9 Business Leaders Discuss Their Biggest Digital Marketing Struggle

9 Business Leaders Discuss Their Biggest Digital Marketing Struggle

By now, most business leaders and managers understand the importance of digital marketing to overall business success. The right digital marketing strategies can help to build your relevance in your field, boost brand recognition and lend you credibility. Digital marketing can ensure you attract the right traffic to your website, either through paid means or by organic traffic, and effectively convert those visitors into qualified leads. 

Digital marketing can offer an impressive ROI – but that doesn’t mean that digital marketing is all smooth sailing. In fact, sometimes it can simply feel like a struggle – a slog through murky waters, with ever-changing rules, demands and requirements. It’s enough to overwhelm even the most seasoned entrepreneurs – in fact, it often feels like a full-time job in and of itself.

The reality is, if digital marketing feels like a breeze – it’s likely you’re not doing it right – at least, not every single aspect. And that’s normal. After all, you have a business to run, and there simply aren’t enough hours in a day.

To find out where most people struggle with digital marketing, we spoke to ten founders and CEOs, who shared their digital marketing frustrations, from paid social and PPC through to gaining brand recognition and attracting the right traffic.

1. Building Trust With Our Audience

Kimmy Dickson, Founder at HyperTribe, raises an important concern, and one that is probably high on most people’s list of digital marketing struggles – how to establish and build trust with your target audience. 

“It’s pretty funny because for our artists we find that their biggest issue is finding their market, but for us as a business we know how to do that. Our biggest challenge is to make sure we are communicating our product the best way we can and build trust with our audience. We want people to know we are here with a solution for musicians and we know how to help them.”

Trust is such an important element of any successful business. With any industry, you will have an incredible number of competitors, so it’s essential to answer certain questions to help establish your position in the space – what is our unique selling point? Why would someone pick us over a competitor? Is our offering clear, strong and compelling? Do we have appropriate trust signals on our website?

The first thing all business owners should know when discussing trust is that everyone is time poor. What’s more, most of us have waning attention spans. You need to grab your potential customers’ attention as soon as they land on your homepage: you have a lot to convince them of in not much time and it’s all too easy to click away and check out another offering. Keeping trust signals above the fold is key. This means showing off your credentials, your testimonials and your accolades. Describe in one sentence in a no-nonsense way what your business does and what it can offer. Many businesses choose to give something away for free in order to build trust, such as a free trial or consultation.

Alongside this, businesses can do a lot to build trust by building up a presence on social media – they’re seen as more human and relatable. Make sure you update your social channels regularly, don’t make all your content promotional and ensure your social buttons are clearly displayed on your homepage. 

2. Finding a Trustworthy Digital Marketing Agency

From building trust with customers to trusting a digital marketing company, Su Morgan, owner at Dog and Hat, expresses her struggles and disappointments when it comes to finding the right business to partner with:

“The hardest thing we ever found was engaging companies to support our digital marketing. Early in our business we joined a pay per click campaign that charged £100 pcm, and the company vanished from all communications. It took a while to get it cancelled. We were essentially being ripped off as we didn’t fully understand what we were asking for. Now we run most things in-house.”

Engaging a digital marketing agency can be a tricky process, but the more involved you can get in a process, the more likely you are to find success. 

Research your potential marketing partners thoroughly; you’re looking for case studies and testimonials, trust signals like award logos and partner logos, and an active content presence. You want to see evidence that they can run activity, so if you’re looking for a content agency they should have an active blog. A social media agency should be able to manage its own social channels.

To make it more likely that you’ll get a successful partnership, you can run an RFP (request for proposal) process. This process takes up a fair chunk of your time but allows you to get a more in-depth understanding of how the business will work with you and make sure you get a good match. It’ll also weed out less serious contenders who might waste your time and money. 

3. Finding a Digital Marketing Agency That Understands Our Brand

There’s no one who knows your brand like you do, which can become a problem when you’re working with agencies. Ann Lowe, Head of Purpose at Spice Kitchen, highlights the difficulty of finding an external digital marketing agency that is as invested in the business:

“Our biggest challenge to date has been finding a digital marketing agency who really gets our brand and who we feel we can trust with our communications. We’ve wanted to outsource and take advantage of external expertise in the industry but ultimately have brought this side of the business in-house, as we feel that no one can do the job in quite the same way as the team who are invested in the business.”

