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Digital marketing expenditures have significantly increased over the years. Despite reduced marketing budgets due to the spread of COVID-19, digital marketing channels will still dominate. Here is why…

Most brick-and-mortar events like fairs, flea markets, conferences, workshops and trade shows scheduled in the second quarter of 2020 have been canceled or will be virtual. Furthermore, future similar event plans this year are very much in limbo. With that, marketeers are seeking other venues to spend their marketing dollars. They need to continue to build their brands and generate the required leads and sales.

Additionally, consumers hunkered down at home to avoid contracting coronavirus are turning to online shopping for products that they traditionally bought in stores. This will provide online retailers better returns on their online ads, boosting online marketing expenditures.

Why Small Businesses Need a Digital Marketing Strategy—Especially During the Pandemic

The internet revolution that took place in the 90s has created many unicorn companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook, ushering the way to online shopping, socializing and interacting. Interestingly, these are the companies that are suffering the least during the COVID-19 economic crisis. As a matter of fact, Amazon is even prospering during these difficult times with its stock AMZN reaching all-time highs! With over $600 billion of products and services sold online in the U.S. alone in 2019, no one can ignore the importance of digital channels. 

Even if you are not selling your products online, you must consider digital marketing as a plausible scalable engine of growth for your company. This engine of growth is made of many cylinders, each representing a digital channel. Ideally, you want every channel to be fine-tuned with the others to deliver the most robust and efficient result for your business.

The purpose of your digital marketing strategy is to channel traffic to your website or social media pages, engage your target audience and convert them to leads and sales.

With metrics– and they are very abundant in the digital world– you can track all your steps, optimize them, streamline your processes and affect your key performance indicators (KPIs.)

digital marketing strategy

What Is Unique About Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing adds two very important elements to traditional marketing. First, it offers new marketing channels that are entirely online and therefore immune to the COVID-19 social distancing consequences. Second, customers leave a forensic trail of evidence in the form of digital data that enables storing, tracking and monetizing every marketing campaign through its channels.

With an enormous amount of data at your disposal, you can make better informed campaign decisions, particularly in this time of crisis when every dollar matters.

What Are the Digital Channels?

If you have not ventured into digital marketing yet, here is a summary of the digital channels available as categorized by Google. Their primary function is to drive traffic to your website or online products:

1. Organic Search

This is when someone enters a set of words or voice prompts into a search engine and consequently gets directed to online content. When one visits that content, it is considered organic traffic. The site owner does not have to pay a fee to the search engine company for this traffic.

For organic traffic to materialize, much valuable and relevant content creation and search engine optimization (SEO) work need to take place. This often takes months if not years to materialize. So organic traffic may not be the short term solution that you are seeking while your clients are in lockdown mode.

2. Direct

These are users directly visiting your site. For instance, when I want to buy a computer, I go to dell.com or Microsoft.com. When I want to buy a smartphone, I go directly to apple.com. I don’t do a search, I simply type the web address in my browser, or click on a bookmark that I have saved there. This is considered direct traffic.

Direct traffic is a function of brand building for your company, products or services. Brand building of your website takes time to accomplish. It is however never too late to start, particularly if you already built a recognized brand.

3. Social

Social media platforms include Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter. When people are checking their social media pages, they may see a posting about your company, product, or service with a Learn More link. When they click on it, it will take them to your website. This traffic is tagged as social traffic.

Social traffic is not hard to build, but it requires the creation of frequent relevant and engaging content. If your business has a good client base that loves your product, you can stay in touch with them on social media by reminding them of your product’s value and engaging them with attractive content or offers.

4. Email

This is the traffic generated by your outbound email campaigns and email interactions. Someone for instance sees a link embedded in the email, clicks on it, and it takes them to your website. That is considered email traffic.

With more people confined to their homes, they are more likely to read their emails. Email traffic is the least costly and can be very effective when done correctly. Leverage your email list as much as you can during this lockdown. But be sensitive to the current situation.

5. Referral

This is referred traffic from one website to another. It is akin to word-of-mouth, but between websites. When backlinks and citations are present on others’ sites back to your site, they will generate traffic flow to your site.

