- What is digital marketing?
- How does digital marketing fit alongside your general marketing?
- Where do you start?
- Having a plan
- Digital marketing goals and objectives
- Digital marketing methods to consider
- Deciding which digital marketing methods to use
- Benefits of digital marketing
- Challenges with digital marketing
- Top tips for digital marketing
Let’s start with marketing as a term more broadly. The Chartered Institute of Marketing’s definition is: “The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” The ‘profitably’ bit may not be the focus for all heritage organisations. However, the emphasis on understanding and meeting customer (i.e. audience) needs certainly should be. Marketing is an exchange process: an organisation aims to offer its audiences something that they value (for example a day out, a learning experience or information) in exchange for their audiences’ money, time and/or attention, which the organisation values. It’s not just about selling, but about building connections to and mutually beneficial relationships with audiences.
Digital marketing is marketing that uses digital services or electronic devices. Whilst ‘digital marketing’ is often used interchangeably with ‘online marketing’ (or e-marketing or internet marketing), the latter is technically a subset of digital marketing, specifically requiring the internet (for example social media, websites, e-news and search engines). Digital marketing is an umbrella term that also includes other digital channels that don’t have to rely on the internet, like mobile text message marketing and digital billboards.
It’s not just about selling, but about building connections to and mutually beneficial relationships with audiences.
Whilst digital marketing is a field in itself, it should be incorporated into your organisation’s overall marketing, rather than being seen as something separate and standalone. Your digital marketing activities should support your overall organisational, marketing and audience development aims. They are part of your marketing toolkit and may be more relevant to some audience groups than others. You can also use ‘traditional’ or offline marketing channels such as leaflets and media coverage generated by PR if relevant.
Some organisations have shifted to a digital-only, or a digital-first marketing approach as a result of dwindling budgets, environmental concerns and changes in their audiences’ preferences and behaviours that have been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. This might not be right for all organisations however, for example if you want to reach digitally excluded audiences. However, there might be times when you run a specific campaign that only includes digital marketing channels. Marketing channels can be mixed and matched and may be different from organisation to organisation.
Chances are you’re already doing digital marketing in some way – for example, your organisation has a website and a Facebook page – but perhaps you want to be more strategic in your approach or make sure you’re not missing a good opportunity.
The jargon and acronyms involved in digital marketing can be intimidating, but keep things simple. Having a plan, even if it’s one page of bullet points, is worthwhile. The principles of digital marketing mirror marketing more broadly: your organisation’s mission and vision, business plan and goals, and its core values will give you a strategic steer on what you need to achieve.
Identify your key target audiences and segment them – split them into groups which are similar in some way (whether that is their behaviour, their needs, their motivations, their barriers, their demographics, their values). For each segment consider which channels (digital or otherwise) are appropriate ways to reach them.
Ideally, you’ll develop one or more goals and objectives to focus your activities. Be clear on who will be responsible for undertaking them and what the activities will cost (if anything). If you identify gaps in skills, confidence and/or interest in your organisation, can you find digital marketing volunteers to come on board and support?
Think about what you want to achieve through your digital marketing. A goal is a desired result you want to achieve, typically broad and over a medium or long-term, and should support your organisational goals and mission. Examples are:
- To increase the visibility or awareness of your organisation online
- To reach and/or engage new audiences
- To increase off-peak visitors
- To increase memberships sold online
- To increase the membership renewal rate
- To generate income from online events
- To increase online donations
- To develop your eCommerce site
- To increase engagement with your online archive
- To increase the reach of your digital channels.
For every goal it’s helpful to set one or more SMART objectives, giving you a target to work towards that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-framed. For the goal “To increase the reach of your digital channels”, your SMART objectives might be:
- To sign up 250 new family subscribers to your e-newsletter during 2022.
- To increase your Facebook followers or reach by 15% from 1 January 2022 to 1 January 2023.
- To increase new users to your website by 20% during 2022.
These objectives will help focus your activity and guide your evaluation.
Below is a list of common digital marketing methods you can consider (some overlap), once you are clear on who you want to reach and engage, and what you want to achieve:
- Social media marketing: organic and paid marketing on social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter.
- Email marketing: sending branded content directly to your audiences (who have signed up for this) via email.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM): a process which helps your organisation to manage and streamline its interactions with audiences and potential audiences.
- Content marketing: creating and distributing relevant and engaging content (such as videos, blogs, memes, tips and guides, infographics) that your target audiences value, in order to attract and retain them.
- Digital or online PR: seeks to increase an organisation’s online presence and authority, for example by generating online media coverage, interviews on podcasts, earning good reviews.
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO): the unpaid process of improving your website’s visibility and positioning in organic searches, to increase the quality and volume of traffic to your website.
- Pay Per Click (PPC): online advertising, where you only pay for an ad when a user clicks on it, such as Google AdWords.
- Affiliate marketing: a performance-based method where you pay commission to a third party (such as an influencer) who promotes your organisation, if it leads to a sale.
- Sponsored content: your organisation pays a third party (such as a tourism organisation) to create and promote content online that discusses your organisation and its products or services.
