What is digital marketing?

What is digital marketing?

What is digital marketing?

The short answer is it depends on who  you ask.  For the purposes of this discussion, it could encompass all or parts of:

  • Logo Design / Trademark
  • Email marketing campaign
  • Web design and development including mobile platform (now key for SEO)
  • Web search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Web maintenance and content updates
  • Ecommerce / CRM (product database, shipping, payment)
  • Web search engine advertising / marketing (SEA/SEM)
  • Social Media Advertising
  • Online Reputation Management (ORM)
  • Publicity
  • Marketing metrics

Steps to develop a digital marketing strategy

With broad assumptions that every small business wants a campaign that draws the most buying customers at the lowest cost of customer acquisition, there are two key questions a small business must answer in order to develop a digital marketing strategy:

  1. Which components of digital marketing does our company require?
  2. How much can our company afford?

Digital Marketing Components

As mentioned above, opinions vary about the definition and components that make up an overall digital marketing strategy for a company.  All do agree that however you define the components, nearly all businesses require some level of presence on the Internet and managing that presence requires careful planning.

SCORE clients may require help to develop that plan.  On the following pages, we will define each component in more detail along with options depending upon needs and budget.  For simplicity and brevity,  we provide samples of low, moderate and higher cost options for addressing each component.  There are more options for each and you should discuss with your SCORE mentor and digital marketing advisor to conduct a more detailed analysis of the best strategy for your business.

Service provider names provided in the examples are neither recommended nor endorsed by SCORE and are simply provided as an example of the type of business that has compatible services for the digital marketing component.

Logo Design / Trademark

What it is:   a graphic representation or symbol of a company name, trademark, abbreviation, etc., often uniquely designed for ready recognition.

Almost without exception, a small business requires a logo to use for brand recognition.  Once developed, it should appear identically in all communications with customers from business cards to invoices to advertising.

Sample Options:
No cost / low cost: Develop your own using MS Publisher, MS PowerPoint or any graphic tool.  File a copyright of the image as an interim step until the company can afford to trademark.  Cost ~ $35 (assumes you already own the development tool and a $35 trademark filing fee with www.trademark.gov )

Low cost / moderate cost: Develop your own concepts and send to logo specialists who will guarantee the image does not infringe on other trademarks / copyrights.  Example:  www.infinitylogodesign.com.  Use an online service to assist with the process of filing a trademark (e.g., www.legalzoom.com ) and file a trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov ).  Cost ~ $800 (assumes $400 logo specialist, $100 online legal assist, $275 USPTO fee).

Moderate / high cost: Hire a marketing firm to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy for your company that includes logo design.  Cost: $1,000s (see Appendix for list of marketing companies)

Email marketing campaign

What it is:   A process of directly marketing a commercial message to a group of people using email.

For small start-up businesses and even established businesses, email marketing can be an effective tool to drive traffic to the company web site, the company place of business and/or an event sponsored by the company.

Sample Options:
No cost / low cost: Use networking to establish contacts and potential customers.  Establish a corporate email account through a free service (e.g., Yahoo, Google Gmail, etc.).  Utilize a free email subscription service (e.g., www.mailchimp.com) to develop and send email blogs that are of value to your potential customers with a link to your web site.

Low cost / moderate cost: Purchase email hosting from your domain provider so that emails come from your company domain.  Utilize a free or low cost email subscription service (e.g., www.mailchimp.com, www.constantcontact.com) to professionally manage email subscriptions.  Cost ~ $300/yr

Moderate / high cost: Purchase email hosting from your domain provider and purchase email lists from email marketing services (e.g., www.constantcontact.com).  Pay the email marketing services company to distribute content, manage subscriptions, and to drive traffic to your business.    Cost: $500 – $3,000 + ~$30-$100/month.

Web Design and Development

What it is:   Services to build a web site that include web graphic design, layout design, workflow design, mobile platform design, authoring (coding) and overall user experience.

Nearly all business require a web site to promote and drive business to your company.  The web site must attract attention, have visual appeal, have intuitive navigation, and provide consumable information.  It may be difficult to obtain a simple domain name that is available so be creative when selecting a name that is easy to remember, represents your product or services, and is available.

Sample Options:
No cost / low cost: Purchase a domain with a name that represents your business (e.g., www.godaddy.com , www.yahoosmallbusiness.com, or any of the sites below who offer free web builder tools).  Use one of the free web builder tools that don’t require programming knowledge (e.g., www.Web.com , www.Weebly.com , www.Wix.com, www.squarespace.com ) to develop your own web site.  Cost: $15 for the domain name.

