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Digital Marketing Overview: Types, Challenges, and Required Skills

What Is Digital Marketing?
The term digital marketing refers to the use of digital channels to market products and services to consumers. This type of marketing involves the use of websites, mobile devices, social media, search engines, and other similar channels. Digital marketing became popular with the advent of the internet in the 1990s.

Digital marketing involves some of the same principles as traditional marketing and is often considered an additional way for companies to approach consumers and understand their behavior. Companies often combine traditional and digital marketing techniques in their strategies. But digital marketing comes with its own set of challenges, including implicit bias.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
Digital marketing involves marketing to consumers through digital channels, including websites, mobile devices, and social media platforms.
This form of marketing is different from internet marketing, which is exclusively done on websites.
Digital marketing relates to attracting customers via email, content marketing, search platforms, social media, and more.
One of the biggest challenges digital marketers face is how to set themselves apart in a world that is oversaturated with digital marketing ads.
Digital marketing comes with various challenges, including implicit bias.
Digital Marketing Definition
Investopedia / Mira Norian

How Digital Marketing Works
Marketing refers to activities that a company uses to promote its products and services and to improve its market share. To be successful, it requires a combination of advertising savvy, sales, and the ability to deliver goods to end-users. Professionals, known as marketers, take on these tasks either internally at companies or externally at marketing firms.

Corporations traditionally focused on marketing through print, television, and radio. Although these options still exist, the internet led to a shift in the way companies reach consumers. That’s where digital marketing came into play. This form of marketing involves the use of websites, social media, search engines, and apps—anything that incorporates marketing with customer feedback or a two-way interaction between the company and its customers.

New technologies and trends forced companies to change their marketing strategies. Email became a popular marketing tool in the early days of digital marketing. Then, the focus shifted to search engines like Netscape, which allowed businesses to tag and keyword items to get themselves noticed. The development of sites like Facebook made it possible for companies to track data and cater to consumer trends.

Smartphones and other digital devices now make it easier for companies to market themselves and their products and services to consumers. Studies show that people prefer using their phones to go online. In fact, according to a Pew Research Center study, over 75% of American adults typically make shopping purchases using their phones.
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Digital marketing can be interactive and is often used to target specific segments of the customer base.
Sources and Receivers
Advertisers are commonly referred to as sources, while recipients of the targeted ads are the receivers. Sources frequently target highly specific, well-defined receivers, as McDonald’s did with shift workers and travelers.

The company used digital ads because it knew these people used digital devices and made up a large segment of its late-night business. McDonald’s encouraged them to download the Restaurant Finder app, targeting them with ads placed at automated teller machines (ATMs), gas stations, and websites that its customers frequented.
Types of Digital Marketing Channels
As noted above, marketing was traditionally done through print (newspapers and magazines) and broadcast ads (TV and radio). These channels still exist and are used today. Digital marketing channels have evolved and continue to do so. The following are eight of the most common digital avenues that companies can take to boost their marketing efforts. Keep in mind that some companies may use multiple channels in their efforts.

Website Marketing
A website is the centerpiece of all digital marketing activities. It is a very powerful channel on its own, but it’s also the medium needed to execute a variety of online marketing campaigns. A website should represent a brand, product, and service in a clear and memorable way. It should be fast, mobile-friendly, and easy to use.

Pay-Per-Click Advertising
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising enables marketers to reach internet users on a number of digital platforms through paid ads. Marketers can set up PPC campaigns on Google, Bing, LinkedIn, X platform (formerly Twitter), Pinterest, and Facebook and show their ads to people searching on terms related to products or services.

These campaigns can segment users based on their demographic characteristics (such as age or gender), or even target their particular interests or location. The most popular platforms for PPC are Google Ads and Facebook Ads.

Content Marketing
The goal of content marketing is to reach potential customers through the use of content that interests them. Content is usually published on a website and then promoted through social media, email marketing, search engine optimization, or even pay-per-click campaigns. The tools of content marketing include blogs, ebooks, online courses, infographics, podcasts, and webinars.

Email Marketing
Email marketing is still one of the most effective digital marketing channels. Many people confuse email marketing with spam email messages, but that’s not what email marketing is about. This type of marketing allows companies to reach potential customers and anyone else interested in their brands and products.

Many digital marketers use all other digital marketing channels to add leads to their email lists. Then, using email marketing, they create customer acquisition funnels to turn those leads into customers.

Social Media Marketing
The primary goals of a social media marketing campaign are to build brand awareness and establish social trust. As you go deeper into social media marketing, you can use it to obtain leads and as a direct marketing or sales channel. Promoted posts and tweets are two examples of social media marketing.

Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is one of the oldest forms of marketing, and the internet has given it new life. With affiliate marketing, influencers promote other people’s products and get a commission every time a sale is made or a lead is introduced. Many well-known companies including Amazon have affiliate programs that pay out millions of dollars per month to websites that sell their products.

Video Marketing
YouTube is one of the most popular search engines in the world. A lot of internet users turn to YouTube before making a buying decision, to learn something, to read a review, or just to relax.

Marketers can use any of several video marketing platforms, including Facebook Videos, Instagram, and TikTok, to run a video marketing campaign. Companies find the most success with video by integrating it with SEO, content marketing, and broader social media marketing campaigns.