Finding an agency that has the perfect balance between external expertise and investment in your brand is difficult to get right, and it’s true that many agencies simply won’t be as passionate about your business as your team is. This can be a difficult hurdle to overcome, but you can try to reconsider how you want to engage your agency.

If you’re concerned that your agency can’t do the job in the same way as your internal team, consider instead working with a consultancy, or as support for specific projects. This way, you can gain the benefits of an agency’s expertise without compromising on what your team put into their work. Alternatively, consider how you’re onboarding your agency to make them as excited about your work as you are. Do you have new starter training that you could share or time to run a fact-finding workshop where both teams can get to know the other’s business? Finding a way to really bring your agency into the fold will help them to get just as excited about your work as the rest of your team. 

4. Knowing Where to Start and What Will Work

The world of digital marketing is one that can be incredibly complicated. With the sheer amount of options available for businesses to explore, Andi Lonnen, Founder and CEO of Finance Training Academy, notes that it can be difficult for micro and small business owners, in particular, to know where to start. 

“For me, [my biggest digital marketing struggle is] knowing what digital marketing to do and finding out what works. The costs charged by most places are too high for micro business owners.”

Knowing where to start with your digital marketing efforts requires an understanding of your target audience. You’ll need to know where your audience is spending their time, how they’re currently finding your business and your website, and what their customer journey looks like. Understanding where you can find your audience will tell you which channels you should begin investing in.

For example, if your target audience spends a lot of time on Twitter, you’ll need to spend time developing and executing a strategy that focuses on Twitter. If your audience relies heavily on reviews before making a purchasing decision, attention will need to be given to how you’ll accumulate reviews. Customer data will be a saving grace to those who are overwhelmed with choice. 

5. The Sheer Amount of Things You Need to Do

Once you know which channels are going to form the bedrock of your digital marketing strategy, you have the even more daunting task of actually executing your campaigns. As Dimple Athavia, Founder of All Things Drinks, says:

“For me, it’s the sheer amount of it and the time it requires!”

The first and most obvious way to reduce the time pressure that digital marketing can put on you is to, of course, outsource your activity. Through agencies or freelancers, it’s the most common way to manage your workload, but it’s not the only way.

Over the last few years, automation tools have become more and more advanced, and savvy digital marketers will explore the different ways that marketing automation can help to reduce the workload and save you time. Examples can include PPC automation, automatically triggered email nurture campaigns and content that is shaped by on-site behaviour. 

6. Getting (and Maintaining) Brand Recognition and Engagement

In a crowded and competitive space, brand recognition is becoming harder and harder to both build and maintain. This is a struggle that Gabriella Diana, CEO of Onesta, knows all too well:

One of our main struggles is getting brand recognition and engagement in the digital world. It changes rapidly and the turnover of people’s feeds is so fast that there is a struggle to stay relevant and get picked up by the algorithm while also staying relevant and interesting. There is a pressure to keep up with the already well-established brands and try to present ourselves in the same way even though we are still new.

Brand awareness and engagement are gold dust to marketers: the more well-known your brand is, the more people you have primed to purchase from you when they’re ready. So, it’s easy to get frustrated as you try to compete against well known, established brands, especially as a younger brand. The important thing to remember is to always remain true to your brand’s message and values, and to keep your audience front of mind.

Tailoring your content to your target audience and focusing on your brand values will help you to build awareness with the people you’re most interested in reaching. Having some insight into your competitors and their strategies will help you to identify new opportunities, but your best insight will come from your consumer data. 

If you want to be really proactive about brand recognition, we recommend engaging with relevant influencers and submitting quality guest posts to high-authority publications. Develop your name as a thought leader, and increase brand awareness by demonstrating that you know your industry, the struggles of your customers and trends within your sector.

