Guest post by University of Glasgow.
The last six months have shown beyond any doubt the importance and efficacy of digital marketing. During the pandemic, customers’ relationships with many high street retail brands and other businesses have been interrupted, as shoppers were forced to shelter in place and socially distance.
The impact of this shows up in sales figures, which for UK retailers were down 18% in May alone. But lockdown hasn’t impacted all businesses equally. Companies with a strong digital presence, in particular leaders in digital marketing, have fared far better than others.
According to research by McKinsey, by spring 2020 sixty percent of businesses said their digital sales channels were as effective or more effective than traditional routes to market. During the crisis, online grocery shopping in the UK went from less than 10% of total spend in the sector to over 30%.
Nor is this likely to be just a blip. Anyone who’s been watching business trends over the last few years knows that digital transformation was already well underway. COVID has simply accelerated this process.
To thrive in the post-COVID, digitally accelerated future market, businesses need to engage with consumers where they are — online. This is true for companies whose business model is moving online but also for ones which need to get shoppers back in store.
Here are seven things you can do to future-proof your business with digital marketing:
Make yourself seen
The days of keyword stuffing and relying on backlinks to boost your search rankings are long gone. In fact, these practices will now hurt your search performance. But there are still things you can and should do to make sure the right audiences will find your site.
The most important is to fill your site with high-quality content that’s relevant to your audience and what they’re searching for. Link building is still important, as long as it’s organic and meaningful. But also pay attention to on-page SEO. How well-structured is your site? How useful is your metadata? How fast do your pages load?
And ensure your site is secure, especially if you sell or gather details through it. Search engines penalise insecure sites.
Do you feel good, because there are 100,000 names in your customer database? Hold on for a second. How long ago did you acquire those details? Are all of them GDPR-compliant? Be aware if there are there certain segments who never respond in any way. You don’t want to end up in spam.
If so, it’s time to clean up that list and re-establish permission. If you haven’t already, purge it of anyone whose details were acquired in a way that doesn’t comply with the GDPR — and who won’t want to opt in.
But also purge it of long-term non responders. They have already opted out in practice. And low response rates may cause you to look like a spammer to some systems. Your goal is to have a list of clean contact details with a verified opt-in and a high response rate.
Build an inbound programme
What do your customers and potential customers want to know? Where can you place content that answers those questions so that it lures them back to your site or other digital properties? The content can be anything from articles, to how-to videos or even just reviews. You want them to show up in searches, be shared on social media and appear in relevant forums.
Your goal is to build an audience, build trust and then convert your audience members into customers. This is an important aspect of future proofing because it’s a tool you can use to both fill the top of the sales funnel and to build relationships which maximise customer lifetime value (CLV).
Take your events online
This year, massive comic-convention Comic-Con responded to lockdown not only by becoming and online festival but also by making entry free. The numbers say they’re onto something. Recent studies found that between 20% and 40% of a webinar’s attendees turn into qualified leads.
Get social in a way that’s meaningful for your audience
Although it’s had mixed publicity recently, social media is still a powerful marketing tool. But don’t feel the need to be on every platform. Work out first where your audience is and engage with it there. Tailor your content for each platform but have a unified message and voice across all your properties.
But don’t forget the basics — yes, we do mean email
While you’re working on social media, digital events and content optimisation, don’t forget email marketing. It may seem unsexy at times, compared to other channels. But a well-produced email campaign can achieve open-rates of up to 3%, compared to just 0.5% for social media.
Follow the money (and the metrics)
The shiny stuff is what customers see. But a lot of the real power in digital marketing — particularly when you’re planning for the future — are the numbers. Which audiences responded well to your campaigns in which channels? Which messages and formats work best for them? What happens if you segment your audience and test different messages (“split testing”): can you improve your conversion rates? The more data you gather, the more you test and the more rigorous your analysis is, the better you can optimise your digital marketing for maximum returns.
And make sure people can click ‘buy’
One of the leakiest parts of any sales pipeline is the end, usually the shopping cart. The average online cart abandonment rate is 65%. To get this number down, make your buying and payment experience as simple, intuitive and smooth as possible. This is going to be more important than ever over the next year or two, because lockdown has forced new demographics to shop online, and they like it. To win these tentative new online shoppers, you need to offer them a payment and buying experience they trust and are comfortable with.
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