How to Build your Digital Presence from Scratch

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One of the first full-blown marketing efforts I directed was for an online software called Attentiv.  Attentiv confronted the same obstacles that most startups and small businesses face.  No one’s heard of you yet, there’s no brand equity or goodwill to leverage, and your website doesn’t show up in Google for any keywords.  Essentially, Attentiv was starting from scratch while still trying to grab attention away from bigger, more established brands.

Despite these challenges, our marketing campaigns for Attentiv were successful.  So successful in fact, that I’ve now been invited to speak about the Attentiv marketing campaign several times just in the last couple months.  Now I’m putting my strategy out there as a resource.  Hopefully you’ll find it useful!

My strategy can be broken down into 3 main parts.

  1. Testing Channels.  
  2. Focusing on High-Value Content.  
  3. Amplifying Opportunities.

When you put everything together, the goal is to test your potential marketing channels to find the most effective channel for your campaign, create some high-value content for that channel, and then amplify the heck out of any opportunities that arise from the content you create.

(1) Test Channels

Marketing experiments have been invaluable for me.  Because every situation, every company, every news cycle is different, I have to test things out before I invest time and resources.  So, before I start a marketing campaign, I test out each of the channels I could potentially use to promote my campaign.  For me, most of these channels have been internet-based – like social media, online forums, or web publications – but print and other media could be good options as well.

test marketing channels

As part of my channel tests, I also cycle through different genres of content to make sure I have data on what types of content do best.  For Attentiv, I started with funny content, posting jokes about meetings, making fun of bosses, etc., and I saw a decent response.  I tested “How To” guides next, and then news items after that.  But, it wasn’t until I started posting statistics as my content that I saw a really strong response.  Because I had run these tests, I figured out that our best channel was online forums and our best content was statistics that fit our brand message.

(2) High-Value Content

Now that my experiments were finished,  it was time to start building my content.  Luckily, I knew right where to focus because I had tested my channels earlier.  All of our content was focused towards our most successful channels, in this case, statistics and online forums.  I did some research, looking into census data and business studies done by psychology professors and business schools.  I found some amazing statistics on meetings that aligned incredibly well with Attentiv’s brand message.

Next, I had to make the statistics I had found viral-ready.  I’ve found that viral-readiness is incredibly key for most marketing.  Lots of content gets the opportunity to go viral, it just isn’t shareable enough.  Having small, interesting snippets of information that can appeal to different personality types and backgrounds leads to far more shares and a much higher likelihood for a viral hit.

focus on high-value marketing content

So, I took these stats and packaged them together into small, ultra-shareable snippets.  I wanted the content to be “snackable” – where people could browse through and share the parts of my content that they found most interesting.  To accomplish this, I created several small images instead of one large infographic.  One image said “63% of meetings are conducted without a pre-planned agenda” and another “$338 – the average cost of a meeting”.  By breaking what could have been a lengthy image into bite-size pieces, I made it much more likely that my content would go viral if it was given the opportunity.

The success of the Attentiv campaign also came down to the fact that the content was high in value.  I couldn’t cheat my way to massive marketing success.  I might fool 10 people or maybe even 100, but there was no way I could convince 100,000 people to share my content unless it was actually good stuff.  So, we painstakingly made the piece something worthwhile, that people would revisit and other writers would link to.  Something high enough in value that people would want to share it, just to make themselves look smart.

The next goal was to cultivate what I like to call a “get the ball rolling” base.  I like to compare marketing to rolling a snowball down a hill.  If your campaign can gain momentum, it can build bigger and bigger as it rolls forward just like a snowball.  But someone has to make the small ball of snow and push it down the hill to get it started.  

get the ball rolling promotion base
This is where the “get the ball rolling” base comes in.  Every campaign needs an initial push, and for us that came from coworkers, friends and family.  We gathered about 30 contacts who could retweet, like and upvote the content we sent them.  These people were critical to getting our campaign going, and I’ll never do another campaign again without some base to build from.

(3) Amplify Opportunities

If things go well at all after you start promoting your content, additional marketing opportunities will crop up.  These can take the form of a news outlet picking up your content, a blogger using one of your images, or even a tweet from someone with a lot of followers.  The key is to be aware of when these opportunities arise and take advantage of them as soon as you can.  One of the best ways to I found to track potential opportunities is web analytics (I use Google Analytics).  If a big spike of visitors starts coming from Twitter, it’s likely an influencer tweeted out your content.  If visitors start rolling in from the Washington Post, it’s likely they picked up your campaign.

amplify marketing opportunities

It’s tempting to sit back and high five when your content gets picked up, your snowball is getting bigger after all.  But the ball could really get going if you start promoting these new opportunities.  I always assume that people are terrible at promoting their own content (the truth is they often are.  Maybe they’ll tweet it, but that’s it).  So, apply the same channel strategies that made your content a success to this outside content.

This means that sometimes you have to make their message more shareable.  Attentiv was once covered by a news outlet whose article tagline stated “New startup comes out of DC”.  Completely true, but completely boring.  So we dug through the article and found a line that stated “This software enables introverts in the workplace”.  Introverts were a hot topic at the time because of the success of Susan Cain’s book Quiet – much more interesting, much more shareable.  So when we started promoting the article on social forums, we titled our posts “This software enables introverts in the workplace” and it led to some strong engagement.  In fact, the author of the piece contacted me afterwards and asked that I keep in touch because she wanted to write about us again.  I’m sure she saw the shares and visit count climbing as we were promoting it.

marketing testing payoff

Conclusion

This type of approach probably doesn’t fit every campaign.  If you’re Nike or Toyota or if you have $1 billion dollars in ad spend, there’s likely a better strategy for you.  But, if you’re planning on creating interest in a new or low-profile business, you can’t go wrong with these 3 steps.  Remember to (1) test your potential marketing channels to find the most effective channel for your campaign, (2) create some high-value content for that channel, and then (3) amplify any opportunities that arise from the content you create.

Have you had something go viral?  What makes your content more shareable?  Let me know in the comments below.

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