Marketing

The future of digital marketing

Best practice digital marketing has come a very long way in a few short years. All-purpose display ads and unsegmented email blasts should now be a thing of the past. We look at what’s replacing them.

Three or four years ago digital marketing was all about “beating” Google and outwitting the search giant’s algorithm. It was common for e-commerce businesses to build enormous websites with thin content, taking as much information as they could from their related manufacturers and jamming it into their pages. The idea was to appear as large as possible in order to improve their SEO rankings.

At the same time, businesses threw a lot of cash at Google AdWords. The process of marketing was similar to swinging a sledgehammer, hoping you’d hit some of what you’re aiming for.

“The big change is that marketing has in some ways become old-fashioned again,” says James Lawrence, Co-founder and Head of Marketing at The Web Showroom, a digital marketing agency that since 2006 has helped established Australian businesses increase revenue online. “Digital marketing in 2016 is now nuanced, highly bespoke to the business and always persona driven. It is about using your finite marketing budget to carefully target perfect customers.”

How to get started

At the very beginning of a client campaign, Lawrence says, his team spends as much time analysing the real-word triggers, motivations and objectives of potential customers as digital metrics such as time on site, page views and visitors flows. In doing so, it develops strong buyer personas and understands why ideal customers behave the way they do.

“We figure out what is going to motivate the perfect customer to make a purchasing decision,” Lawrence says. “We also have a good idea of the kinds of restrictions they are dealing with. What are their main concerns? Is your pricing competitive? Are they worried about warranty? Using all of this information, you can devise a custom digital marketing strategy that reaches these exact type of customers.”

It was the impersonal, badly targeted and often downright dodgy display ads of the recent past – think flashing lights and “Click here to win $1 million” messaging – that was partly responsible for driving the development of ad blockers, Lawrence says.

While ad blockers are used by around 20 per cent of web users, this doesn’t cause a major concern to most Australian advertisers right now. Rampant growth in mobile phone usage means there is an ever-increasing market for small and medium-sized e-commerce businesses to operate within. First they need to make sure their site is completely mobile responsive, then they must learn lessons from the past.

One of those lessons is around the use of unsegmented email marketing, a practice that Lawrence says is a “waste of time most of the time”.

“It used to be that you would collect a large database of email addresses and send them all a generic email newsletter every month, hammering them with specials,” he says. “But people are saturated with these types of emails and quickly delete them.”

Profile and personalise

The future is about segmented and highly personalised emails, explains Lawrence. “You need great data on customers. What are they interested in? When did they buy? What is their demographic? How often do they buy? If they bought a mountain bike, then let’s talk to them about servicing bikes, about new types of tyres and chains, etc. Let’s not send them an email about tennis racquets. Your communications should be driven by their needs and milestones, not yours.”

SEO, rather than being about how to outfox Google, is now about providing users with a genuinely positive experience. Loading up a page with keywords may have done the trick a few years ago, but Google has since become much smarter.

“Google is looking at a lot of stuff like bounce rate, time on site and page load times in order to determine whether or not to rank a site highly,” Lawrence says. “Great Australian e-commerce sites are looking at their user experience and creating content around topics their audiences are interested in.”

Also consider using social media functionality, such as Facebook Custom Audience and Google Customer Match, to match email addresses from your database with user accounts on Facebook and the Google network. That way, you can serve targeted ads via those platforms at a time that individuals are likely more receptive to marketing messages.

Finally, Lawrence says, read your online marketing reports through new eyes. “Back in the day you’d check your online marketing report for the last month and simply look at how much you spent and what it returned. That is not the way to look at it,” he says.

“Instead, figure out the lifetime value of a customer. If you’re selling a coffee machine then you know you could also sell pods or beans. If you have a proper email marketing strategy or a targeted digital marketing strategy, you should be able to sell those beans every month. Your customer value goes from $1,200 for the machine to $5,000 over three years.”

The great news is that with a well-managed customer database, digital marketing becomes more elegant, more nuanced and potentially less expensive than the sledgehammer approach. Your business will benefit and your customers will appreciate the customised attention. Digital marketing of the future is a win/win.

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