10 Types of Digital Marketing for Small Businesses

digital marketing

Anyone running a business, whether large or small, established or just starting out, is going to have to address marketing.

Sales rarely happen without your marketing messages having already reached the buyer and influenced their decision. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Never.

Any activity on your part that brings your company, brand, product or service to the attention of prospective buyers can be called marketing in one form or another.

I’m not going to try to cover ALL types of marketing here, but rather concentrate on my particular area of expertise – and that is digital marketing. The type of marketing activity that brings your wares to the buyers notice via the internet.

You may already know most, if not all, these types of marketing or have heard the terms but are unsure as to exactly what they mean. I’m going to give you a basic understanding of each type, how you may use it – or why – and hopefully put each in context.

SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING (SMM)social media marketing

Starting with the medium that we are all probably most familiar with, a lot of small businesses, startups, freelancers and solopreneurs often start their marketing activities here.

Social media marketing refers to the process of gaining either website traffic or attention for your product or service through social media sites.

Marketers will use social channels to define and create their ‘culture’ – that is, how they are perceived by potential buyers. It is a key tool for establishing their brand and communicating with their target audience.

Social media is also a big player in terms of promoting deals, sales, new product launches and generally ‘getting the word out’ about specific opportunities that are going to draw buyers towards them.

In addition, marketers are also going to be producing adverts, stories, offers and other content that they hope their fans and followers will share with others, spreading their message further.


The content referred to here is the material that is distributed – that is, the written words, the collated images, infographics, video, audio etc that marketers create in order to communicate their message.

Content marketing is therefore the technique of delivering valuable, relevant and consistent material in order to attract, acquire and engage a defined audience.

The quality or value of the content is key. In order to be effective the content produced must either inform or educate the reader, engage them emotionally or entertain them. Through reading your content (or watching, looking at or listening to) the prospective buyers must derive some kind of value from it.

Content may be distributed in various ways – on your website, through blog posts, via social media, and in all sorts of formats. It is common for marketers to re-purpose a single piece of content into several different mediums and distribute these across various channels in order to reach their desired audiences.

INFLUENCER MARKETINGinfluencer marketing

Influencer marketing is a type of marketing that focuses on using key thought leaders, industry specialists or other high profile figures that have sway over your target audience to drive your brand’s message to the larger market.

Rather than marketing directly to a large group of consumers, you instead either inspire, hire, pay or otherwise induce these influencers to get your message out for you.

Influence can come from a wide range of places. Any person, company, association, group or brand could potentially be an influencer. Media celebrities are often used (paid) to market products because they are highly respected and highly visible – having a high profile actress or singer simply praising your beauty product on social media can work wonders for your bottom line.

The key in influencer marketing is firstly to attract your specific key individuals who are seen as credible by your target market, and then to manage or control (if this is possible) their exposure of your brand to the market as a whole.


Viral marketing is probably every marketers fantasy situation – even if only secretly! By definition it is a strategy that focuses on spreading the word about a product or service from person to person exponentially. For example, if 100 fans each pass it on to 20 others (that becomes an audience of 2000) who then each pass it on to a further 20 each (that becomes an audience of 40,000) who each pass… you get the idea.

It is the ability to spread your message very far, very rapidly.

Viral marketing is concentrated on producing precisely the right media that will spread like wild fire in this way, and feeding it to the right people in the right channels. Only really since the advent of the internet, and the rise of social media has this type of marketing come to the forefront.

The biggest downside is that if your message is not crafted well enough to catch people’s attention and imagination then it could fail completely. Once you have put it out there you effectively have no control as to how far or how quickly it will spread.

DISRUPTIVE MARKETINGdisruptive marketing

Disruptive marketing is a relatively new concept, or at least is one that is only more recently becoming popular through successful application.

The definition reads something like this: “A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market by displacing an earlier technology or business model.”

Some may argue that this is not marketing but is product development. Let’s look an example that most people will have heard of…

Airbnb is a new concept in travel accommodation.

Previously, short term travellers would book a room in a hotel or guest house, holiday makers may book a self-catering apartment for a week or two, or those measuring their travel in terms of months rather than days or weeks would rent a house or a flat. It is a familiar and longstanding model that is the generally accepted way things are done.

Airbnb do things differently.

In addition to the traditional bookings mentioned above they also give travellers the opportunity to book to stay in someone’s spare room – be it for just one night or a little longer. These types of bookings tend to favour those on short stays, who may be travelling alone or arriving late or departing early, who want something less impersonal than a standard hotel room. Their hosts tend to remain in the property throughout the stay, and may include sit down meals with the family as part of the experience. It is just as though you are staying with friends or relatives – only they’re not.

Airbnb have not exactly created a new product – it is still accommodation when you are away from home – but it does things differently from how they have been done before. The key to their success has been the way they have marketed it! If you like, you could say that the marketing is what has made the product what it is.

Perhaps the marketing is the product?

Why play by the rules when you can make new ones? While conventional marketing targets consumers, disruptive… Click To Tweet


Affiliate marketing has two sides to it. It is performance-based marketing in which the company selling the goods rewards ‘affiliates’ for each visitor or customer brought to them by that affiliate’s own marketing efforts.

The company selling the product (or service) is using affiliate marketing to gain business. The person finding the target audience and channelling to the vendor is the affiliate marketer, and is usually paid either a small percentage or a set amount per sale.

When using this type of marketing, an affiliate program is only going to help to bring traffic to your website or business – you are then in charge of turning that traffic into sales.

You have little or no control over how your affiliates market your wares, or where they may choose to do so; and you would also need to be in a very popular and lucrative niche to make this type of marketing work for your business.