Link building is the most ignored digital channel, yet one of the most important ones. Backlinks are critically important due not only to the traffic they generate, but the authority they create for your site.

You can use your downtime to affect the authority of your website by proactively pursuing backlinks from relevant high authority websites to yours. This is PR work that can generate huge dividends for you during and after the lockdown.

6. Paid Search

This includes banner ads, Pay Per Click, social media posts boosts, GeoMarketing, GeoFencing, etc. Unlike organic traffic, they require you to pay for each ad, each display, each visit or each conversion.

While GeoMarketing and GeoFencing should take a backseat during this lockdown, you should consider investing the bulk of your marketing dollars in paid advertising. It is the fastest and easiest, yet costly, way to direct traffic to your website and products.

7. Other channels include affiliate programs and third-party resellers like Groupon, Rakuten, Amazon, eBay and Etsy

Consider adding online affiliates to promote your products and services. You will have to give up a percentage on each sale that comes through these channels. But that may be better than paying upfront for ads when your cash flow is dwindling.

Also, if you are having difficulties directing traffic to your website, why not sell your products through the sites that garner most of the traffic? The top 3 online resellers are Amazon, eBay and Etsy.

Which Channel Is Most Important?

All digital channels are important, and they each have their own purpose and benefit. Different digital channels also feed off each other, creating important synergies that lead to even more traffic and conversions. For instance, direct and referral traffic will raise your domain authority and therefore increase organic traffic.

Organic traffic is perhaps the most coveted channel due to the perception that it is free. But it is not so easy to corner, particularly in the short term.

In this time of crisis, you need revenue fast. The quickest way to accomplish it is via affiliate marketing, selling through established online channels and advertising.

Contact online retailers and offer your products through their online stores. Consider adding affiliates that can promote your products for you. Look into Google’s Pay Per Click options and consider advertising on social media channels like Facebook and Instagram. The cost of ads when done correctly can be justified. Also, with more people stuck at home during this crisis, it is more likely that your ads will land in front of the eyeballs that you target and seek.

Focus on Your Strengths

As you continue to build your digital marketing strategy, consider the following. If you are a connector or an extrovert, then social media and affiliate marketing should be the primary channels for you.

If, however, you are a good writer or an introvert, a content strategy that leads to organic traffic ought to be on your priority list.

Also, keep building your email list and leverage it with your social media ads by creating lookalike audiences. While people tend to overlook email, it can still be one of the most effective channels with the best ROI.

Contact Amazon, eBay, Etsy and other online outlets and see if you can sell your products through their outlets.

As you build your digital marketing strategy, keep adding more channels. Digital marketing tools and techniques give you the ability to monitor with great accuracy the results of every channel to better understand where each is effective and where each can improve. Your aim is to maximize your return on investment (ROI).

Also, keep in mind that what impacts the success of your digital marketing strategy is knowing your unique selling proposition (USP) and target market. Don’t lose focus of either.

SCORE Mentors Can Help

With COVID-19 disruptions unfortunately becoming a part of our daily lives, new realities are setting in. Many business owners are forced to rethink their business strategies, including their marketing channels.

SCORE mentors understand that many small businesses are not versed in digital marketing concepts. Fortunately, if you have used traditional marketing venues successfully in the past, with some adjustments, digital marketing channels can be phased in to complement or replace them entirely.

If you are not comfortable forging through a digital transformation of your marketing or creating new digital strategies on your own, contact your local SCORE chapter and ask for a mentor experienced with digital marketing techniques. They will help you create a strategy that can turn digital channels into a scalable engine of growth. One that can hopefully propel your company out of this horrific coronavirus economic crisis and into new horizons!

About the Author(s)

 Nabil  Freij

Nabil is a certified SCORE Mentor, problem solver and entrepreneur. He draws from various technical & management skills to streamline business processes & operations, minimizing costs & maximizing profitability. Skilled in all aspects of running a small business including Finance, Operations, Marketing, Sales, IT & HR. Author of Enabling Globalization, trilingual, MSEE from Brown, MBA from Bryant.

CEO - Retired, GlobalVision International, Inc.
Covid-19’s Impact on Digital Marketing