What is Digital Marketing? The Ultimate Guide
We exist in a new world. We live a life in which the power to know what each of us wants, and the best way to give that to us, is at an unprecedented stage.
And whilst a lot of people find this scary, it also opens endless doors for ease, deeper engagement and success.
What am I talking about? Well, digital marketing of course!
What is digital marketing? That is a question which, despite being broad, full of triggers for other questions, and almost unanswerable in a singular sense, is seen a lot. Particularly these days when it is an exciting, still growing but fiercely competitive industry.
And, almost certainly, it is the question that brings you and I together on this page.
We’re going to break it down into the key segments to allow you to read it at your leisure, be that to learn new terms in an ever-changing industry, or to prepare for your next interview.
If you have any questions, or anything to add, please let us know!
What is Digital Marketing?
Digital Marketing refers to the advertising, networking or positioning of a brand through technological mediums. Whilst that includes television, radio, billboards and the like, it has generally come to refer to all online activities such as websites, social media and search engine optimisation.
Digital marketing is an industry comprising numerous specialisations, and endless additions to the field.
Whilst many would argue that digital marketing is that which exists online, there are elements of this modern force that exist in our offline sphere. You should be aware that digital marketing mediums like radio and TV, which we won’t discuss here, have been around for a century!
In general, however, digital marketing as we will be discussing it refers to: the use of the internet or related technology by companies to reach their audience.
In fact, if you ask Google that question, the snippet that pops up reads like this:
“Digital marketing is the marketing of products or services using digital technologies, mainly on the Internet, but also including mobile phones, display advertising, and any other digital medium.” So, fairly similar to our definition.
Typically, this form of marketing is done through social media, search engines like Google, and advertising across websites. And let’s not forget a company’s very own site (that’s digital marketing too!).
The other thing to note about digital marketing is that it is a beast that is still growing despite over a decade in the headlights. More and more users are connecting to the internet every day, as population growth and connections in the developing world boost an already massive potential audience.
On the audience
Above all else in the field, audience is king. A brand’s audience is who they want to come to their website, to fulfil a journey and, in the end, become a repeat client and brand advocate. There are two broad categories of business marketing that are equally important for differentiation in the digital sphere:
B2C is the one most of us are familiar with. Almost everything we do day-to-day can be related back to a B2C (Business-to-consumer) interaction. Be that buying food through to joining a gym.
With digital marketing, B2C is usually more ‘speed critical’ than B2B (Business-to-business) because the end aim is for a customer to complete the marketing funnel fast: from first contact to buying a product online.
That means in the B2C area, marketers need to focus on CTAs (Call to Action) and effective user experience strategies on their website.
B2B digital marketing, on the other hand, is more lead-focused rather than all about generating website sales.
B2B digital marketers will put a huge amount of stock in generating enquiries, delivering contact details to their offline sales team, and building an authoritative rapport with their audience.
If you’re just getting started in this field, in either of those categories, it’s important to look into a few parts of audience definition and management.
First, know your brand’s existing audience. Diving into the digital marketing sphere is great, but it doesn’t mean losing your existing clients (or shouldn’t, anyway!).
You need to understand demographics too. And be able to know what will make an interaction personal for the lead on the other end.
This fantastic quote on what digital marketers are giving to their audiences comes from Chris Cavanaugh for Forbes:
“The lines between traditional and digital are blurring and organisations are really beginning to embrace the idea of branding as an experience rather than a singular medium, channel or execution. At the end of the day, what we’re doing is creating and designing brand identities that aren’t strictly tied to physical spaces, digital technology or even senses. We’re creating brands that are experienced over time and in different ways."
And in delivering this to your audience,in both of the above categories (B2C and B2B), a key component is going to be Data.
The importance of data in Digital Marketing
A digital marketing buzzword that unlike a few of the others is truly worth that title, is data. The benefit of digital marketing over traditional forms is that data on audience interactions or otherwise can be delivered to the team in realtime and with consistent and correct analytics.
