Why Digital Marketing Doesn't Work (From a Digital Agency)

Digital marketing has been my passion for the last 10+ years. Not SEO. Not social media marketing. Not inbound marketing. Not even analytics.

I'm passionate about marketing, and how the different parts fit together to help companies grow.

This article is my attempt at explaining that.

You'll also learn what is wrong with some companies' approaches to digital marketing, what digital marketing really is, and the frameworks we use in our digital marketing campaigns to achieve success for our clients.

Digital marketing is no longer the "next big thing"

Over the past decade or so, there has been an increasing number of digital marketing agencies (as reported here) and digital marketing jobs created.

digital marketing jobs trends

This means that digital marketing is no longer new, or the "next big thing" as some claim.

It has been around for more than a decade. But the problem is many digital marketers enter the field of digital marketing without knowing the basic principles of marketing.

When I interview digital marketers, I often ask the interviewees what do they understand about digital marketing. One of my favorite questions to ask is this: I have a new website that just went live, and it has 0 visitors. How can I get to 500 visitors?

Many times, interviewees would be too eager to throw around buzzwords like inbound marketing, content marketing, search engine marketing, social media marketing, email marketing etc.

That's a junior marketer's response.

An experienced marketer would respond something like: Who is your target audience? Where do they spend most of their time online? What are you selling? What's your customers' buying journey like? etc.

The creation and use of these buzzwords have caused a generation of digital marketers to enter the industry without knowing the basic principles and frameworks that underpin our field.

This is a big problem.

Inbound marketing is not new

What is inbound marketing?

According to HubSpot, this is the definition of inbound marketing:

Inbound marketing is a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. While outbound marketing interrupts your audience with content they don’t always want, inbound marketing forms connections they are looking for and solves problems they already have.

To put it simply, inbound marketing is the practice of drawing consumers to your brand through channels and strategies that are not traditional advertising.

Alternatively, you can say it's simply a combination of content development and Public Relations (PR).

Channels that are included in the current inbound marketing strategy have been working under different names and definitions for many years.

At the core of it, PR is telling your story through third-party mediums. A brand pitches its story to the media, and if the media thinks it's a good story, they write about it and publish it on mediums where your target audience is.

If the brand did its PR well, the message will reach its core audience, and they would have controlled the message so closely that they have convinced their customers of their product/service's value - and since PR is done on third-party mediums, it would imply a non-biased endorsement from the media.

So what happens next?

Customers are influenced and lured to buy something from the brand.

They bought it from an inbound channel.

Today, inbound marketing is just operating under different mediums - social media, blog, email and etc.

Inbound marketing was not invented by HubSpot. It's not new.

Content marketing is not new

Content marketing was termed around the mid-2000s as well, by Joe Pulizzi, the founder of Content Marketing Institute, which sells, of course, content marketing courses.

And what is content marketing?

According to CMI, content marketing is:

The strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

In the years since content marketing was termed, marketers began to say: Content is king!

As if content has not been the most important part of marketing:

Content has always been the most important part of marketing.

Digital marketers shouldn't fall into an echo chamber of meaningless buzzwords. They should start understanding and practicing real marketing.

What is marketing?

Marketing has always been the creation of a message that resonates with a target audience, and transmitting this message into a piece of content on a channel where the audience is, in an effort to build the brand and increase demand so that prospects become customers, customers become repeat customers, and repeat customers become evangelists of the brand.

The tools and channels change, but the principles of marketing remain the same.

Digital marketers are doing nothing significantly different from what traditional marketers have always done.

What digital marketing really is

To understand what digital marketing really is, we have to first understand what marketing is.

Here's a simple 4P framework that we learn in our Marketing 101 textbook:

  • Product
  • Price
  • Placement
  • Promotion

Product

Understand the product/service that you're really selling.

  • What is the product you're selling?
  • Who is the target market?
  • What problems are you solving with your product?
  • What desires are you meeting?
  • How is your product meaningfully different from your competitors'?
  • What are the core features and benefits of your product?

