Growing your brand online with digital marketing doesn’t have to be so freaking complicated. There are two common conditions holding up-and-coming brands back: trying to do too many things at once, or doing the right thing at the wrong time.
The overwhelming state of digital marketing education can also lead to a state of self-doubt that makes us want to outsource everything, since the body of knowledge is too huge to learn in one sitting or even a year. And while you don’t need to do everything, outsourcing 100% of your power in the field most critical to your brand’s success now and in the future isn’t a risk worth taking.
Within physical goods industries there’s an inventory management strategy called just-in-time: aligning raw-material orders from suppliers directly with production schedules in order to decrease inventory costs and increase efficiency. Applied to brands growing with digital marketing: your brain is the warehouse and knowledge is inventory. By shifting from a state of wanting to learn or do all the things at once toward a model that has us focused on the right things at the right time, we’ll grow faster, more efficiently, and feel less overwhelmed.
That’s what Strong Brand Social’s Digital Growth Roadmap attempts to do. Based on observing thousands of bootstrapping brands pursue growth over the past 10 years – whether that be physical product, ecomm, service providers, or the marketers that support them – the model below encourages us to increase our focus on what we need now for greater productivity and efficiency along the brand growth journey.
This isn’t a perfect formula and the process isn’t linear. The #1 key to your success is to interpret this model through a lens of your brand’s market, customer, goals, mission, and resources!
Mile Marker 0: Product market fit
The very first problem to solve is product/market fit for your offer, whether that’s a product, service, software, or hybrid. If you’re bootstrapping – not a capital or venture funded company – you likely have what’s called an agile startup model of business: You start with an idea, shop it around, get customer feedback, and adjust accordingly. Once your sales accelerate, you can tell that your product or service concept is proven and you’ve unlocked the product-market fit stage.
- As far as digital marketing goes at this stage, you may or may not be using it. A lot of folks are using word of mouth marketing, referrals, and focus groups – but you CAN also use a super simple digital marketing sales funnel to help you gather data.
- It’s a numbers game – we need a good population size of conversion tests to know whether or not the concept is proven (this could be conversions on an ecomm website or simple sales calls for a service offer).
- If you want to increase the velocity of this phase to find answers more quickly, you can set up a simple paid funnel, such as a social media ad driving to a landing page, that begins to give you those impressions and landing page views from which you can calculate conversion rate (a KPI that indicates whether or not there is market fit for your offer)!
Mile Marker 1: Acquisition stage
Once your market fit is proven, it’s time to find more customers – the revenue from which will be the engine that drives your business! Revenue and cash flow are absolutely essential to the health of any business, but this is especially true early on.
- Assuming you aren’t an at-capacity service provider, we definitely need a customer acquisition sales funnel set up at this stage. The top of the “funnel” or customer journey is an advertisement that can be shown while you’re sleeping, in a place where your customers are, with content that grabs their attention.
- Another option – if you have more talent resources in content creation than you do in paid budget – is organic funneling. This will require daily content that speaks to your audience, but is a better option for those with no budget.
- Regardless of whether or not you’re using organic or paid content, the purpose is to get them to click through to your website, and your website works to drive the sale.
- The question of where that ad should be, for example TikTok or Facebook, depends on an independent evaluation of your opportunities, current resources, and market behavior. Regardless of where you are, you should focus on being in one place – max two – until you have a proven, sustainable sales funnel working day in and day out.
Mile Marker 2: Optimization
Assuming that your minimum viable sales funnel is working to drive sales at a cost you can operate the business at, it’s time to move on to the next phase where we’re working to improve the quality of our economics, or return on marketing spend.
- We can improve our targeting and messaging along the funnel by diagnosing the numbers at each stage of the customer journey according to industry benchmarks to know how we might be able to lower our acquisition costs.
- There’s also an option to work to increase your “cart” value or value of each sale as a way to optimize the economics of your customer acquisition. This is where shiny objects start to really come out of the woodwork.
- This is a common mistake, but the truth is that it’s early yet to start moving onto multiple platforms – there’s a fine line between optimization and stalling yourself out from trying to be in too many places at once.
- If things are working then focus at this stage on optimizing what you are already doing – your cost per acquisition and/or your cart value – instead of introducing more platforms.
- Adding resources: You’ll potentially need a freelancer to help with either creative or media buying depending on your strengths.
Mile Marker 3: Growth
We’re starting to think about “diversification” here but before we go all in all at once, we need to think about whether or not our best next move is to diversify your traffic sources or your products – unless you have a lot of cash, it’ll be difficult to do both at once.
- At Strong Brand Social, we were delayed in our digital marketing diversification because our earliest students were asking us for more products and we wanted to address it swiftly because it’s the greatest problem in business to have. That’s how this business unit grew to ~$1m in a year: while our minimum viable acquisition funnel was working to bring in customers, we created new products at the demand of our current customers.
- A lot of consultants advise having just one offer and growing your traffic to it. In that case, you might be venturing onto other digital marketing platforms that will integrate well with the minimum viable sales funnel you’re running now.
- You can allocate more budget to your primary funnel and diversify your creative, while allocating smaller budgets to test on new platforms. It completely depends on your unique situation – allllll things considered – which is why I believe so much in the importance of being able to consult with experts that deeply understand your business.
- Adding resources: You’ll potentially introduce additional talent to support content creation, media buying, or website management
Mile Marker 4: Scaling
At this stage, we’re pursuing all of the above and more:
- Lower cost per acquisition via advertising, testing creatives, and platform diversification
- Testing ways to increase cart value at point of sale for better return on marketing investment
- Increasing our customer value and lifetime value by upselling and cross-selling to new products and services.
- At this stage (or earlier if our resources allow) we want to make sure we’re investing in traffic sources beyond the immediate paid funnel, with tactics like SEO.
- It’s worth noting that your digital growth journey won’t be linear and smooth at all times. You’ll take two steps forward and one step back; when something foundational breaks, you need to take time to fix it before moving on to the next step!
- Adding resources: You might move from freelancer model to agency or internal hire, depending on your business’s economic model and daily operations. At this stage, you need to stay disciplined about the rate at which you expand to new platforms, tactics, and marketing projects, but should always be deploying expert resources to expand your brand in new directions versus trying to do it yourself.
Mile Marker 5: Delegation, Leadership, Impact
This is where things can get to be so much fun, but there aren’t enough conversations about how to actually lead your brand in the digital marketing space; how to manage the massive changes your organization will experience as you grow; how to move from doing it all to hiring talent that doesn’t only excel at their jobs but helps to cultivate a company culture that enhances your life and the experiences of your broader community! You want to be strategizing about how to stay ahead of the impact you want your brand to have, and how to allocate your resources in alignment to your purpose beyond profit. When you reach this stage, these are the questions you need to be asking yourself and experienced conscious leaders that can help you shape your brand’s impact legacy.
In your corner,