Dipping Your Toe in Digital Media

by Patricia Fitzgerald

There’s no getting around it: the pandemic has presented some big challenges for small businesses. But with those challenges come opportunities — especially when it comes to advertising. Digital advertising, to be precise.

Since COVID-19 basically shut us down last March, Americans have been spending way more time staring at screens. Which means way more exposure to digital marketing. According to one study, computer usage jumped 24% since the shutdowns first started.

Don’t Dismiss Digital

But what does all this doom-scrolling and binge-watching mean for small businesses? More potential eyeballs to view digital ads. Small businesses, however, tend to overlook digital advertising — assuming they don’t have the savvy, resources or money to invest in digital media. But before you bounce from this blog post thinking it doesn’t apply to you, hear us out: There’s never been a better time for small businesses to adopt digital marketing strategies. It’s doable, affordable, and right now, it has the potential to reach a very large captive audience.

So now that we’ve piqued your interest, where do you begin? First and foremost, go into your digital marketing with clearly defined goals. Do you want to increase awareness? Reach a specific audience segment? Drive sales of a particular service, and if so, by how much? Entice people to visit your website? Build your mailing list? Knowing what you want to achieve is key to creating a digital strategy and ads that get results. The more specific and measurable your goals, the better.

Along with your goals, know who you’re targeting. Is your ideal audience within an age group? Are they likely to be a certain gender? Are they located in a specific geographic area? What’s their average income? How much education do they have, what are their interests, what sorts of jobs do they hold? You get the idea.

Next, make sure you identify the most commonly used key search words and phrases your target audience uses to find businesses, products and services like yours. There are several free tools you can use to find key words, including Google Trends, Keywords from Wordstream, as well as Google Analytics for your website. You’ll need these key words and phrases to improve the chances of your digital ads being seeing by your audience.

Decisions, Decisions

Now that you’ve done the upfront work to identify your goals, audience, and key search phrases, it’s time to decide which digital media platforms you want to incorporate in your media strategy. Chances are, you’re already doing organic (aka free) advertising by posting on your social media pages, writing relevant and content-rich blog posts, and sending out emails to your list. If you’re not, get crack-a-lacking on those. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve spent some time optimizing your website for search engines — read more on this here.

To truly maximize your digital marketing efforts, you’ll also need to invest in paid advertising. The good news is: digital advertising can be a cost-effective way to reach a wide yet targeted audience. Let’s take a closer look at some of the digital advertising options available to you.

The 411 on PPC

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is fairly self-explanatory. You — the advertiser — bid on key words you want your ads to show up for. So for example, say you own a hair salon. You might bid on key words like Brazilian blowouts and extensions, in the hopes that when a user types these key words into Google, your ad pops up in their search results.

PPC ads appear at the top of the search results, above organic (non-paid) listings. Instead of paying outright for the ad buy, you pay every time someone clicks on your ad. Google Ads are one of the most common forms of PPC, and generate a pretty decent return ($8 for every $1 spent). And research shows that users who click on PPC ads are 50% more likely to buy a product. Because you can set your own budget (however much you’re willing to “bid” on your key words), Google Ads are an affordable way to delve into the world of digital marketing.

Put Yourself on Display

Display advertising refers to the banner ads that show up in certain areas of social media pages or on websites. Display ads often appear when a user is scrolling through their timelines, browsing websites, or shopping online, and come in a wide variety of sizes. They can be static or animated, depending on where they’re being displayed and how much you’re willing to spend. And they include links that drive people to a specific site — ideally, a dedicated lead-generating landing page that entices the user to enter their contact information and convert from curious visitor to active customer.

Display banners also operate on a cost-per-click basis; you pay every time someone clicks on the ad. You can choose whether your banner ads show up on websites and social media platforms related to a user’s search; for example, our aforementioned salon owner can set up their ads to display when a user searches for “Brazilian blowouts.” Or you can set your ads to show up on relevant websites that are likely to be visited by your target audience — ILoveBrazilianBlowouts.com, for example.

Then there’s remarketing. Displayed to users who have visited your website in the past, these banner ads are meant to entice the previous visitors to return to your site and this time actually stick around and buy something. Remarketing ads can be very effective, and are worth looking into.

