Digital marketing is quite the catch-all term. Nearly everything you can think of as a necessity when it comes to promoting your business online falls under this umbrella.
Of course, it’s not enough to be aware of what your digital marketing needs are, though. To create a strong promotion strategy that generates a steady stream of customers, you need to know how to market within them.
That’s when it helps to have a bit of expert advice. In this installment of Lunch with Littledata, we sat for a chat with digital marketing agency Sweet Digital‘s founder Laura Hogan to talk through the current state of social promotion, uncover the secrets to winning at PR, and find out how to zero in on the right marketing avenues for your brand.
Greg from Littledata: Could you tell us the story of Sweet Digital?
Laura Hogan: Sweet started pre-pandemic, just over three years ago with me and my dog in the kitchen pretty much (laughs). We’ve since grown to eight team members and very much specialize in SEO. But that includes all parts of SEO, whether it’s the technical content or digital PR side of things.
Recently we merged with a bigger company here in the West Midlands called Cube, so we’ve got much bigger resources from their digital team. We also have a really technical, specialized development and design team too. It’s a really exciting time for us—lots changing and going on, which is good.
Greg: When you’re advising your clients, what are the key channels you suggest brands focus on?
Laura: It’s partly budget-dependent. I always say if you’re looking for a longer-term strategy, then we recommend SEO because that’s going to be your lowest cost per acquisition sales channel.
If people want a real quick hit, then Google ads and social advertising is always a really good route. For ecommerce specifically, TikTok is doing really well. Obviously, we’ve had Shopify add in-app shopping with product tagging for TikTok in the last year or so. The cost per click there is still pretty low from an advertising standpoint, too, especially if your product is something that you can show off how to use in seven or eight seconds. For some of the more traditional brands, LinkedIn advertising has been doing quite well, particularly if you’re very specific. You can say, “I want to target people in these companies with these job titles or these industries” and really layer on your targeting.
If you just want some general brand awareness and you’re going for the longevity of SEO, then digital PR is always a good shout. Not only are you building knowledge of your brand, but you’re also getting referral traffic that you can track in Google Analytics and see what sales you’ve got from it. Plus, you get some SEO benefits too since it helps your website rankings by adding good links.
Tip: See how to optimize your site and learn more about your customers by setting up server-side tracking.
Greg: Are there any key metrics that you look at when comparing the effectiveness of social advertisements, search ads, PR, and SEO?
Laura: Social’s gotten a bit more difficult with the new privacy laws and the iOS 14 update. We’ve moved to pulling in more multichannel reports to see how social is performing and to find out if it’s a touchpoint in the sale. We know it might not have been the final source, but we want to know if it was involved. So we’ve given social a bit of a wider attribution than we might have done years ago.
From a metrics point of view, everybody cares about money don’t they? So it’s always revenue and leads first and foremost, then we start to look more at the traffic. If we don’t feel like things are going well necessarily with campaigns, then we check the bounce rate on a landing page from ads. We also check if the time on site is really poor. Then we can start working from there.
We’ve actually found that, particularly with paid campaigns, heat mapping has been a really good addition to bring in and tell if the ad landing pages are too long and where they can be optimized.
Greg: How would you recommend brands create buzz around new products?
Laura: If you’re able to send your product out to people to review and feature, that’s a really good way of getting publicity. Obviously a lot of influencers charge, so you need to have a budget in mind and be mindful of who you can afford to have promote your product.
I’m a big fan of the micro-influencer side of things—or really “specialist influencers.” If you’ve got a tech product, for instance, there are a lot of TikTok reviewers that only review tech and they can get millions of views per video. Some of them are actually very happy to just receive product as compensation. It takes a bit of research and time to look through and find those accounts, which of course is the thing that we don’t have enough of.
General journalists are great as well. They often send out requests when they’re looking for specific products or features. There’s a tool you can purchase called Response Source that puts requests straight into your inbox and saves some of the legwork. HARO (Help A Reporter Out) is a really good free version of that same type of tool. Twitter is another great way to get in touch with journalists. Many journalists just post on Twitter what they’re looking for, and a lot of them actually have their email details on Twitter as well. It’s just about digging through and finding the right person that’s relevant to what you’re after.
Greg: Diving a bit more into social promotion—what’s the state of things as you’ve seen them playing out right now? What are the best platforms and which are lagging?
