Even prior to the Coronavirus saga, there was a lot of emphasis on going digital. Companies were investing an enormous amount of their time attempting to build a digital presence through the utilisation of all kinds of social media channels, online tools and other miscellaneous digital marketing opportunities. However, at the same time, most of the said companies actually relied on their physical presence and face-to-face meetings between sales personnel and potential clients to get them to sign the dotted line (an obvious exception to this case are businesses that actually operate online full-time and sell, and to these rare entities who manage to achieve this and be profitable enough to pay your staff wages at the same time, I salute your success).
The Coronavirus has forced us to do business online whether we like to or not. For some businesses, this is a good, or, at worst, a neutral development and impact to business will be minimal. For others, it's a complete disaster as they simply can't transfer their operations online - i.e. it simply cannot be done given the product or service offered. For most of us, it's somewhere in the middle and we just have to make the best of a bad situation and adapt. That means a heavy focus on the digital presence of your business.
If you have already tried digital marketing, ask yourself, do you actually have something to show for it with all your efforts and money spent? Do you feel like what you have been doing is futile and a waste of time? If you have spent countless hours making social media posts and have nothing to show for it but a few "likes" and mental support comments from friends, perhaps this article is for you.
The Gap between Expectations and Reality
For the purposes of this article, the statement below may as well be an axiom.
There is a very big gap between getting "likes" on a social media page and obtaining real customers that part with their real money and indeed end up paying for goods and services through digital channels. Gathering followers has nothing in common with obtaining monetary transactions.
The above underlines why so many people can demonstrate the appearance of success in the digital space, but so few can demonstrate actual sales they managed to generate through their efforts.
The explanation behind this phenomenon is that online marketing that produces real results requires a rather rigid and well-structured approach that takes into account very specific psychological principles that apply solely to the digital realm. There is far less flexibility with digital marketing - you can't rely on your charm to sell your product in person and you loose a lot of your power and finesse when you are hidden far away behind a screen. Online sales are a much more difficult affair than most realise.
In this article I wanted to expand on some of the digital marketing tools and the psychology behind some of them.
Horses for courses
- It is well known there is a long list of tools you can use or use for your online marketing needs.
- Websites & Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
- Email Direct Marketing campaigns (eDM)
- Social Media Platforms
- Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
- Paid Advertisements through various channels (incl. Banner Ads)
- Video Conferencing Platforms (to replace face-to-face sales)
A much more important factor is to avoid using the wrong tool for the job. You can spend years going in circles with your digital marketing strategy for the simple reason of using the wrong tool that is catered to the wrong audience.
Horses for courses, as they say.
Social Media is a niche marketing tool... not a catch-all solution!
Why is everyone so obsessed with social media marketing? The answer is simple. It's free of charge to use most of the available social media platforms. While you need to invest money to produce a website that delivers real results, social media looks like an attractive solution for a business owner who just got started and the only form of finance they have access to is a personal credit card with a rather low credit limit.
Social Media Marketing has its place. It works well as a branding tool for businesses targeting consumers (B2C), especially in the hospitality, fitness and entertainment industries (that are currently affected by the Coronavirus). Social Media Marketing enables influencers to take advantage of their audiences to promote lifestyle products and services. Does it turn into direct sales? Not necessarily... but the branding component definitely works for that particular type of products and demographic.
Where Social Media generally doesn't work is if you are an accountant, a solicitor, an IT specialist, or otherwise a professional who offers services in the B2B sector. The same applies if you sell niche B2B products. Social media is fun and entertaining. B2B products and services are not. They are serious products and services that require an adult approach (I have yet to see an influencer on any social media platforms advertising the services of a barrister... I really do hope we don't devolve to that stage).
Another key issue is that social media is all about branding and engagement. A small business, however, needs direct sales - return on investment is measured in revenue, not "Likes". The difficulty of monetising Social Media followers is a well-known issue, and it is explained by the fact that Social Media platforms are primarily designed for the purposes of entertainment and social interaction - not to carry out business transactions. While it may seem like you are building a great audience of interested followers, there is no guarantee that you will turn even one of them into a client. The gap between a follower and a paying client is massive.
