How to 'eat your own dog food' when it comes to digital marketing

If you want to be a success, you need to start from the customer and work backwards.

By Ian Dodson Director, Digital Marketing Institute

NOT MANY COMPANIES live or die by what they sell. Sure, your reputation as a company is dependent on the product or service you provide, but when you have to use it yourself in a very public manner it brings a whole new level of pressure.

‘Eating your own dog food’ is often used to reference a scenario in which a company uses its own product to test and promote a product. We do this every day, constantly questioning if our own digital marketing is up to scratch and whether we’re practicing what we teach and preach.

If I’m honest, we don’t always get it right. But over the past eight years, since first setting up the company, we’ve learned three key things about what successful digital marketing looks like.

We follow a structured methodology underpinned by the ‘three-I principles’. These principles provide the framework for effective digital marketing and illustrate the need for a totally different approach than that applied to traditional marketing.

1. Initiate

For effective digital marketing, start with the customer and work backwards. The internet allows us not just to do market ‘research’ but also to access market ‘reality’. Through tools like keyword research or social listening, it enables us to examine what people actually do online.

We have spent years building a deep understanding of our customers and we know a lot about why people attend colleges and universities that teach our programmes and what they need and want to learn. That informs not just how we reach them, but it completely changes what we teach them.

From day one we’ve been open to changing our programmes based on our students’ needs – our high level of interaction with them means we can listen and act.

IanDodson_DigitalMarketingInstitute5 Digital Marketing Institute director Ian Dodson

2. Iterate

Any digital marketing campaign is only as good as a brand or company’s willingness to change it in response to consumers. We have found that the first idea is not necessarily the best. So you need to monitor how your customers are interacting with your campaign and be prepared to change it.

Your campaign can, and will, improve over its lifetime. The length of the iteration cycle depends on the channel. So, for example, if you send a weekly email newsletter you will review open and click-through rates within a day or two of sending it.

You will then apply those insights to your next weekly newsletter in terms of what did and didn’t resonate with customers. For search marketing, it might be a daily iteration cycle; for SEO a monthly one. Our customers, colleges and students are speaking to us constantly through their interactions with both our marketing and programmes and we have learned to listen, with a different iteration cycle for each channel they use.

3. Integrate

Truths about customers are hard won. Boy, do we pay to learn about what customers love or hate. But once learned they should never be forgotten and, most importantly, they should be shared across your organisation.

Take for example keyword research. Hard work and money will often be expended to carry this out. That process of understanding the phrases and terms your customers use is an important insight into how they find you and, crucially, how they perceive and understand what you do.

If you know the phrases they use to search on Google, you need to actively use those phrases in all of your customer communications – your website, your email, banner ads, brochures and advertising.

What we’ve learned is that small things done consistently make a bigger impact than large things done intermittently.

And finally…. Achieving best practice takes practice

You and your organisation will make mistakes. I guarantee it. We teach digital marketing and we still make mistakes. That’s the nature of the beast. Be open and transparent and admit when you get it wrong.

But know this – the internet has heralded the greatest expansion of human control over our existence, our choices, our relationships, our politics and our purchases. Most of us love the control the internet gives us and we’re not going back. The challenge for your company is whether or not you will meet us there.

Ian Dodson is the co-founder and director of the Digital Marketing Institute. He is also the author of a new textbook titled The Art of Digital Marketing.

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