Laura: It’s a bit of a mess, actually. Facebook’s dwindling in influence for a lot of industries. The tracking prevention really hit them hard and it’s made it difficult for users to know what’s going on. Then from a management perspective, they’re changing a lot on the back end. Rebranding to Meta, merging Instagram into the same kind of user interface as TikTok. They’re changing and moving a lot of things, but also the cost per click just isn’t as strong as it used to be. They’re actually tailoring on to be quite expensive what you get for what you’re getting. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Meta’s platforms because they’re targeting so broad. It’s difficult to nail down a really strict demographic on those ads, compared to LinkedIn where it’s so easy to do. Even TikTok’s quite good at nailing down a strict demographic.
Tip: Learn how to retarget your best customers using Facebook’s conversions API.
Pinterest is coming back again—there does seem to be more buzz there and the cost per click there is decent. Again, like TikTok, Pinterest is great for ecommerce because we can drive buyers straight through from a post to buying a product. But TikTok is just driving everything.
If you’re working with user-generated content on TikTok, you can actually request the influencer send you a spark code so you can create paid ads of their TikTok video. Since you pay for it, the video is in your ad account, but the ad shows that it’s coming from that user which makes it look a lot more organic. We’re seeing a lot of big brands doing that rather than it coming directly from the brand’s page. I think that’s a really cool approach to take. The influencer can license it to you for a year at a time so you can have that asset for a while as well.
Greg: If a brand is working with influencers on any platform, what do you recommend for strategies they should try?
Laura: Make sure you get ownership of everything and clear the ability to use content in any videos or imagery that you want. Don’t forget that influencer content can go on your website, in your email marketing, organic social, paid social—you want to use it as much as possible so that you’re getting your money’s worth. We always recommend that people write that in when they’re doing their agreements with influencers.
I’d also not be fooled by follower numbers. Look at the engagement people are getting rather than how many people follow them. Because you quite often find that the bigger the following, the smaller the engagement. I’m also not a huge fan of influencers where every other post is a #ad. It makes it feel like the food’s not authentic. Again, it’s really down to research and spending hours trawling through social media to find the right kind of people to go after.
Greg: You mentioned a few times how iOS hit a lot of promotion methods hard and really changed the whole landscape. How have you seen different brands adjusting to post-iOS, cookieless marketing?
Laura: A lot of them have just had to go broader with their targeting. People have just had to go big with their audiences, but then also go quite heavy on retargeting from that.
Some of the funnels we’ve started working with is we’ll get a video and then we’ll target that video quite broadly and then do a retargeting channel that hits people who engaged with that video. So then you kind of self-refine everything because a lot of the really small user groups and audiences you can’t target right away anymore.
Using your web metrics and retargeting from website visits is important as well. The way things are now you have to do that broad segment first to get your data in then filter it down.
Tip: Combat tracking prevention and preserve customer insights by using first-party data.
Greg: What’s something you see digital marketers get wrong all the time about PR?
Laura: Sometimes people just go too broad. It’s very much a “throw it and see what sticks” approach. Links are brilliant for SEO. We know that links are a core part of the algorithm and I’d be highly surprised if they ever disappeared from the algorithm. But how we could build links ten or so years ago—where you could put a link about puppies on a website about shoes—we can’t do that anymore. We need to be a bit more specific about what our brand is about and what’s related to them, then find the best sites for it.
Your national press and your local press are always going to be in that mix because they are the trusted sites. They have a good Domain Authority (DA) or Trust Flow, whichever you use, and they have a good audience in them. So it’s fine targeting those, but if your company has nothing to do with music and then you’re suddenly trying to get loads of links on music websites, the relevance just isn’t there. That’s one of the biggest mistakes, brands who look at trying to get loads and loads of links anywhere they can, rather than focusing on the quality and the relevance of those links to the brand.
Greg: It’s similar to the influencer strategy—you want to pick something that’s really relevant to your product and your message versus, like you said, putting it on something that’s completely irrelevant because it has a high DA.
Laura: 100%. You see it too often. I’ll say as well—we know controversy gets coverage, but just make sure you’re not crossing a line and always bearing in mind your brand’s reputation.
There are instances where a brand has pieces that have gotten them so much coverage, but actually the message that’s coming across isn’t necessarily the most ethical message or the best for that brand.
It’s such a tough line because journalists are getting hundreds and hundreds of emails every day and you want to stand out in the inbox.
Greg: When you see a brand bootstrapping their own PR, do you have any advice for them to get started?
