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Discussion – 


7 Digital Marketing Principles I Wish I’d Learned Sooner

digital marketing principles

I’ve been doing this digital marketing stuff for a long time. Long enough that I can prove it by my gray hairs.

I’ve learned many, many things over my 15+ years in the business… but some of those lessons are much bigger than others. The real game-changing principles come about once a year for me.

Over the balance of this week and next week, I’ll be sharing some of the lessons which (at the time) left my jaw on the floor.

Let’s start at the bottom and work upwards, shall we?

Principle № 7: Don’t Be ‘That Guy’

You know who I mean.

The guy who comes on too strong. The one you’ve barely met and he asks you to help him move into a new apartment or drive you to the airport. (Love you, Seinfeld!)

If you were going to laugh, don’t. If you’re a marketer, you’ve probably made this mistake before… many times.

The mistake: asking for too much, too soon.

Marketing is about developing a relationship with a prospect or customer.

Here are some ways you can seamlessly walk a cold prospect toward the sale:

  • Create pieces of top-of-funnel content (like articles, podcasts, and/or videos) which are entertaining, inspirational, or educational. Don’t be afraid to buy some eyeballs from Google or Facebook or your “traffic store” of choice. (Brownie Points: Retarget that traffic to a lead magnet or a low-risk offer. Both of which are explained below.)
  • Offer a low-risk, dip-my-toes-in-the-water product or service to make it easy to allow prospects to try doing business with you.
  • Use a lead magnet to build an email list (we’ve got a workshop on that) and send your new email subscribers a newsletter filled with awesome content (we’ve got a workshop on that, too!) and your dip-my-toes-in-the-water offers.

Just… whatever you do, don’t be “that guy.”

I just met you, bro. I’m not driving you to the airport.

Principle № 6: You Don’t Have a Weenie-Roaster Business

You’d better strap in, because you’re about to read those words a lot.

A couple of years ago, on a group coaching call, I helped a business owner who was struggling to make her business work.

“We sell weenie roasters,” she said. “And they’re the highest-quality weenie roasters on the market. The trouble is that we’re always trying to find new customers to buy our weenie roasters.”

As long as we’re repeating it so much, may as well define it: a weenie roaster is basically a metal stick made for roasting hot dogs over an open fire. And I gotta say, it was true. It was the best weenie roaster I’d ever tried.

So her problem was not the product. Her problem was that she had defined her business — as — the product.

“Who do you serve?” I asked.

It turns out they’d sold thousands of these weenie roasters to families that like to camp or build fires in their backyard.

“What else can you sell those same people?” I asked.

Here’s the TL;DR of the ensuing conversation slash lecture:

  • Successful marketers and business owners know that your business is defined by the market you serve, not the product you sell.
    It’s expensive in time, in money, and in energy to acquire brand-new customers. Figure out how to add value to the market with other products and services (even if they’re not your own). Learn how to cross-sell and upsell more thoroughly and creatively.
    If you define your business by your product, you’ll soon find yourself out of business. Apple, for example, has become a $2 trillion dollar business by figuring out what its market will buy and selling it to them a LOT.

Towards the end of my yammering on the above points, my internet died. But I like to think she said “Hot diggity dog!” when she heard the main idea.

Principle № 5: You Need a Long Game

In digital marketing, traffic is to business as water is to life. It’s important.

If we simplify traffic down to its two simplest categories, they would be paid traffic and organic traffic (the free stuff). Those are your two main options for “watering” your business.

Paid traffic options like digital ads and dedicated email drops deliver traffic to a business much the same way a hose delivers water to a yard. We can turn it on and off whenever we want. We can point the water traffic wherever we want. Y’know, a little over here, a little over there, that sort of thing.

Organic traffic, on the other hand, is like rain. We don’t know when it’s going to rain, or where, or how heavily, or for how long. But we do know that it’ll rain sometimes and we’ll get some free water when it does.

Organic traffic is the traffic you get from people encountering you on social media, or someone Googling something and landing on your page (among many other examples). That organic traffic, unlike the rain, is not 100% out of your control—but it’s very unlike a hose, to be sure. It can take a year or more working on your SEO and social media marketing to see real results getting organic traffic.

A long game, indeed. But the short game has problems, too.

The simple limitation of paid traffic is that as soon as you turn on the hose, people like Zuck start charging your credit card—and the moment you turn off the hose, that glorious traffic screeches to a halt. You have to be sure you’re making your money count, and that’s obviously the challenge here.

Right now, there’s renewed interest in rain organic traffic as privacy concerns, increasing click costs, and the collapse of the third-party cookie cause marketing teams to question whether they’re overdependent on paid traffic.

The hose is great. But in today’s digital landscape, you need a long game… and you gotta do the work now to make it rain later.


Principle № 4: Marketing is a Big Word

If you define marketing loosely enough, you’ll be including dang near half the things a business ever does. Setting up new email promotions is marketing, obviously—but refreshing your logo can count, too!

One useful way of dividing marketing tactics into two big categories:

Branding 🎱 Creating a unique image, feeling and/or design in the mind of customers and prospects.

Direct Response 📊 Eliciting a specific and measured response to a clear call to action.

Let’s look at an example of each type of marketing.

