A table is covered with papers, post-it notes and a laptop displaying several charts. Parts of three people in businesswear can be seen standing around the table, although none of their heads are visible. One person holds out a smart tablet and points to it, showing something on the screen to another person.
Digital marketing involves more than just the ads your customers see, so it's important to also look for tools that cover analytics, security and team communication. — Getty Images/Sitthiphong

In our Startup 2021 series, we're helping aspiring entrepreneurs navigate the new business climate of the COVID-19 era. Each week, we'll share an in-depth look at one step you can take toward launching your business in 2021.

Digital marketing is an important asset to businesses for growth and success, especially in today’s highly digital world. Strategic digital communication can convert audiences into customers — and build real brand connections.

Here are some digital marketing tools every small business should understand and utilize.

[Read more: How to Run a Successful Digital Marketing Campaign]

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing is marketing that uses digital communication — media accessible with an electronic device connected to the internet — to promote a brand and create conversions. It’s a comprehensive business strategy that includes many forms of everyday communication: email, social media, web content and even text messages. If you’ve ever gotten an email newsletter suggesting a specific link or tagged a company on social media as a part of a challenge, you’ve engaged with a digital marketing campaign.

Aside from delivery, digital marketing differs from “traditional marketing” (i.e., paper or TV advertisements) in its content and ability for personalization. Digital marketing can contain paid ads, but many campaigns focus on content marketing. This approach involves going beyond explanation of products and services. Instead, content marketing gives an audience information and experiences that build trust with a brand — leading them to become more engaged, loyal customers.

[Read more: Best Online Digital Marketing Courses]

Why is digital marketing important?

  • Business visibility: Because digital information is readily available, people use the internet to inform their decisions. They search and browse websites, read reviews and look through social media. By executing a digital marketing strategy, businesses can find their audiences in the places they’re already looking.
  • A place within competition: When customers turn to online resources to make decisions about brands, it’s likely they’ll interact with different companies. Having content and an experience customers trust and are interested in will help a business stand out against its competitors.
  • Convenience for customers: If a business has a planned, organized digital presence, the barriers of availability — location and time — no longer exist for customers. This can improve customer service, increase customer data collection and add variety to touch points for customer engagement.
  • Responding to customers’ needs: Being visible and active in digital communication gives a business the opportunity to collect feedback from customers. It also provides a tool to listen to customer needs and gaps in the industry — allowing businesses to develop informed plans that drive growth.

Aside from delivery, digital marketing differs from “traditional marketing” in its content and ability for personalization.

Digital marketing checklist: Tools for your startup

Team communication and project management

A digital marketing strategy needs clearly outlined tasks and easy communication for team members. Cloud-based project management platforms like Trello can distribute and track workflow, and messaging platforms like Slack allow chat, web conference and resource sharing.

File storage and protection

It’s important to keep sensitive customer information organized in a location that only team members can access. Cloud storage programs, like Google Drive, are helpful for businesses that cannot set up their own network, and for added security, many businesses invest in a VPN.

Website builder and analytics

A user-friendly website is key to successful calls to action. A website builder makes design approachable, regardless of coding skills. Website features vary by builder, and many include basic analytics. For in-depth monitoring and insight, Google Analytics is free for any Google account.

[Read more: How to Grow an E-Commerce Business With Digital Tools]

Email and social media marketing platform

To reach audiences effectively, businesses should choose platforms that create, send and analyze communication. Popular platforms include Mailchimp and Constant Contact for email newsletters and HootSuite for social media. These tools focus on deliverability of content and allow businesses to reach customers when they are most active online.

Customer relationship management (CRM)

To completely integrate customer experience in a meaningful way, CRM software is a tool that helps businesses use customer information to optimize their campaign strategies. HubSpot and Salesforce are popular CRM products, and they have the ability to bring all aspects of the customer experience (sales, customer service and marketing messaging) under one umbrella.

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Published September 23, 2021