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The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

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The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

If you’re new to marketing, you might have a skewed perception of it. You might imagine a multimillion-dollar Super Bowl ad or a glowing billboard in Times Square.

Marketing is much more than that. It encompasses a variety of channels, tactics, and formats — and can work for any business at any budget.

→ Click here to download our free guide to digital marketing fundamentals  [Download Now].

The key to getting started is knowing the fundamentals. Here, I’ll walk you through some beginner-friendly marketing channels and how to build your first marketing strategy.

Cost-Effective Marketing Channels

Building Your First Marketing Strategy

Cost-Effective Marketing Channels

If you’re just getting started with marketing, here are a few cost-effective channels to consider:

Content marketing

The entire premise of content marketing is to provide valuable content to your audience. This can be blog posts, videos, podcasts, e-books, and more. Unlike a pop-up ad, this type of marketing isn‘t disruptive. It’s supposed to feel natural, organic, and helpful.

Consider this: you want to market your product, a productivity app. On your blog, you publish articles brimming with tips and tricks for staying productive at work. By providing this type of content, you slowly build awareness around your app.

To take it one step further, you include a sign-up form for a free trial of your app at the top of every article — giving readers a chance to convert into customers.

Content marketing is a long-term investment. But with patience and the right strategy, you can drive brand awareness and nurture customer relationships without significant financial strain.

Email marketing

Email marketing is relatively affordable compared to other marketing channels. Many email service providers offer free plans or tiered pricing to appeal to different budgets. For example, HubSpot’s email marketing software is easy to use, secure, and free.

With email marketing, you‘re reaching people who’ve already expressed an interest in your business. This puts you in a great position to build relationships, promote your products, and share offers. You can also set up trigger emails when someone completes an action, such as making a purchase or downloading a content offer.

Looking to bulk up your email list? Check out this helpful guide.

Social media marketing

These days, consumers expect brands to have an online presence — so if you haven’t already, sign up for a business profile on a few social media sites.

Once you’re up and running, you can begin to share content. Experiment with different types of content until you have a better idea of what gets the most traction. Remember that social media is all about connection, so interact with customers, initiate conversations, and leverage user-generated content. These tactics can help you ​​foster relationships and build loyalty around your brand without spending a dime.

However, if you decide to run paid ads, social media offers incredible reach that can generate immediate results.

Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn provide advanced ad targeting, enabling you to narrow down your audience based on demographics, interests, and behaviors. And with flexible budgeting options, you can allocate your budget strategically and maximize your ROI.

Online advertising

One of the biggest benefits of online advertising is that it’s often cheaper than traditional advertising. Consider TV ads, which cost anywhere from thousands of dollars to even millions.

Now, think of an ad running on social media for $1 a day, and you can see why online advertising is a great option for small businesses.

Online advertising encompasses a few areas, including:

  • Display ads: these include banner ads, images, and videos that you can buy on Google Ads.
  • Pay-per-click: PPC is an advertising model that falls under search engine marketing. These ads appear at the top of search engine results, and you only pay when people click them.
  • Social ads: these are ads that appear on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. You set a budget and specify your target audience.
  • Remarketing: this involves tagging your website visitors and targeting them with content after they leave your site. Think of an email from an e-commerce store reminding you of your abandoned cart.

Unlike traditional advertising, online ads offer powerful analytics. You don’t have to wonder if an online ad is effective since you can track metrics like impressions, click-through rates, conversion rates, and more.

Search engine optimization (SEO)

The goal of SEO is to boost your website’s presence in search engines like Google. While SEO trends come and go, the key principles stay the same:

  • Create and publish valuable content on your website
  • Strategically insert keywords in the content
  • Improve your website’s page speed
  • Offer a great user experience to website visitors

Like content marketing, SEO is a long-term game. But when you consider 95% of search traffic goes to the first page of search results, it becomes a critical strategy for driving traffic and generating leads.