The last issue is Time. Social Media marketing is very time-intensive and the return on investment is simply better with other digital marketing tools. If you are in the B2B sector, you are far better spending your time consulting with a professional web developer and ending up with a website that generates genuine leads instead of wasting your days making pointless posts that nobody reads or cares much about.
The website is still the undisputed king of the digital space
If you are one of those businesses that has a social media page but doesn't have a website, you are doing it wrong.
There is no benefit whatsoever to not having a business website - you are just missing out on leads for no good reason.
A website is the easiest and most straightforward way to market your business in the digital space and capture leads online. At any given time, there are thousands of potential clients looking for your services. Your business needs a website that is full of content specifically catered to your industry and utilises proper Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques that are implemented specifically to capture leads.
There are a lot of techniques that need to be diligently applied to achieve good results:
- Correct use of domain names
- Landing pages
- Correct use of enquiry forms to capture leads
- Correct use of newsletter subscription forms to get people to sign up for eDMs
- Rich and relevant content
Given the situation with Coronavirus and the limitations to marketing your business online, a decent website is one of the few cost-effective marketing tools left for small business owners.
However, if you think you will be able to DIY a website using the available free tools online and achieve decent results - you are wrong. It's almost a guarantee that your DIY website will be quickly pushed back in rankings and it will never keep up with competitors that engaged professional web developers. You also risk turning away customers if your business website doesn't present well.
On the last note, a website remains an intellectual property of your business that you will own and control.... whereas a social media page will always be the property of the respective social media platform.
Email your way to success
Email newsletters are one of the best digital marketing tools for a business.
It has been demonstrated that email marketing gives a far superior return as compared to social media marketing. A study done in 2016 has shown that email marketing produces a whopping 122% ROI as compared to Social Media at 28% ROI (1).
In order to dispatch email newsletters, your business also needs a strategy in place to collect email addresses from interested parties. This needs to be done in a certain way to comply with Spam Act 2003. The collection process is usually done through a website. Collecting random addresses online and signing them up to your email list is not compliant with the regulations. Databases need to be sourced with care and due dilligence.
Email marketing campaigns abide by the same marketing rules as any other channel. You need a clear message and a call to action. While the channel is very effective in terms of ROI, the process does need to be executed properly - just like with other digital marketing channels, you can easily end up in a situation of investing a lot of time and resources with no sales to show for it.
Video Conferencing - present yourself well
Meetings will have to go digital for some time. The traditional system of warming up the prospect with face-to-face meetings and office drop-ins is broken for the time being.
You can't completely replace real life meetings with a digital alternative. There is no aura. Body language is limited and people simply can't size up each other in the way they can when they meet face-to-face. In some ways it can be a benefit, as it removes a lot of superficial elements from the sale process and real value takes precedence over showmanship. The implications of digital meetings are completly different for every business.
However, there are some steps you can take to ensure your meetings are as professional as possible:
Wear proper business attire. Conducting business at home isn't an excuse to be sloppy
Make your home office presentable
Invest in a decent NBN connection. You don't want the other party sit through a frame-dropped experience that cuts out on an intermittent basis
Don't be late for your meetings. There is no excuse here - you should be able to make the trip from your bedroom to your home office on time. Can't blame traffic or public transport in this case.
Expectations for digital services to be free
The expectation of companies to provide their services free of charge is a well-known psychological phenomenon in the digital space.
This doesn't have much of an effect on companies that sell tangible goods (however there is an issue of expectation of very low prices due to fierce competition online), but it has a huge effect on businesses that provide services.
The Internet sparked a race to the bottom where many service providers ended up facing an expectation of a $0 fee or a free trial period. Virtually every service offered in the digital space is affected - e.g. media and information, mobile apps, software, graphic design and consultancy services. This phenomenon is caused by a psychological factor where people are simply not inclined to pay for something where they do not receive a tangible good, and is made worse further by the vendors themselves: ask yourself, who is going to pay for your e-book when everybody else is also offering a free e-book ($100 in value) for singing up to an e-newsletter?
If your business is planning to compete online, make sure that you put a just value on your services and stick to it. Otherwise you will end up working free of charge and won't get even an ounce of respect for your efforts.
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