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Penetrating Your Online Target Market A strong digital presence will cost you money- the more you spend on your reach, the more reach you get.

By Alexander Rauser

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Many young entrepreneurs are at the forefront when it comes to digital marketing and can be very creative in using unconventional or new ways to market their business. There are a multitude of free tools online that cater to the innovative mind, but there are still roadblocks in the way to building a solid digital presence. Why should you spend money instead of trying to free-ride yourself to digital success?

Cost Conundrums

There are tons of free online tools that you can use to get market insights, find business opportunities and spread the word about your company. For example, you can find influential people in your social network or people that share a common interest. You can conduct market research on what users are searching for online and what they are reading. So, while there are many free tools available, is there really something called "free marketing' to begin with?

At the first glance everything seems be a one-way road that leads to more and more toll gates while driving along the digital marketing highway. Let's explain this further. Companies that first spent millions to build large communities with thousands of fans on social networks like Facebook are now being forced to advertise on their own brand pages to get reach with their content. What was considered free advertising before has become a bidding game across many of these platforms.

There is a good reason for this. Marketers more or less took over users' newsfeeds meaning that sites like Facebook had to do something about it– and, for Mark Zuckerberg, it's a good opportunity to make some money at the same time. Today, in most cases, if you have a company fan page on Facebook the only way for anyone to see your post is to either pay for it or spend hours of time optimizing your posts to get lucky. Facebook is not the only case, and there is a clear pattern across other online channels. For example, take search engines, email or guest blogging and you will find yourself in a world of paid media.

Pay Your Way?

When referring to paid media in digital marketing, we mean paying to promote your content online. This could be a banner advertisement, content placement, promoted content or anywhere else you have to pay to place your material. Paid media makes a lot of sense since it helps you to push marketing information out there quickly, target your users effectively and measure your results. The only downside? It is not free. The good news, however, is there are other forms of media such as owned and earned media:

Owned media All the digital assets and content we own as a brand such as blogs, websites and social channels usually represents the part where a lot of digital investment goes. This is where many companies go wrong. Typically, they spend a lot of their budget on the creation of complex assets and leave little to none left for the maintenance and promotion of the same.

Earned media These are your retweets, reposts on Instagram, social shares on platforms like Facebook and Google+, links, product reviews, interviews and so on. This is the one that businesses like the most, as it's free of additional charges for the most part.

While earned media is technically free, the reality is you have to do something to earn it. That is where you going to spend your money- in the creation of great content that people will like and that they share of their own accord. The good news is that the investment made here can pay back exponentially compared to other forms of media. By comparison, paid media is pretty linear. The more you spend on your reach, the more reach you get. However, if you land a killer piece of content it can take you far beyond your initial spend. That being said, there is always a risk it will take you nowhere at all. Experimenting with different content ideas to see what works best is one way to build your digital presence. However, larger companies are usually not the best risk takers and this is where smaller business can leverage their agility as an advantage. So is it safe to say that there is no free marketing at all? Well, there is free, but it still costs you and your company time.

Crafting Your Company's Digital Footprint

A young company can garner some decent coverage by implementing a solid social presence around a business that is driven by its employees or founders. It all usually starts with your own circles and friends. Creating a narrative about your company, your products or your people will build an online brand for your business and gain exposure. Your friends and associates may recommend your pages or share your content to gain more visibility. Once this is maximized, one can start seeking new "friends" by engaging with likeminded online users or online individuals from the same industry. People still like to buy from other people and that's why it's sometimes great to tie it all together into a personal story and create something engaging for your audience using social media. (But, as previously stated, this takes time- and time is money.)

An important point to note: doing it right it can actually have some great impact on other aspects of your online marketing including SEO, PR and general content marketing. But there is a reason why every seasoned digital marketer will advise entrepreneurs to create a full digital marketing plan across multiple channels. It's not just to increase the actual scope, but to create a round digital offering and avoid putting all of your eggs in one basket. The result of this is that the effort that will go into your digital presence will be far from free and therefore every business should be prepared to set aside a decent digital marketing budget to get things going and, by the end of it, there needs to be a return on the investment either way.

Alexander Rauser

CEO, Prototype

Alexander Rauser has over 15 years of experience in the digital media industry with both a creative and a technical background. He studied media engineering in Germany with a double major in online and offline media. After heading the digital division of a Dubai-based agency for five years, he fulfilled his long ambition to found Prototype Interactive in 2010, an interactive agency specializing in digital solutions for web, mobile and social media. The company is now considered as one of the top digital agencies in the country working with international and regional brands. Talk to him on Twitter at @ARauser.

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