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Tutorial 1: An Introduction to Digital Marketing

Tutorial 1: An Introduction to Digital Marketing

👋 Welcome to day one of your five-day Digital Marketing for Beginners Course, and congratulations on taking your first step towards becoming a fully-fledged digital marketer! 🧑‍💻

As a complete beginner, consider this course your introduction to this exciting field. Over the next five days, you’ll learn the fundamentals of digital marketing—putting your newfound knowledge from each tutorial into practice as you create your first marketing campaign.

  1. Introduction
  2. What is digital marketing?
  3. How has digital changed marketing?
  4. What does a digital marketer actually do?
  5. What are the skills required to become a digital marketer?
  6. Summary

1. Introduction

Marketing, at its most basic, is all about the communication of value.

A company offers a product or service that is designed to meet a certain need or solve a certain problem.

The marketer seeks to communicate how this product or service satisfies the customer’s need, or solves their problem. But that’s not all. The marketer can also create the need—or create the problem—that needs to be resolved. The marketer can create demand.

“It’s about being the driver of the market, not simply being market-driven.” (Seth Godin, This Is Marketing)

In doing so, the marketer employs techniques to influence thoughts and actions. A PR manager may land a story in your favorite newspaper about how wonderful their product is. The offline marketing manager might devise a television ad which demonstrates how people just like you have succeeded with their product. The PPC manager might run a video ad on Facebook that promotes a big discount and a limited amount of time to get it for a product you browsed a few weeks back.

At any given time, we have an infinite number of options for running our marketing campaigns. That means the marketer’s job is also to choose.

And marketers are choosing to run their campaigns online.

In order to market their products and services, marketers need your attention, which means they go where your attention goes. With every technological advancement, we’ve been awarded a new object of our attention, from the humble letter in the mail to the twinkling smartphone in our pocket.

If we were to step into a time machine and whisk ourselves off to 18th century Britain, we might find ourselves the target of Josiah Wedgewood and Matthew Boulton’s marketing campaigns, which consisted of catalogues, direct mail, and traveling salespeople—all of which are commonly used techniques today.

Wedgewood and Boulton’s campaigns were no doubt sophisticated for their day. Indeed, they’re considered pioneers of mass marketing. But with the progressive digitalization of our lives, the meaning of “mass” has evolved. Within our lifetimes—regardless of whether you’re 25 or 55—we’ve witnessed an extraordinary expansion in the reach of media.

Let’s take the example of The Guardian; once a quintessential British print newspaper, it recorded 114,000,000 unique visits on the website in the US alone in March 2020. In the same month, they clocked up over 2,000,000,000 page views worldwide. This is the mind-boggling scale and reach that digitalization has afforded us.

And we’re only just getting started.

Where once upon a time, we all paid attention to the catalogues we received in the mail, or the newspapers and magazines we bought in the local shop, or the radio we had on in the background, or the television in the living room, we now spend much of our time with our computers and our phones.

Long story short: if you want attention—if you want eyeballs—you need to have a presence online.

So how do you do it? How do you create this digital presence, and how do you use it to scale your company?

That’s exactly what we’ll be talking about over the next few days. Before that, though, let’s make sure that we’re on the same page when we talk about digital marketing.

2. What is digital marketing?

Simply put, digital marketing is just marketing done digitally; it’s the promotion of products or services over the internet, or any form of electronic media.

That second part is important. Strictly speaking, while online marketing is the term we use to refer to all promotion on the internet, digital marketing encompasses both online and offline marketing channels that involve electronic devices.

Even within the industry, we often use the two terms interchangeably—and that blurs our understanding of the domain. So what is offline digital marketing?

Well, TV ads are the obvious first example. Despite the explosion of on-demand, ad-free viewing with Netflix, DisneyPlus, and Amazon Prime, we still spend a lot of time in front of our televisions—an average of almost four hours per day in the US, according to one report.

Like many of the more traditional offline marketing channels, such as phone and radio, TV ads often get a bad rap from online marketers because they’re expensive and lack the complex, specific targeting of the online channels.

However, TV ads, and the other offline channels, remain powerful ways to fast-track heightened brand recognition and trust. Furthermore—and apologies for getting meta here—our understanding of television has already changed dramatically. Take YouTube, for example. You can watch it on your phone or on your television. You can watch it with or without ads, depending on whether you want to pay a subscription. And you can even take part in the production of content, and get on TV yourself!

So now we know what digital marketing is, let’s take a look at how the rapid digitalization of the last thirty years has changed the face of marketing.

3. How has digital changed marketing?

The engineer Roy Tomlinson sent the first email in 1970, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the internet really began to become mainstream. If you’re over thirty, you might remember the world before wifi—the excruciatingly slow dial-up connections that would test our patience back then, and undoubtedly break it now.

You may also remember the first search engines—from Archie to Yahoo to Google—and the invasive, flashing banner ads that adorned the early websites. Thankfully, the internet and how we advertise has matured since then. Arguably the biggest steps in this maturation happened early in the millennium with the advent of the social web, often referred to as the web 2.0. It was at this point that the internet became a tool not only for the mass consumption of information, but also for its mass creation.

