Our Approach

A small business-centric method for marketing success

The internet has been around for decades now. It has totally reshaped society. People are more reliant on it every day. And still, the majority of small businesses lack a basic understanding of how to effectively market themselves online.

But we don’t think it’s actually business owners’ fault. Instead, we believe the major problem is that the majority of marketing advice misses the forest for the trees. It’s a constant stream of seemingly random techniques, technologies, tools and tactics, much of which is contradictory, and doesn’t even apply to the majority of businesses. Business owners usually don’t have enough experience or context to even make sense of this disparate information, much less act upon it in an efficient way.

What growing companies actually need are coherent strategies they can more easily comprehend and implement. Before they can evaluate any particular solution, they need to first understand how it fits into the overall vision for their business. That would empower them to make more intelligent decisions themselves, stop wasting money on one-off efforts, and start building an effective, efficient system.

In other words, small business owners need to better understand what kind of digital marketing they actually need.

To help provide that clarity, we created a framework for thinking about the logical steps to making digital marketing a successful part of your business: the Mountwell Hierarchy of Digital Marketing Needs.

Inspired by the famous motivational theory from psychologist Abraham Maslow – popularly known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – our model provides a simple, sensible order of operations for incrementally improving your online marketing effectiveness. From most fundamental to most advanced, it breaks a business’s entire digital marketing journey down into six stages, which also function as useful goals for driving informed decisions at particular points in your development.

Understanding the framework

Just like Maslow said any motivational theory “should stress and center itself upon ultimate or basic goals rather than partial or superficial ones, upon ends rather than means to these ends,” the needs in our framework represent digital marketing goals, not individual marketing tactics.

If you’re used to seeing the way most marketing agencies structure their services, this will look odd. That’s because almost every agency we’ve ever encountered lists their services in an à la carte fashion – e.g. social media marketing, SEO, SEM, etc. However, all these forms of marketing are simply means to ends, not ends in and of themselves. 

Instead, our model advises focusing on overall goals, and employs the full suite of solutions necessary to reach each goal, as dictated by your specific business and situation. We believe this basic shift in thinking about marketing will go a long way to remedying the disjointed nature of most companies’ promotion efforts.

Furthermore, the sequence of these goals is structured in a way to avoid the leaky bucket problem many businesses experience. By first focusing on building a solid foundation, all efforts higher in the hierarchy have a better chance to succeed.

Let’s get into each need in more depth.


Setting up the necessary online presences for your business

Typical marketing activities at this stage include:

  • Digital marketing strategy
  • Website creation
  • Social media setup
  • Business directory listing setup
  • Marketplace setup
  • Story development (if it doesn’t already exist)
  • Branding (if it doesn’t already exist)

To market via the internet, your business clearly needs to be present on the internet in some fashion. To satisfy this need, you must properly and thoroughly set up the necessary digital presences to build your marketing program upon, such as websites, social media accounts, business profiles in directories, etc.

This sounds rudimentary, but many small businesses we find fail to achieve this basic goal. Many don’t appear on social media platforms we would consider to be essential for their type of business, are missing from key directories where customers find businesses like theirs, or don’t even have the basic information necessary on their website.

The exact presences you need will vary by company type, industry, location and target demographic. They key word here is “need.” You shouldn’t set up any more presences than you can plan to maintain, and when just starting out, should only focus on those that offer significant potential return on your time and effort. Determining that is part of a basic digital marketing strategy, or overall marketing strategy.

Here’s a good test: would it be a major problem if a potential customer can’t find your business through a particular channel? For instance, if you can’t find a restaurant on Yelp, you might assume it’s closed. If you can’t find a photography studio on Instagram, you might assume they’re way behind the times.

Note that satisfying this need also assumes you have the basic content and assets you need to exist online – digital logos and photos, descriptions of what you do, contact information, etc. If you don’t have those elements, you’ll need to create those as well.


Monitoring and maintaining your online presences to keep them active and accurate

Typical marketing activities at this stage include:

  • Google Analytics setup
  • Content development
  • Web development
  • Measurement and reporting

Setting up digital presences properly is a critical first step, but lots of businesses set up presences only to let them languish. In some ways, this can often be worse than not setting up presences at all, if they become inaccurate over time and mislead customers.

Maintenance means actively updating your channels when necessary, as well as simply being active in whatever ways apply to a given presence. If it’s a social media channel, it means responding to questions and posting updates uccessfully. If it’s a website with a blog, it means publishing to that blog with some level of consistency. Failure to do so often causes some customers to question if something’s wrong with your business, and whether you will actually respond to their needs.