Low cost / moderate cost: Purchase a domain with a name that represents your business.  Develop specifications for the web site that you want created and bid out to one of the online bid services (e.g., www.elance.com , www.freelancer.com , www.odesk.com).   Discuss the risks with your SCORE advisor but this can be an affordable way to have a professional grade web site that is designed with search engine optimization in mind.  Cost ~ $400 – $3,000 depending upon complexity.  Be sure to have very clear acceptance criteria that must be met before final payment.

Moderate / high cost: Purchase a domain with a name that represents your business.  Hire a professional firm to design and build your web site (e.g., www.web.com, www.itvibes.com ).  This engagement could be part of a larger contract to manage an overall digital marketing campaign.  Cost: ~$1,000 – $20,000+ (for just the web design and development) depending upon the complexity, quantity of pages, mobile platforms supported, and workflows (like ecommerce) that are incorporated into the web site.

Web search engine optimization (SEO)

What it is:   A service that uses a set of best practices to improve ranking in search engine results.

For this discussion, the service focuses on improving “organic” search results.  This means that searches of keywords that best represent your business will result in your site appearing before your competition without paying a fee to the search company.

Sample Options:
No cost / low cost: Using best practices (see SCORE document “A beginner’s guide to SEO”), enhance your company web site for SEO.  Cost: Your Time

Low cost / moderate cost: Hire an individual / small company to improve your SEO using one of the online bid services referenced in the web design and development section above.  Negotiate the terms of the engagement to tie to successful results.  Cost: ~ $300 – $1,500.  See next section for SEO maintenance and content management.

Moderate / high cost: Hire a company that specializes in SEO (e.g., www.web.com , www.seohouston.com , www.softwaysolutions.com) to design and implement an SEO strategy for your company web site.  This will likely suggest content creation services that are covered in the next section.  Note that if you are hiring a company to design and develop your company web site, SEO should be incorporated into that engagement.  Cost: $700 – $5,000 depending upon complexity and number of domains (companies) competing for the same keywords. See next section for SEO maintenance and content management.

Web maintenance and content updates (including SEO, blogging, calendar, etc.)

What it is:   Services that offer changing of content, correcting technical issues (e.g., broken links) and/or maintaining a web site to optimize performance and search engine results.

Stale and poor performing web sites can have a negative impact upon attracting and maintaining customers.

Sample Options:
No cost / low cost: Utilizing available tools (e.g., Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, Hubspot’s Marketing Grader [ marketing.grader.com  ], etc.) evaluate your web site and make corrections to optimize.  Establish a blog on your web site and update at least weekly to demonstrate the site is being actively maintained.  Cost: Your Time

Low cost / moderate cost: Hire an individual / small company to maintain your website and update content.  Visit job sites where college students are looking for part-time work and interview to ensure they have the skills and integrity.  Negotiate the terms of the engagement to tie to successful results.  Cost: ~ $100 – $500 depending on complexity, volume of content and frequency of updates.

Moderate / high cost: Hire a company that has professional content writers who will provide frequent and relevant content (likely blogs) for your website and email campaigns (e.g., Spellmann & Associates [ www.ericspellmann.com ]).  This would more than likely be a component of an overall web design/development/SEO service/content generation contract.

Ecommerce / CRM

What it is:   Ecommerce is simply activities that relate to the buying and selling of goods and services over the internet.  It is a component of an overall customer relationship management (CRM) strategy that uses technology to organize, automate, and synchronize sales, marketing, customer service, and customer support.

Sample Options:
No cost / low cost: Sell your product through a 3rd party service (e.g., www.amazon.com , www.etsy.com ) that will list your product and handle sales for a fee.  Cost: $.20 – $.30 per listing + 3.5–10% of the sale price.

Low cost / moderate cost: Many of the free web builder sites referenced above have components or plug-ins that allow sales.  Payment can be processed using one of the credit card processing services (e.g., www.authorize.net , www.paypal.com, etc.).  Cost: $30-50/mo + $.30 + 2.2-2.9% per transaction.

Moderate / high cost: Hire a company that will design, build and integrate your ecommerce into your website (e.g., www.web.com).  This will likely include developing and maintaining a product / service database with price lists along with comprehensive sales, shipping and feedback workflows.  Cost: $5,000 and up.

