Building and Optimizing a Digital Growth Engine

Building and Optimizing a Digital Growth Engine
Stacey Grotz is a digital marketing expert with experience leading marketing teams at Google, Ingenio, Polycom, and ClearSlide. In this guide, she lays out the pros and cons of different digital channels, describes the campaign planning process, and outlines who should manage digital marketing based on a company’s stage.

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Questions covered in this guide

What is digital growth marketing?

Digital growth marketing is about reaching new customers – the goal is to convince them to come and visit the site or try out one of your products or services. Digital marketing campaigns can be run across channels like paid search marketing, social media marketing, display ads, SEO, email marketing, and affiliate marketing.

Digital growth marketing often quickly follows early brand marketing efforts – as a foundation for digital marketing, you need to figure out what your business’ value props are and who you’re targeting. With that in mind, your growth marketing will target that audience to get new users and new accounts to the site. 

How does digital growth marketing mature as a company grows?

When marketing is founder-led, find an advisor – most founders aren’t well-versed in marketing. Bringing someone on early to help guide strategy will help in the long run so you don’t waste a lot of time and money without results.

Early stage tip: Start with a competitive analysis to check out what your competitors are doing, then “copycat” bigger competitors. Chances are, some of the things they’re doing will make sense for your business too. For example, they may lead you to a certain channel to start with. 

For your first hire, bring on a mid-level in-house marketer – they’ll probably be a generalist with a focus on digital marketing; that’s where you’re going to see your fastest results. This allows them to focus on the channels that are working well. They can also help expand into other channels and can leverage agencies as well. 
Wait to bring on a CMO-type marketing leader until you’re ready to build a team – when you’ve started to figure out which channels are working and you’re ready to “turn up the volume” on ad spend, you’re ready for a marketing leader to help you build out a team and focus on key marketing hires. They’ll be able to guide strategy, thinking about questions like “Do you need to focus on retention?”, or “Do you need someone to partner with your sales team or product team?”

What are the channels that tech companies should consider? When is each a strong and weak fit?

Social Media Advertising
Ads on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok
Pros:
Precise targeting – based on demographics and interests
Lots of different ad placements and types – images, videos, sliders, etc. that give marketers flexibility to be creative
Good for testing – quick results for testing new ideas or new copy
Cons:
Very competitive – getting in front of some audiences can get expensive
Measuring – can at times be difficult to measure ROI
How this looks in B2B vs. B2C companies:
B2B will lean more on LinkedIn (but shouldn’t stop there) – to specifically target decision-makers you’ll want to promote white papers or webinars on LinkedIn (content that helps execs hone their craft). But don’t disregard other social platforms. At the end of the day, you’re trying to reach people, and people frequent all kinds of social media platforms. We’re starting to see more of an omnichannel approach, especially for a freemium model when it makes sense to target everyone within an account. 
For B2C, the main channels are Facebook and Instagram – I have also seen a lot of success on TikTok. For B2C, it’s all about figuring out where your user base is.

Display ads
Ads that appear in various places around the internet, often coordinated via a programmatic advertising platform like Adroll or Google Ads.
Pros:
Brand awareness – display ads get your logo out there and familiarize people with your product or service.
Remarketing to grow the relationship – if someone comes to your website but doesn’t convert, you can continue to have ads appear in front of them. 
Cons:
Very competitive – not only are you competing with other ads, but you’re competing to capture someone’s attention from what they’re looking at on the page itself.
ROI attribution is harder – you won’t see it on a direct response level. However, there are ways to run tests that show how display ads influence conversions, like a hold out group.
How this looks in B2B vs. B2C companies:
B2B marketers tend to care more about which sites ads appear on – there may be more rules on what you want to be associated with. For example, maybe you want your ads to appear on the New York Times website, but not Buzzfeed. 
B2C marketers typically care more about reach – where the ad appears is less important; you want to reach as many people as possible.
Note: changing cookie rules impact display adswith cookies going away, it’s going to be more important to get some type of user information when they visit your site. If you don’t, it’ll be harder to “track” them. Think about how you can incentivize the user upfront to give you their email address, such as having a lock on a video or a white paper.

Paid Search Engine Marketing
Pay-per-click ads with Google or Bing
Pros:
You can start small – you don’t have to put a lot of money into this to get meaningful results. 
You can have a narrow focus – it’s possible to hone in on the keywords that are going to drive the right kind of traffic to your site.
Cons:
Hard for new categories – because consumers aren’t looking for you yet. This tends to be a bigger challenge on the B2B side.
Google is constantly changing its algorithm – keeping up can be time-intensive. You can see big swings in your ad spend’s effectiveness if the algorithm changes
How this looks in B2B vs. B2C companies:
B2B will be more focused (and expensive per keyword) – if you’re going very narrow, the odds are that competitors in the space are competing for those keywords too. Try to focus on the value props that you deliver to stand out.
B2C campaigns can be broader – because your audience of potential buyers is bigger, and you’re trying to cast a wider net. Most likely, the cost per search term will be less depending on the keyword.
Tip: Use an agency or contractor because Google is constantly changing its algorithm, you need to have someone looking at it every day. As you scale, using an agency will become even more critical because it takes a lot of day-to-day management.