We’ll be covering this below as a specialty field within the industry, but it is worth noting that, after highlighting the core audience (eg consumers), next will be deciding what data you need to collect.
At a high-level, this might be sales for consumer marketing, and emails for business-to-business.
So what are the different areas digital marketers can specialise in, and what do they consist of?
Types of Digital Marketing
When we consider different types of digital marketing, we need to think about every step of the marketing journey. This means a few of the key components we mentioned above, as well as many, many others that we didn’t. Let’s dive in.
We’re going to start with one specialty that a lot of guides to digital marketing seem to - for a reason we can’t understand - negate from their list: Website development (including User Experience).
Before anything else on the web, your website needs to be well-designed, stable and effective at what you need it to do. Any responsible marketing strategy will have numerous channels working in tandem to direct leads to the website, which means if one fails, another one (hopefully) will work.
But your website needs to do its job, because there is only one. In digital marketing, website development and User Experience (UX) is critical to achieving your marketing aims, and there is a lot more to these specialties than a lot of us realise before entering the field.
Perhaps the one acronym that even those outside the industry will have heard by now is SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation. That’s why there are millions of hits on Google for that term every month.
It is easily one of the most, if not the most, important part of the digital marketing jigsaw. Neil Patel - a key figure in modern marketing - points out that dozens of new blog posts are published every second. And that’s just on WordPress websites!
Getting your website to stand out in a crowded, crowded room is getting harder and harder, and it’s why SEO is such a specialised field. It is more than just putting some keywords in and hoping Google likes your page.
If you’re entering the digital marketing sphere, we strongly recommend you do at least a short course in SEO to familiarise yourself with standard techniques.
Alongside your website and SEO comes content marketing near the top of the food chain (though this list is not necessarily meant to be in an ‘order of importance’). Content marketing was a buzzword for a long time, and remains at the forefront of digital marketers’ minds.
Essentially, it means using content (not necessarily just blatant adverts) to drive leads to your feed/website/business. This can really take any form, from a traditional blog post shared on Facebook, through to a clever combination of virtual reality and offline interactions.
Content marketing is so renowned that the grapple for an audience’s attention is almost as fierce as the fight for Google’s front page. That means that, whatever form it comes in, your content needs to be 1) worth your audience’s time, and 2) effective in delivering your desired aim (eg send leads to website).
This specialisation can actually be broken down further, too. Ever watched a video on YouTube then listened to a Podcast on Spotify? Chances are, if they’re both for a big company, they’ve been put together by digital marketers specifically employed to deliver those goods.
If you’ve got a passion for video production, or think your face for radio is wasted in, well, radio, then honing your craft in a particular content fields - just as print journalists have - is well worth the effort.
And whilst we’re talking about content marketing, a key part of getting that fantastic content out to your audience is email marketing. If you’ve heard of MailChimp or the like, you’re on the right path.
Whilst we all complain about email fatigue and the amount of time we could save having face to face or phone chats, email is - and appears to be for the near future at least - a massive part of our day to day lives.
That means that email marketing doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. It just, perhaps, needs a greater engagement with data. If you like data analysis combined with content marketing, this could be the specialisation for you.
Social Media Marketing
Here’s one that your average layman is probably familiar with. That’s why everyone gets annoyed with Facebook ads, right?! Social Media Marketing has taken on a life of its own in the past decade or so, from bands running MySpace pages out of their garage, to Apple spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year on getting their social media presence just right.
Managing a brand’s Social Media is more than just posting the odd blog post or funny meme, though. These days, managers need to understand analytics, the use of data, the importance of proper audience engagements and a whole host of other things.
A big part of social media is also, of course, advertising, and knowing what platforms to use for what ads, how to craft the ads, and how to hit your audience is a non-stop learning curve. For everyone.
If you want to get in on this game, be prepared to jump in the deep end of data and adverts, whilst focusing on real relationships over template posts.
