15 things you should know before even thinking about digital marketing.

Are you thinking about digital marketing, digital transformation, taking your business on the digital highway, etc? Has COVID 19 emphasized the importance of going digital? 

Great! But are you ready with the basic prerequisites?


When we look at digital marketing, we should understand that it is fundamentally marketing.

It is only done using digital methods or media. So digital marketing is 80% marketing and 20% digital. So obviously if the underlying marketing process is flawed, digitizing it is not going to help. So the first thing is getting the foundations right.

Obviously, we should set the 80% part right, before applying the 20% part so that the whole effort becomes effective and fruitful. And therefore we must understand some key marketing principles before jumping on the digital bandwagon. 

Here are the top 15 principles that I learnt during my days at IIM and also relearnt them from a practical angle during my 30 years… and counting… career – 20 in a job and 10 in my own business. (It was quite refreshing to revisit these principles while watching a mentoring video by one of my mentors #Digital_Deepak.) 

Practising digital marketing professionals, management students and entrepreneurs will see value in this article.  

Principle #1

Marketing is fundamentally about knowing your customer. The ultimate objective of any company is to sell its products or services. 

Sales happen not because you try to sell. It happens because people buy. 

And people buy because of certain reasons. 

These reasons are deeply rooted in their psychology. One needs to understand that psychology to be able to connect to that deep-rooted reason for buying. This reason for buying is the “value” that the customer actually seeks.

For example, when you buy a car, you are not just buying a car. You are buying the benefit of being able to travel at your will. You are buying the benefit of upgrading your social status. You are buying the benefit of comfort and safety for your family while travelling. And sometimes you are also buying the benefit of depreciation for your business. 

These various reasons define the complete value of the product. 

And each of these reasons may resonate with different people to different degrees. Which reason appeals to whom and to what degree is the function of his/her psychological traits.  

Principle #2

People’s psychological traits are influenced by their economic environment, demographic characteristics, peer groups, family values, cultural background, etc. 

While many of these factors are historical and internal to the person and cannot be changed, some of them are external and they keep changing. Economic environment, peer groups and some aspects of demographics keep changing all the time. And therefore people’s response to a particular stimulus will also change from time to time. 

To be able to predict this response is one of the basic requirements of effective marketing.

Principle #3

Good marketing is not all about loud advertising. It is about effective communication.

Communicating the value that you deliver…

Communicating to the people who would appreciate that value…

Communicating through a medium of their most common use.

And you communicate in a way that they understand and relate to your core message. 

Your product, your brand are all incidental. Esoteric things like brand reinforcement etc are all outcomes of such effective communication. This is the crux of advertising. Advertising is a small part of the marketing process.

Principle #4

That brings us to the point that marketing is a continuous process. It doesn’t start with a product and end with a sale. It is a process in a continuous circular motion. Marketing starts with the conceptualization of your business and ends only at the end of the business.

All your marketing activities are points on the circle. And at the centre of the circle is your customer. 

This is an oversimplified representation of customer-centric marketing. Understanding the problem area needs effective communication. 

While doing so you also need to understand the profile of all the people who would have a similar problem. You may need to use a subset of these customers for beta testing of your offering. It would also help later in communicating your value proposition. 

Creating a solution needs continuous engagement with the customers for product improvement, enhancement, augmentation, price discovery, value judgment and even for product retirement and succession. This also is a part of marketing, though many people lay a low emphasis on it. Companies who are into continuous innovation value this phase a lot more than others who continue with the same product/service for years together.

Last, but the most important and most commonly known and practised part of marketing is communicating the value of your product/service. This is where most of the marketing efforts are concentrated.

Principle #5

Customer service is generally considered as an operational part of a business. However, I generally treat customer service as subtle marketing. Customer experience of the product and the services give rise to loyalty and reinforcement of trust. That is the single most important value that a business gets out of its customers. Profit is the outcome of the trust that people invest in your company or brand. 

However, this part of the trust reinforcement starts after the customer has bought something from you because you have invoked some trust in the first place. 

Principle #6

Invoking customer’s trust is the goal of effective marketing. And acquiring such trust is a long process. Digital Deepak’s version of this process is explained in his CATT model – Content, Attention, Trust and Transaction. CATT is most useful for the last part of marketing i.e. communicating your value proposition.

Good and consistent content is important for gaining people’s attention. In today’s world where there is so much of advertising noise, you have a choice of making more noise or creating value silently and communicating it to your customer in a dignified manner. The latter is more likely to gain trust. 

You may find it easier to create loud, catchy, expensive advertisements. That will gain customers attention. But one, it may not for the long term and two, it may not necessarily build trust. On the contrary, it may actually put off someone.

Principle #7

It is easier to build credibility and appeal to the customer’s virtue of trust by strong relevant messaging. Your message to the customer needs to be rooted in facts, it should be verifiable. 

