2016 is around the corner. As you begin to plan for the next year, staying ahead of the curve is important so that you are better equipped against the competition. For most people, staying ahead of the curve means futuristic game-changing strategies and trends (think Internet of Things and Virtual Reality) that are being suggested by many marketing experts. But, in my mind, those trends are far from reality. Most marketers I know struggle with the basics that are actually proven to work. So, my intention is to keep these strategies realistic while remaining focused on getting the most bang for the buck. That for me is staying ahead of the curve. I do realize that I am taking the risk of coming across as dated. But, I would rather stick to the stuff that works than waste time experimenting on things that are not even real at this point for most marketers.
Here are five digital marketing focus areas to make sure you’re ready for the challenges in 2016.
1. Focus on relationships – personalized and data-driven
It hardly matters if you are an introvert or an extrovert – we all are inherently social. We all want personal attention and we all want to interact, mingle and build relationships with people who talk about our interests and share our passions. This is exactly what we expect from our online interactions. But, how often do you have such personal interactions with your customers? All of us are guilty of bombarding customers with generic and irrelevant messages. This has to stop (or at least dwindle) – every interaction with your existing or potential customer needs to be personalized regardless of whether it is a website visit, an email, or a social media message.
Building relationships rather than simply focusing on short-term sale can have tremendous long-term results. All good relationships are built on trust and transparency, so make sure you are authentic in all your interactions. Once you build strong, emotional relationship with your customers, you turn them into loyalists and brand advocates who not just buy, they do free word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing. And, WOM is the holy grail of all marketing.
Opportunity for companies to build relationships with their customers has increased exponentially primarily due to the rise of ‘always-connected’ smartphone and social-media generation. The good news is that we have a lot of customer data that can help us in this journey – from past interactions, to analyzing customer’s web and social profiles, to industry specific data sets – there are vast opportunities limited only by the amount of effort and investment you are willing to make. You can always start small with just one personalized channel or campaign, but make sure you are treating your customers as individuals who have personal preferences and interests.
2. Visual content and its search value
Well, you already know content is king – that’s not going to change. Quality content should be a priority for any marketing department regardless of what you sell to whom. Content is a way to develop trust with customer, it helps build your brand, and ensures you are seen as an expert in your market.
Besides the fact that ROI of content marketing is much more than outbound marketing, almost 80% business executives and decision makers want to get information in form of insightful content rather advertisements (1). But, in case you didn’t realize, all of us are consuming more and more visual content. Whether it is images or videos posted on social media or content embedded in email messages. More than 70% viewers report videos leave a positive impression on them (2).
What many people don’t realize is that visual content is not just appealing to your audience, it also brings a lot of SEO benefits. Gone are the days when google and other search engines relied on keywords to rank websites. With recent search algorithm updates, all the emphasis is on quality content and the value it offers to the site visitor. Search engines want to send their user to the most relevant pages that provide the best information user is seeking. They really care about how much time the user actually spends on your site. This is why visual content is so important – just imagine what would happen if all videos and images disappeared from your Facebook feed? On the flip side, imagine the engagement potential if you had such engaging content on your website.
Of course, you would still need to optimize all your visual content for SEO – the usual meta descriptions, alt tags and proper text details that need to be published along with images and videos. But, thanks to smarter search technology, you don’t need an SEO expert for this. You can simply focus on producing quality content that is relevant to your audience. You no longer need to fill pages with keywords, or use other blackhat ways to attract search traffic.
3. Mobile-first mindset
We rely on mobile phones for everything – search, email, news, maps, reviews, shopping – you name it. In many ways, we have become slaves of our smart devices. That’s exactly the reason we, as marketers, need to make sure all our work is mobile ready. In fact, you should develop content with mobile-first mindset because most of your content is going to be consumed on mobile. If your content is not properly displayed on mobile, is difficult to scroll, or takes too long to upload, you just lost a potential opportunity.
With even a small portion of your digital presence that is not optimized for mobile and other smart devices, you are leaving money on the table. A recent poll suggested that many millennials and young adults won’t do business with a company whose presence on mobile is shabby. Now, who wants to be in that situation? The reality is that many companies are yet to fully embrace mobile. So, a mobile-first mindset is a far fetched ask. Don’t be in that pack – make sure all your existing digital assets are ready for mobile, whether they are website pages, blogs, emails, or any other creative. Then, move on with mobile as a priority over desktop.
4. Stop publishing – start engaging on social media
Most companies already have some form of social media presence, but hardly a few have an effective strategy that is bringing business results. Most companies create an account across all major social media platforms, publish a few posts occasionally, and check off the social media marketing objective. Many don’t realize that having such a lacking social media presence can actually hurt their brand. What people need to understand is this – social media is not a tool for one-way publishing or self-promotion (well, it may be for celebrities, but not for businesses), it is a tool to engage with your audience. If you are not engaging, you would not get any ROI on your efforts.
5. Finally, utilize marketing automation to the max
Marketers spend most of their time developing and managing content, and focus for the last few years has been automation. But, most companies are still struggling to leverage all the available technology for generating leads and nurturing prospects. Whether you want to do content management, email and social media scheduling, contacts segmentation, or tracking of customers through the funnel, marketing automation can bring efficiencies on all fronts. So, if you have been going back and forth with your decision to buy an automation tool, or to upgrade your existing subscription – just make that investment in the new year. There is a high chance it will bring positive ROI on your marketing investments.
So, there you have it. As I noted at the beginning, these are some of the things that most of us already know. But, only a few of us are doing justice to them. If you have your own strategies, please share them in comments. I would love to know your opinion and continue the discussion.