4 Pillars of Digital Marketing

Content, Communication, Community & Commerce

Digital marketing is any marketing delivered via an Internet, mobile or tablet device. It’s complex and has many elements that must be integrated into your overall marketing plan. Therefore, organize your plans and related strategies around the four pillars of digital marketing, content, communication, community and commerce.

Content. Online content is king. It’s the lure that attracts both readers and search robots. With social media’s evolution, your marketing message’s context has increased importance. As a result, content marketing, as a core element of a digital marketing strategy, has increased importance as well.

  • Website is traditionally the home of your business’ online presence. It’s the marketing hub for product display, content distribution, e-commerce and/or sales leads and corporate information. As an alternative, use a blog, Flickr or YouTube channel.
  • Search is online content’s directory. It’s one of the ways consumers navigate the Internet using services like Google and on-site search.
  • Social media content can be created by a company and/or customers and/or the public. Among the dominant formats are blogs, videos (like YouTube), photographs, audio or podcasts, Q&A sites (like Yahoo Answers), wikis (like Wikipedia), product ratings and reviews (like Amazon and TripAdvisor), and slide sharing.
  • Apps are used on smartphones and tablets and provide an entry to your content. Often, they’re created to leverage the special functionality of these devices. With an ever-expanding universe of apps, the challenge is getting target users to download your app and use it regularly.

Communication. On digital platforms, messages can be delivered one-to-many as it is for traditional media, one-to-one as it is for direct marketing and many-to-many as it is on social media networks.

  • Email is the workhorse of online communications. While many businesses only focus on push promotions, they overlook leveraging behaviorally targeted emails. Email is still the lifeblood of corporate communications where employees are tethered via their blackberries. Email also drives social media interactions. Additionally, email is the dominant use of the mobile Internet. Therefore ensure recipients can read and respond to your communications on-the-go.
  • RSS are better known as feeds. They provide another conduit for content distribution. Most consumers don’t realize that they use RSS on news sites like Google News.
  • Chat is an exchange channel like email for business and personal use. Businesses use chat for customer service since it’s more cost effective. Some chat clients incorporate advertising options.
  • Social media provides communications via messaging on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Also, social sharing can be considered a way of communicating useful information to friends, colleagues and followers.
  • Texting is often considered the territory of teens. Develop a permission based opt-in list of prospects and customers for time sensitive communications like banking notices, media alerts and sales.

Community. While people formed groups online before the public Internet, the introduction and expansion of social media platforms facilitated the process and broadened usage.

  • Social media networks, most notably Facebook, provide the platforms for individuals to engage and interact with their family, friends and social graph. These platforms provide the tools to extend engagement and sharing, particularly on a many-to-many basis. Due to the time people spend on these platforms, businesses find it useful to be where their prospects and customers are in order to engage and build relationships as well as advertise.
  • Online forums. Online bulletin boards continue in a variety of formats on public forums and company websites to provide additional product help and information. Yahoo Groups and Twitter chats can be included in this category. These forums allow people to interact asynchronously.
  • Offline activities. Social media tools (like Meetup ) provide online tools like forums and messaging to facilitate offline events.

Commerce. Regardless of where the purchase is made, most shopping starts with online research and purchase-related content. Therefore have a digital presence to ensure that your firm is included in the consideration set. Further, mobile content is needed since customers continue to research products and prices while they’re in your store. Since consumers don’t trust advertising, incorporate customer ratings and reviews with your product information or they’ll go elsewhere to find it!

  • Website provides product information and purchase ability. Use of video among merchants is increasing because it shows customers a more realistic view of the product. A mobile website is important for online and offline retailers to ensure you’re present when and where prospects look for you.
  • Social media options likes Facebook enable retailers to sell directly without requiring participants to leave the social media platform.
  • Social commerce is online shopping meets social media, content and collaborative tools. Among the options are social shopping sites like Kaboodle and group coupons like Groupon. Companies like Threadless are testing other collaborative tools to engage customers.
  • Mobile commerce enables consumers buy via their smartphone. This nascent market has huge potential as how we use credit cards and pay for products changes. Additionally, overlook the use of smartphones to check product and prices at retail at your peril.

Digital marketing’s four pillars are interrelated and support each other. Marketers must ensure each of these components works independently as well as collaboratively to achieve overarching business goals. While categorizing these elements is useful for planning your marketing efforts, realize that in real life, there’s overlap in how some of these elements behave.

Is there anything else that you’d add to these four pillars of digital marketing? Alternatively is there anything that you’d change? If so, what would it be?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

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Photo credit: Dan.. via Flickr

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  • I use the exact four elements or “Cs” as I call them to break down digital media, too. I actually think there are a few more pillars. With yours above, I also speak about Collaboration, Campaigns, and Context/Connection. Collaboration is typical partnering third party websites, apps, etc where shared content and communication between different but related audiences might have an impact. Campaigns take collaborations a step further and is a wrapper for most of the other C elements. Context/Connection is what the audience’s impression will be or how it’s relates to them. You could separate the terms but I think they are close enough in connotation to just refer to them together for explanation purposes. Sometimes I even forgot about this one!

  • This post is fantastic. For someone new to digital marketing, it will be extraordinarily helpful and a great resource. For someone who has been around for a bit, the truth of the wisdom you present here is apparent. Excellent, excellent post.

  • Michael Smith

    Really like this post: broke down a labyrinth of a subject into nice digestible chunks!

    It baffles me when I see people trying to forge success by isolating just one of these pillars; they work in tandem with one another.