Digital marketing is a broad category of strategies and tools that promote a business's goods or services across a wide range of channels. These include numerous social networking sites, search engines, content streaming platforms, email, and affiliate marketing among others. A digital marketing strategy may include all of these platforms or it may be limited to one or two, depending on the relevance each platform has to the business's goals.
The Internet Age has given way for digital marketing to rule the marketing world. In fact, digital marketing replaced traditional marketing as the dominant advertising medium in 2019. With this in mind, it's important to know what digital marketing tools are available to help you maintain a competitive edge.
Digital marketing vs. traditional marketing
Digital marketing is something you probably see every day. If you've ever purchased something through an advertisement you saw online or clicked a link in a promotional email, you've interacted with an organization's digital marketing strategy. Compared to traditional marketing tactics — which include print, television, and radio advertising — digital marketing is more ubiquitous and tightly woven into the fabric of modern internet use. Lines are often blurred between owned, earned, and paid media, so it's sometimes hard to distinguish online content that is sponsored and specifically intended for marketing purposes from content that is not.
The basis of digital marketing is in direct contrast with the fundamentals of traditional advertising. When someone sees a billboard or a television commercial, the boundaries of the advertisement are clearly defined. It's easy to tell that what you're seeing is paid for by the advertiser. This isn't always the case with digital marketing, despite disclosure requirements put in place by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The analog nature of traditional marketing also means that the return on investment (ROI) of campaigns is much more difficult to measure. This is not to say that traditional marketing is outdated or going away anytime soon, however, as evidenced by the staggering costs of Super Bowl commercials and fashion magazine ads.
Why you need a digital marketing strategy
Digital marketing has overtaken traditional marketing as the most prevalent mode of advertising. It's much easier to control costs with digital advertising and the costs that are associated with a digital campaign are usually significantly lower than the costs associated with a traditional advertising campaign. For example, an ad in a local newspaper can cost thousands of dollars, but a digital ad on a social media platform can be scaled up or down to meet your budget.
A digital marketing strategy will also help you answer many of the questions that traditional marketing channels can't. With digital marketing, you can analyze data about your audience that helps you better understand who they are, what they want, and how they engage with your business. A comprehensive digital campaign, for example, can directly track which channels (social media, email, search engines, etc.) are driving the most traffic to your website, as well as your audience demographics and the type of content that is most engaging. A newspaper advertisement, on the other hand, may drive customers to your business, but those results can only be measured indirectly.
The parameters of a digital campaign can also be refined to target the audience that will be most likely to convert into customers. Traditional media channels are broader, meaning they reach a larger audience that may or may not be interested in engaging with your business. Digital marketing makes it much easier to control costs and ensure you're getting the most value for your investment.
Top digital marketing tools
Although much of the success of a digital marketing campaign depends on the strategy behind it, there are many tools that will help you execute on the various action items. They will also provide you with the right data and analytics to measure success and inform you when something needs to be adjusted to improve the overall effectiveness of your marketing strategy.
Email marketing is a huge opportunity for businesses to reach their audience in their inboxes. If you don't already utilize email as a marketing tactic, start by brainstorming the ways you can collect email addresses to build your contact list. Perhaps you could offer a discount or access to an exclusive resource your visitors won't be able to get anywhere else. Then, strategize the content you want to share and the best cadence to send communications. A monthly newsletter can build a sense of community and brand reputation. A more frequent schedule, like a daily roundup of deals or schedule availability, can drive conversions to support your daily revenue goals.
Email marketing tools will help you organize your messaging and analyze your customer interactions. You can keep track of the messages that yield the highest click through rates as well as ones that lead to higher unsubscribe rates so you can identify common themes and change your approach accordingly. They'll also help you optimize the day and time you send your message so you'll have the best chance of reaching them when they're most likely to open and engage with your email.
Platforms that can help you manage your email marketing strategy include:
- Mailchimp: Best for versatility and audience segmentation
- Emma: Best for business owners who don't have a ton of marketing expertise
- Hubspot: Best for customer relationship management (CRM) integration
- Drip: Best for automated email campaigns
Recommended: 125 DIY Email Marketing Tips
Social media management
Social media has become a fundamental part of human interaction, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, your social media presence (or lack thereof) has a significant impact on your bottom line. If the audience you want to reach is one that uses social media regularly, you could be missing out on an opportunity to expand and deepen your customer base. If you have no social media presence currently, consider starting small with one or two profiles through which you feel comfortable posting regularly and interacting with customers when appropriate.