And advertising on Social Media leads us nicely into PPC (Pay Per Click). Now, this is technically under the specialisations of Paid Advertising or Search Engine Marketing or similar. However, this acronym is vital to understand when coming into the field.
PPC refers to any transaction in which you pay another publisher (Google, another website, Facebook et al.) for every time a user clicks on your ad on their site.
Digital marketers will spend years crafting their skills at researching the perfect keyphrase or the ideal target audience to execute the perfect PPC campaign. That means essentially getting the biggest bang for your buck (or quid, for those of us here in London!).
Learn more: Pay-Per-Click 101: How Does PPC Work?
Other advertising (Native and Affiliate)
But paying Google to show at the top of their SERP, or Facebook to promote your page, isn’t the only option when it comes to paid advertising online. Native advertising came on the back of the spike in content marketing (see above), whereby websites with large readerships of their own content will accept payment from you, a digital marketer, to place your content on their site as well.
It’s important not to mislead leads however. Native advertising needs to be flagged as such, which means many readers will be turned off.
Affiliate marketing, meanwhile, means allowing others to help you promote your brand, but paying them a commission when a lead converts directly from their promotions (eg a shoutout on Instagram) to a customer of your business.
Native (and Affiliate) marketing is undergoing a huge surge in popularity of late as brands begin experimenting with the idea of small influencers online, rather than paying loads to have someone with a million followers advertise for them.
Perhaps closely related to a few of the above specialty fields is that of design. Be it branding, website, advertising or a host of other digital needs, designers are always in demand.
There is a big gap between a Clipart website and a beautifully designed custom page, meaning if you’re artistically-inclined and happy to revert those skills to the digital world, jobs await.
If your design desires are of the website type, there is an ever-growing need for data-backed research into a new frontier of design, as the themes pumped out by publishers like WordPress become ever more styled and websites lose dynamism.
If you’re looking at branding such as logo and online adverts, the world’s your oyster when it comes to the amount of clients looking for your services.
Perhaps the quite achiever in this mobile-oriented world, specialising in app development seems to be a field hidden from the wider world and reserved for tech geeks in Silicon Valley. But the world of mobile apps just keeps on growing, and they’re capable of more and more incredible feats.
Along with marketing funnels, user engagement and data analysis, app development and maintenance requires awareness in brand management. But if you can successfully tie an app in with the rest of your digital marketing strategy, your brand will soar above many a competitor.
So, we’ve left the big one till last. DATA. I put it in capitals because IT’S SO IMPORTANT. If you’ve not heard of data, big data, analytics and the rest by now, you need to do a bit of reading before entering the digital marketing world.
Data is - perhaps - the be all and end all of digital marketing. It’s the reason this form of marketing is so much more effective than anything the world’s seen before.
The data at our fingertips is genuinely mind boggling, and it’s the cause of consternation outside marketing circles (just look at the US elections discussion, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal). That’s not to say that using data makes you Dr Evil. It just shows how effective it can be.
Data doesn’t have to mean collecting people’s details either - it’s literally anything and everything. A click on a website through to the length of video a user watched.
Data enables digital marketers to personalise their interactions with individual audience members. Bland adverts or emails that you hope will hit the spot are a thing of the past - if you know how to use your analytics.
On that point, the scientists and masterminds managing data and insights are maybe just as important as the data itself. Because without them, no one knows what to do with this wealth of information.
If you’ve got an eye for detail, a love of spreadsheets and a lot of patience for scanning numbers and figures, than look no further than data management. This is an area of digital marketing that seemed to creep up on a lot of us a few years back, but looks set to continue being the primary driver behind digital marketing for years to come.
The next frontiers of Digital Marketing
So, that’s a (believe it or not) brief outline of some of the key fields and terminology that we’ve all become accustomed to in digital marketing. But as we keep saying, it’s a field that doesn’t sleep, and doesn’t rest on its laurels.
There is always something growing, or something coming around the bend, that a few but not enough digital marketers pick up on early.
So here are a few areas that are starting to make waves in the wider industry, but that have been utilised to great effect already for some years now.
