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Digital marketing trends are always changing, but there are some constants in all of the noise. Staying on trend while remaining true to your brand in your digital marketing efforts can be tricky and exhausting. Luckily, four digital marketing specialists who sat down with us during our EMERGE summit gave guidance on just that balance.
Our panelists included Andrea Gibson, Account Director at Vovia, a premier marketing and media buying agency based in Calgary; Neil Smith, ATB’s Senior Manager, Digital Conversion; Tyler Butler, ATB’s Senior Manager of Story and Karl Yeh, who leads Brookfield Residential’s digital marketing program in Alberta and has worked in the digital marketing field for more than 10 years.
Here are their top five pieces of advice for digital marketing:
1. Digital marketing is still about connecting with your audience
This isn’t anything new, but it’s worth repeating—without knowing and connecting with your audience, any tip or trend just won’t work.
Neil encourages entrepreneurs to constantly be asking, “how can you be using digital means to forge deeper and deeper relationships with your customers?” According to Neil, digital marketing is all about listening to your customers and finding our what they want and need—and giving them that in the way you’re marketing back to them
Karl gives the reminder that business owners need to first consider where their customers are consuming media and making their purchases. This points you towards their behaviour and what they want. “Think of it from the customer lens first."
But how exactly do you get this “customer lens” when you’re just starting out?
It may be simpler than you think. Andrea breaks it down, explaining that the simplest way is talking to your audience—in person, over the phone, on social, however—and asking where they are and how they like to be communicated to. Once you have that nailed down, there are methods on social platforms that allow you to target your ads based on interests.
Another way that you can figure out what your customers like is to get a little creative. Karl knew who his competitors were, but he didn’t know how to reach the customers he wanted. So he took a look at the social media accounts of his competition to see who was following them and what kinds of questions they were asking.
Then he turned to Amazon to check out books about his industry and read the reviews. These reviews gave him an expanded view into who his audience is and the exact pain points they had based on their comments and questions. Karl recommended that you can contact those people who left reviews if you want to ask them more questions.
Neil tacked on that if you want to gather information, Reddit is a great place to do so. Topic-specific communities make it easy to find groups of people who’d be your target audience. Keep in mind that this isn’t the place to pitch your business—it’s the place to have genuine dialogue with the customers you’re looking for.
2. Organic content can perform just as well (or better) than paid digital advertising
How does content go viral? While we don’t have a magic formula, Tyler said that ATB’s best performing unpaid social media content featured emotional storytelling, or creative conversations. Take their Listens Lounge at SocialWest conference last year.
They tweeted and asked their followers to ask for anything they wanted at the conference and they delivered. From a rainbow unicorn floatie to someone who had never met a cowboy who ended up arm in arm with a professional bull-rider that ATB staff knew through sponsorships.
“We had a budget of $1,000, so we had to be creative and use connections,” Tyler shared. “That low budget generated 1.6 million twitter impressions in 2 days, and made people really happy. We generated real emotional responses.”
"The bedrock of viral are the things that connect with human emotion."
Senior Manager of Story, ATB
3. Your metrics matter—and when you choose your KPIs does, too.
“Before you start a campaign, decide what metric you’re going to look at,” Andrea recommended. Once the campaign is over, that’s what you’re going to look back on to decide if it was successful or not.
But how do you pick your metrics? They should align with what your goals are. Here are some examples:
- number of purchases
- number of people contacting you via phone or email
- number of impressions/views
- number of website visits, completed forms submitted
Knowing your goal will lead you to your metrics, then you decide how much that outcome is worth paying for. Andrea also cautions entrepreneurs “not to get distracted by other metrics once you know what you’re looking for—stick to your goal.”
4. Email marketing is still relevant
We may have just heard your eyes roll, but give us a chance to explain. Email marketing doesn’t necessarily equal spam—when done right, it gives you a chance to build relationships with your customers and add value.
To top it off, you own your email list—these people have given you permission to send them content, which means they’re at least somewhat invested in you and your business. While your number of social media followers may be sexier, you don’t have any ownership over your followers, and they can unfollow you in a second—which is why social media and email marketing are made to be used together.
“Email is integral to your digital identity,” reinforced Tyler. “To login or start an account on social, you use your email. You can even upload your email lists onto social media platforms to cross reference and connect with your subscribers on social. Click-thru rates on email are immensely higher than on any other digital advertising method.”
Andrea adds that when you upload your email lists onto social media platforms, you not only have the capability to find them, but you can find people who have similar interests and therefore could be potential customers.
5. Digital marketing is always changing—but some things are constant through the trends
When it comes to the digital world, something is always trending. Our experts weighed in on the digital marketing trends they’re seeing in 2019:
Karl recommended that entrepreneurs take a look at social channels that may not be “popular” for their industry. When it came to Brookfield, he focused on ranking organically for search on YouTube instead of trying to fight the noise of Google Search, since no one in his industry was utilizing that platform.
He also pointed out that one-on-one messaging with customers on social media platforms has gained traction.
“Facebook just merged Instagram DM, WhatsApp and FB Messenger, so they all have the same backend. I look at how I connect with customers and I use Messenger, WhatsApp and Slack way more than I use email—I only use it if I have to. I’m sure they’ll try to monetize this in some way. But it’s a way to have a more authentic conversation vs. email—you check that instantly, whereas there are gaps of time between emails.”
Tyler agrees, encouraging entrepreneurs to scope out less mainstream social channels like Quora or Reddit to gain traction. He also agrees that one-on-one messaging is key to interacting and creating meaningful connections with customers.
Andrea gave insight from a digital advertising perspective. “We’ve been keeping our eye on voice search. With so many people having Google Homes, Alexa, etc, they’re using that to search for answers. Also there’s a trend in terms of privacy—people are becoming more and more conscious of the information that they’re giving out online."
Neil’s take on trends is a little more intangible, and a general approach to trends.
“Time is the one resource that none of us can get more of, so when you’re using these tools, it’s important that you’re finding the right places to spend your time. And certain technology tools can be the things that help you save time. The second your work is costing you a bunch of time or you’re confused on how to work a technology, there are a ton of resources out there.
Rely on searching the internet and researching these things, because that will help you spend your time more effectively. It’s going to get more and more complex, more and more niche, more and more noisy, and my fear is that we’ll run out of time to stay on top of it. So find ways that make sense for you, and you’ll be able to stay on top of the trends.”
One last word of encouragement from Neil:
“Digital marketing is unfortunately filled with buzzwords, and there’s something new every day. It will be impossible to always be up to date. But I think if you’re authentic and your personalize your messaging, and you understand your customers and you’re telling great stories, then those marketing principles will translate into digital.
The beautiful thing about digital is that we don’t have these massive audiences anymore—you can get to an audience of one. But it’s only relevant if you have a message made for that one person. So really focus on understanding your customers, and then digital just becomes a set of new channels for you. There will be new channels every day, but if you know your customers, you can find them on any channel and tell them a great story.”
Want more advice to help you with your business? Our Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business is full of resources and advice for emerging entrepreneurs like you.