HOW TO USE THIS ARTICLE:
- Read the intro section, including The Marketing Sea. Do it. It’s there to help you
- Click through to the marketing channel that is interesting to you.
- If what you read makes sense and you now believe that the author might actually know what he is talking about, go read all the sections. Marketing is an arm of your business no matter what industry you are in, and the correct information could be the difference between success and failure.
Being a business owner is tough enough: you may serve as any (or all) of the following: strategist, accountant, the legal department, customer service, HR, manager, sounding board, and even the company therapist.
There’s likely one thing keeping you from scaling your business to the level you want:
If you had more revenue, you’d be able to scale up, pay for new employees, and even inhale a deep breath of fresh air once in awhile.
At one point or another, you realize that you need to step up your game and invest in some marketing strategies. As it turns out, just because you built it, doesn’t mean they’ve come.
The Marketing Sea
Investing in marketing is a sensible, proven way to generate more traffic to your business (whether in person or online), which will lead to sales. If it works. And if it’s appropriate for your business.
Here’s the problem: most businesses decide to invest in marketing channels that they heard worked for others, or even for their competitors.
The biggest mistake I see business owners make is marketing without understanding the buying cycle of their customer.
There are three main phases of the buying cycle:
- The Awareness Phase: The awareness phase is essentially when a potential buyer becomes aware that they have a problem that needs a solution. For example, if my sink starts to leak, I become “aware” that I need a plumber to fix it. But also: if I see an ad for a new virtual reality device, I become “aware” that I can buy virtual reality devices (keep this part in mind for later)
- The Consideration Phase: The consideration phase includes many brick and mortar stores, and occurs after a customer realizes they need a solution. Which truck will I buy if I need a new one? Which lawyer will I hire now that I’m getting a divorce? Which solution am I considering?
- The Purchase Phase: The purchase phase is when a prospect becomes a customer. I have a problem that needs a solution, I’ve selected what I feel is the best choice, and now I am going to take out my wallet and buy.
Many business owners engage in marketing (whether it is digital or print) without understanding where their business should position itself in the buying cycle.
The further along you can speak with someone in the buying cycle, the more likely they are to buy from you.
Who do you think closes deals faster: a real estate agent who speaks to 10 couples who know they want to live in New York City, or a real estate agent who speaks to 10 couples who are looking at houses in the Northeast?
It’s the NYC real estate agent because she is speaking with customers who are further along the purchasing funnel (in this case, they are actually through the considering phase (“where should we live”) and in the purchase phase).
Shouldn’t we speak to potential customers in all of the phases?
In theory, yes, you should. However, unless you have an unlimited budget for marketing, you need to start somewhere. And that somewhere should be where you can get the highest return on your money, aka as far along in the buying cycle as you can go.
With that, let’s review seven types of modern marketing channels, their pros and cons, and what businesses they are good and bad for. Click a title to be taken directly to that section:
- Public Relations (PR)
- Display Advertising (Including Social Media Advertising)
- Social Media Presence
- Direct Mail
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
PR is the act of getting press written up about your business in notable publications off or online. The goal of this press is to make people aware of the existence of your business, your new product, or to reinforce your brand identity.
PR primarily occurs in the Awareness stage of the buying cycle.
PR is a fantastic awareness tool. When Apple announces a new iPhone, they tell every reporter in the world to spread the word. This is to make consumers “aware” that a new iPhone will be available soon (and to prepare to go deeper into debt).
In the the online realm, often times a “press release” is written up and distributed [ineffectively] when a new branch opens, or when a new business opens. This is to make consumers aware of their new option.
In our context, PR is the methodical roundup of “target lists” — reporters and journalists who might be interested in breaking news about your product or service, and then the systematic outreach to pitch them your idea.
PR also has some smaller value in other categories as well, what I call the “tiebreaker” category. If I am deliberating between three dentists, and one of them has a quote in some local newspaper, I might just go to that office. Word of advice: don’t build your marketing strategies around “tiebreaker” scenarios because you don’t get the largest return for your investment.
PR is great for cool, amazing, innovative products that the world needs to know about and that did not exist previously.
Display advertising is a blanket term that I’ll use to describe any sort of banner advertising to cold traffic online. I am including social media advertising, which is advertising on sites like Facebook or Twitter in order to drive traffic to your website, as opposed to your fan page, in this category. Having a social media presence (building up fans, posting to Instagram, etc) is discussed below. Also excluded from this category is retargeting, which goes outside the scope of this article.
Display advertising primarily occurs in the Awareness stage of the buying cycle.
Display advertising is a great way to make your audience aware of your product. For example, I am located in New York City, and I get many Facebook ads pitching food delivery services. This is effective because I will be ordering food at some point, and I need to know what my options are.
This again is great for gadgets, clothing, product, etc. You aren’t going to go and search for a product on Google that you don’t know exists. You can’t buy a ticket to the moon if you are unaware tickets are available to go to the moon (they aren’t. Mars on the other hand…).