Web search engine advertising / marketing (SEA/SEM)

What it is:    A form of Internet marketing that involves the promotion of websites through paid advertising appearing on the results page of keywords relevant to the advertised business.  These are the “Ads” you see in the top, bottom and side of the Google (or other search engine) results.  For Google, the tool/service is named AdWords.

Sample Options:
No cost / low cost: Develop your own ad campaign.  This will require that you learn how campaigns are designed, how to optimize your campaign through careful selection of keywords and negative keywords, and how to review metrics including cost per click and conversions.  Discuss risks with your SCORE mentor.    Cost: As little as $10/day ranging up as much as you want to pay.  This is a pay per click (PPC) service and you set the maximum you are willing to pay per day.

Low cost / moderate cost: Hire a company that specializes in SEA/SEM to design a campaign optimal for your business (e.g., www.whitesharkmedia.com , www.dpfoc.com ).  They can work with you to develop an ad campaign that delivers the most value for your advertising dollar.  Cost: $200-$1000 per month.  It may not be necessary to continue the engagement once the campaign is developed.  Make sure you understand the commitment with the contract.

Moderate / high cost: Hire a company that will design an overall comprehensive digital marketing strategy (e.g., www.web.com).  This would bundle SEO, SEA, Social Media and other marketing strategies to optimize sales for your business.  Cost: $5,000 and up depending upon the complexity.

Social Media Advertising

What it is:    A form of Internet marketing that utilizes social networking websites as a marketing tool.  The typical purpose of social media advertising / marketing is to drive traffic to your business web site.  This includes:

  • Media selection Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.
  • Keyword selection, campaign design
  • Web collaboration with Social Media

Sample Options:
No cost / low cost: Use networking and social media to grow a following and recognition for your business (e.g., Facebook business page, Twitter business page, LinkedIn, etc.).  Post / tweet information that is valuable to retain potential customer interest.  Cost: Your time.

Low cost / moderate cost: Utilize pay per click (PPC) advertising through social media outlets (e.g., Facebook, Instagram) to drive traffic to your business web site.  Invest time to learn how to create an effective campaign and measure results using tools provided by the outlets.  Consider engaging a social media marketing specialist to help with the initial campaign design (e.g., www.blackboxsocialmedia.com ).  Cost:  As little as $10/day if DIY plus $1000+ with professional assistance.

Moderate / high cost: Hire a company that will design an overall comprehensive digital marketing strategy (e.g., www.web.com).  This would bundle SEO, SEA, Social Media and other marketing strategies to optimize sales for your business.  Cost: $5,000 and up depending upon the complexity.

Online Reputation Management (ORM)

What it is:    The practice of crafting strategies that shape or influence the public perception of you and your business on the Internet.  It helps drive public opinion about a business and its products and services.

Sample Options:
No cost / low cost: Conduct your own searches about your business and reviews about your business and products/services.  Enlist the help of friends and relatives to monitor and report to you any spikes (good or bad) so that you can capitalize or manage.  Cost: Your time and several favors.

Low cost / moderate cost: Hire a part-time contractor to monitor web activity related to your business and products/services.  This includes social media, reviews (e.g., www.yelp.com) and other posts that may influence your customers. Cost: $15-20 / hr.

Moderate / high cost: Hire a company that will work with you to develop a reputation management strategy (e.g., www.advisorreputationmanagement.com ).  The services vary from building a reputation to monitoring and managing your reputation.  Cost: $3,000 and up depending upon the number/complexity of services and the length of engagement.


What it is:    Activities and advertising that attract the attention of the public to your business and its products/services.  This could be under the broad umbrella of “marketing” but is specific to media promotion.

Sample Options:
No cost / low cost: Make your business newsworthy.  Schedule events that tie to newsworthy activities (e.g., “after the marathon party – marathon participants are free”).  Schedule contests, special events or sponsorships that would capture the attention of news outlets.  Create a brief press release and send to the “assignment editor” of various media outlets for consideration for.  Cost: Your time plus any promotions or sponsorships.

Low cost / moderate cost: Use an online bid service (e.g., www.wooshii.com ) to develop a video to get attention and/or to promote your business.  Post the video in your social media outlets and YouTube.  Cost: $300 and up. You set the budget and that defines the quality and quantity of services that will be bid back for your consideration.

