How Advanced Does Your Digital Marketing Platform Need to Be? – All-Inclusive Platform

marketing-board-strategyOur last post outlined the types of digital marketing platforms.  How can you best identify whether the top tier is appropriate for your needs? The most common and true differentiator for all-inclusive platforms is centralized control and user tracking.

Let’s review the value for these two items:

Centralized Control

Every aspect of digital marketing is housed in one place.  This allows the marketer an overarching view of their activities and data to simplify execution and analysis.

User Tracking

User tracking is currently unique to all-inclusive platforms.  When a user completes a form or interacts with your site in some way the system logs the IP address and assigns it to the users data.  Moving forward that data is available on that particular user’s behavior.  The obvious benefit is that you have real time data on user behavior. In addition the all-inclusive platforms offer automated communications so that you can systematically engage users when they are interacting with your site.


Both of these seem like significant gains but these are only benefits if they offer true value.  As with most benefits, there is a tradeoff:

Expensive Centralized Mediocrity

Of course it’s great to have everything in one place but that often comes with a downside.  Offering every component of digital marketing often means that it’s less versatile or user friendly than a specialized service.  This “enterprise” capability also drives up the cost on the all-inclusive platforms because they have to maintain all the services being offered.

Redundant User Data

There’s no question that the all-inclusive platforms give a whole new level to user data.  But is it useful data?  It depends on the amount of traffic your site receives and the complexity of your marketing lead funnel.  If following up on leads is not a problem for you then automating the process doesn’t have much value.  Furthermore, if you aren’t consistently generating leads then the initial step is not complete and so none of the systematic steps will follow because the platform has not captured usable user information.


As you might have guessed all that functionality comes with a price.  All inclusive platforms tend to be about five times more expensive than basic communication platforms.  Our most recent comparison for a mid-size firm was $300/month vs. $1500/month.  Of course these costs will vary based on specific needs, but broadly speaking the 1:5 ratio is about what you should expect.

With such a steep pricing difference it’s possible to combine a small custom group of specialized platforms that offer superior functionality to all-inclusive platforms and still come in well under the all-inclusive platform’s price.

For the right firm with the right marketing user, all-inclusive platforms are a powerful tool.  For most trainers, consultants, and professional coaches, it’s overkill.  There’s just not enough volume to justify five times the cost with an all-inclusive platform over a basic platform.  In general, I only recommend an all-inclusive platform about 10% of the time to a client. The other 90% simply don’t need or won’t use the differentiators.

How Advanced Does Your Digital Marketing Platform Need to Be? – Platform Types

Our last article raised some questions about our opinion of Hubspot’s product.  Specifically, do I agree with Lyons’ assertion that HubSpot is hastily developed software and unfriendly to users?  In general, I think HubSpot can hold its own against similar all-inclusive digital marketing platforms.  That’s not to suggest that I am whole-heartedly recommending it.  Most trainers, consultants, and professional coaches don’t need a resource as robust as HubSpot and will receive a much better return on their investment from more modest platforms.

I categorize digital marketing platforms into three groups:

All-Inclusive Platform

HubSpot is an example of an all-inclusive platform.  It integrates with large CMS platforms, provides list management, centralizes email and social content, offers website plugins, provides triggered events and has advanced tracking capability.

Communication Platform

Constant Contact, iContact, MailChimp, etc. are all examples of communication platforms.  This is the most prevalent service which typically offers email and social content management, limited CMS integration, general reporting, basic website plugins, and basic list management.

Add-On Platform

Swiftpage is an example of an add-on platform as it is much more useful when paired with ACT!.  Add-On platforms are really designed to be run in conjunction with another program. While these platforms can function independently, the user friendliness for things like list management, communication design, website integration, or social media inclusion are heavily reliant on an external program.


Seems like the all-inclusive option is the winner right? Not necessarily. Its overkill for many trainers, consultants, and professional coaches, offering limited value for a much larger spend. In our follow up article we’ll provide suggestions on how to effectively analyze whether an all-inclusive platform is a good fit for your digital needs.