- Influencer marketing: a type of social media marketing in which an organisation collaborates with an online influencer to receive some form of (typically paid) endorsement or product mentions from the influencer. The influencer is someone with credibility and a dedicated social following, often specialists in a field, from big name celebrities to micro influencers such as a local parent vlogger on YouTube, a gluten-free home baker on Instagram or a medieval art historian on TikTok.
- Mobile marketing: reaching your audiences through their smart phone or tablet device such as through text messages, an app, email, websites and social media.
- Identify your target audiences and which channels and methods they prefer. If you don’t know, you can ask them, check with other colleagues in the sector or use research about digital marketing channels’ popularity and trends, such as the Digital 2022 in the United Kingdom report by Hootsuite and We are Social, and Ofcom’s report on Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes 2022.
- Consider whether you are after smaller quick wins, or a more long-term sustained impact. For example, well-done social media advertising can lead to good results in the short-term but as soon as the spending stops, the results tend to stop.
- Ensure you have tools in place to evaluate what you do, and use this to feed into future decision-making.
- Focus on doing a few things well rather than spreading yourself too thinly.
- Don’t jump on the latest bandwagon or trend without first establishing if it’s a good fit for you and your audiences.
- Choose approaches that work within your organisation’s budget, time, skills and confidence available.
- Be clear on what you want to achieve with each target audience group. The RACE framework can be helpful for this:
|RACE framework stage||Reach||Act||Convert||Engage|
|Your goals||Grow awareness and online audiences||Prompt interactions, subscribers, leads||Achieve conversions||Encourage repeat visits and referrals|
|Audience stage||Exploration||Decision-making||Purchase / donate / attend||Advocacy|
|Example key measures||Reach of social media channels and campaigns
|Number / growth of email subscribers
Social media engagement (shares, likes, comments)
Enquiries about venue hire
|Online sales / donations
Visits driven by digital marketing
Repeat actions (donations, visits)
Membership renewal rates
Consider the example customer lifecycle or audience journey in the table above, based on the RACE framework. Typically, you’d like a target audience member to move from left to right over time as they first become aware of your organisation, engage with it, undertake a visit or other action, and then ideally become a regular or repeat audience member and advocate.
When deciding which digital marketing methods and channels to use, consider which stage each target audience segment is, as this will affect your choices. If someone doesn’t know your organisation exists, you want to be discoverable at a time and location when they are amenable to your marketing, because they need what you offer. For example, a couple are planning a mini break in Bristol next month, where your venue is based. Online, they might:
- search on Google Maps for “heritage site Bristol”
- look at the what’s on pages on visitbristol.co.uk for the dates they are visiting
- go to tripadvisor.co.uk and look at the “things to do” entries for Bristol
- do a search engine search for “days out in Bristol”.
Contrast this with a local family looking for some summer holiday activities to keep the children busy, who have already visited you in the past. Online they might:
- go to your website
- read your family e-news that they are signed up to
- look at the events listings on your Facebook page
- look at dayoutwiththekids.co.uk.
So different channels are likely to be appropriate for different audiences at different stages of their audience journey. You can also tailor your messages to take account of what you know about your target audiences – their motivations, barriers to engagement, where they are in the decision-making process and so on.
The main reason to undertake any digital marketing is because you have identified that it’s a way to reach your target audiences. Below are some additional advantages:
- Much of digital marketing is free or low cost.
- You can reach (or have the potential to reach) a vast number of people.
- There is huge potential for social sharing and word of mouth to reach even more people.
- You can create and deliver content straight to your audiences (to their email inbox, on social media platforms they are already on, creating adverts for search terms they use).
- You can personalise and tailor your communication to specific audiences – for example sending an e-newsletter just to your family audiences and creating a Facebook advert for people who live in a particular city. This is likely to be more relevant and cost effective than the “spray and pray” approach of TV ads and billboards.
- There’s a lot of tools you can use to make your content more accessible. See Accessible Marketing Guide and How to improve the accessibility and usability of your organisations website.
- You can undertake A/B testing where you split your audience into two (or more) groups who will each receive a different version of your communication, to compare success. For example, the same e-newsletter but with a different subject headline (to identify which has the highest open rate) or two Facebook ads each with a different image promoting the same event to compare which generates the most actions.
- Digital marketing is flexible and instantaneous, so you can start immediately and tweak campaigns in minutes after feedback.
- You have access to a lot of free data and analytics that will help you to track and measure what you’re doing and refine things for the future.
- Digital marketing allows you to stay in touch with existing audiences and visitors easily.
However, there are also some drawbacks to be aware of:
- Competition for your audiences’ time, attention and money is vast on digital marketing platforms, and you will be competing against organisations and individuals with enormous budgets and marketing teams behind them.
- Whilst it doesn’t have to cost much cash, digital marketing will generally need an investment of time and effort, often consistently over time.
- The digital marketing landscape is constantly evolving and it can be overwhelming to keep on top of developments, such as changes to social media algorithms or privacy legislation, or the appearance of new social media platforms.
- People’s attention spans are short online, so you need to stand out and catch their interest quickly.
- Criticism from the public and audiences may be very visible online, for example complaints about the lack of response to a customer service query or a negative review of a visit or exhibition.
- There is security and data protection legislation to comply with, such as handling audience data and having website security, which can need additional skillsets.
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Please attribute as: "What is digital marketing, where do we start and how can it benefit us? (2022) by Christina Lister supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0