Price

How much should your product be priced?

Your product's price is linked to the value (or perceived value) that you create for your customers. A few questions to ask yourself when deciding the price:

  • What's the actual cost of this product? (manufacturing, staff, etc)
  • Can your customers afford it?
  • How will the price be perceived in relation to what your competitors are selling it for?
    • If you're selling it at a higher price, how can you justify it?
    • If you're selling it at a lower price, how low can you get before your customers question the quality?

Placement

Where is the place you're going to sell your products?

Pick the place where your customers are. Don't expect them to come to you, you have to go to them.

For eg, if we put all our resources on Tiktok, would we get enquiries for our digital marketing services? Most probably not, unless our clients are 16 to 24-year-old people.

Here are some questions you can consider asking:

  • Where do your customers hang out?
  • What's the typical customer buying journey?
  • Where do your competitors sell their products?
  • Do you need salesmen, or would this be self-service?
  • Do you need a platform like an eCommerce website for customers to buy your products from?

Promotion

Once you've done the previous 3 Ps of marketing, it's time to think about your promotion strategy.

How are you going to promote your products to reach your target audience with your message? Think Google advertising, social media marketing, SEO, PR, etc.

  • How would you convert prospects on the channels you've chosen, to customers?
  • What is your Unique Selling Point?
  • What would be the main message on those channels?
  • How would you follow up with prospects once they've enquired?
  • How do your competitors promote their products?
  • Are there any demographics, psychographics, time, season, etc, that you need to be aware of in order to promote your product effectively?

The problem with digital marketing

Now that we understand digital marketing is, at the end of the day, marketing, on digital platforms, let's talk about the problem with digital marketing.

Because digital marketing has many different platforms and channels, many companies have become one-trick ponies.

If we think SEO works, we try to rank for more keywords and publish more 'content': second-rate paraphrased content from another website.

When new social media channels start to trend, and we see our competitors doing it, we start to adopt the social media marketing tactic.

I get it. It's easy to give the management/clients what they want. They want rankings, we improve SEO rankings. They want followers, we deliver followers. They want 5 blog posts, we write 5 blog posts. They want a new and sexy marketing tactic, we do it.

Focusing on tactics is a lot easier than explaining the importance of a proper marketing strategy and indirect attribution.

But tactics only get you so far. A digital marketing strategy is what all companies need.

With digital marketing tactics, you'll see diminishing returns

In the end, every digital marketing tactic will reach its limit.

SEO will. So will Google ads, social media ads, churning out content, etc.

Companies that have worked with various digital marketing agencies might have encountered the Law of Perceived Diminishing Returns:

law of perceived diminishing returnsAfter engaging an agency for a while, you might feel that the agency does not add value (rightfully or wrongfully so).

Therefore, you might think that what your agency does is very easy, and your nephew can do the same. Or you might think that another agency can easily do better just because they promised 'guaranteed results' and there's no risk to you.

You flock from one agency to the next, because these agencies promise to give you what you want. The problem is, you don't know what you need to do to achieve success through digital marketing.

Your expectations of the agency are wrong. You start out on the wrong foot. You limit the agency's work or influence by engaging them for a single digital marketing tactic.

Of course, sometimes if the digital marketing campaigns don't work out, it might simply be because the agency is not good enough.

But, engaging digital marketing agencies for a single tactic is not the right way, because there are diminishing returns to tactics:

  • It's not difficult for your competitors to catch up with your marketing tactic.
  • Advertising channels get saturated very quickly, driving up advertising costs and eventually hurting your ROI.

I'm not saying tactics are useless. Tactics are needed to get things done. Without tactics, we'll have consultants talking fluff and delivering nothing.

But we need to integrate the different marketing tactics into one coherent strategy and combine it with data, to produce a sustainable way to grow your company.

What is digital marketing strategy?

According to Google, strategy is defined as: a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.