SEO and Content Marketing
Strategically creating content that appears in organic search results
Pros:
It’s “free” – in that it’s not a line item on your ad spend or P&L, but you do have to hire someone to take care of it.
Cons:
It takes a long time to build traction – something you do today could take six to nine months for you to see a boost in organic traffic. 
Google is constantly updating its algorithm – you have to keep a pulse on what’s happening and update your strategy frequently. 
How this looks in B2B vs. B2C companies:
B2C marketers more often target topic-based searches – high search volume but low conversion terms around a specific topic that people are interested in reading about (but may or may not be interested in shopping for). You can go pretty broad in your search terms.
B2B marketers more often target need-based searches – lower search volume but higher conversion terms around a problem a business might be trying to solve. These terms target a highly engaged audience, with fewer passive searches. The searchers are probably looking something up because they need to find a solution, or their boss told them to take a look at it.
Tip: SEO and content should work hand-in-hand – especially with a “pillar” or “cluster” strategy.
Content will be thinking about the funnel – what do people want to read or learn about? What’s going to help drive visitors to the site? They’re looking at the content they can provide for each stage of the funnel. 
SEO is more technically-focused – a main component for Google right now is core web vitals, so anyone who’s working on SEO will be laser-focused on that. This person will be working closely with your engineers or developers, and then they’ll do a keyword analysis again after the backend of the site is sorted out.

Email marketing 
Sending automated emails to opted-in lists
Pros:
Capturing emails helps with retargeting and onboarding – you can nurture them to become a new user or help them onboard in their first 60 to 90 days to ensure your product hooks them.
Easy A/B testing – you can see what people are engaging with and what’s causing them to open their emails or click on a link.
With some information on targeting, you can find matching lists to grow your audience – you can reach a lot of people by buying an email list from an external company.
Cons:
It’s hard to stand out in crowded inboxes – especially since COVID, everyone’s inboxes are stuffed full. 
Building a list can be slow – i can take a while to build a large list based on opt-ins from your own site.
Be careful with opt-in if you buy a list – if you purchase any lists make sure your legal team reviews the external company that you’ve bought a list from. You need people to have opted in to receive emails from a third party.
How this looks in B2B vs. B2C companies:
B2C marketing is more likely to go to a personal email – the content of B2C emails tends to include a promotional offering or information about the product. 
B2B marketing is more likely to go to a business inbox – many business accounts have restrictions, so it can be a challenge to make sure you don’t end up in spam. The content of B2B emails should offer access to valuable things (white paper, webinar, “coffee on us”). With B2B, consumers will be less likely to take action, so you have to give them a good reason to engage.

Affiliate & Partner Marketing 
Paying an affiliate to drive traffic and/or leads to your site.
Pros:
Low risk – you can figure out a pricing approach that works for you and puts the risk on the affiliate or partner. For example, you can do a CPA (cost per acquisition) model where you only pay for qualified leads.
Cons:
Hard to find the right partners – you need to make sure they’re aligned with your brand, and trusted by your target audience.
You need to make sure the lifetime value is high enough – affiliate marketing only makes sense if you can pay enough to interest the affiliate and still make money yourself.
On the B2B side, affiliates might be complementary products and review sites – you’re probably looking at comparison-type sites or brand partnerships. Keep an eye out for who’s aligned in your space that you have a complementary product or service. 
On the B2C side, affiliates might be other brands, site aggregators, or influencers – affiliates could be brand review or “top 10” type sites. They could also be individual bloggers or influencers.
Note: Options for how you pay affiliates
Pay for traffic (CPM) – you’re paying for the amount of traffic that’s brought to the site by the affiliate. 
Pay for conversions (CPA) – you’re paying for customers the affiliate drives to you who take a qualifying action (like buying or demoing).
Brand trade – this happens when you have overlapping audiences, but you’re not directly competitive. Companies will promote each other’s brands to their own consumers. This is very cost-effective, but you absolutely want to make sure you’re comfortable with the brand alignment.

How do you test channels to find the ones that work for you?

Start with a competitive analysis to learn from bigger companies in your space – you can let the big company do some of the heavy lifting and “copycat” some of the marketing practices that they’re doing, and grab what works for you.

Go where your targets are – start with the channels where you believe your target audience is to get started. For example, if you’re targeting an older demographic, you’re not going to start with TikTok; you’re going to start with Facebook. 

