TLDR: As a small business owner, do you find yourself asking: Which platforms should I be on? YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Quora, Snapchat, Clubhouse or a new platform that just popped up? There’s a more important question you need to answer first: Will digital marketing work for my small business? Is there any way I can find out BEFORE I invest lots of time and money?
There’s a lot you can find out about whether or not marketing your business on digital platforms will bring you the results you expect, even before you post your first piece content.
Let’s get into it…
What do we mean by digital marketing? Traditional marketing includes print magazine ads, direct mail, billboards, TV commercials, radio, newspaper ads, and so on. Digital marketing refers to marketing outside of these channels, on digital platforms.
The first question you need to ask yourself is: “Is my business currently facing problems that digital marketing can’t solve?”
If so, you need to resolve those first, then develop a digital marketing strategy.
Here are a few examples of problems you’ll want to address before crafting your digital marketing strategy.
Product/market fit (PMF) refers to how well the product or service you offer fits the needs of the people you’re selling to.
If you’ve been selling your product for a while, you already know the answer to this one.
If you’re trying to introduce a new product and develop an online marketing strategy at the same time, you may not be so sure.
3 Criteria to Determine Product/Market Fit
Here are 3 criteria you’ll want to consider:
1. When people hear about your product, do they instantly connect it to a problem or need that’s important to them?
If you tell people about your new product and they respond with “That sounds great!” you don’t really know much.
If their first response is “How much does it cost?” or “When can I have it?”, you’re on the right track.
2. Does your product mesh well with your customers’ established habits?
A quick story about Febreze brings this point home.
Febreze was first designed as a fabric freshener and deodorizer. Given how well the product worked, Procter & Gamble assumed marketing it would be straightforward. They would offer it to people whose homes had persistent odor problems: smokers and people with multiple pets.
Product sales were so slow the first few weeks after product launch that P&G considered giving up on the product, which as of 2021 had over US $1B in annual sales. They tried in-home studies where they visited people whose houses smelled of cigarette smoke or kitty litter box. No luck. They found these people had developed “nose blindness.” Their houses smelled OK to them. No perceived problem (see item #1, above).
The breakthrough came when they tested the suggestion to use Febreze as a final touch after vacuuming. Once they got people to associate spraying Febreze with the good feeling you get when you just finished vacuuming, product sales took off.
Marketers sometimes use the phrase “customer journey” to describe this process. Even if your company is a national brand, your potential customers already have established habits. You need to consider how they are living their lives without you, and where you fit into their day.
For technology products, consider your customers’ current workflows. Where does your product fit into the way they work now?
3. Are you offering your product to the right people at the right price?
This is the “fit” in “product/market fit.” The good news is that target market and price are usually easier to change than the product itself.
The second major question you need to ask yourself is “Do I have the resources in place to execute a digital marketing strategy?”
These resources include:
- Budget for strategy, online ad placements, web development, SEO, tools, etc.
- Skilled, reliable people to do the work. These could be in-house, virtual assistants or a marketing agency.
- Time in your schedule to collaborate with the people who developed the marketing plan. Even with the best plan, you’ll need to monitor the results you’re getting and adjust accordingly.
The third and final question is “Will I stick with a digital marketing strategy long enough to reap the benefits?”
This is the area where we, as digital marketers, find the most frustration. We connect with businesses who could succeed online. They have great products or services that their potential customers want. They have the budget available to make it happen. But some give up too soon, and so they fail.
What causes businesses to give up too soon on digital marketing?
- Unrealistic expectations.
- Lack of trust.
- Recognizing the signs of future success
The key moment in avoiding this problem is the moment when the client chooses a digital marketing agency.
Competition for clients is fierce. Some agencies respond to this pressure by promising clients cheaper, faster and better results than the competition, even when they know they can’t deliver. By the time the client realizes they didn’t receive the promised results, the money is spent, and the agency might move on to the next client.
This sounds pretty bad, even unethical. But it can happen to agencies that don’t see themselves as dishonest. They figure if everybody else is advertising high levels of success with little effort, they have to do the same just to be considered. Once they engagement starts, they’ll do what they can to deliver the best results possible.
As a potential client interviewing digital marketers, try to get a sense of how realistic they are about your chances of success, and how much time and experimentation it will take to get there.
Lack of Trust
Some people are simply not trusting by nature. They can’t escape the idea that life and business are zero-sum games. There are limited resources in the world, and it’s the business owner’s job to maximize their own benefit in every situation.
Working with these people is like playing a game of tug-of-war that never ends. They keep pulling on the rope. Asking for discounts after the project has started. Expanding the scope of fixed-bid projects, and so on.
The service provider on the other end of the rope only has three choices. Get pulled over and fall down (over-deliver and lose money, weakening the business relationship). Pull back on the rope, resulting in more time spent negotiating than achieving the client’s goals. Or simply let go of the rope, parting ways with the client.
How can you tell if a digital marketer is trustworthy?
Collaborate with them to figure out precisely how you’ll know if your marketing strategy is working. Each situation is different, so you will need metrics and milestones created for your specific business goals.
Pay attention to how they react when you ask them to clarify what success looks like for your specific engagement.
If they act defensive and change the subject, they’re less trustworthy. If they jump at the chance to explain the principles at work in your custom strategy, that’s a good sign. If they speak in terms of their responsibilities, and your responsibilities, and the forces beyond both of your control, that’s a good sign.
Recognizing the Signs of Future Success
Even if you’ve accepted that marketing your product or service on digital and social platforms is a long game (even if you get to experience a viral video or two for your business), requiring patience and consistent investment, you still want to start selling as soon as possible, and you want to see your sales take off in that beautiful upward curve.
If your sales numbers are solid and growing, it’s easy to stay engaged. When your sales numbers are low, or even non-existent (if you’re selling a high-ticket professional service, for example), it’s easy to get discouraged and give up.
The concept here is very similar to what Cal Newport calls “career capital”, in his book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.” He argues that, for every career, there are achievements that someone can accumulate as they progress in their career. These achievements signal to potential employers that this person has a solid track record and is worthy of consideration. For an academic, they could be peer-reviewed journal articles. For a salesperson, these could be sales numbers at a previous employer.
The key idea here is that these metrics don’t in any way guarantee that the person will do well at the new job. But they suggest that they might.
I have a close friend who I’ve been advising for years on business issues. As he was trying to move from single-six-figure jobs to multiple-six-figure jobs, he was getting frustrated when he hadn’t landed one. On one of our frequent phone calls, he started second-guessing himself, trying to figure out what he was doing wrong.
As a close friend, but also as an outsider, I could see a pattern. Half-joking, I told him “Can’t you see how great this is? The jobs you’re getting turned down for this year are at twice the salary level of the jobs you were getting turned down for last year.”
A few months later, he got his first job doubling the old salary, and a few years later doubled it again.
If you’re not familiar with marketing on digital platforms, think of an area where you are an expert. As you watch a newcomer move up through the ranks, how can you tell they’re probably going to make it, if they stay committed and keep working diligently, with a good strategy, adjusting as they go?
It can take dozens or even hundreds of videos posted to digital platforms and social media before your business starts to see indisputable business results.
This is where you will need a marketing strategist you can trust. Ask them how to identify these signs of future success. Be skeptical, but also open to the possibility that the signs are real. Sleep on it. Ask others who have succeeded at what you’re attempting how they read the signs. Once you learn to identify and interpret these signals, you may begin to love that part of the process when you’re just about to hit your goals.