By Josh Field 

Online exchanges like the example on the right are occurring across the globe, forever changing the marketing landscape for how consumers find and connect with products and services. Social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest are effectively creating “communities” of like-minded consumers linked by common interests and experiences. Similarly, technology allows this interaction to occur in real time and on the go, as smartphones and tablets allow consumers to converse, search and share their thoughts, preferences and dislikes anywhere and anytime.

So what does this mean for small businesses? A lot. What just a few years ago was unchartered and unproven in terms of its impact on business, is now a differentiating factor that can determine a company’s success or failure. And helping companies navigate through this maze of consumer connectivity has become a viable business model for numerous startup agencies and consultants.

Digital marketing is the convergence of the practice of marketing with technology (both hardware and software) and the ubiquity of the Internet. The debate today seems to center around its place – and its value – in business planning and execution. Traditional pundits view digital marketing as providing new tools in the ongoing, and relatively unchanged, discipline of connecting buyers and sellers; more contemporary marketers, on the other hand, are relinquishing this practice for a newer and more innovative model.

While the very definition of marketing remains consistent – the activities that bring “buyers” and “sellers” together in order that an “exchange” of goods, services or ideas may take place – how this happens has clearly been altered over the last few years due to the introduction and proliferation of new technology.

The Model has Shifted

For decades, the sales funnel concept drove marketing behavior. This concept (think back to your college marketing courses) taught us that you first had to get a consumer’s attention, to pique her interest or create a perceived need; next, overcome her objections to create desire, and lastly provide that final incentive to compel action. The thought behind the concept was the more people you could force into the top of the funnel, the more buyers would eventually fall out of the bottom. In essence, marketers “pushed” consumers towards their brands. Thus, mass consumer advertising, using primarily network television supplemented by general interest publications, with general awareness-generating campaigns was the norm for decades.

Fast forward to the new millennium and you can start to see the flaws in the model. First, television watching has changed with the proliferation of cable stations, and the growing penetration of households with a DVR (Nielsen projects 50.3 million households, almost half of all U.S. homes) means consumers can (and do) skip TV commercials. Second, according to Forrester Research’s 2012 report, The State of Consumers and Technology, 84 percent of Americans go online daily – and that number is increasing as more and more consumers own smartphones. According to comScore, smartphone penetration has hit 123 million Americans (53 percent), with over half of those owners using browsers on their phones to access the worldwide web. “Simply put, everyone goes to the web first,” said Tammy Wood, Vice President, Digital Marketing for McBride Marketing Group.

In the traditional sales funnel concept, the marketer controlled the message. If the consumer needed more information, he or she could request a brochure, read a review in a national magazine (e.g. Consumer Reports) or come to the retail outlet and talk to a salesperson. Can you see where this is going now? Today, consumers do their research online or through their social media connections. By forcing consumers through the sales funnel, marketers are actually corralling qualified prospects for their competitors to intercept through well-planned and executed online strategies. Savvy marketers are utilizing strategically-designed websites and digital marketing tools to “pull” consumers towards them. “You must make your business as easy to find for people looking for a specific product or service,” said Steve Buck, president of Black Tie Digital Marketing.

Are Customers Finding Your Website?

In the December issue of SpaceCoast Business, Buck wrote, “A website that can’t be found…is like a billboard in the desert.” Companies have spent the last decade having websites built and then rebuilt in order to portray an online presence that is consistent with their image, sharing content about their products and services, instructions for contacting the company, and maybe a section on the company itself. “You must have a web presence today to survive,” explained Buck, “and a cheap-looking site reflects negatively on the professionalism of a business.”

“But more importantly,” added Buck’s business partner and Black Tie CEO Scott Brazdo, “your website has to be found!” Around 89 percent of consumers use a search engine to find information on products or services before buying, according to a recent report from Fleishman-Hillard, a global public relations firm, and 70 percent of purchase decisions begin with a search. “There remains this perception,” added Wood, “that ‘if you build it (i.e. a website), they will come,’ but the reality is consumers will only find your website if it has quality content that is constantly being updated.”

With almost a billion unique visitors a month, Google has become the quintessential tool for being found. “In about a decade, search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing have made the Yellow Pages obsolete, yet remarkably many companies continue to sink advertising dollars into this medium,” noted Buck. “The market has shifted to the web,” explained Brazdo, “and marketing hyper-local businesses using geographical search terms can be performed with superior results using digital tools – such as pay-per-click (PPC), blogging, search engine optimization (SEO) and social media – compared to the Yellow Pages.”

Black Tie Digital Marketing, which Brazdo, 33, and Buck, 32, formed in 2011, has numerous satisfied clients who can attest to their “digital marketing system” and the power of an integrated marketing strategy that blends traditional advertising media with an effective digital plan. Artistic Touch Dentistry is a great example. Brazdo’s wife, Dr. Maryam Brazdo, purchased the dental practice from Dr. Janice Wahl in April 2012 when the local dentist retired. “We immediately built her a new website and started implementing our marketing system. We blogged three times a week, used online video, social media and SEO, and bought geographic-specific Google AdWords,” explained Brazdo, whose company – along with McBride – are the only two in Brevard to be Google Certified Partners for AdWords.

