8 Digital Marketing Concepts and Practices

Contemporary digital communication channels rely on the Internet for connecting marketers to the buying population. It is far from a passive communication channel. Currently, the dominant methods for marketing through this digital ecosystem are via email marketing, the World Wide Web, social media and mobile apps. As noted by Van Dyck (Van Dyck, P.21) these are all cooperative and collaborative channels for communication and marketing. They enable the audience for any marketing message to engage actively, if they choose, with the marketer. Another facet of modern digital marketing is the ability of the marketer to measure and track their messages and their target audience’s reactions through metadata, cookies and site logs.

Brief History of the Internet

The Internet grew out of an effort by government laboratories, the military and educational institutions desire to share computing resources. According to LaQuey “the Internet had humble, but exciting beginnings as one network called the Arpanet, the ‘Mother of the Internet’”(LaQuey, 1993, P.3). ARPANET was dismantled in March 1990 as the NSFNET was now providing the same functions for most of the research community. CSNET ceased in 1991 for similar reasons. In 1989 Software Tool and Die in Brookline, MA became the first ISP (Internet Service Provider) to offer dial up commercial access to the Internet. (Internet Service Provider) The author, through family involved in this ISP, was provided a peek into the early days of the Internet’s development.

Brief History of the World Wide Web

The early years of the Internet were purely text based. This began to change in 1991 when Tim Berners Lee wrote a program called “WorldWideWeb” and established the first HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language) and HTTP (Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol) based servers and documents did this begin to change. Browsers were quickly developed to enable users to access web pages and click HTML links that would take them to locations on the same page, on other pages on the same server or to pages on servers anywhere in the world. This established the world of the Internet as we know it today, a vast and seemingly infinite ecosystem of web sites and web pages with information, entertainment and pretty much anything reflective of the human condition.

Brief History of Search Engines

Web sites rapidly became a means for any organization to communicate their messages to the millions of users of the Internet. As the Internet exploded exponentially the need to find specific content on the Internet spawned the invention of Search Engines. Early providers vied for users with different indexing schemes and algorithms to quickly take queries and deliver relevant sites and pages to the user making the query via their Internet browser. In 1997 a Stanford project brought us Google, a search engine which relied on the number and quality of links to and from a site along with the relevant words found on the site’s pages (Battelle, 2005). MSN search was launched in 1998 and is now known as Bing. Modern search engines drive many modern digital marketing practices (myprasanna, 2011).

Digital Marketing, the Internet and the World Wide Web

The goal of search engines is to deliver relevant links to queries typed into the search dialog box by Internet users. In most modern web browsers these search terms return unbiased or “organic” search results based on proprietary and often secret algorithms. In addition to serving a list of links to relevant sites, these search engines also provide advertising based on keywords or phrases contained in the search terms. “Pay per click” advertising models base their business model on the buyer of the ad content paying when a user “clicks” on the served ad, instead of, or in addition to, the free relevant content that the search engine returns in response to the search query.

Digital Marketing on the Web is interwoven with social media marketing and mobile marketing. But to simplify this discussion let’s focus on the Web and traditional HTML website based marketing practices. A traditional goal of marketing is to establish awareness of an organizations brand and products with the goal of persuading a buyer to purchase goods or services. This model can be extended to non-profits, educational institutions as well as for-profit goods and service providers. The general imperative is to bring Internet users to a website. There specific marketing messages can be presented to encourage interest among the visitors. This in turn would lead to a desire to establish a relationship with the organization that leads to an action or interaction or transaction. The net result is to fulfill Lewis’ classical AIDA (Awareness-Interest-Desire-Action) marketing process.

Digital marketing has progressed rapidly from its early focus on providing a static HTML website that represented an online company brochure into a dynamic communication channel allowing organizations to present themselves to potential customers, interact with customers and stakeholders, promote and affiliate with social causes and represent themselves as subject matter experts in their core areas of competency. Corner coffee shops and Fortune 500 companies alike are busy pursuing digital marketing efforts as part of their overall marketing strategy. Doing so effectively requires attention on many different technical and strategic activities. Figure 6 illustrates the trends driving the focus on digital media strategies.

Media Platform Competition for Consumers Time
Share of Platform Time Spent by Demographics Source: comScore Xmedia and Media Metrix Multi-Platform, U.S., Q4 2015, Live TV

Figure 6 Share of Platform Time Spent by Demographics

Most digital marketing campaigns seek to drive visitors to a web site or web landing paging on a web site. Fundamentally a site should achieve relevant page ranking in organic search results on the major search engines for terms related to their areas of core competency. This organic search result ranking cannot be purchased directly but can be “earned” with good fundamental practices. A well-designed website must have requisite relevant content and high quality links to other relevant sites to the queried search terms.

