Live linkDespite the continuing times of financial uncertainty, the digital arena is a pretty good place to be. There may be a lot of competition but the pickings are rich,  as long as you have a proven ability to make an impact on the client’s bottom line…

We’re slap bang in the middle of a growing digital revolution here in the North.

There’s more agency collaboration, the technical solutions that our experts have seeded are fast developing and the equilibrium between the creative and the technology needed to create the best digital solutions is very much apparent. Geography is no longer the biggest issue but, as the state of the economy is, we still need to deploy some Northern grit.

The best way for any company to serve its clients in this climate is to do work that will directly and positively affect the bottom line. The economy has taken its toll across pretty much all of the commercial sectors and media clients have reacted accordingly. There is never much margin on a marketing budget in challenging times – it’s usually the first budget to feel the pinch – and those who do have money in the pot want early evidence of a solid return on investment. In short, any marketing spend has to earn its stripes and make a real impact on turnover.

Clients now have a better understanding of digital and they know what the potential is – they just don’t necessarily know how to unlock it and access the best results. It’s not enough for agencies to sell ‘off the peg’ services – web design, email marketing, SEO, Facebook apps etc – when clients need direction and someone to provide them with a bit of joined-up thinking.

Digital agencies need to act as consultancies and get inside their clients’ heads. The best place to start is what the desired result is and then work backwards from that. For most companies, the goal is to get good customers and to keep them. We can all relate to that, whether agency or client side, and so any first step should be taken with empathy before the building blocks are gathered to create a clear strategy that will deliver the best results.

There are many strands within the digital marketing mix. In 2013, we are operating in an increasingly sophisticated market, with our clients’ customers connecting via a number of channels when going through the purchasing process. Any marketing activity has to be built around the behaviour, preferences and expectations of these customers, engaging them across all the relevant channels: email, mobile, social networks, web and print. This range of choices can be overwhelming for the client and so the agency, acting as consultant, must guide them.

There’s a plethora of agencies out there offering digital as an ‘add-on’ but consider this: For many companies, their websites are their shop fronts. Any new business, apart from the traditional and best, ‘word of mouth’, will come via the website and so they need that website to work hard for them with any marketing activity – email marketing, SEO, Google adwords, Facebook campaigns – leading the customers back through this funnel. Treating any digital marketing as an optional extra doesn’t work for the growing number of businesses who need to harness it and make it work hard for them and, basically, earn them some money.

With this in mind, an increasing amount of clients are opting for specific lead generation campaigns which hinge on the delivery of relevant content. Not only does regular and relevant exposure help to build a relationship between a brand and its customers, it also gives those relationships some meaning.

To generate good leads (which, when nurtured will turn into sales and, with continued nurturing, repeat business), it’s essential to create good content. Content drives the internet and expert content marketing enhances a company’s reputation and helps it to build and nurture long-term relationships.  Good content marketing can position the named author as the problem-solving go-to person, strengthening relations and building trust. It enables the individual to establish authority by connecting with his or her selected audience regularly, in his or her own voice, demonstrating expertise.

Content can provide valid samples of work. It can reflect how a company thinks and communicates and what said company is like to work with. Expert content marketing enhances reputations and helps to build and nurture long-term relationships—the essence of complex sales. The trust and credibility factor, built by a good, solid content marketing plan, diminishes resistance to sales while introducing goods and services.

SEO graphOh, and by the way, getting a fresh influx of visitors to a website is the easy bit.

The trick lies in bringing them back and converting them into customers.

A thorough marketing strategy should include content planning, SEO, nurturing emails, mobile messaging and surveys to ensure that a client’s website is primed to foster repeat business and encourage the type of interaction that generates new leads. Any website now has to be designed for mobile and tablet using responsive theme technology, selecting the content which is most relevant and that holds the most appeal to these users. Now more than ever, clients want results.

Basically, it’s a potential minefield for those not in the know. We are living in a digital age and digital services should be an on-going resource. It’s no longer enough to have an eye-catching, well-designed website. That site needs constant updating, new content and development. To become a serious player in this digital world, a business needs to be constantly engaging its audience with fresh, relevant content and a serious digital strategy behind it.

There is plenty of room for agencies to partner up in order to offer a through the line marketing service but beware the pretender who adopts the digital mantle just to secure the business. Any digital offering has to be the real deal in order to retain the business and make a difference to the bottom line.

PK VaishPK Vaish is managing director of Livelink New Media