Digital Marketing

What is digital marketing? A new definition for a post-Covid world

Do we need a new definition of digital marketing for a post-Covid world? Sam Wright explores.

If you were to ask 10 marketing professionals how they’d define “digital marketing”, you’d get 10 different answers.

Those with a design-focus might claim it’s about “creating great visuals that fire people’s imaginations”.

Those in a commercial environment, with an overt sales-focus, might confidently assert that “marketing is about getting more people to buy our products”.

In contrast, those with a research-oriented mindset would undoubtedly counter that marketing involves “figuring out what people want in the first instance, and then giving it to them”.

Sure, there’s merit to all these definitions. But I think it’s telling that after making it through a global pandemic, many marketers reflected that they were unhappy with their brand’s response to the world’s changing realities. This, coupled with the stresses placed on people’s emotional and mental wellbeing, leads me to tentatively suggest that a new definition of digital marketing might be needed as we chart a course into a post-Covid world:

Digital marketing involves using online channels to communicate with a clearly defined audience, inspiring them to engage (positively and profitably) with your product, service or brand.

Let’s unpack the four key areas from this definition:

1. Clearly defined audience

In order for marketing to be effective, marketers need to know their audience; that was as true in the days of the Model T Ford as it is in the era of the Model 3 Tesla. That’s because if you don’t take the time to get to know your audience, you’ve no way of understanding their needs, and so you’ll struggle to create a brand (or product or service) that offers them something meaningful.

Henry Ford understood this: the Model T was designed for America’s growing middle class, pitched at a price they could afford.

Tesla understands this: the Model 3 is built for the world’s increasingly environmentally-conscious middle class, who desire an electric car that makes a statement.

The great news about digital marketing is that there’s an endless supply of analytics platforms ready to give you data on your target audience (from Google Analytics to Facebook Insights and everything in between), enabling you to truly understand their needs, where this audience spends its time online, and how best to reach them.

2. Online channels

Armed with a deep understanding of your audience, you can now select appropriate online marketing channels. Put simply:

In digital marketing, an online “channel” is a method of reaching your target audience. Online channels can include social media, email, websites and blogs, display advertising, and more.

But remember: your choice of channels must be appropriate to the behaviours of your audience.

Want to communicate with business buyers in a B2B context? Maybe use a combination of LinkedIn, email and industry websites.

Want to appeal to increasingly affluent members of Generation X? Try using Facebook.

Or perhaps you’d like to attract a fresher audience, like younger Millennials or Gen Z? Consider using Instagram, TikTok, and platforms that allow the sharing of video content.

Your choice of channels has to be relevant to your audience. Ideally, you should use a range of channels, including offline ones (such as in-store, posters, events, and so on) and enable your audience to move seamlessly between channels as they interact with your messages.

3. Two-way communication

A significant amount of traditional (offline) marketing is one-way: the brand conveys a message to its audience. What gives digital marketing an edge is that it allows target customers to respond to your messages.

They can “like” and reply to your posts on social media. They can comment on your blog articles. They can send direct messages to your brand.

As a digital marketer, you’ve got to embrace this two-way communication. Listen and respond to your audience’s concerns. Celebrate your audience’s successes. Be informative. When appropriate, be playful.

This interaction will help the audience to feel valued, creating a rapport between them and your brand.

4. Inspiring engagement

The final few words of the new definition state that digital marketing should inspire your audience to “…engage (positively and profitably) with your product, service, or brand.” This reflects the fact that the vast majority of organisations have financial needs that marketing will seek to fulfil.

B2B organisations need more corporate clients.

B2C firms will want to attract more customers.

Both will want to encourage repeat business.

Even charities will typically need to attract more donors, and will want to increase the positive impact they’re having on the world.

That’s why all of the two-way communication you’re having with your audience needs to lead to something: it must prompt some kind of profitable action on the part of the customer. However, unlike with traditional approaches to advertising, digital marketing often employs a more softly-softly approach.

Take Red Bull for example. This energy drink brand has spent time getting to know its target audience, and appreciates their love of extreme sports. You only have to glance at Red Bull’s website to see how the brand has responded: by producing content to entertain and delight its audience, featuring athletes that have Red Bull branding plastered all over them.

This approach is known as “content marketing” and is one of the cornerstones of contemporary digital marketing. The idea is that producing relevant and high-quality content will encourage the brand’s audience to perceive it in a positive light, thereby inspiring the audience to purchase more of the brand’s products.

Want to learn more about digital marketing?

QA’s Digital Marketing Level 3 Apprenticeship blends online learning with practical activities and coaching, enabling you and your staff to quickly develop the digital marketing skills you need in the post-Covid era.

Looking for something a little more advanced? We’ve recently launched a Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship in Digital Marketing, enabling you to upskill an employee, or achieve a full university-level qualification for yourself while working.

So get in touch today, and find out why we're the UK's leading tech apprenticeship provider. 


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