Moderate / high cost: Hire a publicity company (e.g., www.prnewswire.com, www.wickedpublicity.com) that will generate as much media as possible with relevant, newsworthy articles and pitches to local, regional and national media outlets.  Cost: PR Newswire: $200/yr membership plus $350 per press release; Wicked Publicity: $650/hr. consulting + $800 per local press release.

Marketing Metrics

What it is:    Numeric data that allow companies to evaluate the effectiveness of their marketing strategies against competitors and company goals.  This is typically not a separate service but rather incorporated into other marketing services. One key metric that every business needs to know is their “cost of customer acquisition”.  It is simply the amount spent on marketing divided by the number of paying customers that marketing attracts.

Sample Options:
No cost / low cost:  Keep track of your business’ marketing expenses and devise methods to determine the customers attracted by that marketing.  At a minimum, track increases and decreases in marketing expenditures against fluctuations in customers and sales.  Adjust marketing strategies based upon impact to sales.  Cost: Your time.

Low cost / moderate cost: Hire a part time marketing specialist to analyze your marketing strategies vs sales and to make recommendations to optimize.  Cost: $25-$55 / hr.

Moderate / high cost: Negotiate marketing metrics into an overall digital marketing contract with a large company (e.g., www.web.com ).  Be sure that the metrics are not subjective and tie directly to the effectiveness of marketing spend.  Cost: Negligible within the larger contract.

Keys to Selecting the Right Strategy Within Budget

Marketing strategies are unique for every company and depend upon several factors.  Some of these include the type of product/service, demographics of the customers, market capacity, competition, level of differentiation and many other factors.

Most start-up businesses have limited budgets in the early stages for marketing.  That conflicts with the importance of effective marketing to establish a positive reputation and to develop a following of loyal clients.  This makes selection of the marketing tools a key decision and one that can define success for your business.

Below are key tips in developing the unique formula to successfully market your business:

Define Success

First, set your compass and define what success is for your company.  Is success gross sales of $100,000 per year, 1 employee and 50 customers or is success $20M per year, 55 franchise locations, 700 employees and millions of customers per year?  You must also define failure.  While we should all focus on the positives, it is important early in the business to define the conditions when the company must be closed before you put on the rose colored glasses.

Start Slow

Unless you have a sure-fire product/service and backers providing significant funding, start slow and build on success.  Evaluate the marketing components and determine which offer the best opportunity for attracting customers early.  Invest your time in marketing in these early stages and look for opportunities to delegate or outsource less key business tasks.

Begin With The End In Mind

In the early stages of marketing, you may opt the route of do-it-yourself and other lower cost options.  That is fine but keep the destination in mind and don’t commit down paths that don’t lead to the destination.  For example, if your web site is likely to use WordPress in the long run, don’t use or hire a company that uses a different web development tool.  Similarly, if your target market is to sell to higher income customers at high margins, don’t start out advertising the lowest cost and lose their loyalty as you grow.

Your Differentiator is Everything

As you develop your marketing strategy, it is key to know how you differentiate your business from your competitors.  Better, Faster & Cheaper are not good differentiators as every business claims these attributes.  What business is going to say they are lower quality, slower and more expensive?  Selecting and promoting an attractive differentiator is key to your business’ success.

Get Their Attention and Establish Trust

Marketing is like the steps in dating.  1) Get their attention, 2) Make a great first impression, 3) Establish a relationship, 4) Establish trust, 5) Maintain the relationship, and 6) Keep it fresh.  As you develop your digital marketing strategy, keep these steps in mind.  On your first exposure to a potential customer, you have less than 15 seconds to get their attention.  Look at your business through their eyes and not yours.  Keys to initial impressions (whatever the marketing tool): Simplicity, Elegance, Professional, Trustworthy, Competent, Intuitive.  Convey these in your marketing for an opportunity to make a great first impression.

Never Get Comfortable

Business owners expend incredible energy and time as they start their business and it is very easy to relax a bit when marketing strategies begin to pay off.  This is a key time to revisit your digital marketing strategy and redesign.  What works during launch and while you are “new” to your customers rarely can sustain your business in the long run.  Investments in marketing need to grow as your customer base increases.  Technologies are constantly changing and methods that were effective in the beginning may be old school a year later.  Never get comfortable!

Get Help

No business owner knows everything.  The smart entrepreneurs harvest knowledge from multiple sources.  They delegate and/or outsource noncritical business activities so that they may focus on what is important.  They know their strengths and when they need to consult.  SCORE is one of those resources with executive and entrepreneur skills that are available for the life of your business.  Leverage one or more mentors to help you to be successful!