It takes ~$10K and 3 months to test a channel – you need to spend at least $3K per month, and ideally $5-10K per month to test each channel. And it takes at least 2-3 months; 1 month is not enough time to determine if it’s working, because it doesn’t give you enough time to optimize or understand the data.
Don’t spend $5K across 5 channels – if you do, your budget will be spread too thin and you won’t get any insights because you won’t have enough volume to analyze the data. Instead, start with 1-2 channels where you believe that the majority of your audience is. Volume will help dictate what’s working.

What are the steps to plan a campaign?

Step 0: Set your goals – determine what your goals are and align them before the campaign. If you set goals after you start the campaign, you can end up measuring the metrics that look good vs. the ones you really care about. When you’re starting out, focus on metrics that optimize further up the funnel (e.g. driving a visitor to register with you or download your white paper).

Step 1: Targeting (keep it to 2-3 groups/channels) – decide who you’re looking to go after. You need to know what your demographics are and where they’re hanging out online. Each ad platform will be a little different in the way you identify these people. For example, with paid search/Google ads, you need to do less demographic targeting because people will be searching specific keywords. But, with Facebook, you could reach everyone on the platform if you don’t set specific audience parameters.

Step 2: Craft your value prop and copy – make sure it fits with the channel. Your copy and value prop will depend on the platform and how narrowly you’re able to target. Copy can be tested and iterated on (even mid-campaign), and I encourage companies to adjust it constantly to see what resonates and converts. Consider changing it based on a part of the sales cycle or a seasonality trend. 

Step 3: Create digital assets – work with graphic designers (look for a contractor if you don’t have a full-time resource) to create images, videos, etc. for your ads that are aligned with your brand. It’s helpful if you’ve already established brand rules and a style guide so your designers can quickly draw upon them to get the assets created.

Step 4: Design your landing page – once you’ve drawn in the user, don’t dump them on the homepage. You’ll want to tailor the landing page to fit with your ad and what the user is looking for. 

Step 5: Build and launch the campaign – determine your monthly budget (most platforms have you set it as an amount you want to spend per day). Try to optimize the time of day for when you see your highest value customers coming through. Make sure you have someone who can keep an eye on the various campaigns on a daily basis to make sure that everything is going well and that the campaign is being optimized based on the data they’re collecting. 

Step 6: Track and report – set up the tracking and measurement before you begin to run the campaign. I recommend using Google Analytics (it’s free). With GA, you can add in all the tracking that you want. With B2C, you might want a weekly report; with B2B it could be a longer reporting period (depending on your sales cycle length). Roll up reporting monthly and quarterly for a high-level view. 

What should you look for in your first marketing hire?

Look for a mid-level generalist with digital expertise:

  • A channel generalist – knowledgeable about digital marketing, but also able to manage other types of marketing, like in-person events.
  • With a few years of experience (probaby no more than 5) – ideally they have a few years of experience in your space (whether that’s consumer or B2B). You want someone experienced enough to understand the fundamentals, but scrappy enough to be willing to dig in on the data. If you go over 5 years, the hire is probably more senior or more specialized on a specific channel or niche. 
  • Who can analyze their own data – you want this hire to be able to aggregate and analyze the data from the various marketing platforms because your company probably doesn’t have a dedicated analyst. You’re looking for the perfect “art plus science” combo in this hire. 

What types of martech tools do you need?

An analytics tool – e.g. Google Analytics. You’re able to track all new and repeat users that come to your site, you can see what channel/source they’re coming from, and you can see campaign channel information (especially if Google Adwords is incorporated into Google Analytics properly).

Marketing automation tool – e.g. Hubspot, Iterable, Marketo. You’ll use this to track leads, and for email marketing and retargeting.

Channel-specific tools – you’ll have data provided to you within the different marketing platforms that you advertise with. These tools will need to be integrated into your analytics and automation tools.

What are the most important pieces to get right?

Set guard rails around spending, metrics, and targeting – establish your goals with your various channels and campaigns up front. You don’t want any surprises, so determine what you’re willing to spend and what the metrics are that you’re looking to target. 

Be focused and patient – start with 1-2 channels don’t cut things short just because your idea didn’t work within a few weeks’ time. You have to optimize and iterate with some of these channels to get them to work most effectively. 

What are the common pitfalls?

If you’re a founder without marketing experience, find someone to help you out – finding an advisor is worth it if you’re thinking about making significant investments in paid advertising. If you don’t, you can end up with a lot of frustration and second-guessing.
Don’t get distracted by new marketing ideas – stay laser focused instead of trying out new flashy marketing ideas. There’s a time and a place for pioneering new marketing techniques, but it’s not when you’re trying to build your marketing foundation.

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