Digital Marketing’s Value is Disrupted without Gauging Your Target Market’s Perception

contentIf you are searching for a new, and critical, perspective on digital marketing then Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble is a good option. The book came to my attention after hearing other digital marketers’ mixed reviews. The book is an account of author Dan Lyons’ time with HubSpot, a popular digital marketing platform.  It was described to me as funny but lacking an understanding of tech companies in general, but digital marketing specifically. While Lyons’ criticisms can be harsh at times, they often had merit. I think the sentiment that the book is a disgruntled employee whining about a past employer is an unfair review and overlooks one of the biggest lessons learned that can be taken from the book.  Your target market’s perception of your digital marketing campaigns is what assigns value to it.

Lyons largely covers the culture clash he experienced at HubSpot but also touches on some of the contradictions he saw with their digital marketing tactics.  Specifically when reviewing HubSpot’s digital marketing strategy he states that they claimed to hate SPAM and showed their disdain by flooding their customers and their customers’ customers with SPAM. He also writes about predrafted content that HubSpot employees were strongly encouraged to mass share to social media feeds to flood those channels with repetitive content.

Most digital marketers would counter the SPAM claim by citing opt-in processes or content engagement. They’d probably also suggest that the social content would be organically posted so that it was not a content or link blitz.

Lyons has a point in these examples. There are a lot of digital marketers that skirt a fine line, or blatantly cross it, with list building. To suggest that a digital marketing platform will reliably enforce CAN-SPAM practices is unrealistic.  Flooding social media with duplicate content is an obvious abuse.

It’s important not to get so caught up in our own digital marketing campaigns that we start disregarding outsider analysis. After all, our perception of our digital marketing is secondary to how our target audience perceives it.

Digital marketing data analysis, if done consistently and credibly, is designed to supply an objective view of how our content is being received which dictates its effectiveness. But even that will still contain some subjective judgment calls. That’s where outside perspectives can provide poignant insight on how your digital marketing can provide more value to your target audience and you in return.

Checklist Mindset in Digital Marketing

I am a checklist junkie.  I create monthly task calendars that I break down into weekly checklists and then create daily journal entries for what needs accomplished. For me it’s natural to want to do a task, complete it, and then check it off the list.  While valuable in task completion, a checklist mindset can be detrimental when misapplied to digital marketing efforts that require ongoing and consistent execution.

In a recent review of an SEO report with a small business owner, we outlined a number of updates that could be made to improve his site’s ranking.  One of those aspects was review links to his site.  The business owner assured us that he had plenty of reviews and pointed to his 5 Yelp reviews as evidence.  He felt that reviews had already been done and should not be part of the action plan for further improving his search engine ranking. While having the review in place was certainly a positive thing, there were two misconceptions.

The first was the apparent suggestion that 5 reviews was the end of the road.  Marketing is a consistent and ongoing process.  Five is a good start, six would be better, twenty-five would make significant impact on his site rank.  The method of soliciting reviews can evolve, an individual review can be completed, but there should not be pre-defined finish line on the activity itself.

The second issue was that all five reviews happened within a couple weeks of one another.  So the listing showed that they had been in business for three years but only one month contained reviews.  Either that was a stellar month or it’s an obvious and short-sighted attempt to drum up reviews. This has two negative consequences.  The first is that search engines will identify and marginalize such an isolated spurt of activity.  The second is that people that use the review site are likely to notice an anomaly like this which will call the credibility of the reviews into question.

Rather than having a mindset that reviews are finished, the business owner needs to break the category into replicable tasks.  As an example, he might have a thank you email or satisfaction survey that gets delivered to clients that features a link to leave a review in Yelp.  In this way the individual task can be thought of as complete but the overarching activity of acquiring reviews is ongoing.

Checklists and project completion mindsets are invaluable in executing the individual tasks of a digital marketing campaign but should be consistently applied in cycles. The activity itself doesn’t end when a particular instance is complete, but rather should be reapplied to a future instance. Set a goal and then build an execution plan into your daily operations. Quick fixes lead to short term results that can often do more harm than good for your long-term objectives.

Is It Time for a Redesign?

color-paint-paletteA redesign of a website or email campaign is often considered when the aesthetic of the layout has become dated or unsuitable. By all means, if you find yourself repulsed by the look of it, then it’s time to make an update.  But what if you’re just indifferent toward the layout?  Is it worth the time, money, and effort to do a redesign? To answer the question, analyze what problems the redesign can solve and whether there is a likely return on that investment.