If you’re over twenty, you’ll remember the early days of the social web. You might remember MySpace, and you’ll certainly remember how all your friends started becoming your friends all over again on Facebook. Following Facebook’s release in 2004, there was the release of YouTube and Reddit in 2005, Twitter in 2006, and Tumblr in 2007. These platforms live and breathe user-generated content—it’s their raison d’être.

As the social networks were establishing themselves as staples of our everyday lives, there was another release which would change the face of how we communicate, consume, and market: the iPhone. The iPhone, and the ensuing proliferation of mobile devices, expedited the mass adoption of the internet into everyday life. Now you were no longer tied to a physical location. You didn’t need to be at a library to read a book, at a cinema to watch a movie, or at a shop to buy some shoes.

Many of the marketing channels and tactics that we’ll study in this course are built upon these foundations; search engine marketing, social media marketing, and mobile marketing. Their evolution has resulted in the following game-changes in marketing:

Scale

We’ve already alluded to this. Even at its height in the 1980s, newspaper circulation in the US was around 60,000,000. Now, a single British newspaper, which had a historical peak circulation of 494,000 back in 1987, can reach 114,000,000 different people in just one month. Imagine the difference between putting a print ad in The Guardian in 1987, and putting a banner ad on the theguardian.com in 2021. The scale achievable online is unprecedented and genuinely game-changing.

Speed

Speed has two important components when it comes to modern online marketing. Firstly, even a brand new, unfunded startup can set up the apparatus for scaling their business with ease. Whether it’s opening your first social media profiles, launching your first online events, building your lead base, or putting some budget behind some paid ads on Facebook, the barriers to entry are low.

Secondly, the feedback on your advertising will be almost immediate, and will always provide a trail of data which you can interpret, learn from, and build on. You can quickly learn which messaging works for you in social media posts by observing engagement rates. You can see which events are of interest to your audience by the number of people who register. And you can see how effective your ads are by, for example, the number of people who click through to your website.

Cost

Taking out a full-page ad in a national newspaper or launching a tv ad will set you back thousands. You can launch ads at a national or international level on platforms like Google, Facebook, Quora, Reddit, or Twitter for the budget of your choosing—and you’ll get rapid feedback on the success of the campaign. Setting up social media profiles is free, except for the (not insignificant) time required to nurture and grow them, and there are plenty of CRM tools with free and low-cost plans with which you can start to build out an email database. Again, comprehensive, modern marketing apparatus can be set up extraordinarily quickly—and at lower cost than ever before.

Data

We already mentioned the data you receive when you launch something online. Whether it’s the number of likes you get on an Instagram post, the number of clicks you get on an ad, or the the number of visits on a blog post you get through Google search, you quickly learn what works, and what doesn’t. But every action online doesn’t only leave you with one data point—it leaves you with at least ten, and potentially hundreds. Consider that blog post again. You won’t only be able to see how many visits it received from Google search. You’ll also be able to see how many people “bounced” and left the site without visiting any other pages on your site. You’ll be able to see how long, on average, they spent reading your post. You might even be able to tell how far they scrolled down the page, and whether they played that video you embedded.

It’s not only about the data that you create, though. Even before you start running your first campaigns, you can explore online tools which provide you with all the data you need to give them a strong head start.

Let’s return one final time to our blog post example. Assume you want to write about ways to learn French. If you were to create an account on ahrefs.com, an SEO (search engine optimization) resource to research keywords and website performance, you’d be able to see the search terms related to learning French which have the biggest search volumes, as well as how much competition there is on each of the terms. Based on this information, you could determine the best angle for your article in order to give you the biggest chance of getting visibility in the Google search results.

Example of an interface from ahrefs with keywords and their volumes

In this way, we can use data both before and after a campaign’s launch to optimize its performance. As we’ll learn in the next section, this ethos of constant, data-driven improvement and optimization is integral to a digital marketer’s success.

Targeting

Closely linked to data, we have the topic of targeting. When we talk about targeting in marketing, we’re referring to the process of breaking the market into smaller segments that share similar characteristics. Typically, we use targeting to address a specific audience with a specific message at a specific time in order to influence an action, whether that’s signing up for a newsletter or purchasing a pair of sneakers.

You may use demographic, behavioral, geographic or psychographic data to select and segment your target groups. Want to sell that flashy new pair of sneakers? Well, perhaps you need to target college kids who have an interest in sports and who have a history of buying clothes online.

And yes, you guessed it, digital marketing has made targeting ever more accurate and ever more effective. How? Well, just think about the amount of information that social media platforms can garner from your online behavior; the celebrities you follow, the posts you like, and the posts you share. And consider how much can be learned from your browsing behavior—it’s probably not unusual for Google to know that we’re planning a holiday before our partners do. We start searching, longingly, for our beach holiday, and the next day you start seeing ads for Bermuda shirts. It’s not a coincidence.

