The Ultimate Tool Kit for the Modern Digital Marketer
Our Favorite Digital Marketing Tools; Covering Idea to Content Creation to Execution to Analysis
Question: What makes a (digital) tool good?
Is it ease of use? Scalability? Unique features? Price point? Accessibility? Integrations? Chances are you said yes to all of these. Finding the right tool for your team can be a near-impossible feat. There are so many different tools that it’s quite easy to be overwhelmed.
I hope to ease your sense of overwhelming dread and point you in the right direction by discussing some tools we use, giving you a glimpse at our vetting methodology and how we use tools in the various phases of our project process. We use a few different phases to divide the usage and utility of our tool set. One disclaimer: These are tools or processes we have demoed, vetted, and used at some point. Maybe we’re currently using them. Maybe we’re not. Either way, they’ve all piqued our curiosity enough to try them out.
Marketing Tools Per Phase
- Audience targeting
- Ideation and brainstorming
- Creative process and tools
- Content aggregation, creation, and distribution
- Content and social media–management platforms
- Reporting and analytics tools
- Project-management tools
New business is cool. Old business is cooler. When we talk about prospecting, it’s more of an organic discussion of who would we want to work with and how could we help them out. We don’t necessarily have sales or business-development people on our staff, so prospecting for us is more about warm leads and familiar introductions. It’s more of a “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” approach. But in this sense, Kevin Bacon is our network of good friends we’ve cultivated throughout our 11 years of business.
However, if we try to approach colder leads because we think there’s a mutual benefit and a good fit — from a partnership standpoint — we use a number of different tools to vet, discover, and analyze the potential partner.
Website-visitor tools, like LeadLander and Whoisvisiting, can give you insight into who is accessing your website. A robust content strategy should be able to turn a prospect into a client through first contact, by delivering a first impression, a value statement, and proof.
BMDG’s president, Jeff Britton, often says that our brand journey starts when we come ashore with a brand and burn the ship.
We also love to have some additional talking points and knowledge about our potential future partners, so we also conduct a content audit, covering owned-, earned-, and paid-media efforts. This helps us get a really good understanding of a prospect’s content, digital infrastructure, and social landscape. We use various tools for content audits, including Screaming Frog, Rival IQ, SEMrush, native social channels (like Facebook, Twitter, etc.), Sprout Social, and many more.
Finally, we consider the competitive landscape of the brand. This gives us insight into how it fares across the board against competitors, pinpointing gaps, possibilities, and actionable opportunities.
All these tools help us shorten the cost of acquisition and give a potential partner a thorough, objective, unbiased deep dive into their own digital landscape. This can be extremely valuable, since we’re often caught within our micro views and have a hard time visualizing the macro view.
Having a consistent prospecting strategy allows us to have measurable, repurposable, and purposeful communication with potential partners. The next step — after the introduction, the handshake, and the “let’s do some business together” — is planning.
Confining this stage to the word planning takes away some of the incredibly deep research and work that this phase facilitates. This phase consists of planning, discovery, strategy, processes, workflow, exploration, and data. It’s vast and narrow and sets the stage for the profitability and success of your project.
We take this stage very seriously. It’s the part that allows us to get really close to the brand and qualify its current and future audience(s), business drivers, market forces, shared vision and meaning, share of voice, and potential tactical choices for communicating. This is where we define the business and marketing objectives and goals and begin to visualize and comprehend the brand DNA.
We digest data sources and merge them with our creative and intuitive processes to begin crafting micro ideas that turn into macro campaigns.
We call this process Brand Identification. It’s our way of combining micro and macro aspects of a brand — its goals, voice, marketing processes, and origin story — and aligning them with a singular, centralized branded approach. Britton Marketing & Design Group’s president, Jeff Britton, often says that our brand journey starts when we come ashore with a brand and burn the ship. From this “we’re in this together / shipwreck” approach comes our actionable content strategy, Content Cartography.
Another stage that is imperative and a major part of the planning phase is identifying the brand’s audiences and finalizing audience-targeting efforts. We create user identities — including buyer personas, user stories, and user scenarios — to flesh out the targeted (and subtargeted) audience(s).
This is done through the use of existing primary data and secondary industry data, and qualified through the use of syndicated, social, and search data sources. Syndicated data sources can be costly. Access to enterprise-level data isn’t as widespread, and the options you have are oftentimes limited to a few major data players. Think Nielsen, MRI, etc. To get started with accessing syndicated data, you have to be willing to make a significant investment: Subscriptions range from $30,000 to $80,000 per year, depending on your needs.
If no one sees or finds your content, it doesn’t matter how engaging it is. If no one engages with your content, it doesn’t matter how good your distribution and channel strategy are.