Entering “Melbourne FL Dentist” into the Google search engine produces about 197,000 results. Typically, according to Buck, organic SEO can take 12-18 months to affect results on the major search engines. In the case of Artistic Touch Dentistry, “We moved to #1 on Google after just five months,” noted Brazdo. “The practice was receiving about 8-10 new patients a month when we started and has already increased to 25-30 a month. I was in there the other day and the phone never stopped ringing!”

Breaking Down the Digital Marketing Basics

Search Engine Optimization. Everyone seems to be talking about SEO. I’m sure you’ve received the spam emails claiming, “I stumbled across your website recently. It’s such a nice site, too bad it doesn’t show up in any searches. I can help your website be found with our unique SEO tools, etc.” Here’s what you really need to know. SEO simply integrates key words and phrases (“keywords”) and optimizes the quantity, quality and freshness of the content on your website to improve its visibility on the search engines. To this end, effective marketing tactics include the creation of quality viral content and back-links from other websites. While pay-per-click advertising may produce quick results – the jury is still out on its ROI given the growing competition for search terms (“adwords”) driving up the costs of PPC ads – organic results are more trusted by consumers.

Content Optimization. Search engines and consumers don’t like stale content. Buck recommends constantly adding and updating content on your site. A website must have valuable, original content to perform well. Added Mike McBride, founder and partner of McBride Marketing Group: “Content development takes up the largest portion of a web development project’s budget.” Tactics for keeping content fresh include blogging, online videos, webinars and white papers. You can also reach out to other bloggers and webmasters to feature your content on their sites. What you ultimately want to do is engage with your customers in a way that causes them to take action.

Social Media. Want to create an intimate conversation between you and your customers? Social media is all about interaction, discussion and getting feedback about your company, employees, services and products. “People are inclined to purchase from companies that others recommend,” said Susan Bearden, the Director of Information Technology at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy who was recently recognized by The Huffington Post as #9 on their list of the Top 50 Social CIOs on Twitter. “Consumers have learned to be less trusting of companies and marketing campaigns,” she added. Bearden likes to think of social media as an opportunity for companies to broaden their word-of-mouth marketing to the digital space.

The platforms continue to grow and trying to be everywhere is proving difficult for the average business. Bearden advises: “Companies should choose one platform that is most relevant to their business and do it well rather than use multiple platforms and do them all poorly.” With over 700 million unique monthly visitors, Facebook seems like a must for most companies, but Wood cautions: “Facebook is great if you’re building brand loyalty, but it doesn’t work particularly well for new customer acquisition. It helps to humanize your brand – to give it a personality.” Other platforms to consider include Twitter (for sharing information or as Bearden describes “becoming a curator of content in a particular area of interest”), LinkedIn (for connecting businesspeople), Pinterest (for reaching moms), and Instagram (for sharing images).

Experts recommend that businesses determine if they have the resources and expertise to do the posting themselves. It takes considerable time and effort to form online relationships, build a following, manage the dialogue and identify the numerous opportunities to network and build brand loyalty. If social media is an important element of your marketing plan, you may need to hire someone who can be dedicated to it.

Converting Leads. Everyone who interacts with your business online is a prospective customer. Salespeople know it takes numerous meetings or “touches” before a prospect becomes a customer. Digital marketing tools work the same way so it is critical that the messages be consistent across all platforms. Your digital presence is not there to substitute for your salespeople but rather to reinforce their efforts. Online surveys, forms for requesting information and other calls-to-action that require a contact to provide data on themselves are excellent tactics for qualifying prospects, building a call list and understanding the demographics and needs of your customers.

What about an App? “Do you have a million dollars to make an app successful?” asked Brazdo. “Clients don’t realize the cost of not only developing a custom app, but getting it listed on the App Store and creating enough awareness of its existence that people will want to download it to their phone or tablet.” According to CNET, there are over 700,000 apps currently available for Apple, and Google recently announced they have the same number of apps for Android – that’s over 1.4 million apps competing for attention.

Getting Started

Most likely, you’ve already started…you have a website and maybe a Facebook page. What you’re probably lacking is a digital strategy that integrates with your overall marketing plan. “The first step to getting started in digital marketing is building a great website,” advised Bearden, which means it should “be easy to navigate, be visually appealing, adaptable or mobile friendly (i.e. it should work well on any mobile device, so skip the flash), and there should be a definite call-to-action that converts visitors to leads. Be sure you have a great website before engaging in social media or other digital marketing tactics.” Wood and McBride agreed: “We would rather clients not initiate a search engine marketing campaign if the quality of their site is not good…and what makes a great website is great content.”

Finally, digital marketing is not the end all solution for all businesses so be cautious before investing your entire marketing budget into this relatively new medium. “We believe in a blended strategy,” said Brazdo. “Don’t put 100 percent of your eggs into digital.”

Google Partners

Looking for a digital marketing partner? Google Certified Partners have gone through rigorous training, testing and qualifications. In Brevard, we recommend:

Black Tie Digital Marketing

Scott Brazdo, CEO

McBride Marketing Group

Mike McBride, partner


Michaela Brunmeier, Internet Marketing Consultant – Brevard County