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Explaining Digital Marketing to Non-Digital Businesses

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By Dean Kaplan, CEO and President, The Kaplan Group

I spent many years as a CFO and owner of companies in some pretty high-tech fields like software, semi-conductors and digital media as well as traditional fields like manufacturing and consulting. But, at heart, I’m a people person.

About 20 years ago I took over a business that’s almost entirely about people and human connections. I own a commercial collection agency. Although my business is all about negotiations and the human touch, my marketing is not.

Digital marketing has been a huge bonus to my people-focused business. I’ve seen annual revenue growth of 50% over the past three years, primarily due to digital marketing. I don’t think my passion for people and my focus on digital marketing are a contradiction.

If you want to reach more people-centered businesses like mine, you may need to rethink how you talk about digital marketing.

Define the Basics

Digital marketing is one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot and may mean different things to different people. When I say digital marketing, I mean anything I do online that attracts people to my business. As a B2B company, the types of digital marketing that I use most are:

  • Content marketing
  • Blogging
  • Emails
  • Social media
  • SEO

If you approach a CEO and simply spout the words “digital marketing,” without making it clear what specific tasks you mean, you and your potential client might be on different pages.

Connect Digital to People

Those of us running non-tech businesses tend to be a little older than startup folks. Although many of us are not digital natives, we’re still open to new ideas. The explanation of digital marketing that worked for me had to do with the old statistic that it takes 7-10 touches for a 50% response rate.

Even in the early 2000s, someone with a B2B organization like mine might do a majority of their networking and “touches” in person.

I gave a lot of speeches at industry events all over the country. The speeches weren’t sales talks, they were very much like this article, me, sharing knowledge from my direct experience. It took a lot of effort preparing a quality presentation, and then a lot of time out of the office for travel.

After a few years of this, I realized that I could reach more people, more often, via digital marketing. Today, a lot of networking happens online. According to some studies, people are online an average of 24 hours a week and some people spend as much as 40 hours a week online.

I know that if I want people to see me 7-10 times, I need to be online. You are likely to get farther with people like me by explaining digital marketing as part of an overall strategy, a strategy that’s still focused on people even if it isn’t in person.

Talk About Digital as Personal

Digital marketing has the ability to target key audiences. This is great news for when it comes to personalization. You may think of concepts such as segmentation and targeted ads as details that will overwhelm a new client.

However, if your client is a people-person, you might want to consider leading with hyper-personalization.

When I call a client, I personalize the questions I ask to match what I know about that client. Explaining that digital marketing can do the same is a great benefit.

Be Careful How You Discuss Automation

Automation is a great time-saving device, but it can frighten people who rely on the personal touch. If you discuss automation, make sure to stress the time-saving elements and that automation does not have to mean automatically.

Business owners who rely on their people skills may worry that by automating certain functions you will remove their ability to choose when and how to reach out to their clients and prospects.

Don’t Forget ROI

ROI is always a touchy subject when it comes to marketing. Not all marketing techniques can be expected to yield immediate results. But, if you want to attract business owners, you need to point to definable statistics and results.

For myself, I chose to focus on SEO more than 10 years ago. I began by engaging on LinkedIn and blogging. Several years ago, I initiated content marketing, which also supported SEO. Initially, the cost of these programs was under 10% of revenue.

But to achieve some critical mass, I increased spending to between 10% and 15% of revenue for a couple of years. Suddenly, we started seeing annual revenue growth of 50% for three straight years.

Our budget has doubled in size, but now represents less than 5% of revenue. The incremental profit during this period shows an ROI of nearly 500% from our digital marketing investments.

The customers we retain now are from every industry, including digital marketing and SEO firms, as well as SaaS, software licensing, technology components and traditional businesses such a manufacturing, apparel, banking, insurance and advertising. We also have clients from all over the world. These are the kinds of results and statistics you can share with potential clients.

Digital marketing may seem like an obvious choice to you, but if you want to work with businesses that focus on people, you may need to rethink how you discuss digital marketing.


About

Dean Kaplan is president of The Kaplan Group, a commercial collection agency specializing in large claims and international transactions. He has 35 years of manufacturing, international business leadership and customer service experience. Today, he provides business planning, training and consultation to a variety of global companies.


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