VR - Virtual Reality
You’ve no doubt heard something about Virtual Reality. VR is becoming more familiar to us in day to day lives because of utilisation in museums, VR headsets for sale in gaming stores, and the wide use in big screen films.
But it still hasn’t become a commonplace strategy in marketing.
This is probably due to a combination of expense, lack of data to prove its worth, and unease at breaking the mould. But digital marketers who are making use of VR are setting a new bar for the rest of us.
That’s not to say it hasn’t been in use at all. As far back as 2015, the New York Times mailed out 1 million Google Cardboard headsets to their subscribers, along with access to a VR film they created. It pulled users deeper into their storytelling, and no doubt created a whole shipful of new brand ambassadors - without technically advertising themselves at all!
The beauty of Virtual Reality is the deeper engagement that it provides to your audience, and the psychology behind it can be quite dramatic.
Some studies showed users in VR with either lighter or darker skinned avatars left the experience showing real changes in racial bias. Others, who performed as Superman-like characters in the VR world, showed greater altruism upon returning to their normal lives.
If that’s not reason enough to invest in learning the VR world for your brand, then maybe nothing is!
AR - Augmented Reality
Often confused with its more famous cousin, Augmented Reality is also about interrupted vision and changing your reality, but it’s a tad less immersive than VR.
Where VR removes a user from their current situation (for example, from standing on a street to flying through the air), AR just changes the street they’re standing on.
Augmented Reality is so exciting to people in the technology and digital marketing fields that, some years back, Apple CEO Tim Cook had this to say:
“I’m excited about Augmented Reality because unlike Virtual Reality which closes the world out, AR allows individuals to be present in the world but hopefully allows an improvement on what’s happening presently... That has resonance.”
The fact the world’s biggest companies, like Apple and Google, are directing their expensive R&D teams to work quickly on AR should tell you all you need to know.
Opportunities in the marketing sphere, for those with the patience to learn and the ability to think creatively, are endless with AR. And as with VR, it provides an immersive experience for your audience that has rarely - if ever - been matched in a marketing strategy.
I know, I know, live video is nothing new. But the reason it’s listed as a new frontier in our guide is because most companies and digital marketing agencies still don’t make use of this (optionally) cheap, ultra-engaging and minimally used outlet.
From Periscope on Twitter a few years back to Instagram’s 2018 TV reveal, live video has been changing the dynamic between social media users and their followers.
What has had limited take up is that of brands creatively and genuinely - and therefore successfully - utilising this new medium. But before you dive in, here are a few quick tips.
The critical part of brands using what has been a landscape for individuals and friends is genuinity. The moment something like a live stream comes across as planned, scripted and branded, users switch off. And research suggests they don’t come back.
So if you’re venturing into this world, have a plan but don’t script everything. Be happy to take some risks and go with the flow. Interact with your followers in a meaningful, human way and the engagement you receive will lend your brand further credibility with those engaging.
As with AR and VR, if you have a penchant for pushing the boundaries, specialising in delivering impactful live video streams for your clients could set you apart in coming years.
How to enter the field
Just as important as reading this guide to What is Digital Marketing is working out what you need to enter the field, and where to start looking for digital marketing jobs.
This A-Z guide to starting your digital marketing career and this guide to becoming a freelancer in the industry are great places to start.
On top of what’s outlined in those pages, the best advice you can be given is to immerse yourself. Whether that means building your own website about a hobby and diving right in, or reading as much about the field as you can.
People who are successful in this industry - and indeed, any competitive and fast-moving area - are those that are passionate, hardworking and willing to put in the yards.
Do your SEO course. Speak to people already working in the field. Learn a little bit of coding and analytics use. Hone your networking skills.
Last but not least, we’re always happy to answer your questions, so get in touch with us here if you need help or you can sign up here.
After all, the more new minds entering our industry, the better it is for all of us, as it creates fresh insight and pushes the boundaries of what’s achievable.
Next up: What Does A Digital Marketing Job Involve?