SMS Messaging
Companies and nonprofit organizations also use text messages (formally known as SMS, or short message service) to send information about their latest promotions or give opportunities to willing customers. Political candidates running for office also use SMS campaigns to spread positive information about their platforms. As technology has advanced, many text-to-give campaigns also allow customers to directly pay or give via a simple text message.

Internet marketing differs from digital marketing. Internet marketing is advertising that is solely on the internet, whereas digital marketing can take place through mobile devices, on a subway platform, in a video game, or via a smartphone app.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in Digital Marketing
A key point to remember is that digital marketers use key performance indicators (KPIs) just like traditional marketers. KPIs are quantifiable ways that companies can measure long-term performance of marketing and compare their efforts to their competition. Areas of measurement include corporate strategies, financial goals and achievements, operational activities, and even marketing campaigns.

The following are some of the most common KPIs that marketers can use to help companies achieve their goals:

Blog Articles: Marketers can use this KPI to figure out how many times a company publishes blog posts each month.
Clickthrough Rates: Companies can use this KPI to figure out how many clicks take place for email distributions. This includes the number of people that open an email and click on a link to complete a sale.
Conversion Rate: This measure focuses on call-to-action promotional programs. These programs ask consumers to follow through with certain actions, such as buying a product or service before the end of a promotional period. Companies can determine the conversion rate by dividing successful engagements by the total number of requests made.
Traffic on Social Media: This tracks how many people interact with corporate social media profiles. It includes likes, follows, views, shares, and/or other measurable actions.
Website Traffic: Marketers can use this metric to track how many people visit a company’s website. Corporate management can use this information to understand whether the site’s design and structure contribute to sales.
Digital Marketing Challenges
Digital marketing poses special challenges for its purveyors. Digital channels proliferate rapidly, and digital marketers have to keep up with how these channels work and how they’re used by receivers. Marketers need to know how to use these channels to effectively market their products or services.

It’s becoming more difficult to capture receivers’ attention because they’re increasingly inundated with competing ads. Digital marketers also find it challenging to analyze the vast troves of data they capture and then exploit this information in new marketing efforts.

The challenge of capturing and using data effectively highlights that digital marketing requires an approach to marketing based on a deep understanding of consumer behavior. For example, it may require that a company use different techniques, such as website heatmaps, to learn more about the customer journey and new forms of consumer behavior.

Implicit Bias in Digital Marketing
Implicit bias has a way of creeping into digital marketing, even when marketers and companies do all they can to ensure that it doesn’t. Implicit bias refers to attitudes and stereotypes that occur automatically without any conscious knowledge.

Algorithms are part of the foundation of digital marketing, which makes them very important when companies craft their marketing strategies. These algorithms are often created with the intention of being unbiased. However, the intention doesn’t always match the result.

That’s because algorithms are programmed by various individuals, including engineers, developers, data scientists, and marketers—all of whom come with their own implicit biases. This means they may program, input, and manipulate data in certain ways, without meaning to.

Something as simple as adding stock photos or videos to a campaign can come with implicit bias. For instance, companies may unintentionally use images and videos of heterosexual White individuals while excluding Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, along with those of different body types and abilities.

What Is a Digital Marketing Agency?
A digital marketing agency is a firm that deals exclusively in marketing to consumers through digital channels. This includes creating and launching campaigns for corporate clients through social media, pay-per-click advertising, videos, and websites, among others.

What Is SEO in Digital Marketing?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a way that companies increase traffic to their websites, with the goal of pushing their sites and names to the top of any search results page. This can occur with search results obtained organically or editorially. When companies are able to successfully apply SEO to their digital marketing strategies, their names and websites become increasingly visible to more consumers.

What Is Internet Marketing?
Internet marketing is any marketing that takes place solely on the internet. This means it exclusively appears on websites. It is different than digital marketing, which includes internet marketing as well as marketing on social media sites, and mobile apps. These marketing campaigns can take place through smartphones, digital devices, and other platforms.

How Can I Become a Digital Marketer?
Digital marketers require strong writing skills along with data analytics and social media skills. A bachelor’s degree is needed for most digital marketing positions. You’ll find these positions in a business field such as marketing, or a related field such as communications. You may also want to take digital marketing courses or bootcamps. In addition, completing an internship while in school can be useful.
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A master’s degree in digital marketing may be useful but is not necessary to getting a job in the digital marketing field.

What Skills Are Needed in Digital Marketing?
Writing content is a required skill. So are communication skills, to effectively tell your product’s story to your consumer base. Data analytics skills are important for understanding how well your marketing campaigns are performing and where they can be improved. Finally, social media and other online skills are a must.

The Bottom Line
Some of the world’s biggest advertising campaigns were executed through traditional means. The Marlboro Man was very popular in print and on television, while people still recall Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” tagline.

But changes in the way people consume media forced companies to shift their focus. Digital marketing is now just as big, if not bigger, than traditional advertising and marketing.

Implicit bias can occur in digital marketing, just as it can elsewhere. The main thing to keep in mind is that, as technology continues to change, you can also expect digital marketing to evolve.

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