It’s not great for, say, a doctor who specializes in treating broken limbs (“hey, next time you break your arm, think of me!”). Or a construction company (“next time you need that addition to your house, think of us!”). The touchpoint is too far away from an average purchase. Most people don’t break their arms or renovate their houses with regularity, so the recipient of the ad isn’t ready to buy in the foreseeable future.
The key to a successful display advertising campaign is proper tracking. Often times, you will be advertising on different websites simultaneously. Your analytics must be set up to know where the channel a conversion comes from (whether that conversion is a purchase on your site or a phone call, the originating channel always needs to be tracked).
You’ll also need to set up proper attribution tracking. If someone sees your ad on Facebook, and then again on some other website, and only at that point converts… well, you need Facebook to be getting proper credit.
Display advertising can certainly be effective and work — it’s just not the first choice I would make as a business owner if there was another way for me to reach customers further along in the buying cycle (which there might not be, depending on the business).
I am defining a social media presence as having various social media pages, posting on them, growing your fanbase, and occasionally promoting sales or specials through them. For social media advertising that brings users to your site instead of your social page, see Display Advertising.
A Social media presence becomes more relevant in the Consideration and Purchase phases of the buying cycle.
I really divide a “social media presence” into two levels of effort:
- The “checkmark” of a business
- Acquiring sales and customers via social media
In the first tier, the goal of your social media pages is to be relatively active. You post content on there, if you happen to get messages from potential people you respond to them, you ask customers to go leave reviews, and you get some likes on your posts.
Achieving this level of social media is not particularly difficult and it does not take expertise. It just takes posting and having reasonable notification settings on your phone. But, when someone goes to your social media page, which, in this scenario, happens after they have become aware of your brand, you will get a “check” in the box of having an active social media page.
Your business will look alive, as opposed to abandoned (having no social media pages is probably better than ones where nothing has been posted in ages).
This level of a social media presence could result in sales for sure. The thing is, people won’t discover you on social media this way, they will only confirm your legitimacy as a business (which is still a positive!).
The second tier consists of actively looking to grow your social media accounts, which generally takes a team to do. Let’s use Instagram for example:
In order to grow an Instagram account, we need to post multiple times a day. We need to use 25-27 rotating hashtags. We need to actively go to relevant photos and accounts and like and comment on their photos, manually, about 200 times a day. We need to constantly follow and unfollow users. We need to send direct messages to similar accounts and see if they are interested in cross promotions. We need to cultivate relationships, liking an influencer’s photos for weeks before approaching them for a partnership or for a favor.
This is just on Instagram, and the growth process is actually a little more straightforward than some of the other social networks.
As you can see, proper growth a lot of effort. And it takes time. The above strategy takes 7-15 hours a week and will grow your account by 2,000-3,000 followers a month. It will take 6-9 months before you really start to reap the rewards, such as your account getting enough likes where it shows up as Top Posts, so that others start learning about your account without you interacting with their accounts.
The distinction between the two tiers of social media is important because a lot of business owners are conned into believing they will be able to drive lots of business merely by posting and promoting themselves and using lots of exclamation points, when in reality the effort is much more significant to really see a measurable increase in revenues.
Direct mail is that crazy marketing channel, pre-internet, that involves sending pieces of mail to targeting individuals.
Direct mail occurs mostly in the Awareness and Consideration phases of the buying cycle.
Everyone loves to hate on “old school” methods of marketing, especially young people. Well, I am here to defend direct mail! And it’s not just because one of our clients is one of the largest distributors of mailing lists in the country.
It’s because I actually think that direct mail works.
If you are a high-ticket business, or you already have a lot of touch points via marketing channels, direct mail is a good option. Plus, everyone is obsessed with digital marketing methods, and you kind of go against the grain by showing up in someone’s physical mailbox.
Just be cognizant of a few things: you will spend a lot of money on lists, and you will need to have deep pockets for split testing.
Campaigns require several versions of outbound collateral to test which works better, and a fairly sophisticated way to track results is needed (dedicated phone numbers, dedicated URLs, dedicated discount codes, etc).
The worst thing you could do is send a piece of direct mail that essentially waves “hi” without a distinct call to action and tracking mechanism.
Direct mail applies during the awareness cycle (“wow, I didn’t know that there was a service that would come to my house and play music on my piano, wait, how did you know I have a piano”) as well as the consideration phase (“this landscaping company looks like they are a really great price, perhaps I am overpaying and should give them a chance…”).
In my previous life, I was a full-service marketer (which is why I have so much general marketing knowledge). I’ve managed direct mail campaigns that actually sent out over 2 million pieces of mail a month! It works, you just need to realistically be spending five figures a month in order to do this at any level of replicability. But, direct mail can result in millions of dollars of scalability.
PPC are those advertisements that appear at the top of search engines. When someone refers to a PPC campaign, they are usually speaking about Google Adwords (and Bing Ads). These ads sit at the top of the search results, with the tag “ad,” and appear for certain search queries that you set and determine.
PPC primarily occurs in the Consideration stage of the buying cycle.
PPC on search engines marks the first advertising channel where we can guarantee that people enter our funnel at the consideration phase.
If someone performs a search for a “roofer,” “jewelry,” “aviation lessons,” or “life size zombie replicas,” they are already aware of its existence. They have already jumped into trying to determine which solution to purchase.