Laura: Surveying customers is always quite good because it’s data that you’ve got ready waiting from your own customer base. Find out the pain points for your customers and answer some questions around that. If you’re an HR company, for example, you might want to ask, “on average, how many sick days are employees taking a month?” Then you can spin that into stories, especially if you put a financial angle on it.
Staying with that example, for instance, say if employees on average were taking three sick days a month, you could then work out what the average cost a year is to that business from sick pay. Then it kind of spins the story out of itself because it’s usually quite a shocking figure. So use the data that you have, first and foremost. Sign up for the HAROs and things like that where you get the free journalist inquiries into your inbox, and don’t be afraid to be a bit creative. Canva is a fantastic tool. There’s a free version of it and you can make really professional-looking graphics from it. I’m not a designer by any stretch, but things that I’ve made on Canva have been in the national press in the UK.
I also like to look at what the press is covering. Obviously, cost of living is a huge discussion point globally at the moment. So if you’ve got an angle on that and it’s going to be slightly different to what others are saying, push it out. We’ve just done one for a client of ours about what the most expensive appliances in your home were. We worked out how much these items cost per hour and how much that was costing you a year to use them. That got picked up quite broadly throughout national press in the UK. If you can make it relatable and factual and add your numbers, there’s a really good chance of it getting picked up. Nothing in that piece I did cost any money to get that information together other than time.
Greg: Right. The journalist wants to write about it because they know they’ll get someone to read it. Then you’re getting your promotion in there really by just offering valuable information.
Laura: Yeah, and sometimes it’s less about you and your business and more about the advice or information that you’ve given. I’d say the core exception to that is if you have a really quirky product, then that in itself can get the press coverage because it’s just so out there that people want to read about it because it’s fun. That’s a scenario when you can be really “me, me, me” with it.
Outside that, you’ll be the credit for the information or the quote in there rather than the whole piece be about you. I think gone are the days where the press care about this company celebrating 20 years or we’ve just bought this MD in. Unless you’re a giant-sized company, of course.
Greg: That’s again similar to the SEO strategy where you want to provide value and information so people intially come to find you as a resource, engage with your brand, and then learn more about your product.
Laura: 100%. It’s a really nice, soft intro for people to who you are and what you do. I mean, the piece we just did about the cost of appliances in your home was actually for a homeware client. So it was super relevant to what they actually sell and it just keeps them top of mind for customers. There’s definitely times we’ve seen, in the analytics, straight referral revenue from PR pieces. That’s such a good feeling when you see that.
Greg: What’s the advantage of bringing on an agency versus doing it all? When would a brand know it’s time to say, “all right, I’m ready to bring an agency on board?”
Laura: I think the truth is the biggest benefit is time. Time and also contacts. If we’ve been working with journalists before, we’ve built up a rapport with them already. So it makes it makes it slightly more likely that you might get the coverage—as long as it’s still relevant to that journalist of course. Then just the time saved in researching new media lists, overseeing the data, making creative assets, making press releases and emails—it can get quite time-consuming and I 100% appreciate that a lot of business owners don’t have that time to sit down and do it.
When to bring in an agency is a tough one because a lot of people jump the gun too soon and want to get the agency when they don’t have the logistics in order or their customer department and things like that. So I think I think you need to get your house in order fast, make sure that you can fulfill anything that comes through, and that if you’re B2B, you’ve got your sales pipeline and structure in place so that you are chasing up leads quickly when they come in and staying on top of them. Because the last thing you want is to be driving traffic and potential customers and then have the conversions from it end up slim.
Once you have your house in order and you’re ready to take that next step to get some coverage out there or you’ve got something you want to talk about, then I think it’s a good time to engage with an agency.
Greg: Right—get the infrastructure ready before just trying to scale right away without a structure and plan in place.
Laura: 100%. It can be as simple as making sure you’ve got some reviews on your products beforehand. That’s a trust factor and people are more likely to buy when they see it. Also, make sure you’re not just sending people to a Gmail address for contact.
It can be such little nuanced things like that which can make a huge difference for conversion and trust. Even if you’re just running your business out of your bedroom, you can definitely make it look like you’re not.
Greg: Is there anything on the horizon for Sweet Digital that you wanted to share?
Laura: Our marriage with Cube is obviously a big one for us internally. New processes and new team members, which has been really exciting for us.
Then, just keep doing good work. Keep going, keep doing, keep keeping clients happy. Keep doing some really good work and keep building. We’ve signed some really cool new clients recently which we’re excited to get stuck into—from smartwatches to recruitment and things. So I’m quite excited to get into those and just start going.