Search data sources are plentiful and much more cost-effective, often ranging from freemium featureless tiers to full-on data and feature access in the low thousands for an annual subscription. SEMrush, Moz, Keyword Tool, WordStream, and SpyFu are among a handful of useful tools that can assist in SEO strategy and keyword planning.
Social listening is a relatively new field compared to search and syndicated data sources. However, social listening is becoming an increasingly important aspect for audience understanding and intelligence. Understanding volume, topic disposition, and sentiment in the social sphere is imperative when considering messaging and channel tactics. Social-listening sources include NUVI, Crimson Hexagon, Infegy, and a slew of other enterprise-data platforms. And just as access to syndicated data is expensive, so is access to social-listening data. Pricing is often based on the volume or quantity of data accessed and ranges in the tens of thousands of dollars for annual subscriptions.
Once we have disseminated the data and merged it with our internal processes used to flesh out a brand’s audiences, the project can really begin.
Ideation and Brainstorming
During this phase we create the magic. Intuition and processes mix to create actionable campaigns and content with a purpose. So how do we facilitate a large volume of ideas to help a brand tell its stories?
Well, we use proven techniques and consistent processes that allow us to replicate results. We use techniques that allow our left-brained and right-brained team members to complement each other in group settings. We use collaborative sketching, scratch paper, crayons, markers, swipes, muscle memory, intuition, pens, pencils, magazines, notepads, websites, apps, and slide decks. Oh my.
We use Post-it notes. So many Post-it notes.
We use the intuitive processes that have steered our world-class visual and storytelling creative for more than 11 years. We don’t use a Google Jamboard (no matter how many times we’ve asked for one).
Essentially, we digest the data sources and merge them with our creative and intuitive processes to begin crafting micro ideas that turn into macro campaigns. Then we start the actual doing. The creative process.
Creative Process and Tools
A few minor caveats: I am a novice at best when it comes to my understanding of the creative process and all it entails. I mean, I use Adobe Photoshop in the same way I assemble furniture from IKEA: with much sweating, swearing, and, eventually, gleeful pride.
So when I refer to the creative process, just know that I do not think the way our creatives do. They try to understand and communicate the form of a thing, while all I try to do is understand the function of said thing. And this is why you need to have right-brained and left-brained cross-functional teams. This is why you can’t have a digital team with only functionally focused members. You need to complement them with creatives who focus on the form. In today’s multichannel marketing landscape you have to create hyperengaging content (form) that is channel-agnostic (function), in addition to making sure that the transition between your media is seamless. Form + Function = Success! We often refer to this as our 1 + 1 = 3 scenario. (If no one sees or finds your content, it doesn’t matter how engaging it is. If no one engages with your content, it doesn’t matter how good your distribution and channel strategy are.)
Here at BMDG, we primarily use the usual design-tool suspects. We are Adobe Creative Cloud users, and we rely heavily on InDesign, Photoshop, Adobe Premier Pro, and a few others. We also dabble with Sketch, Canva, Pablo, and pen and paper. That’s not the cool hipster name of an app. It’s just pen and paper. We use them — to write with. Shout-out to Google and its platform of apps for helping the digital team collaborate, write, and create. You too, Word. We also use walls — actual walls to hang things on. There’s not a wall in the buildings on our campus that has at one point not had some kind of visual hung upon it.
Now that we’re starting to take our creative ideas and implement them, what other tools do we use for this? Great question, Nic. Just a superb question.
Content Aggregation, Creation, and Distribution
Content creation is kind of our bag. We’ve been creating visually stunning content since the inception of our agency. That process and the tools we use have vastly changed in the last few years. And the reason for this has to do with the amount of content we need to create while still maintaining our high standards of quality.
This is where a robust content strategy and structured content come in. Structuring content creation — and using tools that support this approach — is imperative in today’s high-volume and quick-impression content landscape. We use GatherContent, or the Google Suite for collaboration, and for all our web and content-creation needs. We love it because it allows flexibility in creating different types of content, yet it’s highly scalable in structuring content that is conducive to our version of NPR’s COPE strategy.
In certain instances we use social media–management platforms and their built-in workflows to create and review content. We’ve used (and demoed) a plethora of these management platforms (see more below), and we’re currently using a number of them to create and distribute content. But when it comes to long-form, blog, email, and other digital content, we always fall back on GatherContent to create scalable and portable content.
We do have our favorite tools, but we’re fairly tool-agnostic.
We also use a bunch of different Chrome extensions to help us with our content-creation process.
