It seems like all you hear about these days is Social Media & Digital Marketing. How it's the magic bullet for small business success.  - Every small business is different. 

How do you know if digital marketing is right for your small business?

Will marketing on social media, search, mobile or other digital platforms actually pay off or will it just be another huge time-suck that gives lackluster results?

That's an almost impossible question to answer without knowing your business so here are some insights to help you decide for yourself.

First, Digital Marketing is a broad subject and covers everything from pay per click advertising to social media posting, to things like blogging and in-app advertising.

It can be as simple as posting to your Facebook page or sending tweets or very complex encompassing elements like drip email campaigns and sales funnels.

We can't possibly cover everything in this article so, we'll hit the "high points." The things you must have to succeed and the common reasons for failure.  

Fact: Most small businesses fail at digital marketing.
Why? Because they don't have an understanding of how it actually works, they don't have a strategy, and they don't measure results.

Some small businesses are having great success with social media, using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or similar platforms to build a loyal customer base. How do they do it? What's the secret sauce?

Why do your Facebook posts go un-noticed? Why aren't people flocking to your business or offer when you boost that post or Tweet?  

Here's a little secret, it doesn't happen by chance, it's not just a happy accident.
Those who are successful have these things in common.

  • A good understanding of who their ideal customer is.
  • A well-planned marketing strategy to reach them.
  • A procedure to ensure the strategy is followed.
  • A website or landing page that is optimized to convert.
  • A follow-up system.

If you are missing any of these, you will fail, or at least your efforts won't be as successful as they could be.

Let's break these things down and explain what they are and why you must have them.

A good understanding of who your ideal customer is.

Do you know your customer, your "best" customer? Not the actual person, but their persona. What is their demographics? Where do they hang out? What do they feel strongly about? What do they like? Dislike? You get the idea.

In order to market to someone, you need to know where they are and what kind of message to put in front of them. What will get their attention? What will stir an emotion? What will make them think about your message and remember it?

Exercise: Describe your ideal customer. Write down all the details, everything you can think of that would describe who they are.

A well-planned marketing strategy to reach them.

Okay, you know who, now, what are the best ways to target them? What do you say? How should the message be delivered? What emotion should it stir?

This is where the strategy part comes in.  Find the one or two social platforms that they hang out on. If your perfect customer is a teen, they probably aren't going to be spending time on Linkedin, but if you are selling B2B that may be exactly where they are.

Put some real thought into this, it's super important. Don't guess, do some research. If you spend your time and budget on the wrong platform, it's all for nothing.

Next, go back to your ideal customer persona notes. What would be the best way to get their attention? Are they into artisan things? Do they love hand crafted?

Your message image should reflect that. People are inundated with information, overloaded with ads, spam and social media posts and messages. You only have a second or two at best to grab their attention.

You have to connect with them. When you do get their attention, and they make a comment, click a link or perform some other positive action, you have to make a connection.

Answer their question, offer more information, give them some feedback. People want to build relationships and deal with other people. People they have a connection with. Make it personal.

A procedure to ensure the strategy is followed.

This is one of the most common areas where small businesses fail. To be successful in Digital Marketing, you have to be consistent, you have to stick to the plan, long term.

Most small businesses start out strong but other things "come up, " and before you know it, it's been two days since you posted to Facebook or two months since you did a blog post. And just like that, you have set the path to failure.

To succeed, you must have a procedure some type of schedule or marketing calendar, and you must follow it. The biggest cause of failure is due to the lack of manpower or time.

I get it, you're busy, it's hard enough to get the "important" things done. You're trying to keep the lights on, pay the bills.  But here's the truth, if your marketing can't become one of the "important" things, then save yourself some time, money and heartache and don't start down the path at all.

If you or someone in your organization doesn't have the time and if you can't afford or refuse to hire outside help, then just don't do it. You will just be wasting time and resources.

A website or landing page that is optimized to convert.

If you follow me at all, you already know what I'm about to say.

Your website is the most important thing in your Digital World. Your website is the one thing you have total control of. Your website is most often the first contact a new customer will have with you.

Don't screw this part up. It should be your number one priority. Don't even think about spending money or time on social media until you have a well designed, well-optimized website. You will waste a lot of time and money, and, you will fail at Digital Marketing.

If your website is outdated, if it isn't mobile friendly or if you don't have one at all. Put everything else on hold. Get it fixed, rebuilt or build a new one.