Similarly, a digital marketing strategy can be defined as: a plan of action that integrates all tactics and data, to achieve repeatable, long-term and sustainable growth.

Factors of a good digital marketing strategy:

  1. It's repeatable. You can do it again and again and achieve success.
  2. It's a process that involves other departments like Business Strategy, Product/Service, Business Development, Customer Service etc.
    1. Have you ever heard of the phrase: "... but they did it with ZERO marketing!"
    2. Good marketers will know that this is not true. It's not true because:
      1. It confuses marketing with paid advertising.
      2. It treats marketing as a silo activity, instead of it being part of the product/business development process.
      3. It communicates that marketing is a waste of time. Marketing is more than writing a blog post, running paid ads, creating seasonal greetings for social media.
  3. It withstands the test of time. There's a new social media channel? No problem. New marketing trend? No problem. The tactics may change, but your strategy will not. A good strategy transcends channels.
  4. It's data-driven. You can't improve what you don't measure. Data provides a closed-loop between business goals and marketing strategies/tactics.

The last factor is what separates digital marketing agencies from traditional ad agencies. Traditional ad agencies don't have access to accurate data. Good digital marketing agencies do, and data is essential for success.

The Heroes of Digital's Digital Marketing Framework

We talked about the basic principles of marketing. We talked about what's the difference between digital marketing tactics and strategies.

Let's explore the 2nd framework that Heroes of Digital uses for its digital marketing campaigns, we call it: Heroes of Digital's Digital Marketing Framework.

It's our framework for thinking about digital marketing strategy.

It's not the framework.

It's just ours, created and refined based on our years of experience working with hundreds of clients in different industries.

You'll need a framework to visualize how different tactics come together to play a part in your big strategic plan.

Here's how this framework works:

The Heroes of Digital's Digital Marketing Framework

Our philosophy and approach to how the bits and pieces of digital marketing fit together. Click around to learn more.

Channels    
Paid

What: Pay-to-play media where you spend dollars to gain visibility.

How: Buy impressions, clicks, or views through advertising platforms.

Examples: Pay-per-click, Display, social promotion.

0

Measurability

0

Targeting

0

Longevity

0

Risk

Earned

What: Exposure and attention that you can't buy, but that can be gained over time.

How: Providing useful content to answer the needs of online users.

Examples: Blog posts, infographics, videos, training guides.

0

Measurability

0

Targeting

0

Longevity

0

Risk

Owned

What: The stuff you fully control and own.

How: Claim it, build it, create it.

Examples: Your website, your Facebook page, videos.

0

Measurability

0

Targeting

0

Longevity

0

Risk

Elements
Content

Content is not 'lots of words to help me rank higher.' It's every form of communication that passes information: Product descriptions, photography, blog posts, articles, white papers, video... Everything.

Content drives your entire business:

  1. It carries your message to folks who discover you
  2. It reinforces that message to folks who search for you
  3. It controls communications with the public and the media when things go right (or wrong)
  4. It tells potential customers about your products
  5. It supports current customers

Content affects every channel: Paid (think of Google Adwords), earned (think of 'organic' search and social media) and owned (your own web site).

0

Measurability

0

Targeting

0

Longevity

0

Risk

Analytics

Analytics tracks impact on key performance indicators (KPIs). Revenue. Profit. Leads. Whatever metric you care about the most, it should drive your entire analytics strategy.

Analytics provides the data to build and adjust your plans:

  1. It tracks channel performance, telling you how you're doing in paid, earned, and owned media.
  2. It measures audience response and impact of that response on your KPIs.

Analytics is not reporting. It's not a static thing. It's an activity. It should illuminate the next actions for your marketing strategy.

0

Measurability

0

Targeting

0

Longevity

0

Risk

Infrastructure

Infrastructure delivers your website enabling the rest of the elements and channels to come to life. Without it, you have no website, and you have no online brand.

