Travel the Digital Highway

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Travel the Digital Highway

SCORE volunteer Rebecca Esparza talks about digital marketing during a seminar hosted by the Small Business Administration in Harlingen.
SCORE volunteer Rebecca Esparza talks about digital marketing during a seminar hosted by the Small Business Administration in Harlingen.

The signs are everywhere but if you don’t have a road map it’s easy to get lost. That’s very true in today’s mobile world, although your company vehicle does not have wheels and it fits in the palm of your hand. Yes, welcome to the increasingly challenging world of digital marketing.

Promoting a business digitally is nothing new, but it’s growing and changing every day. It’s becoming more and more focused on smart phone technology over desktop computers and even laptops and tablets. Even for entrepreneurs familiar with digital marketing, trends can change at such a rapid pace it can be difficult to keep up.

“Everything is going mobile these days,” said Rebecca Esparza during a recent seminar hosted by the Small Business Administration in Harlingen. “Anything you produce for digital marketing has to be mobile friendly. At the center of everything is mobile – everything is going mobile these days.”

Some startling statistics back up that statement. Consider that 80 percent of internet users own smart phones. Or research that shows four out of five customers shop on a smart phone, and that 88 percent of “near me” searches are made on a phone. Americans are so in love with their palm-sized computers that 75 percent take their smart phones with them to the bathroom.

People using smart phones to engage in social networking are prime targets for digital marketing efforts, but Esparza also cautioned entrepreneurs to stick with one basic rule. “At the end of the day, everyone needs a website because that’s how people are going to find you,” she said, referring to potential customers using search engines.

From there, sorting out the myriad of choices to use as marketing platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and YouTube are the most popular – can be daunting. But understanding your customer base and matching it up with the demographics reached by different social networks is a key step, Esparza said. “It’s going to drive you crazy if you try to be on too many social media platforms. Gone are the days of marketing to the masses. You need to be segmented and know your market.”

When making digital marketing decisions, Esparza advised businesses to take a direct approach with customers. “Don’t be afraid to ask them about their demographics, interests, buying behavior, digital device usage.” Social networks are masters of mining personal data, all of which can be used to target digital advertising, so the more a business knows about its customers the more narrowly the message can be targeted.

“The mechanisms social media have are pretty rich and broad,” said Esparza, an SBA SCORE volunteer from Corpus Christi. “You can target very drilled down to your customers. If you know your audience, you can choose the most effective ways to market. Who is your ideal customer? Think about it that way and you can find places to excel.”

Video is the fastest growing space in the digital marketing world, making up 74 percent of all internet traffic in 2017. “Videos add value to your social media posts,” Esparza said. “You want people to feel engaged. Just putting the word video in an email subject line will increase the number of opens you get.”

Other advice on videos included posting them directly to each of your social media accounts instead of sharing links for a “bigger bang” and keeping them under 60 seconds in length. “It’s not a scary thing,” Esparza said. “You don’t have to do high production values to be effective.”

Facebook and others now allow live video streaming, and Esparza said that has the potential to be an even more powerful marketing tool by transporting viewers to another place, in a digital sort of way. “People love it. They like to feel like they are somewhere else.”

SCORE offers free mentoring and workshops for small businesses. For more information, visit riograndevalley.score.org.

George Cox is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years experience as a newspaper writer and editor. A Corpus Christi native, he started his career as a reporter for The Brownsville Herald after graduating from Sam Houston State University with a degree in journalism. He later worked on newspapers in Laredo and Corpus Christi as well as northern California. George returned to the Valley in 1996 as editor of The Brownsville Herald and in 2001 moved to Harlingen as editor of the Valley Morning Star. He also held the position of editor and general manager for the Coastal Current, a weekly entertainment magazine with Valleywide distribution. George retired from full-time journalism in 2015 to work as a freelance writer and legal document editor. He continues to live in Harlingen where he and his wife Katherine co-founded Rio Grande Valley Therapy Pets, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising public awareness of the benefits of therapy pets and assisting people and their pets to become registered therapy pet teams.

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