Don't trust this to the kid down the street. This is an investment in the success of your business. Get it done right, it will make all the difference in the world to your success in Digital Marketing.

Remember, "Likes are nice, but sales pay the bills." Sales and conversions aren't made on Social Media, They are made on your website.

Even if you are a brick & mortar establishment, and don't make sales directly on the web, your website is still the most important part in Digital Marketing.

A proper website will build your email list and as you have probably heard a thousand times "the money is in the list."

If your site is set up to convert visitors into prospects by giving them a compelling reason to give you their email address, you can market directly to them. And, you can do it over and over again.

Email is hands down the best, most cost-effective way to achieve Digital Marketing Success.

Before you do anything else in Digital Marketing, invest in a proper website. Social platforms come and go. They get hot and then fall out of favor, people move on to other platforms.  

A properly designed and well-maintained website will serve you years into the future.

I know, a website may not seem as important as it is, they have been around for years, you don't hear a lot of hype about them. But your website is the foundation of your Digital Marketing, without it at best you might see some short-term success. But remember Digital Marketing is about building long-term relationships with your customers.

If Facebook or Twitter (or your Social Platform of choice) were to shut down in 6 months; How would you reach your customers? How big of a hit would your business take until you found a way to reconnect with them? Could you even survive it?

It's pretty risky, dare I say foolish to build a following critical to your business only on a platform that you have no control over.

If you think it can't happen, just look at history. Do you remember  MySpace, AOL, Yahoo! Buzz, Friendster, The Hub, Surfbook, Xanga, Google+? There are plenty of once vibrant platforms that are either gone or near death. 

A way to measure success.

How can you know if you are on the right track if you don't measure your success or failures?
Marketing is both science and art, it's just about the farthest thing away from a "one size fits all" process as you can get.

It's critical that you have some way to measure your level of success continuously.  You need to know when it's time to change course, when it's time to double down and when it's time to scrap a campaign or strategy.

Most small businesses don't bother to look at the analytics provided or don't understand which metrics really matter to the success of your marketing campaigns.

This is a huge mistake and can cost you a serious amount of money or wasted time. If you are heading in the wrong direction, you need to know and the sooner, the better.

Analytics is one of the keys to successful Digital Marketing. Learn which metrics matter and how to read and interpret them.

Don't be afraid to change course if the numbers are telling you to. It makes no sense to follow the wrong path. There are virtually no successful marketing campaigns, digital or otherwise that haven't needed some adjustment from the original plan to become successful.

While we're on this topic, another important thing to realize is Marketing is a long term game. It will take some time to get good, sustainable results.

Be patient, start out small, study your analytics, make adjustments. Then, look at the analytics again, did your change help? Did it make things worse?  

Make another change and repeat. This is referred to as optimization. Optimization is the key to getting the best results with the least amount of money and effort. Once you have things optimized, then you can scale it up.

A follow-up system.

Another area where small businesses tend to drop the ball is the follow-up. Think about it, You do all this work and spend all that time and money reaching your ideal customer. Finally, it starts to pay off, they join your list or reach out to you and then, nothing...

You have to have a system in place to follow-up. You have to nurture that lead, stay in touch with them, give them information.
You have to make them feel that they are important to you, thank them and make them feel special.

If you get this part right, you will not only build a long term relationship and customer, but you will also get a brand ambassador. Now you have someone who will not only purchase your wares over and over but who will tell others, defend your brand and actually sell for you!

This is the real goal, imagine if you had a thousand or ten thousand brand ambassadors out there telling the world how great you are, what will that do for your business?

I think you can see why a good follow-up system is essential. Without it, you may have some short term gains, but with it, your growth can skyrocket.

That was a lot to take in, Thank You for sticking it out and getting to the end. If you made it this far, you might have what it takes to become successful in Digital Marketing.  

For more information on Digital Marketing, please visit my blog; A Digital World. And as always if you have questions or comments feel free to reach out to me.

Until then,

Scott Williams
Director of Digital Marketing
Cotts, Inc.

Cotts, Inc. is a digital marketing agency specializing in helping small businesses. We are located in the small city of Pottsville in Schuylkill County, PA 17901.

We build results-driven websites, expert social media content & strategies, custom interactive kiosk systems, digital signage systems and print campaigns so your business can compete in this digital world.

If your small business needs help with marketing in the digital world, reach out to us, our contact information is:

Phone: 570.399.5662