Analytics provides the data to build and adjust your plans:

  1. Stability. If it doesn't work, the rest of your work doesn’t matter. Pretty simple.
  2. Load speed. Every second you can shave off your website’s load time increases conversion rates substantially.
  3. Scalability. What happens when you go from 1,000 to 100,000 visitors? If it can't handle the load, you'll miss opportunities for growth.
  4. Security. Comply with published standards for internet security. If you're using one of the many open-source tools out there (like WordPress), keep it patched and updated.
  5. Browser compatibility. Does your website function smoothly on all browsers and screen sizes? It doesn't have to appear identical, but it should present a reassuring, functional face to all visitors regardless of the technology they are using.
  6. WCAG guidelines. Does your website comply with accessibility standards? If not, spend some time optimizing.

Infrastructure impacts every other marketing activity and channel. It's the foundation for all digital marketing

0

Measurability

0

Targeting

0

Longevity

0

Risk

The base layer of this framework is the Infrastructure. It's the foundation on which everything else is built. Without this in place, the strategy won't work.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure refers to the whole technology - hardware and software - that powers your digital presence. It impacts your customer experience online:

  • Does your website load fast enough?
  • Does it have any alignment issues/errors?
  • Is it mobile-friendly?
  • Is your website secure?
  • Is your website hosted on a reliable and scalable server?
  • Do you have widgets (like Live Chat) to allow customers easy access to you when they have questions, or do you need them to submit an inquiry on your Contact page that will take you 2 days to reply?
  • Do you have an online appointment booking form for people to schedule appointments with you easily?
  • Do you have a way to get online reviews? People buy from companies they trust, and online reviews is one of the most. important things customers look for when they are deciding which company to buy a product/service from.

Analytics

Analytics refers to meaningful data that you should track to improve your digital marketing campaigns. Without analytics, you won't know what's working and what's not.

The tools:

  • Website analytics tool. A widely used web analytics tool is Google Analytics, which can show you more data about your website visitors.
  • Social shares widget. It's placed on your website for customers to share info easily. This social share widget should provide you with data such as which page/post has the most social shares, so that you can create more of those content.
  • CRM. A Customer Relationship Management software allows you to see who your customers are, how they heard of you, how much they spend, and etc.
  • An integrated marketing dashboard. It enables you to connect the dots between the different channels and tactics. It gives you a meaningful birds-eye view of your marketing campaigns, and allows you to draw insights from it.

What to measure:

Audience

Audience data refers to what kind of people are visiting your website.

  • What are their demographics?
  • What are their psychographics? What are they interested in, what types of websites do they frequent, what topics do they usually read about?
  • What devices do they use? What browser do they use?
  • Which country do they come from?
  • What language do they read in?
  • How many visitors do you have to your website? How many % of them are new visitors, and how many % are returning visitors?

How does the visitor performance vary with respect to the above factors? How then can you prioritize your website optimization according to these data?

Acquisition

Acquisition data refers to how customers are landing on your website.

  • Are they coming from organic, paid ads, social media, referrals, or etc?
  • If they're coming from organic channels, what keywords are they searching for?
  • If they're coming from paid advertising channels, which ad copy/campaign drove the most traffic?
  • If they're coming from Referring sites, which sites are they?

How can you optimize your organic marketing (i.e SEO) based on visitor performance? What kind of paid ads campaigns should you be investing more in? Should you be striking a partnership, or doing some media buys on referral sites that send you high-quality traffic?

Behavior

How do visitors interact with your site?

  • Which pages are the most popular?
  • Which pages do visitors drop out off the most? Why? Is it because these pages have errors? Is it because visitors can't contact you from these pages? Or visitors are not finding the information they need from these pages? How can you improve it?
  • What's the average time spent on each page? Why is the duration long/short? How can you improve that?
  • Which pages have a low conversion rate?
  • Which pages are loading slowly and need page speed optimisation?
  • What are visitors typing on your Search Bar?

Understanding how visitors behave on your site enables you to refine and improve your content to improve performance.

