What Digital Marketing Does

Digital marketing doesn’t create products or make products better. It doesn’t make people buy stuff (traditional marketing tried). On the other hand, you can’t sell s–t without marketing.

This post contains zero SEO tips. Read it anyway.

Digital marketing is not a business strategy. It connects your customers to your value (your product) when they need it.

Breaking it down:


Value is the thing your product provides. It might be yummy goodness (Kit Kats), or a replacement tire, or medical care.

It’s rarely price-related. Driving value through price makes you vulnerable. Any competitor can say they’re less expensive.

When They Need It

When They Need It is Context. The situation that makes your product/service useful and valuable. I need chocolate because, without it, I become a murder hornet (look it up). I need your service because you fix flat tires and I have a flat tire. That’s context. If you push a valuable product in the wrong context, all you do is piss me off.

You know the coolest part? Marketing can also insert your product into a completely different context. Sundel Doniger created X-Acto knives for military surgeons. Then someone realized their product was great for other things. X-Acto knives are great for cutting paper. Or slicing the arm off a tiny plastic orc. The marketing team made sure I knew that.


Connect is what marketing does. Once you have a valuable product and you’ve defined the context, you can do your marketing.

The line between connect and context gets squooshy. Marketers do research, and that research can define context.

But market research is not marketing research. Market research determines value (bitter, icky chocolate) in context (people who like dark chocolate). It finds the customers.

Marketing research finds the best way to say, “Hey! We’re valuable!” at the right time in the right place. It finds the best way to reach those customers.

That means that your marketing team should not define product value. It should demonstrate it.

Here’s a tip: Links can be an easy win, if they make sense. Make sure they pass the blank sheet of paper test whenever possible.

Random Notes and Necessary Cliches

Marketing can’t fix a crappy product. Fyre Festival had slick advertising. But a video of disturbingly attractive people doesn’t mean much when you end up with a bunch of rich people wandering a beach trying to find a FEMA tent. I didn’t make this up. Also, New Coke.

On the other hand, you can’t sell a fabulous product without marketing. Write the best article ever (yes, content is a product) and publish it on your blog. No one will find it unless marketing of some kind—SEO, social media, whatever—makes the connection.

The Lesson

Every brand on the planet depends on the value/context/connect structure.

Please, pretty please, I beg of you, think value/context/content when you do SEO, or social media, or whatever. Businesses grow when they treat digital marketing as the connector, not the business.

Enough philosophy. I’ll get back to the nerd stuff in my next post.

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