It simply means that you should only be communicating the truth and not painting rosy pictures or selling pipe dreams. Some rogue marketers do that and it creates a bad impression about marketing as a benign profession.

You can showcase facts about your products in form of actual photographs, testimonials of your customers, specifications, certification from a credible agency, etc. 

Principle #8

And all your communication should resonate with the customer’s soul. That is empathy. Such empathy will be possible only when you know your customer well. One needs to use the information about customers to empathise with them rather than influence them by trying to brainwash through sheer persistence. 

Principle #9

Persistence is actually a virtue when it comes to effective marketing, provided your message is relevant and adhering to the truth about your offering. You cannot have a bad product and expect to gain customer trust in the long run.

However, persistence is needed because as per many studies worldwide, it is known that it takes about 8-12 impressions of your communication with a potential customer for him to take action. 

And along with persistence, you also need to be consistent in your communication so that the customer does not get conflicting or confusing messages from your communication copy.

Principle #10

Once you have identified a problem area and identified people affected by the same problem, that defines your market segment. Based on this segment, you will need to select your channel of engagement. Typically in a highly tiered market like India, customers may different preferences based on their economic profile, education level and habits. Knowing these preferences, you can select your communication channel.

And these could be ranging from newspapers to hoardings to SMS to webinars and everything in between.

Till here if you have noticed, all the points apply for both traditional and digital marketing. In fact, there are only a few things specific to digital marketing. (I intend to cover that sometime soon in a separate article. You can follow me here for getting a notification about it)

The important difference between traditional and digital marketing is your target customer base. Traditional marketing channels can reach a wider base across diverse demographics. Depending on your marketing channel your reach can be localized or nationalized. 

For example, a roadside banner may reach only a specific set of a hyperlocal customer base. A TV advertisement is likely to reach about a billion Indians.  Depending on the objective of marketing, the offering and the target customer, one will need to choose the channel. 

Principle #11

When we are talking digital marketing, obviously we are talking about a well-educated customer with a high propensity to consume information over digital media. They would be typically comfortable with English, having a smart phone and most likely they would be residents of urban India. (However, given the changes induced due to COVID-19, you may find these people in tier 2 and tier 3 locations as well) 

Principle #12

For this particular market segment and the channel that you select for engagement, you need to now create your marketing communication. It should describe the problem, highlight how you solve it better than anyone else, and clearly defines the unique value for the customer. This becomes the advertising copy. 

Principle #13

Keep the copy simplistic. Overwhelming vocabulary is more likely to put off a potential customer. Simplicity sells. Digital is a medium of short attention spans. Hence you need to create a simple, short and pointed message. You can create a journey, moving customers from one message to another. And the later messages can be longer. Because only interested customers reach that message.

Principle #14

Identification of your niche or an understanding of your positioning in the market is another key element for creating effective marketing communication. 

In the words of Philip Kotler, Marketing is the art and science of choosing target markets.

You can either operate in a niche market or across the entire cross-section. The ways of working in both situations will differ. Depending on that, your product, price, promotion and place will change. From a digital context, ‘platform’ replaces ‘place’.

Your niche will depend on the category and the subcategory of your offering. It is perhaps a better idea to carve out a niche and be the number 1 in that niche. If the niche is already dominated, you need to differentiate and carve another micro-niche within that. 

For example, while Coke and Pepsi dominate the cola market, Thums up has its own micro-niche. They have smartly created and reinforced their micro-niche by associating their brand with adventure. Same goes for Cinthol and Liril. They both stand for freshness as compared to Lux for beauty and fragrance, Dove for skincare and Lifebuoy for health. All of these soaps have created a unique positioning and dominate that micro-niche. 

Principle #15

Personal branding plays a big role whether your company has a big brand or not. For example, Tatas own many other brands. But Ratan Tata is a brand in himself. Most legendary businessmen become brands themselves. 

Apple is a great brand.  But Steve Jobs perhaps was bigger. Same is true for Microsoft and Bill Gates. In current times, the personal brand can be the best ambassador for your company’s brand.

Building a personal brand is a journey that starts with great content. Create content, post on the net, generate followership and eventually become a thought leader in your space. That is how personal brands are built. 

A personal brand is usually associated with a niche or a micro-niche. Seldom will a personal brand be in a generic category. For example, Warren Buffet is a celebrity when it comes to stock market investment. Vinod Khosla stands for winning tech startups. Elon Musk stands for path-breaking innovation.

To conclude,

once you have these 15 things sorted out, you are ready for digital marketing. Of course, you can always create random posts and push on social media and promote those posts through paid advertisements. But this is not a serious marketing strategy. It may deliver spot results (likelihood is less), but it is unlikely to create any lasting impression in the minds of customers.

The sequence and significance of these 15 points will vary a little depending on whether you already have a product/service or you are a startup with just an idea. But essentially, you will need to address these 15 points and have complete clarity before you set on your journey in digital marketing.

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