Building Your First Marketing Strategy

You can think of a marketing strategy as a roadmap, helping you make the most of your marketing. Here are the basic principles of a strong marketing strategy:

1. Start with your goals.

Before you can build a marketing strategy, you first need to set clear goals. What does your business want to accomplish? Are you aiming to increase brand awareness? Generate leads? Or enhance customer loyalty?

Goals provide direction and purpose for your entire marketing operation. Plus, they determine the effectiveness of your efforts.

When defining your marketing goals, ensure they align with business objectives. For example, if your main business objective is to build brand awareness, your marketing goal might be to reach X-number of social media followers in the next six months.

Further Reading:

The 9 Goals to Consider When Creating a Marketing Strategy

Free Template: Determine Your SMART Marketing Goals

2. Know your target audience

Who is your customer? What are their challenges or pain points? Are they price sensitive? Do they shop online?

Knowing your audience is key to building effective marketing strategies. The more you know about your audience, the better you can craft compelling messages that respond to their interests, needs, or preferences.

Your target audience will also play a huge role in influencing which marketing channels you decide to leverage. For instance, suppose you sell home security devices and your target audience is adult homeowners. Based on this information, you might pass on Snapchat, where nearly half the user base is under 25.

Further Reading:

Target Audience: How to Find Yours

How to Create Detailed Buyer Personas for Your Business

3. Decide your marketing mix

In a nutshell, marketing is about promoting the right product to the right audience at the right price and time. That’s a tall order.

To nail this balance, you need to define your marketing mix. Your marketing mix consists of four key components (otherwise known as the “Four Ps of Marketing”): Product, Price, Place, and Promotion.

Product

To state the obvious, your product is key to your business. But in order to market it effectively, you need to know what makes it unique. How is your product different from others on the market? What “problems” does it solve? What are the key features? These questions can help you formulate a unique selling proposition.

Price

Landing on the right price for your product can be tricky. Price too high, and customers walk away. Price too low, and you leave money on the table. A good place to start is by looking at your competitors to see how much customers are willing to pay for a similar product. You can also conduct focus groups or surveys to determine the right price.

Place

Where will you sell your product? Ultimately, you need to meet your customers where they are — whether that’s an e-commerce store or a retail location. Consider where your competitors sell their products and how they differentiate themselves.

Promotion

What tactics will you use to reach your target audience? And on which channels? This could be a billboard on a busy road or a promotional email sent to someone’s inbox. The way you promote your product will depend on your budget and target audience. For instance, if your target audience skews younger, you might prioritize paid social ads over, say, television ads.

Further reading

The Ultimate Guide to Pricing Strategies

How to Write a Great Value Proposition [7 Top Examples + Template]

How to Launch a Successful Multichannel Marketing Strategy

4. Monitor the right KPIs

Establish a system for tracking and analyzing the results of your marketing efforts. If you’re running an email marketing campaign, for instance, you might track open rates, click-through rates, and subscribers. These are known as key performance indicators (KPIs).

Your KPIs serve as benchmarks that reflect your progress toward your goals. By tracking them, you can pinpoint which strategies are working and which need improvement.

Further reading

What is a KPI? How To Choose the Best KPIs for Your Business

Marketing Effectiveness: How to Measure It & Present to External Stakeholders

5. Evolve

The marketing landscape is always evolving. Just in the last decade, we‘ve seen the rise of TikTok, artificial intelligence, and smart devices. All this to say, a good marketing strategy is one that’s adaptable. Be open to testing new ideas, experimenting with different tactics, and adapting your strategy.

Further reading

The Top Marketing Trends of 2023 & How They’ve Changed Since 2022 [Data from 1000+ Global Marketers]

5 Marketing Trends That Might Not Survive in 2023 [HubSpot Research]

Back To You

While frustrating, there‘s no “one size fits all” marketing strategy. What works for one business may not work for another. That’s why experimentation is key, especially when you‘re just starting out. Don’t be afraid to test different marketing channels, tactics, and strategies to find what resonates best with your target audience.