The most prevalent mistake in doing a redesign is starting from scratch.  A new look doesn’t need to completely remove all previous elements. This is counterintuitive because the point of a redesign is to get something updated and fresh and the assumption is that the previous layout is neither of those things.

If you are running continually improving campaigns then there should be plenty of data on what elements improve performance, which elements hurt performance, and what elements have no tangible impact on conversion.  Your redesign should incorporate all the elements that improve conversion and shun those that do not.  That becomes the design constraint and any redesign needs to fall within those boundaries.

The second overlooked aspect of a redesign is whether it presents an opportunity to improve the technical competency of your website or email.  Technology changes quickly so almost every redesign should incorporate updated technology that brings the items up to speed.  In this way the redesign has the added benefit of keeping the infrastructure current.

If you are considering a redesign of a website or an email that is performing well and has no technology shortcomings, it’s often not worth the effort. If your redesign becomes a technology upgrade coupled with an evolution of your tested design elements, then it will almost always generate a tangible business impact.

Digital Marketing: Is Doing Nothing an Option?

Getting started with digital marketing is often the hardest step to take.  We speak with many trainers, consultants, and professional coaches that know they need to do something but there’s always one more thing to square away before launching their digital marketing plan.  There will always be one extra element that could make digital marketing better but if it will cause an indeterminate delay in launching your digital marketing activity,  it’s best to take a few initial steps and build on that rather than trying to craft a perfect scenario before getting started.

A marathon runner doesn’t wake up the day of the race and pound out 26.2 miles.  They work up to it via a training regimen.  The training regimen is often a result of just experimenting with running in general before discovering they had a passion or talent for it. In other words, they had to try out the activity before they started becoming proficient at it.

Digital marketing beginners should have a similar path.  If you’re starting from scratch, get a basic lead generation mechanism (like a website, social media page, or affiliate form) established. Then start experimenting with channels to drive traffic to that lead mechanism.  Will the implementation be perfect?  Absolutely not, but it will provide some baseline discoveries to guide you into what digital marketing activities have the most value for your business.  Furthermore, some early progress and results will motivate you to get other digital marketing elements together and launched.

The same guideline applies when contracting out digital marketing services.  If you can meet a pre-requisite list for a particular digital marketing activity but not others, start there and then build up to others.  For instance, we have a client that wanted SEO, website lead generation landing pages, email marketing, and social media to be in their digital marketing plan.  However, they didn’t have a sufficient database of contacts to launch an email marketing campaign and content for SEO was in a state of disarray.  Instead of hitting the brakes on everything we started out by updating the website and setting up landing pages, starting social media posting, and set up a temporary pay per click campaign while the SEO elements were being developed.  In this way the foundations were started and the elements with missing pieces could be develped using data and insights from the iniatial digital marketing.

Procrastination in launching digital marketing efforts is often a smokescreen for being overwhelmed or unorganized.  The volume of information about digital marketing can make a launch seem like a more daunting task then it needs to be. Doing nothing ensures that you will fall further behind and gives the competition even more time to fortify their position as market leader. Take a simple first step with your digital marketing and build from there.  Otherwise doing nothing might be a permanent decision.

Is Your Call to Action Still Valuable to Your Target Market?

yawning young manager on an isolated background

When testing and analyzing digital marketing data, the focus is often on the content or creative elements.  While these elements certainly factor into digital marketing success, it’s important not to overlook the foundational elements that the content and creative is built on.  This is especially important in reviewing the target audience and calls to action that have been effective but no longer convert well. Many trainers, consultants, and professional coaches settle on a call to action that they are comfortable with or have experienced past success.  The problem arises when this call to action becomes a monotonous staple that the audience no longer values.

Can there be too much of a good thing?  In digital marketing there certainly can.  If an offer is repeated too frequently, even a great offer, it begins to be ignored or become valueless.

A common offer for trainers, consultants, or professional coaches is an event or webinar.  Often the presenter invests a fair amount of time polishing the presentation so that it is engaging and dynamic.  This creates a valuable call to action that is often well received and well attended.  Since the investment in honing the event’s content is already made there is a temptation to repeat the offer.  And in doses, clever timing, or effective marketing communication, it is often just as well received for subsequent events.