This marketing message from LeBron and Sprite is pure branding:

digital marketing principle

Notice that this advertisement isn’t asking you to do anything at all. The purpose of this ad is to simply associate the product (Sprite) with a famous person (LeBron James) in your mind. As a result of this branding, the company (Coca-Cola) expects to sell more Sprite, in general, in the future.

By contrast, this next ad is a perfect example of a direct-response advertisement within the same family of Coke products:

direct response copy

Same product, very different marketing tactics. Here are some differences between these two marketing campaigns:

The branding example is much more expensive. How much do you think it costs to hire LeBron James as a spokesperson? (It’s not cheap.)

The direct response example is much more measurable. I can measure two important things from this second advertisement: first, how many people put the code in to receive a BOGO coupon, and second, how many people went on to redeem the coupon?

The direct response example has a deadline. This campaign lasts until 11/23 (as shown in the fine print) at which point measurements can be taken to determine the effectiveness of the campaign.

See the difference? If you don’t, go back and read through that section again. This is critical stuff. The truth is you need both kinds of marketing, but never forget that they are very different and require very different skill sets.

Principle № 3: All Products Are Potions

People will predictably do what you want them to do if they perceive that the reward outweighs the risk.

In digital marketing and business, this (of course) begins with a great product or service. But even products supposedly “good enough to sell themselves” have great marketing behind them… and continue to need it.

When you’re marketing and selling, aim to do two things in the audience’s mind: stack the value and slice the risk.

Let’s talk a little about the ‘value’ side today. What do people find valuable?

Remember that people don’t buy products or services. They buy outcomes. They buy identities. They buy increased status. They buy peace of mind.

All products are potions. Before the customer drinks your potion, they are in some less-than-ideal state. They are in pain, or there is some desire (conscious or unconscious) which is still unfulfilled.

Stop for just a second and think about what you sell. Ask these two questions:

😫 In what painful or uncomfortable state do our prospects find themselves BEFORE they drink our potion?

🥰 What transformation has occurred AFTER they drink our potion?

Consider going back and reading those two questions again. (I can wait.)

Whatever your answers to those questions, make sure you paint those pictures into your marketing and sales presentations.

Here are a few ways to apply this principle to your marketing:

  • Trying to decide what image to use for an ad or your home page? It’s a safe bet if the photo shows a person who drank your potion.
  • Writing a promotional email, ad, or sales page? Begin by describing the prospect before your potion. Then, introduce your potion. Then, describe your prospect after your potion. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
  • Trying to close a big sale? Don’t get too focused on describing and selling the potion itself. Instead, describe what it will feel like after they take a sip of your potion. That’ll get their attention.

Principle № 2: Some of This is Just Math

I have a love-hate relationship with math.

The ‘hate’ part doesn’t need explaining because many of you (like me) are already feeling it. Math always winds up being forced on us, doesn’t it?

But this is business, so math is always gonna be… part of the equation. 😎

It starts getting easier to accept the math when you learn that most of the day-to-day math is easy. If there were a standardized test for Math That Digital Marketers Actually Use, you could score a 99% knowing only basic arithmetic and maybe a teensy bit of algebra. You just need the formulas.

I start to love math where it provides clear and unbiased information. With math, I can measure what’s happening AND in many cases, I can take two things I know and calculate a third, completely new thing with some degree of certainty. A lot of these “third, completely new things” are the pieces of information critical to a digital marketer’s success.

A metric is basically just a meaningful data point, whether it’s something you measure or something you calculate from other measurements. Here are eight super-common, super-important metrics for digital marketers:

marketing metrics marketing principles

Principle № 1: It’s the offer, stupid


If your product (or service) isn’t selling, that doesn’t mean it’s “bad” or that people won’t ever want it. We’ve all been fooled at some point by the feeling that quality product somehow sells itself, and conversely, that bad sales point to bad product.

So if your sales are slow, you might assume that there’s a problem with WHAT you’re selling. But I don’t usually think so. Far more often, the problem is the offer: not what you’re selling, but HOW you’re trying to sell it.

An offer has three main parts:

1) The features and benefits of your product. We’ll discuss this in greater detail later, once we’re able to deep-dive into that section of the copywriting pool.

2) The means of acquisition
. In other words: how do I get the dang thing? Is there a digital version? Do I need to pick it up? Can it be shipped to me? How much time and money does shipping take? Once I have it in my possession, will I still need to assemble it? How can you reduce friction here to sweeten the offer and make it easier for would-be customers?

3) The cost of acquisition
. This, simply put, is what I have to give in order to get your product. Sticker price is a big part of this, but secondary costs (like shipping, fees, taxes, etc.) also matter—as do non-monetary costs, like assembly time and extra trips to the hardware store.

Let’s look a bit closer at this last piece — cost — and offer some practical suggestions for modifying that part of the offer if your product isn’t selling:

  • Payment Terms — For example, offering an option for 3 payments of $295 rather than 1 payment of $795.
  • Bundle — Combine one or more products together into a new, cohesive set. More on bundling here and here.
  • Free Trial — Let them try before they buy!
  • Bonus — Sometimes called a premium. What can you add atop the offer to sweeten it for customers?
  • Guarantee — Reduce risk for the customer by offering a clear guarantee or return policy.
  • Flash Sale — A deep discount offered for a limited time (like 3 days-ish).

Get more from theCLIKK


Russ Henneberry


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