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

Did you follow the Apple iPad Pro content debacle?

Here’s a quick recap. A recent online ad for the new iPad Pro showed a large hydraulic press slowly crushing various symbols of creativity. A metronome, a piano, a record player, a video game, paints, books, and other creative tools splinter and smash as the Sonny and Cher song All I Ever Need Is You plays.

The ad’s title? “Crush!”

The point of the commercial — I think — is to show that Apple managed to smush (that’s the technical term) all this heretofore analog creativity into its new, very thin iPad Pro.  

To say the ad received bad reviews is underselling the response. Judgment was swift and unrelenting. The creative world freaked out.

On X, actor Hugh Grant shared Tim Cook’s post featuring the ad and added this comment: “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.”

When fellow actor Justine Bateman shared the Tim Cook post, she simply wrote, “Truly, what is wrong with you?” Other critiques ranged from tone-challenged to wasteful to many worse things.

Actor Justine Bateman shared Tim Cook’s post on X, which featured the ad, and added this comment: "Truly, what is wrong with you?".

A couple of days later, Apple apologized and canceled plans to air the ad on television.

How not-so-great content ideas come to life

The level of anger surprises me. Look, the ad does show the eyeballs on an emoji-faced squishy ball popping under the plates’ pressure, but still. Calling the ad “actually psychotic” might be a skosh over the top.

Yes, the ad missed the mark. And the company’s subsequent decision to apologize makes sense.

But anyone who’s participated in creating a content misfire knows this truth: Mistakes look much more obvious in hindsight.

On paper, I bet this concept sounded great. The brainstorming meeting probably started with something like this: “We want to show how the iPad Pro metaphorically contains this huge mass of creative tools in a thin and cool package.”

Maybe someone suggested representing that exact thing with CGI (maybe a colorful tornado rising from the screen). Then someone else suggested showing the actual physical objects getting condensed would be more powerful.

Here’s my imagined version of the conversation that might have happened after someone pointed out the popular internet meme of things getting crushed in a hydraulic press.

“People love that!”

“If we add buckets of paint, it will be super colorful and cool.”

“It’ll be a cooler version of that LG ad that ran in 2008.”

“Exactly!”

“It’ll be just like that ad where a bus driver kidnaps and subsequently crushes all the cute little Pokémon characters in a bus!” (Believe it or not, that was actually a thing.)

The resulting commercial suffers from the perfect creative storm: A not-great (copycat) idea at the absolutely wrong time.

None of us know what constraints Apple’s creative team worked under. How much time did they have to come up with a concept? Did they have time to test it with audiences? Maybe crushing physical objects fit into the budget better than CGI. All these factors affect the creative process and options (even at a giant company like Apple).

That’s not an excuse — it’s just reality.

Content failure or content mistake?

Many ad campaigns provoke a “What the hell were they thinking?” response (think Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad or those cringy brand tributes that follow celebrity deaths).

Does that mean they’re failures? Or are they mistakes? And what’s the difference?

As I wrote after Peloton’s holiday ad debacle (remember that?), people learn to fear mistakes early on. Most of us hear cautionary messages almost from day one.

Some are necessary and helpful (“Don’t stick a knife in a live toaster” or “Look both ways before you cross the street.”) Some aren’t (“Make that essay perfect” or “Don’t miss that goal.”)

As a result, many people grow up afraid to take risks — and that hampers creativity. The problem arises from conflating failure and mistakes. It helps to know the difference.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to become a rock ‘n’ roll musician. I failed. But it wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t wrong to try. My attempt just didn’t work.

Labeling a failed attempt a “mistake” feeds the fears that keep people from attempting anything creative.

The conflation of failure and mistakes happens all too often in creative marketing. Sure, people create content pieces (and let’s not forget that there are always people behind those ideas) that genuinely count as mistakes.

They also create content that simply fails.