Affiliate marketing has become one of the most popular ways for people to make money online, partly because it is virtually FREE to set up and the best thing about it is, just about anyone can have a go. That being said, it is really very difficult to make a comfortable living as an affiliate marketer – unless your marketing skills are pretty hot to start with.

EMAIL MARKETINGemail marketing

Email marketing seems to have been around like forever – it was probably the first ‘new’ type of marketing to emerge after the internet was created. It has been around so long that it’s hey-day has come – and gone – and is now evolving to emerge again.

Marketers and business owners alike should realise that almost every email sent to an existing or potential customer should be considered a marketing opportunity, however tenuously.

Businesses use email to send adverts, offers, promotions, information, invitations, or to some other way solicit sales from their mailing lists – but although widely adopted is not as easy as many think.

Every communication to a potential buyer should be designed to build loyalty, trust, credibility or brand awareness in addition to any sales message.

Email marketing is used to best effect in conjunction with other types of marketing – sitting somewhere between lead acquisition and conversion to sale – and it remains one of the most effective lead nurturing tools when used correctly.


Love ’em or hate ’em, it’s the numbers that tell us how well our planning, strategising and execution is doing. Put simply, analytical marketing is the practice of using data to plan and focus future marketing efforts.

Almost every marketing activity can be measured in terms of it’s effectiveness and the results it produces – whether that be increased sales, more website traffic, larger numbers of social media followers, more requests for information, or whatever you are wanting to achieve through these actions. Remember, marketing activity is not just aimed at selling, but may encompass any desired outcome that furthers your potential customers’ journey towards buying your product or service, including brand awareness and lead nurturing.

The results measured can be summed up as the ‘return on investment’ (ROI) – whether that investment is time, money or any other resource; and the return is income, fans, enquiries etc. What determines a successful ROI will depend upon the initial desired outcome.

If you adopt an analytical marketing strategy then you are basing your future marketing activities or the performance of past endeavours – which may be a somewhat short-sighted approach. The joy of marketing is often the trying of new ideas, and the discovery of success in unexpected places. Taking a purely analytical approach can turn the process into a dull, repetitive exercise – which could translate through to your brand being perceived as boring, uninteresting, staid or simply run-of-the-mill.

SEARCH ENGINE MARKETING (SEM)search engine marketing

Search engine marketing is marketing activity that promotes companies’ websites by increasing their prominence in search engine results pages (SERPs) primarily through paid advertising. (Not to be confused with search engine optimisation (SEO) which is something different, and we will be talking about this next.)

Search engine marketing is the process of gaining website traffic, brand visibility and ultimately new business from search engines such as Google or Bing. Marketers will pay for prominence in search engine results for particular keywords relating to their product or service – this often takes the form of a ‘bid’ where the more you are prepared to pay, the higher in the results pages you will appear (or that’s the theory).

The concept is one of simple psychology – when a web user enters certain words or phrases into a search engine they are looking to derive certain information relating to this. Search engines will then return the results that they perceive to be of most relevance to the user. What the search engine does not know is where in the buying cycle a particular user is – from initial research to being ready to buy – however they constantly gather data from similar searches by other users, and even other searches by the same user, to help refine and target the best results for any given search. This is done using extremely complex calculations and pattern analysis (algorithms) within the search engine’s workings – which is why marketers are happy to pay for the outcome.

SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION (SEO)search engine optimisation

Search engines return results to web users based on what they consider to be the sites or pages that will be of most interest to the user based on their search terms – but they can only know how relevant your web content is if you tell them exactly what your site is about.

Search engine optimisation is the activity of ‘polishing up’ websites, website pages, blog posts and other types of online content to make them as obviously relevant and attractive as is possible.

Properly optimised web content will ultimately appear higher in search engine results than non-optimised content because it has been tailored specifically to appeal to a particular audience at a particular stage in the buying cycle.

Unlike SEM there is no financial incentive for the search engine to rate your content higher. Your web content is assessed purely on it’s merits only and displayed in search results accordingly – the term for this is organic search results.

Search engines are constantly adjusting the complex algorithms they use to ascertain the relevance of any particular web content, and practices that were beneficial for SEO a year ago may not help you rank any higher this year.

In it’s broadest sense SEO is achieved by:

  • telling search engines what the relevant words and phrases are on each page,
  • ensuring that your text is easy to read,
  • keeping within certain parameters of more or less acceptable length and complexity,
  • labelling and tagging every element of your content (including images),
  • linking your content to other (reputable) external content,
  • having the right amount of repetition of keywords but limited repetition of content

… and so it goes on.

These parameters can change at any time, and it is almost impossible to know exactly what rates as good and what rates as bad in the eyes of the search engine. You can probably begin to understand why companies can end up paying thousands to specialist agencies in order to get this right. Or end up going the ‘simpler’ route of paid search engine marketing.



It’s a minefield!

No, it’s not, really… but there is a whole lot more to digital marketing than you may initially think – so where to start?

  • First off: you don’t need to employ ALL of these techniques, they may not all be appropriate to you, your product or your industry.
  • As with most things in life or business the best way to start is to pick one (or two at the most) form of marketing, and conquer that before attempting to master the next one.
  • Decide if you have a budget, and if so how much…
  • Look at what your competitors are doing…
  • Think about your target market and the best ways to reach them…
  • Research three or four types of marketing before narrowing down your choice…
  • Pick a method that (a) you can gain an understanding of, and (b) are going to be able to recognise the impact of…
  • Get advice wherever and whenever you can…
…then stop procrastinating and go start building your empire!