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The Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing in 2021

In our work with clients, both in Toronto and beyond, we’ve noticed that digital marketing can seem like a mystery. Perhaps you feel the same way: you know you need digital marketing, but the term feels vague. You want to know what digital marketing is, why it matters to your business, and how to get started.

In this ultimate digital marketing guide, we’ll walk you through the fundamentals and talk about how to develop and implement a digital marketing strategy.

What is digital marketing and why does it matter?

There are 4 billion internet users globally and that number is only growing. What’s more, we spend a lot of time online—upwards of 6 hours a day. As a business, you know that your clients are increasingly spending their time online and often making purchasing decisions based on their interactions with you through digital mediums.

To understand digital marketing, let’s step back and first define marketing itself.

Traditional vs. digital marketing

The dictionary defines marketing as “the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service.” Essentially, any activity that aims to put your product or service in front of your ideal customers.

Traditional marketing includes the following methods:

  • Print ads
  • Direct mail
  • Broadcast ads
  • Billboards
  • Event marketing
  • Telemarketing

Marketing is so woven into our worlds, that we often won’t realize how many times we’re being marketed to, even as we take a simple walk through our neighbourhood.

Digital marketing is marketing that takes place in the digital world. This includes:

  • Website design and copywriting
  • Landing and sales pages
  • Email marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Paid search and search engine marketing (SEM)
  • Content marketing
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Both traditional and digital marketing are important. Most businesses use some combination of both methods. But because digital marketing is a newer field that encompasses technical elements, we’ve found it can seem overwhelming. But if you can focus on the core goal of digital marketing—generating leads—its easier to understand its role and value to your business.

What are leads in digital marketing?

Lionel Richie Meme - Hello, is it leads you're looking for?

A lead is a customer who has expressed an interest in your product or service but has yet to buy.

For example: imagine a couple comes into a flower shop and enquires about purchasing floral arrangements for their upcoming wedding. They leave contact details but don’t make a purchase. This couple is now a lead: they’re a warm target customer who you’d like to convert into an actual customer. With traditional marketing, you might re-engage these targets with a phone call or a flyer, for example.

In digital marketing, you will also have leads. Here are some examples of where you might find leads:

  • A visitor signs up for a trial version of your product or service
  • A visitor fills in a “ask for a quote” form on your website
  • A visitor interacts with the chatbot on your website to ask questions about which product would be best for them
  • A visitor engages with your social media content asking questions about a product

There are many different touchpoints where a visitor indicates that they may be interested in becoming a paying customer. At this point, they become a lead, and it’s time to see if they can be converted into a customer.

How are different tools used in digital marketing?

It is useful to think about different types of digital marketing tools in the context of the customer lifecycle. When we think of digital marketing, we’re often practising inbound marketing, in which the cycle looks like this:

Digital marketing tools to attract customers

At this point in the lifecycle, you’re mostly trying to raise awareness of your brand, and get people to land on your website. Tools to consider using in this phase include:

  • Website design/development
  • Search Engine Optimization (so that potential customers can find you when they search for products or services you sell)
  • Search Engine Marketing and Paid Social
  • Content marketing

Digital marketing tools to engage customers

Once someone has landed on your site, how do you get them to convert into a paying customer?

Some strategies may include:

  • Free trials of your product or services
  • Encouraging them to sign up for your newsletter (usually with a lead magnet)
  • Content marketing
  • Landing pages

Let’s take a deeper look at this last tool.

What is a landing page in digital marketing?

In digital marketing, a landing page is a targeted webpage focused on a single goal.

Imagine you are launching a new product. You could send out an email blast to your email list, letting them know about the new product and encouraging them to head to your website to check it out.

But if they click through to your website, then what? They may struggle to find their way to the product and quickly click away.

Instead, imagine your clickthrough leads to a highly focused page that features the product’s benefits and has a strong call to action that encourages your customers to buy.

In which scenario would you expect to make more sales?

Landing pages are a great example of how digital marketing strategies can help boost your business.

Digital marketing tools to delight customers

Delighting your customers is often as simple (and as difficult) as having great customer service. However, digital tools such as chatbots, social listening, and an optimized UX design can all contribute to creating delighted customers who will happily recommend your business.

What is a digital marketing campaign?

Unlike Jon Snow, you now know the fundamentals of digital marketing. Now let’s talk about how to put digital marketing into action.

If digital marketing is the entire field, a digital marketing campaign is a specific plan you put together to achieve a certain goal.

Imagine that your goal is to have 100 customers sign up as beta testers for your new product. In order to achieve this goal, you would use a digital marketing campaign. This campaign would use multiple channels to reach customers and to generate the required number of sign-ups. The steps for any campaign will be similar to those we outlined above: attract, engage, delight.

That means your campaign will use multiple different tools. Attracting customers may involve engaging your current email list and prompting them to take part. You may also use your social media and paid social ads to reach people who aren’t currently on your list. You may create content (video, graphics, blogs) to attract and engage.

You’ll likely want a landing page to get people to sign up, and then you’ll delight them with great support once they’re in.

The success of a digital marketing campaign typically is measured by its ability to convert the required number of customers and its ROI.

