indicatorSales and Marketing

Let’s get digital: online advertising to grow your business

By ATB Financial 14 August 2020 6 min read

Life in the digital age calls for marketing tactics that are aligned with the demands of our consumer-driven society. Enter the field of digital advertising, a marketing discipline that encompasses email marketing, online advertising, and social media. Consumers are hanging out online….so you need to meet them there.

While digital advertising is a different ballgame from traditional advertising, your business can’t afford to not play ball. Consider these compelling stats from Statista:

  • Annual internet advertising spends are expected to surpass $7 billion in 2021 – in Canada alone
  • 89 per cent of Canadians access the internet on a daily basis, and only 1per cent access it less than once per month
    Digital makes up 61 per cent of the total media ad spend in Canada

At what point should an organization start looking at incorporating digital advertising into their marketing budget? “Right away,” according to ATB Financial Digital Marketing Manager Kassia Hollis-Haynes. “Lots of businesses start building an organic following on social media before they even have a website.”

Now, how to get started in this exciting world of internet advertising?

Set a budget

It can be tough to know how much to budget when first starting out with digital advertising. Hollis-Haynes gives some sound advice for those who aren’t sure where to start. “There are so many factors to consider, but a good place to start is to pick a percentage of your earnings that are earmarked for digital, and then reinvest any subsequent ROI right back into marketing so you aren’t drawing down from your other revenue streams. For example, if you select 10 per cent to invest in marketing, and you make $1000 in sales, take $100 and put it into your marketing and track that spend with Google Analytics so you can see the return on that $100 worth of advertising. Let’s say it led to $200 in sales, turn around and reinvest that $200 back into marketing, and so on.”

Get social

Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay. If your business doesn’t have a social media presence, you are missing out on a huge market as well as important audience engagement opportunities. However, rather than opening business accounts on every popular platform out there, Hollis-Haynes cautions “you don’t have to be everywhere. It’s better to choose one or two platforms and do an outstanding job of building community there rather than performing poorly on a number of accounts.”

How do you decide where to focus your limited resources, social media-wise? For starters, answer these questions:

  • On which platform is your primary customer demographic spending their time? Are they engaging in political debates on Twitter, or seeking out DIY tips on Pinterest?
  • What are your competitors doing in the social media realm? Where are they active and how frequently are they posting, what type of content are they sharing, what posts are resonating with their followers?
  • What platform best aligns to your marketing goals? Whether you are looking to build your brand, reach new markets or convert followers to customers, select platforms will be a better fit
  • Where are your competitors spending their time? This isn’t to say you should do something just because the competition is doing it, but it’s worth checking to see if they are onto something in terms of your shared audiences’ preferences or behaviors
  • What kind of content do you plan to share? If your product is visually enticing then Instagram may be the way to go, whereas if you plan to share whitepapers, LinkedIn is worth a hard look

Email is king

While having a social media presence is a critical marketing move, Hollis-Haynes shares her number one piece of advice. “Invest in your email marketing and your email list. Social media platforms are not owned by you – your email list is owned by you. If you are solely focused on building an audience on Facebook, what happens if it goes the way of Vine? Vine was big, and then suddenly it didn't exist anymore.”

What is the easiest way to start building your email list? “Just ask! A lot of businesses don’t ask for client emails. Be willing to give your customers something of value in exchange for their email – this could be a free webinar, a worksheet, a discount. However, avoid giving away something that has nothing to do with your business (like a contest for an iPad for a non-tech focused business). You’ll end up with email addresses from individuals who aren’t actually interested in your business, but who want a new iPad.”

Search and display ads

Search ads and display ads are similar in that they both fall under the umbrella of internet advertising, yet they are quite different in their reach and function. Search ads employ a pull strategy, in which the advertisement appears based on a search engine query – the user is actively seeking you out. By comparison, display ads are pushing out paid placements to potential customers based on pre-determined targeting parameters. Which one is most appropriate for your advertising needs will vary based on the nature of your business and the sales cycle of your product or service. Display advertising will appeal more to those organizations who are looking at a longer-term brand awareness approach, whereas search is better for customers lower into the funnel who may be closer to conversion ready.


We’ve all been there. You are researching new vehicles online, and then you suddenly start seeing those same dealership ads everywhere and across multiple devices. This is retargeting (sometimes referred to as remarketing), in which organizations can display ads based on previous consumer behavior as obtained through cookies.

Hollis-Haynes gives retargeting a ringing endorsement. “I love retargeting. From a personal perspective I know it works, because it works on me! The old adage ‘it costs more to get a new customer than to keep an existing one’ is similar to the idea behind remarketing; “It’s harder to bring someone new to your website, than to get someone who’s already shown interest to come back. Additionally, if someone is not yet at the buying stage, and still at the research stage, remarketing can give your organization an edge if your ads are popping up consistently and keeping you top of mind.”

Data-driven decision making

Above all, in whatever manner of digital strategy you proceed with, consult your data. Online marketing is rife with data – from email campaign open rates to search ad conversion rates to monitoring differences in audience behaviors. Staying on top of continually analyzing and learning from your data, and adjusting course and budget based on these data lessons, will provide heightened results.

Hollis-Haynes is continually amazed by the goldmine of data that digital advertising provides. “Consider how we used to assess campaign effectiveness with traditional marketing. A company might run a TV commercial and then look to see if there was an increase in sales during the time period when the commercial was on air. Compare that to digital where you can see exactly who clicked where. You get such rich data that tells you exactly whether your efforts produced an ROI. It’s brilliant.”

If you’re looking for a deep dive on everything you need to know around how to grow your business and make it more resilient, our ATB X Accelerator program might be just the place for you. Alternatively, feel free to reach out to one of our entrepreneur strategists to explore where you are with your business, where you want to be, and how to get there!

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