While other marketing channels do occasionally enter at consideration, with PPC you can 100% guarantee that you interact only with a potential customer looking to buy.
PPC campaigns start to get leads as soon as you advertise, and you could advertise on 1,000 search terms that each got search a month because there is no real cost of including a term (you don’t need to rank a page high in Google, and you only pay when you are clicked on).
Glowingly, PPC could actually be a useful channel for most businesses.
Here, I’m supposed to tell you that the downside of PPC is that clicks could cost a load of money, even, $50-$100 per click.
But anyone reasonable will know that what you pay doesn’t matter as long as you can make money from it. So, if you happen to be paying $50 a click, but one of out 20 visitors turns into $2,000, you would love to pay $50 a click.
The real problems with PPC are two-fold:
- If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re probably going to get killed and you probably shouldn’t do it yourself.
You’ll have a new account, which means your Quality Score isn’t high, which means it will cost you more than your competitors to advertise for the same keyword (Boo!!)
You, or even the agency you hire, might make the mistake of doing something uneducated such as sending visitors to your home page instead of a dedicated landing page that is running split tests.
2) You’re going to run out of clicks! You can’t scale your big keywords.
This second issue is certainly a nice problem to have, but it is a legitimate problem that every successful Adwords campaigns runs into.
You have your start keywords that make you a ton of money! But, there are only so many clicks that you’ll be able to get for that keyword.
Let’s say your star keyword is “immigration attorney” in the nearest metropolitan city, and that keyword has a volume of 1,000 searches a month. On a given search results page, the ads get clicked a total of about 15% of the time. There are four PPC advertisers per results, so that means each advertisers gets an average of about 3.75% of the clicks.
You can’t pay Google more money to get more clicks on that search term because only so many people are clicking on ads, and that number isn’t rising.
SEO is ranking organically in the search results and the map section (when present) for a given set of keywords. SEO generally takes place on Google, and Bing+Yahoo (Bing and Yahoo merged their search engines a few years ago, they actually get about 30% of the search traffic on the internet so they are no joke).
SEO primarily occurs in the Consideration and Purchase stages of the buying cycle.
Like PPC, SEO is rare in the sense that it can guarantee you interact only with potential customers who are in the consideration or purchase phases of the cycle.
(If someone performs a search for “roofer,” “jewelry,” “aviation lessons,” or “life size zombie replicas,” they are already aware of its existence. They have already jumped into trying to determine which one to purchase.)
Even better, traffic from SEO converts at the highest rate of all marketing channels.
Because Google has endorsed you.
By appearing at the top of the search engines, that mammoth tech company, Google, is saying to the person who searches, “We, almighty Google, believe this business is going to get you the solutions you need. And since we make $64 billion dollars a year from our search engine, you can rest assured that we have invested a lot of time into double checking this is the very best option.”
It is intriguing.
Here’s the thing: SEO isn’t right for everyone.
A local business that makes $20-100 per customer isn’t a good candidate for SEO because they won’t make back their investments.
A business that needs more revenues, like, yesterday, is also a terrible choice for SEO because it takes months to work (imagine if Google let any old site rank #1 in a week, that would ruin their credibility as search results would be populated by junk sites all the time. People wouldn’t trust them and they would go to other search engines).
On the other hand, SEO provides the scale that Adwords/PPC can’t. On that 1,000 search term, the Adwords advertising is receiving 37 clicks a month. The top search result in Google is getting over 350 clicks a month.
Another catch: SEO is really hard to do well. And it’s tough to audit without technical knowledge. While any good agency has a variety of ways to show results both in the short and long term (e.g. rankings and revenue-based analytics, respectively), some off-hands business owners might engage the wrong company or person.
Of course, all of these reasons is why SEO tends to have the highest payoff. The organic search results are one of the only remaining places online that are considered to be “pure” and trustworthy, and SEO puts you right at the front of the line, facing a customer who is already looking for a solution that you offer.
And Google is telling them to buy from you.
Let’s get into some disclosures here. You are currently on the website of a company that sells SEO and PPC services. While there were multiple scenarios listed as to why businesses might not want to use SEO or PPC marketing, it should come as no surprise to you that these marketing options are fairly appealing…
….after all, I stopped working as a full service marketer who handled six and seven figure ad budgets in order to just focus on SEO and PPC. Thus, there was something legitimately appealing about those channels that caused me to shift! (conversion rate, the complexity of these solutions, and being able to change a business owner’s life through increased revenues).
With that said, you’ve been presented with a detailed breakdown of a variety of marketing channels, as well as when they are appropriate. Different types of businesses need to look towards different types of marketing channels.
Yes, you can do them all, but you generally should commit to start somewhere. Because, let’s face it, if you don’t, your business won’t grow.
Thus, this guide aimed to show you what options you have, and what types of businesses each channel blends well with. Make sure you understand where potential customers are in their buying cycle and you’ll have a better idea of what marketing channels to apply.
If you don’t have the budget to do everything, start as far along in the buying cycle as you can, which will maximize your return.