However, there is only so many ways to frame or package the same product. The target audience becomes exhausted with the offer and perpetually procrastinate in attending or become dubious about the value.  It’s a similar effect to perpetual sale ads at a store where people believe it’s not actually a discount or that they will get the same sale next week.

Luckily, refreshing an offer doesn’t need to be a complete overhaul. There are two ways to freshen up a call to action.

  • Revamp It – It’s a smart move to get every drop of value out of the investment in creating a call to action. An event can be modified to target a specific group or updated with related topics so that the proven content lays the groundwork but complimentary content redefines it. In this way the call to action goes through an evolution process that keeps it relevant.
  • Pull it from Rotation – Digital marketing campaigns should have a series of calls to action that appeal to different target audiences. If a call to action has been overused or no longer converts well then it can be removed for a period of time.  This doesn’t mean that it’s archived forever but rather let the audience have some recovery time before making it an active offer again. Often the call to action will be reinvigorated as it’s re-introduced to the audience.

If a call to action stops converting well its worth evaluating whether it’s still a valued offer.  Rather than retooling the content or creative that communicates the offer, it might be time to change or temporarily retire the call to action.

Image courtesy of  imagerymajestic /

Website Content and Social Media Content Offer Unique User Experiences

It’s common for trainers, consultants, and professional coaches to think of social media and their website as the same thing.  This false assertion often leads to mirroring navigation and content that rarely suits either channel. While social media content and website content are related they are two very different channels that will result in very different user experiences.

Social media content is like a festival market shop where your website is like a store in the mall.  Both have a certain product offering surrounded by a larger market but the environments are much different.

The primary difference in the social media environment is that it is constantly changing and competition for attention is immediately prevalent.  Like a festival, it’s difficult for a user to define exactly what they want to buy because the environment is not well suited for a targeted search. You rarely see a festival market with a map of shops because the vendors, products, and availability are too fluid to map out. Likewise, social media does not provide that structure, so the experience needs to draw people in.

Users are guided by what is current and interesting to them. What makes festival markets compelling is the excitement in discovering unique items that aren’t widely available elsewhere.  In that way your social media channels need to provide timely, relevant, and unique information to your target audience.  Like a festival, the next shop is right next door so if your content is dated or irrelevant then the next more compelling shop is immediately available.

Alternatively, your website is like a store in the mall.  There are other stores available in the mall but there is a barrier that makes the store your own defined place. A store at the mall is typically calmer with less outside distraction.  Well organized stores help shoppers find a particular item that they have already defined.  Websites should function in the same way.  There should be an orderly flow for visitors to find what they want or get assistance. Search engines serve as the mall map, so once people arrive in at the site it should be obvious how to find what they are seeking.

A word of caution not to use the analogy to celebrate one channel over the other.  Reactions like “social media is a flea market of crap,” or “websites are stuffy stores with no excitement,” miss the point.  Unlike physical stores, digital channels have an opportunity to leverage the strengths that each channel offers.  Crossing these channels so that users can get distinctive content and then switch to a structured environment to gain specific content allows you to appeal to a larger user base.

B-to-B Digital Marketing: Setting a Budget

Digital marketing is a business development activity which means it should directly or indirectly generate revenue. For trainers, consultants, and professional coaches that sell their services to other businesses, the contribution typically comes in the form of leads. Since marketing’s goal is to generate revenue the budget should not be set higher than a reasonable projection for generated revenue. Establishing a clear vision of projected return on the digital marketing investment serves to set a budget cap that makes facilitates profitability.

To set a budget start from the end state and work backwards. Here are the steps and an example of how to work backward:

Step Description Example
1. Start with an estimate of viable prospects in your market. 10,000 prospects.
2. Estimate the number of prospects that might become a lead based on industry data. The below chart is broken out by industry for website visitors so it’s best to halve these numbers as half your prospects likely will not even take an initial step of engaging your marketing channels. 6% is average, so let’s work from 3%. 300 Leads.
3. Divide that number by the number of years you believe it will take to engage your entire market. Be realistic, anything less than three years is aggressive. 5 years for full engagement, so 60 leads per year.
4. Divide your leads by your average rate of turning an interested party into a real sales opportunity via a meeting or phone call. Hopefully your leads will be more engaged than average leads and meet at a higher rate but use the average to stay conservative. A 30% meeting rate results in 18 meetings from the leads.
5. Divide your meetings by your close rate. 33% close rate is 6 sales.
6. Multiply your expected number of closes by your average sale. $6,000 average sale is $36,000 in revenue.
7. Use ¾ of that number as your annual budget cap to give some buffer for marketing to generate positive ROI. $27,000 (¾ of $36,000).