Conversions

What conversion metrics are you measuring on your site? These should be the most important metrics that play a part in the success of your digital marketing campaigns:

  • Enquiry form submission
  • Calls
  • Sign ups to your newsletter/ebooks/free demo/etc
  • Online purchases
  • Add-to-carts

There are many metrics and data to track. If it overwhelms you, keep things simple. Identify the main metrics that matter the most to your business, and start from there.

Use the data to help you make better decisions going forward.

Content

As I mentioned above, content is the most important aspect of marketing. It has always been, and will always be. No content, no marketing.

Infrastructure helps you to host your content.

Analytics tells you why your content works, or why it doesn't.

Channels help you distribute your content.

Without good content, your marketing won't work as well as it should.

What is content?

Content is what you say.

Any engagement your customers have with your brand has some sort of content:

  • Blog posts
  • Social media
  • Videos
  • Emails
  • Live chat responses
  • Ad copies
  • Creatives/Images

Are the different types of content you publish aligned to your main brand message and values?

Before you publish any content, ask yourself if the content you're going to publish fulfills any of these criteria:

  • It helps to grow your audience
  • It sells your products/services
  • It educates your prospects
  • It builds trust with your prospects

If your content doesn't serve any of the purposes above, reconsider if you should publish that piece of content. Content is only useful if it helps. You shouldn't be churning out content for content's sake.

Treat your prospects' time and attention with respect, provide value through your content, and you'll see success through content marketing eventually.

Channels

Channels can be categorized into 3:

  1. Paid
  2. Earned
  3. Owned

Paid Channels refer to channels where you spend money to advertise so that you can get your prospects' attention. Google ads, Facebook ads, Tiktok ads, Youtube ads, Amazon ads, etc.

Earned Channels refer to channels where you get your prospects' attention without paying for it. For example, doing SEO to get your website ranked on Google for certain keywords that are relevant to your business. Or PR, where media outlets write about your brand.

Some companies may not believe in this channel. Well, wait until they have strangers writing negative reviews about them, or competitors having a strong PR game.

Owned Channels refer to channels you control. Channels like your social media pages, your blog, your Youtube channel, and things like that.

Usually, companies will drive traffic from Paid and Earned channels, to Owned channels. Because you have the most control of what you say, and you can collect data of your customers to do various things like creating Lookalike Audience and/or retargeting them.

What's important for companies to know is a good digital marketing strategy involves more than one channel. Why?

Because you have different customers on different platforms, at different stages of their buying process.

If you're just relying on one channel, and that one channel changes its algorithm (think Facebook or Google for eg), you're left in the dust.

In marketing, diversity = sustainability.

Summary of our Digital Marketing Framework

  • Each rectangle corresponds to one marketing tactic in the overall strategy.
  • The foundation of this framework is built on: Infrastructure, Analytics, and Content.

The Heroes of Digital's Digital Marketing Solution for SMBs

You know what a digital marketing strategy is, and what it's not. You've got a framework for organizing your digital marketing strategy.

Now, let me present to you our digital marketing system and solution for SMBs.

You've read how important having a good infrastructure is for digital marketing. How important analytics is so that you can use the data to make better decisions.

We've created a comprehensive all-in-one marketing technology for SMBs that is both affordable and essential:

  • A website that loads blazingly fast (as can be proven on Google Pagespeed Insights).
  • A Content Management System that is secure (FYI WordPress is not a secure platform).
  • An SMS chat function installed on your website that allows your visitors to contact you easily.
  • An online appointment scheduling widget that can be used on your website.
  • An online-review generation software that automatically helps you get more 5-star reviews.
  • An integrated marketing dashboard that connects the dots and gives you meaningful data.

If you're interested, contact us to find out more!

Xavier Tan
Co-Founder
Xavier is the Co-Founder of Heroes of Digital. He started social media marketing and SEM long before it became popular in Singapore. His passion is in helping businesses grow through effective lead generation. He has overseen campaigns for Amara Hotel, NTU, Marina Bay, L'Oreal, and 100+ SMEs.

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