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Digital Marketing Experts: It’s Time to Rethink How You Connect with Your Audience

By Daniel Lai

For many companies struggling to find their place in today’s digitally-driven world, lack of a clear marketing plan and failure to adapt to new platforms means getting left behind and losing business.

That was a key message marketing experts laid out to more than 200 attendees during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s first Digital Marketing Boot Camp last week at the College for Creative Studies. The event was sponsored by MLive and Motown Digital.

Sola Obayan, principal consultant at BTO Solutions and founder of the Social Media Association of Michigan, said at the heart of any good digital marketing strategy is understanding what a target audience wants and crafting that message to draw in potential customers to a company’s website.

“Oftentimes we get caught up in the ‘what’ or ‘how’ message when really we should start with the ‘why,’” she said, drawing on examples from companies like Hallmark.

The greeting card company reaps millions of dollars every year by playing off of customers’ emotional response.

“Think about how you want your audience to feel when they engage with your brand,” Obayan said. “By building that bond with your audience, you can drive action.”

Don’t Build Your House on Sand

Before a company jumps on the latest social media platforms, it must first take the time to invest in a user-friendly website. Two of the biggest “no-no’s” Obayan often sees from small and medium-sized businesses are confusing websites and stretching resources and messages across too many social media platforms, a phenomenon she called “shiny object syndrome.”

“Don’t build your house on sand,” Obayan said.

Michael Taylor II, creative partner for SS Digital Media, agreed that a company’s website is key.

“You have to do a good job of providing the customer with the content promised,” he said. “If you send someone to your website via social media, they shouldn’t have to spend time searching.”

Taylor was part of a panel of experts led by Eric Hultgren, director of marketing at MLive Media Group, that also included Lynn Haliburton, senior account executive at Marx Layne & Co., and Dan Fuoco, interactive marketing manager for the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Hultgren said businesses must invest in websites that are mobile-friendly.

“If your brand is not here, you do not exist to the customer,” he told attendees, holding up his smartphone.

Fuoco said platforms like Facebook and Twitter are also good to promote a company’s news coverage, or “earned media” in order to increase brand awareness. However, he stressed that the platform a company chooses to use should correlate to its message goals and target audience.

“If you aren’t posting minute-by-minute updates than perhaps Twitter is not the space for you to play in,” he said.

Drawing on examples from her client, McDonald’s, and its use of social media to promote the limited release of its signature Big Mac sauce in certain stores across the country, Haliburton said social media can be a good tool to “shock and delight” loyal customers.

Putting Humans Back in the Social Media Driver’s Seat

The most important advice of the day came from Marcus Burrell and Eric Thomas, senior partners at Saga MKTG.

Thomas said too many businesses forget to talk like humans when engaging with customers online, a phenomenon that can have dire consequences for brand positioning.

“People often forget the ‘social’ part of social media. Don’t be afraid to engage and start a story with your followers. What do you want people to know about you or your brand?” Thomas said. “The most important thing we can do as digital marketers is speak to and with people, not as a robot.”

Understanding your audience and pushing out messages that connect with them is critical, Thomas said, pointing to the success of President Trump’s Twitter growth during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“He speaks in a way that makes people want to listen. He has mastered his digital messages for his demographic,” he said.

Finally, Thomas said when communicating with customers on any digital platform, “don’t tell stories you wouldn’t want to hear.”

To read more digital marketing tips, check out the Digital Marketing Boot Camp blog page.

Daniel Lai is a communications specialist and copywriter at the Detroit Regional Chamber.