Don’t let extreme reactions make you fear failures

Here’s the thing about failed content. You can do all the work to research your audience and take the time to develop and polish your ideas — and the content still might fail. The story, the platform, or the format might not resonate, or the audience simply might not care for it. That doesn’t mean it’s a mistake.

Was the Apple ad a mistake? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

Was it a failure? The vitriolic response indicates yes.

Still, the commercial generated an impressive amount of awareness (53 million views of the Tim Cook post on X, per Variety.) And, despite the apology, the company hasn’t taken the ad down from its YouTube page where it’s earned more than 1 million views.

The fictional Captain Jean Luc Picard once said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness. That is life.” The Apple ad turns that statement on its head — Apple made many mistakes and still won a tremendous amount of attention.

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t criticize creative work. Constructive critiques help us learn from our own and others’ failures. You can even have a good laugh about content fails.

Just acknowledge, as the Roman philosopher Cicero once wrote, “Not every mistake is a foolish one.” 

Creative teams take risks. They try things outside their comfort zone. Sometimes they fail (sometimes spectacularly).

But don’t let others’ expressions of anger over failures inhibit your willingness to try creative things.

Wouldn’t you love to get the whole world talking about the content you create? To get there, you have to risk that level of failure.

And taking that risk isn’t a mistake.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute 



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The Future of Content Success Is Social

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The Future of Content Success Is Social

Here’s a challenge: search “SEO RFP” on Google. Click on the results, and tell me how similar they are.

We did the same thing every other SEO does: We asked, “What words are thematically relevant?” Which themes have my competitors missed?” How can I put them in?” AND “How can I do everything just slightly better than they can?”

Then they do the same, and it becomes a cycle of beating mediocre content with slightly less mediocre content.

When I looked at our high-ranking content, I felt uncomfortable. Yes, it ranked, but it wasn’t overly helpful compared to everything else that ranked.

Ranking isn’t the job to be done; it is just a proxy.

Why would a high-ranking keyword make me feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that the whole freaking job to be done? Not for me. The job to be done is to help educate people, and ranking is a byproduct of doing that well.

I looked at our own content, and I put myself in the seat of a searcher, not an SEO; I looked at the top four rankings and decided that our content felt easy, almost ChatGPT-ish. It was predictable, it was repeatable, and it lacked hot takes and spicy punches.

So, I removed 80% of the content and replaced it with the 38 questions I would ask if I was hiring an SEO. I’m a 25-year SME, and I know what I would be looking for in these turbulent times. I wanted to write the questions that didn’t exist on anything ranking in the top ten. This was a risk, why? Because, semantically, I was going against what Google was likely expecting to see on this topic. This is when Mike King told me about information gain. Google will give you a boost in ranking signals if you bring it new info. Maybe breaking out of the sea of sameness + some social signals could be a key factor in improving rankings on top of doing the traditional SEO work.

What’s worth more?

Ten visits to my SEO RFP post from people to my content via a private procurement WhatsApp group or LinkedIn group?

One hundred people to the same content from search?

I had to make a call, and I was willing to lose rankings (that were getting low traffic but highly valued traffic) to write something that when people read it, they thought enough about it to share it in emails, groups, etc.

SME as the unlock to standout content?

I literally just asked myself, “Wil, what would you ask yourself if you were hiring an SEO company? Then I riffed for 6—8 hours and had tons of chats with ChatGPT. I was asking ChatGPT to get me thinking differently. Things like, “what would create the most value?” I never constrained myself to “what is the search volume,” I started with the riffs.

If I was going to lose my rankings, I had to socially promote it so people knew it existed. That was an unlock, too, if you go this route. It’s work, you are now going to rely on spikes from social, so having a reason to update it and put it back in social is very important.

Most of my “followers” aren’t looking for SEO services as they are digital marketers themselves. So I didn’t expect this post to take off HUGLEY, but given the content, I was shocked at how well it did and how much engagement it got from real actual people.

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

Writing a book is a gargantuan task, and reaching the finish line is a feat equal to summiting a mountain.

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