Our favorite content-aggregation, curation, and distribution tools include Medium (long-form blogging), Apple News, Feedly, RSS feeds, Flipboard, Pinterest, and any others where we can potentially create additional reach and awareness for a piece of content living someplace else. We love targeting niche communities with cross-shared content. The cost of implementation is low because all we’re doing is reshaping content, so it’s well worth the extra pin, flip, importing, copying and pasting (plus some minor styling), and automation strategy. We also use a number of writing tools that help us create content with user experience and readability in mind.
So, we’ve created some remarkable content that we want everyone to see. Let’s talk social media management.
Content and Social Media–Management Platforms
Choosing the right platform to manage social media communities and content can be a truly daunting task. There are a ton of enterprise models out there (e.g., Sprinklr, Falcon, Contently, and Skyword) priced at thousands of dollars per month, and then there is a tier of more affordable options (e.g., Buffer, Sprout Social, Edgar, and Hootsuite) that range from freemium tiers to hundreds per month, depending on social media accounts and users.
Maybe Slack is the mega tool we’ve been looking for.
And it seems like every day there’s a new platform with a new differentiator. We’ve looked and looked for an all-powerful tool, a mega tool, if you will, and we have so far been unsuccessful (Percolate comes close, but it’s costly). We’ll continue our vigilant search and let you know if or when we find the one tool to rule them all.
In the meantime, we choose tools based on project needs and client (and API) integrations. Which means we have to be flexible, agile, and ready to adapt. We do have our favorite tools, but we’re fairly tool-agnostic. Oh, and we also use and harness native features of social media channels. Third-party platforms don’t have access to all the features and functionality of most existing social channels, so having a native-feature or -functionality strategy built into your publishing schedule is still an integral part of distributing content on social media channels.
The content has been shared, but how did it perform? Did it resonate with the audience? Was it engaging? In order for us to adhere to our content-marketing philosophies, we have to pay equal attention to assessing and analyzing the content we share.
Reporting and Analytics Tools
Like so many others, we use Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools/Google Search Console to keep tabs on how our owned media is performing. Tracking referral traffic, page-engagement metrics, and audience insights is part of understanding your audience’s needs, and Google gives us access to all these insights so we can craft actionable content. But we also use other tools to ensure that our content is performing.
We track our earned-media efforts through platforms such as Rival IQ, Buffer, Buffer Reply, Sprout Social, and other content and social media platforms with reporting features. We also use other social-listening data tools to automate, find channel opportunities, and help scale our reporting.
There’s always a lot of data to sift through, and a good tool should always have quality data visualization, as well as definitions and descriptions of what the metrics are showing, how the data is measured, and how the data impacts the project.
It’s not that I am tech-averse. I am nostalgic. I am tech-agnostic.
And you know what? We almost always default to using Keynote for our final reports. We love Keynote. We use it for reporting, pitch decks, internal training presentations, case studies, etc. We use it for pretty much everything we do. You need a quick, nice-looking deck? Let’s Keynote it. At least that’s our default traditional deliverable. Using database tools to create landing pages with customized data delivery and visualization is the more scalable approach. But some people still want to hold something in their hands. So we appease them. We aim to appease.
How do we track all these tools and content? How do we communicate and keep the processes moving in the right direction? How do we continue with our integrated approach while staying consistent and efficient? For us, Slack is a lifesaver. It’s the one tool that allows us all to be on the same page. It lets us collaborate and communicate in real time. It allows us to integrate many of the above-mentioned tools to pull data into one spot.
Maybe Slack is the mega tool we’ve been looking for. Maybe. We are also more than familiar with Asana, Trello, Basecamp, Workamajig, Percolate, DivvyHQ, Kapost, HubSpot, and a number of other project-management and content-management tools. We’ve tried them all. Yet as I wrote that, I realize that it was an obsolete statement as soon as it was typed.
Tools and Resources on the Horizon
From ideation to reporting, this has been a rundown of some of the tools we use here at BMDG. I can tell you that we use about a million more as well. And tomorrow we might have a new tool. It’s ever-changing, and you have to be adaptive in today’s agency world.
- I fully expect to do whiteboard sessions on a Google Jamboard while wearing a VR headset.
- I fully expect us to integrate more machine-learning tools to source content (see Quuu).
- I fully expect us to use more AI to help us write better (see Wordsmith).
- I fully expect Watson to help us with audience identification (see IBM’s Watson).
- I fully expect us to use AI to source and share content automatically (see Post Intelligence).
But that day is not today. Today, I’ll still default to my notepad. Maybe some Post-its. Maybe a Google Doc. It’s not that I am tech-averse. I am nostalgic. I am tech-agnostic.
And today you have to be.