Why you need a digital marketing strategy

We get it. Digital marketing can seem like a lot, and the thought of creating and implementing a digital marketing strategy may make you want to pull a Homer. In fact, plenty of businesses engage in digital marketing without taking the time to put together a strategy. If that’s you, you may think you’re already getting the results you need.

But a good digital marketing strategy will:

  • Define your focus
  • Clarify your audience and target market
  • Enable you to set clear goals
  • Optimize and target
  • Provide benchmarks for you to measure your success against

And implementing a strong digital marketing strategy should:

  • Grow and maintain your audience
  • Lead to more conversions
  • Create cohesive campaigns that work across multiple marketing channels
  • Gather data and insights to inform your decisions

Ideally, implementing a digital marketing strategy should ultimately save you money as you leave behind a “post and pray” marketing approach, and move to targeted campaigns based on data and a strong understanding of your customers.

How to create a digital marketing strategy

A digital marketing strategy involves the following steps:

Create your goal

Your first step should be to set your target. What do you want to achieve?

Do you want to increase sales? Build brand awareness? Activate current leads and customers? Build community? Reduce bounce rates?

These are all valid goals—and each will shape your strategy in different ways as you build it.

Perform audit

Your next step is to look at your current digital marketing efforts and identify what’s currently working and what’s not. You want to build your strategy with your strengths and weaknesses in mind.

Define Audience

In order to sell, you need to know who you’re trying to sell to. A marketing message for well-off women in their 50-60s will be crafted very differently than one for cash-strapped teenage boys.

If you don’t already have buyer personas, now is the time to start making them. Drawing on your data and knowledge of your existing customer base (and identifying your ideal customers) you can begin to map out the messaging and channels that will reach and engage your audience.

Set Budget

Here’s our top tip on how to allocate budget for digital marketing: know what you can realistically spend.

A successful marketing strategy can be crafted on almost any budget but you need to be clear on what you can invest.

And remember, your digital marketing budget should be treated as an investment.

It all comes down to ROAS.

What is ROAS in digital marketing? ROAS stands for “Return on Ad Spend.” ROAS is a metric that identifies the return you get on every dollar spent on digital advertising. While ROI measures every expenditure you make towards your marketing goals, ROAS looks just at the dollar for dollar value of your ad dollars.

Once you have identified your budget, you can identify the tools and tactics that will:

  • Meet your goal
  • Reach and engage your audience
  • Be within your budget

Measure and Optimize

In order to improve and grow you need to measure key metrics and continually refine and update your strategy as you acquire more data on what works and what doesn’t.

 

How to implement your digital marketing strategy

Meme - Implement All the Strategies!

Implementing a digital marketing strategy takes time, knowledge and experience. If your small-to-medium size business has limited marketing resources, executing a strategy like the one we outlined above might seem out of reach.

But it doesn’t have to be. We know from experience—many of our clients have lean marketing teams who come to us for a partner who can handle the digital side.

What do digital marketing companies do?

Sparked is a digital marketing agency: learn all about our services and how we work.

Different digital marketing companies will have different service offerings available based on their skills and experience.

However, you can generally expect a digital marketing company to be able to work with you on the following:

  • Building, optimizing and maintaining your website
  • Assessing your current digital marketing plans and campaigns for strengths and weaknesses
  • Building a digital marketing strategy (or refining your current strategy)
  • Running a digital campaign, including creating landing pages
  • Suggesting how to strengthen existing strategies and suggesting new tools to try
  • SEO
  • Search engine marketing and paid social media advertising
  • Running analytics and providing you insights so you can make the best decisions

How to choose a digital marketing agency

Your digital marketing is an important business asset. If you’re planning to work with a digital marketing agency you want to find a partner you can trust and who can deliver results.

Set yourself up for success by asking the following questions:

  • Are they credible? Do they appear to be a well-established business? Do they have any negative reviews on Google? When you search the business name, what comes up?
  • Can you see their work? Do they have a portfolio available on their website? Are they able to provide case studies? Are they willing to provide client references?
  • Can they tell you how they’ll achieve results? Does their plan seem reasonable and realistic? Do they have a communication plan to make sure you’re involved in the project?
  • How much will they charge? Is their quote clear? Do you notice any hidden costs tucked away in a contract? Does the quote seem in line with what you’re asking for (it may be worth getting quotes from more than one agency to get a sense of the range of cost in your area).

And keep an eye out for any of the following red flags:

🚩 Their own website is hard to use, navigate, or understand
🚩 They have no portfolio and cannot provide examples of previous work when asked
🚩 They speak in jargon and try to make you feel inferior for asking questions
🚩 They are hard to get hold of and don’t seem interested in your business
🚩 Their plans seem outdated
🚩 Their work appears to rely heavily on templates
🚩 They give vague answers when you ask about process or reporting
🚩 They promise overnight success or to 1000x your sales in six weeks (if it sounds to be good true, it probably is)

Schitts creek - that's a hard pass gif

Conclusion

Digital marketing may be complex, covering so many different domains. But it doesn’t have to be a mystery. At Sparked we believe that ambitious businesses deserve outstanding digital marketing to match their goals. That’s why we’re committed to being a long-term partner who gets to know your business and commits to helping you succeed.

If you have questions about how Sparked can help you with digital marketing, contact us and one of our friendly team members will be in touch soon.

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