4. What does a digital marketer actually do?

So now we know what digital marketing is—and how the technological leaps of the last thirty years have changed the face of the industry—let’s take a closer look at what a digital marketer actually does.

At an abstract level, marketers are driven by more and better. They want more customers and more market share, and they want everything to get better, always. They want to build trust and break through the noise to find the people who will benefit most from their product. They want to provoke change through what they do—they want to change your mind.

That’s the attitude you go to work with, but what’s the skillset? Well, the field of digital marketing is so interesting because it combines so many areas of expertise. As we’ll see as we progress through this course, the consummate digital marketer can use both their left and right brain; they’re able to handle and interpret data in order to come up with creative solutions for promoting their product or service. Of course, depending on the area of digital marketing you choose to specialize in, you may lean more towards the creative side, be it copywriting, video marketing, or brand management, or more towards the abbreviation-heavy, data-driven, technical channels, such as PPC (pay-per-click) marketing, CRO (conversion rate optimization), or SEO (search engine optimization). But your results will always be better if you can call on your data as well as your intuition, and your intuition as well as your data.

On top of this attitude and skillset comes the process. Regardless of the area of digital marketing in which you land, you’ll always need to begin with your research. For content writers, this might mean doing keyword research, or reviewing which articles have performed well on social, or identifying the key influencers to interview. For CRO specialists, it might mean analyzing reviews of your product to pinpoint the most commonly mentioned features of your product, or compelling turns of phrase you can use on your website. And for social media managers, it might mean compiling your dream 100 influencers to collaborate with.

From research, the marketer will then move to action. They’ll synthesize their research with the marketing strategy and brand guidelines to ideate “creatives”, or “assets”, for their campaign. These could be anything from a simple text ad to a social media post, a ten minute video, an article, a landing page, or a combination of all of those. They’ll collaborate with stakeholders, such as the design or video team, to produce these assets, and, once delivered, they’ll begin to distribute them through the digital channels of their choice.

They’ll check in regularly on the campaign at the beginning, perhaps making small changes to the creatives to test different images, wording and messaging against one another, and they’ll build a report to track the campaign’s progress. Once they’ve collected enough data, they’ll be able to judge whether the campaign is working. “Working” normally means that the campaign is delivering a good return on investment (ROI), which, simply put, means that the campaign is generating more revenue through sales than it’s consuming through advertising spend.

Even if the campaign is successful, the marketer will continue to optimize, improve, and learn from it, carrying over their findings to new campaigns and new channels. This iterative way of working is fundamental to digital marketing and, in the end, the true skill is being able to manage a high volume of campaigns in parallel that all complement and support one another.

You can learn more about the role of the digital marketer in this guide. And, if you’re thinking ahead, check out our digital marketing salary guide to see how much you could earn in the field.

5. What are the skills required to become a digital marketer?

Now you know what a digital marketer typically does, you probably have a pretty good idea of the skills they require. In a comprehensive benchmarking of job ads for digital marketing, we broke down the main skills that employers are looking for. Let’s focus on the technical skills first.

Technical skills

Right at the top of the list are campaigns; their planning, launch, management, and optimization. This is the bread and butter of digital marketing, and involves stakeholder management to generate the creatives (unless you can produce them yourself), and knowledge of your channel to distribute the creative.

Almost all marketing involves some kind of written or spoken communication, so well-developed copywriting, storytelling, and communication skills are important. There’s plenty of room to specialize in certain kinds of copy, whether short-form for ads or long-form for blog content and e-books, and these are increasingly considered quite different skillsets.

Next up, we have reporting and data handling. Again, regardless of the area of digital marketing you land in, you’ll probably find yourself in spreadsheets often. At the very least, you’ll need to be able to calculate conversion costs and conversion rates (more on that in the fourth tutorial), and ideally you’d be comfortable with more advanced formulas so you can do your own data analyses.

Finally, we have tracking, measurement, and privacy. Digital marketers need to make sure that the data they’re receiving from their campaign is trustworthy. This means they need at least a working knowledge of how online tracking and measurement works, as well as what data they are and aren’t allowed to collect.

Non-technical skills

As we’ve touched on already, a digital marketer needs to be a good communicator, creative, and comfortable working in a team. Furthermore, given the big budgets and the impact that even the smallest of changes to campaigns can have, they need to have a very high attention to detail.

On top of being data-driven, they’ll also need to possess a growth mindset and be willing to learn new skills and new tools, as the realm of digital marketing is constantly evolving and there are always new channels to explore. Just think TikTok.

Curious about what other skills you’ll need? We’ve rounded up the must-have skills of a digital marketer here.

6. Summary

You’ve made it to the end of the first tutorial! Congratulations! You’ve learned all about what digital marketing is, the difference between online and offline digital marketing, how digital has changed the face of marketing, and what being a digital marketer really involves. Now let’s get deeper into the mechanics of marketing in tutorial two.

Alana

Senior Program

Advisor

Alana

Intrigued by a career in digital marketing? We're currently compiling a career-change program which will take you from complete beginner all the way to job-ready digital marketer. Interested? Then simply reply to one of the course emails to save your place on the waitlist!