital era where everything is done online. It is not surprising that digital marketing is one of the most important aspects of any business. In today’s world technologies like AI, geo-targeting advertising, etc. have become the norm. So marketers have to keep up with all the latest trends to stay ahead and find clients.
Here are three trends that will define digital marketing in 2023:
- Artificial intelligence (AI) will play a major role in marketing, especially in customer experience management.
- Marketing teams will have to be nimble and flexible with their strategies as there are no set rules for what works best.
- The digital space changes every season. The types of campaigns and how they’re formatted evolve. Social media platforms keep coming and going out of trend too. So it’s important to know which one appeals to your target customer at the time of your campaign.
- Personalization will be key when it comes to achieving success in digital marketing.
- The rise of influencer marketing; influencers were restricted to certain categories like fashion, lifestyle, travel, etc. However, now there are all types of influencers, especially with the rise of LinkedIn influencers.
Digital marketers need to stay abreast with technologies and trends like these and keep up with changing times. There was a time not so long ago when companies used to think they didn’t need a website and today if you don’t have a decent internet presence, you are considered to be living in a cave.
Abhishek Sareen is a sales & marketing professional with over 16 years of experience. He started his career as a management consultant and currently works in international business. He has set up businesses like Track & Trail, BrooksBicycles.com and created consumer brands like Montra, Machcity and Roadeo.
Prior to this, he has also worked in sports retail as department manager. He’s is a passionate cyclist and participated in several endurance competitive events like MTB Himalaya.
His interests are in behavioral psychology, economics and chess. He is a graduate in Computer Science and an MBA in Marketing. He completed his executive education from IIM-A in 2016 focusing on business strategy.