In this way you are providing a guideline on how much you can spend on digital marketing and have it remain profitable. Remember, it’s a guideline and doesn’t mean you should spend that much. It means that’s your cap. For example, if you are a sole trainer, consultant, or professional coach with annual revenues of $100K, it wouldn’t make sense to budget a third of your revenue to digital marketing.

Also keep in mind that this would be your total expense, so marketing tools, data, and labor would need to fall within these parameters.

The primary reason for this guideline is to avoid setting your digital marketing up for failure. Many trainers, consultants and professional coaches get caught up in branding themselves or their business without considering the potential return. If you set a budget that is higher than a reasonable expectation on your return then the marketing effort can’t fulfill the baseline goal of being a business development activity.

A Mistake in My Email Marketing Send . . . Now What?

Email marketing presents a unique challenge from other digital marketing platforms in that it has a single definitive send. Once it’s sent, there’s not a reliable way of retracting the communication. So unlike your website, digital ads, or social media posts, mistakes can’t be overwirtten live at the source. So when mistakes are not caught before a send, how should you handle it?

A word of warning, every email list has a few sticklers on it that will often reply to minor mistakes they find in your emails. It’s worthwhile to respond to those individuals thanking them for alerting you to the error but don’t overblow it to assuming your entire list is aghast at your oversight. Many if not most of your audience might look right past the error. Analyze the mistake in your email send and make a reasonable judgment call on how to address it.

There are four options for addressing mistakes in a sent email marketing communication.

1. A Total Re-Send

This should be reserved for only critical mistakes. Examples of this would be false information on an offer/event, an incorrect email/template being sent, or content being sent to the wrong group.

If you feel that you need to do a re-send, it’s important not to panic which often results in more mistakes. Take a few minutes to ensure you are selecting the right groups to re-send to and that you have successfully corrected the error. There is nothing worse than doing a re-send only to find that you’ve made a second mistake trying to correct the first.

2. A Targeted Re-Send

This is typically most appropriate for inaccurate links within an email. In this case, you can effectively identify who experienced the mistake and target a re-send to those people only.

To do this, simply pull a list of those that clicked on the inaccurate link and send to that subset. A targeted re-send does require additional monitoring of the click report so that anyone that clicks after the initial correction can be provided with the edited communication. This limits the inconvenience to your larger audience and ensures a correction to those that experienced the problem.

3. Let It Ride

Sometimes the best action is inaction. If the mistake is minor it’s often best to leave it alone rather than inconvenience your audience with a re-send. Examples of this would be minor typos, graphical anomalies, or concealed problems (like html or image tags).

In these cases, correct the error on your next communication but don’t bother your list with a re-send highlighting such a small issue.

4. Strategic Follow Up

This is really limited to promotional emails but can be a way of correcting a mistake and reinforcing the offer. Example problems would be non-critical mistakes on an email but correct information on a registration page (like a missing digit in a buildings zip code where an event will be held).

Rather than doing a re-send right away, make a follow up email on the offer that corrects the mistake. Then resend it a few days later as a reminder email. This prevents the frustration to your audience of getting a second email on the heels of the first, gives a second touch on promoting your offer/event, and updates the non-critical mistake on the newest send.

Moving Forward

Despite best efforts and effective editing processes, mistakes will pop up in sent email communications sooner or later. It’s important to weight the gravity of the error in deciding how to handle it. The judgment really comes down to whether it’s worth alerting some or all of your audience to the mistake and inconveniencing them with a second send.

Once you handle a mistake in a send, it’s important to be diligent in your upcoming communications. An error once in a while is going to happen and will be forgiven. Consistent errors show a lack of respect to your audience and will erode credibility.

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