In the current competitive digital marketing ecosystem, it is also necessary to address the mobile smartphone space too. Attention must be paid to geolocation related search, especially for retail oriented businesses or organizations. Pay-per-click campaigns can supplement organic search but if the business or organization is in a highly competitive space, such activities can be challenging to do, cost effectively. A summation of the different current digital marketing practices follows. More detailed presentations on the different elements in the mix used by modern marketers are available in Appendix 3.

Email Marketing

Email is one of the oldest digital communication channels and as its name implies it represents the evolution of physical mail or “snail” mail as the Internet generation dubs it. This channel can allow marketers to reach individual consumers with targeted, personalized messaging and offers. Email marketing can serve both to connect to a first-time lead or to nurture a lead still uncommitted or to maintain awareness with and make new offers to an existing customer. Email is particularly relevant among business-to-business marketing as this represents the common means for individuals in organizations to communicate between each other, their customers and their suppliers. A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program is often used to manage mailing lists and send customized emails to new leads or existing customers.

All use of email marketing must be done in compliance with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines (Can Spam Act, n.d.). These rules can be summarized as:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines.
  3. Identify the message as an ad.
  4. Tell recipients where you’re located.
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you.
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly
  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf.

(Can Spam Act: A Compliance Guide)

Using email marketing to grow awareness, maintain relationships and reach a desired response from the recipient can be done effectively and inexpensively on any scale. More information on this topic is found in Appendix 3.

Content Marketing

Content marketing focuses on creating compelling text, images, videos, audio files, surveys, games, and other engaging digital media that attracts and retains the attention of your target audience. It’s important that marketers plan and organized their digital content in line with their business strategy, being aware to align the content on their audience’s needs. A productive content marketing campaign engages with its intended audience in respectful ways. The continuous measurement of relative interest in your content is critical to determine what is engaging the audience, and then provide more, similar, content. More information on this topic is found in Appendix 3.

Blogging

Blogging is the act of writing a “weblog” or “blog”. The term was coined in 1997 by Jorn Barger (Blog, n.d.) a specific type of web activity in which the authors write on topics of any and all types and allow comments from readers and visitors to these blog (Web Log) sites. A blog can attract many readers and its content is indexed by major search engines. In most blogs the writing content (or video content in the case of video blogs) is frequently added by the author(s). Well written and produced blogs are able to create high relevancy, list high in search engine ranking for their affiliated websites, and are an effective component of a digital advertising campaign. More information on this topic is found in Appendix 3.

SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of tailoring the content, structure, metadata and registration of a website with the goal of improving its organic ranking for relevant search terms. A first step in any digital campaign is to verify your organization’s existing digital footprint on the web. This can be done with an initial round of basic search queries for your organization or business. Then analyze the resulting data presented by different search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. Once the baseline is determined it is possible to focus on the weaknesses of the existing digital footprint for the business and make improvements. Basic strategies for SEO are to optimize landing pages and focus on building links to high quality sites with similar or complimentary content. Fundamental SEO efforts will start with learning the common terms and terminology of your sites’ intended audience. A good marketer will then consistently apply the recognizable, relevant terms, phrases and acronyms, and even jargon, if it’s likely to be used in search queries. More information on this topic is found in Appendix 3.

Mobile Apps Digital Marketing

The evolution of cellphone technology took a rapid and dramatic turn with the launch of the iPhone in 2007 (Price, 2015). Only 10 years later, the impact on marketing is still being realized. Mobile applications (or “apps”) can be simple extensions of existing Websites or self-standing software tools to enhance the daily experience of the user. Apps like those from such retailers like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts can simplify the process for caffeine addicts to order their daily fix while the app binds brand loyal consumers more tightly to their chosen products.

Game apps can be addictive entertainment for smartphone owners. The app creator may give away the app for free and then sell advertising to third parties who wish to reach the subscribers through the app experience. Watching an ad can yield benefits and rewards within the game to the player. A few moments watching or listening to an ad may “net” the player of “TapTapFish” a new clownfish or bit of coral for her reef (Abyssrium, ND).

Smartphones put into consumers’ hands a fully portable, high resolution screen connected nearly 100% of the time to the Internet. This marvel of engineering includes sensing technology that can record sound, images, video, location data, speed, acceleration, magnetic fields and gravity. Digital marketer’s potential audience is spending up to 11 hours a day looking at their portable advertising delivery device, aka “smartphone”. All online marketing; email, content marketing, blogging, search engine optimization, and social media marketing apply to Mobile App marketing as well. Smartphones are placing more demands on marketers to optimize their previous digital campaigns to blend seamlessly and fully leverage the mobile handset paradigms. More information on this topic is found in Appendix 3.

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