7. Converting Visitors Into Paying Customers

Brand awareness and engagement is one thing, but getting conversions is quite another. Stewart McGrenary, Director at Freedom Mobiles notes the difficulty that eCommerce brands have at getting customers across the line:

“Converting visitors into paying customers is one of the most difficult eCommerce challenges. An eCommerce website may receive a lot of traffic, clicks, and views, but it isn’t generating the sales it expects. What should they do in order to increase sales?”

Conversions are the ultimate goal of any marketing strategy – particularly for those that conduct their business entirely online. The trick, as always, is to find a way to resonate with your users and visitors so that they are compelled to make that final step.

One way to do this is to implement a system of attribution so that you can see which of your channels is actually driving conversions. Identifying the channels and activity that are successful at pushing potential clients over the line will show you where you should be placing more of your investment. It will also show you which channels are good at bringing in traffic, and so are primed and ready for experimentation.

8. Climbing the SERPs

Google is your biggest ally in your digital marketing quest, but it can also be your biggest foe. Increasing search rankings can seem like an insurmountable task, as Dr. Ana Andrés del Valle, co-founder of TidyChoice comments:

“As a digital services start-up, our biggest struggle has been to gain search engine ranking position (SERPs). We have followed best-practice for both on-page and off-page SEO and have been consistently gaining online brand awareness, recognition and backlinks. However, gains in SERPs have been painfully slow. After a number of years we have struggled onto the first page for many of our targeted search terms but not to the coveted top places. The same incumbents have been at the top of the rankings monopolising organic traffic and conversions giving them lower costs of acquisition and an economic advantage. We struggle with the opaqueness of Google’s ranking algorithm and its apparent favouring of older, incumbent businesses which ultimately suppresses competition.”

Unfortunately, it takes a long time for you to see the results of your SEO efforts. Those who expect to see gains in a week will be sadly disappointed. However, if topping the rankings in the SERP is your ultimate goal, there are two main ways to do this. The first is to place less of your focus on high-traffic, high competition keywords that you see many of your competitors ranking highly for, and instead turning to longer-tail keywords. These are the ones that better encompass the actual terms that users are typing into Google when they’re searching for your services. Long-tail keywords tend to have much lower traffic because they’re so specific, and so there also tends to be lower competition – making it more likely that you’ll appear at the top of the SERP.

An alternative strategy to get to the top of the SERP is to put some money into paid search advertising. This way, you can increase the likelihood that you’re appearing on the front page of search results for these search terms. Identify the keywords that you really want to appear for and develop paid search campaigns to target these terms. Not only will you be more likely to appear, but you’ll also appear above the results of your biggest competitors. 

9. The Utter Complexity of Social Ads

Paid Search ads tend to be fairly straight forward but many small businesses find that Paid Social advertising is a whole different story. Greg Wixted, Founder & Chief Baking Officer at Britain Loves Baking is all too familiar with the complex nature of social media ads.

“Beyond a doubt, our biggest digital marketing struggles are Facebook and Instagram. They just seem to suck the life out of you when it comes to ads and it’s never enough for small businesses – it seems you’re never there on conversions. It’s now so complex to use, it’s like they are forcing you to use an agency, as no one understands their business dashboard. I don’t think the people at Facebook do, either.”

Getting the most out of your paid social ads requires a thorough understanding of user journey and the role that different channels can play. Social media doesn’t tend to play as much of a role in driving conversions, but it is a fantastic tool in building brand awareness and educating your customers. With this in mind, you can create social ads that are able to help you reach your performance goals as part of a holistic marketing mix.

Digital marketing can be quite challenging, especially for smaller or newer businesses, but the rewards are certainly worth it. Working with a digital marketing agency will help you to navigate the more difficult waters of online channels – whether that’s helping you to develop your buyer personas or outsourcing the more complicated aspects of your marketing strategy. However, with a thorough understanding of your business, your target audiences and their user journey, and a willingness to experiment, you’ve got plenty of tools to help overcome your digital marketing struggles. 

Larry Kotch

Larry Kotch is the co-founder of The Brains, an award-winning digital marketing agency in London. Ranked #3 in B2B Marketing's Global 30 under 30, Larry leads a dedicated, remote team of talented digital marketing professionals.

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