Going Mobile

Designed specifically to run on smart phones and tablets, mobile marketing is location-based — making it a good option for businesses targeting a specific geographic area (like our hypothetical hair salon). With mobile marketing, your teeny-tiny banner ads show up when people search for a related product (i.e. hair salons) in your area. You determine the radius you want your ads to reach.

Mobile advertising can also consist of SMS or text messaging. The advantage of this type of digital marketing is that 90% of text messages are opened and read within three minutes of receipt. However, due to spam laws, you can only send text messages to people who have given their consent to do so. Asking customers to sign up to receive exclusive text promos and discounts is a great way to follow the rules and market your business.

S’up with Social Media?

If you’re already posting content on your social media pages, awesome! Keep it up. But adding paid social media ads to the mix is a great way to bolster your visibility, attract followers, and elicit a specific response such as clicking through to a landing page that captures the visitor’s information.

According to research, more than 70% of consumers use social media when making purchase decisions. Yet, less than 30% of companies use social media as marketing strategy — leaving a significant untapped opportunity for small businesses. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram are the most obvious places to leverage paid advertising. But small businesses may find even more traction on niche platforms such as SnapChat, TikTok, Instagram Reels, and Clubhouse which offer fairly new and fertile territory for digital marketing. 

Paid social media advertising offers a plethora of advantages: you can determine how much you want to spend and target who sees your ads with quite a bit of precision. But you’ll also want to make sure you’re choosing the right social media platforms for your audience. If your customers are primarily professional men over the age of 50, for instance, TikTok is probably not the place to put your money. We’ll be delving deeper into paid social media advertising in a future post, so stay tuned.

Podcasts, Perhaps?

Primarily used to build brand awareness, podcast advertising is growing at a rapid clip — spurred on by the number of people who have tuned into during the pandemic. To date, around 80 million Americans listen to podcasts weekly — a 17% increase over 2020. Even better, 61% of podcast listeners say they bought something after hearing about it on a podcast ad. So it’s quite an effective digital marketing medium.

Before you rush to purchase your podcast ad space, there are a few things to consider. The biggest podcast audience consists of millennials, so make sure what you’re selling is aligned with who’s listening. As for budget, a 30 second podcast ad will run you around $18 per mile or per 1,000 listeners — so the more popular the podcast, the more expensive the ad buy. You can save some money by running your ad either right at the beginning or at the end of the podcast; the prime mid-podcast spots will reach more people and are therefore more expensive.

I Stream, You Stream, We All Stream

Consumers — including your customers — have been streaming more music and video content than ever during the pandemic. In fact, according to the data, streaming soared 20% when the country shut down last March. Brands have taken notice, and are increasingly using streaming apps as a way to reach audiences who no longer watch traditional TV with traditional ads. So why not small businesses?

Music streaming services like Spotify and Pandora can be a great place to start promoting your small business. With a minimum budget of around $250, you can run 15- and 30-second audio segments served up between songs on Spotify. Up your investment, and you can display 30-second video content that users watch to unlock specific content. Spotify also lets you display static, clickable banner ads whenever a user returns to the app.

Because it bills on a cost-per-impression basis, Pandora is a bit pricier — requiring an average media spend of around $4,000. This will get you video content (with accompanying banner ad) that plays whenever a user skips a song or changes the station, as well as banners ads that display over a song’s album art. 

TV streaming services like Hulu, AMC, FX or Peacock reach an even wider audience than music streaming apps. Advertising costs on TV streaming services vary widely, from $30 for a 15 or 30-second ad (Hulu even offers seven-second ads), to thousands of dollars per ad. Many streaming services will allow you to target your ads to a specific geographic area to help keep costs down and maximize your investment. You’ll also want to make sure you’re selecting services and programming that reach your target audience.

Ready to Dive into Digital?

Digital marketing works, for businesses of all sizes. But you’ll want to make sure your digital media strategy works for you. For any digital media campaign you launch, be sure to track your results by regularly monitoring your analytics and visitor statistics. When you see something that’s not generating the response you want, make adjustments and keep trying. To get the best return on your investment, we recommend working with a digital media planner who can help you develop a strategy and identify the most effective digital media mix. We just so happen to know of a great one.

Despite the complexities and learning curve, digital media marketing is entirely doable for small businesses. If you’re interested in dipping into digital advertising, we’re happy to help get you started — one toe at a time.



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