Social media management tools will help you plan the content you want to publish and manage your engagement with your customers. They can schedule future posts for you so you can maintain a regular publishing schedule without disrupting your daily schedule, and they can automate many manual processes so you can rest assured that your accounts are optimized. Social media tools will also monitor all of your accounts for new comments or direct messages and provide performance insight with detailed reports and analytics. Some platforms will also drill down on the demographic information about the users who interact with your social media content. Other tools will give you the option to manage your paid social media advertisements in addition to your organic (non-sponsored) content.
Some of these platforms include:
- Hootsuite: Best for multi-channel content management and analytics
- Buffer: Best for user experience
- Sprout Social: Best for budget-consciousness
- Planoly: Best for Instagram-focused marketing
Most of the tools on this list are underutilized if you don't have the visual content your marketing strategy needs to be truly successful. Think about it this way: You may have all of the boxes checked when it comes to email targeting or social media optimization, but if the content of the message you're sending doesn't grab your audience's attention and compel them to learn more, the whole strategy will be fruitless. Content creation tools will help you produce design elements that are engaging while also establishing a consistent brand presence across all of your marketing channels, both digital and traditional.
You don't need an in-house professional graphic designer or video editor to create engaging content; in fact, many content creation platforms were developed with the non-designer in mind. Sometimes these tools only require you to pick the color you want so you can receive tailored, professionally designed graphics that you can use for free under most circumstances. Other tools provide templates that you can adjust to your branding specifications or design preferences. These kinds of tools also offer opportunities for static graphic content as well as dynamic video content.
Content creation platforms include:
- Adobe Spark: Best for creating video content
- Canva: Best for creating versatile multimedia content
- Undraw: Best for stock images
- Easel.ly: Best for creating infographics
These days, simply having a website for your business with no ecommerce functionality is like having a storefront with no way for customers to get inside. Even if your business isn't based on selling items that can be put in a box and shipped in the mail, there are ways you can offer your customers an online experience. Perhaps it's an online scheduling portal so they can effortlessly book an appointment with you. Or, perhaps it's a way for customers to place an order online that they can pick up in-store. Regardless of the solution that will work best for you, your customers will enjoy the added convenience of being able to engage with your business remotely and like most tools on this list, you'll benefit from the data analysis that ecommerce enables.
Most ecommerce solutions are baked into a broader content management system (CMS). This means if you already have an existing website, it's most likely already positioned to support ecommerce functionality. Some tools can be integrated with your in-store point of sale (POS) system, so you can manage all of your sales and inventory from one central platform. With paid social media and display advertising, you can specify the precise outcome that constitutes a conversion, such as a placed order, scheduled appointment, or downloaded file. From there, you can measure and analyze your ROI for your marketing campaigns, all while fueling progress toward your revenue goals.
Ecommerce tools will also help you identify data-driven trends about the highest- and lowest-performing items in your catalog. You'll be able to see if a particular product or service isn't as popular as others and make decisions about whether it's worthwhile to continue offering. Or, you can see in real-time if a particular item is selling like hotcakes so you can add more inventory and amplify your marketing campaigns.
Ecommerce platforms that will help you create an online presence for selling your goods and services include:
- WooCommerce: Best for WordPress sites
- Shopify: Best for retail merchandise
- Wix: Best for budget-consciousness
Recommended: How to Add Ecommerce to Your Website
When someone visits your website but takes no further action, there are ways you can engage with them to try and convert them from a prospect to a customer. Remarketing, or retargeting, involves serving advertisements across the internet to people who have already visited your site. This not only increases brand visibility and awareness but also creates an opportunity to address reasons why a prospect might not have converted the first time. Whether they didn't have time to complete a transaction or didn't think your solution would work for them, remarketing gives you another chance to compete for their business.
Top remarketing tools for small businesses include:
- AdRoll: Best for audience segmentation and publisher variety
- Google Ads: Best for search engine retargeting
- Meteora: Best for geo-targeting
- Perfect Audience: Best for simplicity and budget consciousness
Digital marketing tools will help grow your business
Many of these tools and tactics will overlap. While that may seem like a symptom of inefficiency, it's actually a sign that your digital marketing is tightly woven and working to grow your business from multiple angles. For example, your social media, email, and remarketing platforms will inevitably leverage the graphics and media you make using content creation tools.
Simultaneously, the digital marketing tools you use to engage your audience will provide analytics to indicate how the content you create and products or services you sell are performing so you can adjust them as needed. Continually adapting and adjusting your digital marketing strategy in this way will push your business forward.
Whether you implement all of the tools on this list or just a few, a digital marketing strategy will help you grow your business and ensure you remain competitive in today's digital world.