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8 Things You Need to Win at Digital Marketing

By Toby Skinner, Mark Harnett and Patrick Lundbom

Now is a great time to launch a digital marketing program. Whether you’re a startup, or a mature company that has previously relied on PR and in-person events to generate sales, it should be very clear that digital has to be part of your marketing mix. With marketing budgets being reallocated from in-person events, and digital advertising costs down about 30 to 40 percent, there’s never been a better time to get started. In this two-part series, we’ll share with you all the tools, people and best practices you need to go from zero up to about $1 million/month in digital ad spend.

Today we’ll cover readiness — eight things you need to put in place to build a winning program.

1. Digital marketing mindset

To make the most of digital, you need to adopt what we call the growth marketing mindset, which is to continually test, measure and learn, working your way towards making decisions informed by data. You no longer need to argue over subjective decisions about which creative is going to drive the most engagement and leads. You test different headlines, CTAs, images and videos and you have tracking set up, so you have data and you know.

2. Known unit economics

One of the big advantages of digital marketing is the ability to determine your ROAS (return on ad spend) down to the penny. Many companies are unable to do this because they don’t have a firm grasp of their unit economics. Without that context, it’s impossible to know whether paying $20, or $40, or whatever it is to acquire a new customer, is profitable.

Ideally your product has a little bit of traction in the marketplace, enough to know what the unit economics are and that they’re viable. As you start to invest in paid advertising to acquire more leads or customers, this gives you a baseline from which to judge whether a program is profitable or not.

If you’re a startup and the economics aren’t quite there yet, you can still get valuable learning about acquisition costs, but you’ll want to integrate that into a more complete picture of profitability.

3. Marketing-owned website with CMS

Eventually you may require a sophisticated tech stack, but to start you just need a website that marketing owns, connected to a content management system (CMS) and Google Analytics on the back end.

If you’re on a homegrown, 10-year-old website that gets updated through GitHub, or engineering owns your site because the product and marketing site are one and the same, it’s going to be difficult to spin up 10 new landing page templates, let alone one. Another common situation: Your blog is on WordPress and the main site isn't, and your SEO effort is focused on the blog.

There are workarounds, but they’re going to slow you down and hamper your efforts. You need the ability to make changes on the fly and pull up the data you need without being dependent on engineering and development.

The ideal scenario is to have everything in a content management system where you can easily build pages and forms, and optimize for SEO and paid traffic all at the same time. If that means migrating to a better CMS, do it.

4. Dominion over SEO

While not technically paid media, your investment in Search Engine Optimization needs to be part of the conversation. As you build out your paid media strategy, it's important to know what the web marketing folks are doing with the website. What is the messaging? Who is in the target audience? What keywords are you optimizing for? You're going to want to align your efforts for organic keyword strategy with your paid media.

In smaller organizations, or organizations that haven’t done much with digital, we often find SEO under product, because the product manager is managing the website and everything related to it. Product marketing is an important collaborator, but it’s a rare product marketer that’s deeply skilled in SEO.

If you are trying to build a digital marketing mindset within the business, marketing needs to have the SEO, content and all things web in their sphere because the learnings from paid media inform SEO efforts, and vice versa, and they both inform content strategy.

5. Data analyst

Don't spend money on paid media if you're not able to measure results. Measurement is central to the growth marketing mindset, to the success of your programs, and your ability to win continued investment in your programs. You have to have a data analyst or data engineer on board from the start.

This is something you need to invest in early, before it becomes a pain point, because by the time it becomes a pain point, overhead is growing, and tools and platforms are proliferating and it’s going to be very disruptive to stop and fix it. You’ll have to change the way you work. You’ll also have to change the way you communicate with the business, and that’s going to really hurt the credibility of your program. If you've been measuring one way and it's mixed up and wrong and you start changing that, all your historical metrics are going to have to be revised. It requires a lot of political capital to change the way the company has been thinking about the metrics. Getting out ahead of that, and staying ahead, is extremely important.

In the beginning, when you've got just one or two channels and spend is low, you’ll mainly be working with data in the platforms, and in Google Analytics. You can get by with a part-time analyst. The most important thing at this stage is to validate that all your tracking is properly instrumented and all the data is flowing to the right places and reports are making sense.

You might be able to recruit help from an internal person that’s shared between departments. Another option is to find a consultant who can come in and architect it, set up basic funnels, events tracking, and tagging, and then hand it off to the internal person to manage.

6. Hands on strategist

If you plan to spend a million dollars on media, it might make sense to bring in an FTE to lead your program. If you want someone experienced who knows what they're doing, that’s easily a six-figure annual salary.

That doesn’t make sense if you’re only spending a quarter million on media. You can probably get the same level of experience and expertise from a consultant working half time or less.

Consultants tend to be more hands on, leading both strategy and execution. At this stage, it’s helpful to have a person who can come up with campaigns, messaging, and imagery; set up tests; look at data and actively manage campaigns within the digital platforms. This person may also be able to help set up tracking and attribution, or at least manage the person who’s doing so and also help validate the setup.

7. Design resource

Until you’re spending a lot of money on paid media, you probably don’t need a designer dedicated to your program, but you do need a design resource. Most organizations will have a designer working on the website, product or an app. Depending on demands on their time you might be able to borrow some of this person’s time. Or, find a freelancer who can give you 10-15 hours a week.

If you’re really bootstrapping your program, there are a lot of tools out there now that can turn almost anybody into a designer. In addition, Facebook and the Google Display Network both provide templates where you just upload a photo or graphic, add a headline, messaging and CTA and they assemble the ads for you in different sizes. Google AdWords of course, doesn’t require any images.

You may not be able to make the prettiest ads with these tools, but you can get a decent amount of testing done using these tools, stock images and DIY graphics. Sometimes you have to live off the scraps while you stand up the program, but the learning you get from that will make the money you eventually spend on a designer go further because you know what kind of messaging, imagery, or even colors are working.

8. Ideas

Because you’ll be doing so much testing, it’s important to cultivate a steady stream of ideas to test. Recruit your product people, your designers — anyone who has a creative mindset — to pitch in. To start off, you can just “spray and pray” because you don’t know what works. But as you go forward, you’ll be looking at data and coming up with ideas based on what’s working and what’s not. You can very quickly get creative fatigue.

Even when you find a winning ad, you should always be testing it against another candidate to see if you can do even better. One of the things that makes digital marketing so fun is that it is full of surprises. Sometimes what your marketing instincts tell you should win performs dismally, and the copy the person in accounting suggested outperforms everything you run against it.

You never know what image or messaging will increase your conversion rate by another 10 or 20 percent, which can make a difference in the long run. Working continually to test and make those 10 percent discoveries is what the digital marketing mindset is all about.

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About Toby Skinner

Toby Skinner has been the first digital marketing hire in a number of organizations, helping set up the marketing tech stack, tagging and attributions and launching a testing strategy in the initial media channels.

About Mark Harnett

Mark Harnett has run hundreds of campaigns for both high volume consumer products and high value business contracts. He has made lots of mistakes and also found some huge improvements using many of the techniques outlined here.

About Patrick Lundbom

Patrick Lundbom has built dozens of digital marketing teams, standing up programs and hiring teams, both as an internal expert and in his current role as a consultant.

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