Proper maintenance also means monitoring. For digital presences, that means checking your analytics, either through the dashboard each platform provides natively, or though a third-party tool like Google Analytics. Doing so at a regular cadence allows you determine if there are any issues or trends you need to act upon, 

Sadly, in our estimation, few small businesses ever complete this stage of their development. In fact, many medium-sized or even large businesses might think they’re much more sophisticated, but in reality they lack the basic ability to manage and maintain their digital presences. Many set up presences but didn’t implement plans or processes to control them over time.

Before we recommend moving on to any additional stage, we advise businesses to conduct an audit of their excisting presences and get their arms around what needs to be maintained and monitored. From there, you may immediately find ways to improve your effectiveness. Here are some examples of improvements we’ve seen when we’ve helped businesses take this simple step:

  • Identification and adjustment of broken websites and inaccurate information on business directory listings, leading to increased customer contacts.
  • Discovery of unnecessary or ineffective presences that can be removed, increasing marketing ineffeciency.
  • Improved customer engagement, in terms of both answersing questions and addressing problems, leading to increased sales and satisfaction.
  • Steady long-term traffic and conversion improvements through regular updates, and avoiding problems caused by falling behind.


Beginning to build a loyal online audience for your business

Typical marketing activities at this stage include:

  • Content marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Conversion rate optimization
  • Customer Relationship Management system setup

Once you’ve established a baseline competency, the next step is starting to build a database of people you know are interested in your business who you can communicate with regularly, easily and directly. To do this, you need to set up whatever plan, technology and process is necessary to capture, maintain and grow this audience.

Building a loyal audience is the most overlooked no-brainer digital marketing goal. Being able to quickly, easily and cheaply communicate with people who are likely to purchase your products or services is one of the clearest benefits of digital marketing. Nevertheless, many businesses either rush right past this step or just go through the motions, not seeing it as a true investment in their business.

How you build and maintain this audience also comes down to your own unique strategy. It at least requires a way to capture, store and maintain customer contact information, and a plan for both steadily adding to this database and keeping people in your audience informed, interested and engaged. An example can be as simple as having an email sign-up form on your website and distributing a monthly newsletter. 

You don’t need to build a massive audience at this stage. The bottom line is having the basic infrastructure in place so that as you ramp up your visibility and visits to your online presences, you are maximizing the potential value of every visitor by having a way to get back in touch with them in the future. 


Making your business more visible than your competitors

Typical marketing activities at this stage include:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Search engine advertising (SEM)
  • Social media marketing
  • Social media advertising
  • Customer review management
  • Display advertising
  • Content marketing
  • Media relations
  • Viral marketing

Once you’ve established baseline competency and have a system in place for growing your audience, you can be confident in the efficacy of investing in methods to drive greater traffic through your digital channels. Your goal now should be to make your presences more prominent online to your customers by increasing your visibility.

There are nearly infinite ways to accomplish this goal, and it again largely depends on the unique situation of your business. However, true prominence requires at least identifying the key channels for reaching your audience and ensuring you are more visible than your competition on those channels.

The levers for increasing visibility further depend on the channel, but can all be divided into paid and unpaid tactics. For instance, if it’s social media, pretty much all social media platforms have options for businesses to reach people through free posts and paid advertising. Likewise, if it’s Google, you can try to appear at the top of Google search results by increasing your search ranking through search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, or paying to appear at the top of results through Google Ads (often referred to more broadly as search engine marketing [SEM] or pay-per-click [PPC].)

Many, if not most, businesses want to rush to this stage and start running advertising right away, because it just feels good to see views and clicks go up. However, you can see that without basic competency and the ability to build an audience, you’ll be pouring potential customers into your channels only to have them fall through the bottom, i.e. the leaky bucket problem. Knowing most small businesses don’t have money to burn, this is why we advise this approach.


Leading your competition in digital marketing effectiveness

Once you’ve accomplished all the fundamental goals and become prominent in the primary channels for reaching your audience, it’s time to aim for thorough optimization of all your digital marketing efforts. Satisfying this need means eliminating any flaws in your platforms and plans, with strategy and execution that leads your competition.

There’s largely a tried-and-true playbook up to this point in the hierarchy, but achieving Excellence and the next higher stage, Influence, is unique by definition. While there are certainly published best practices for various marketing activities, truly being “outstanding or extremely good,” as Oxford defines excellence, means also going beyond well-established rules. It means making sure you aren’t missing any opportunities, as well as genuinely wowing your customers.

It should be obvious to everyone involved when you’ve truly reached a level of excellence, but what are some objective measures? Here are a few to consider:

  • Do you dramatically exceed popularly established effectiveness benchmarks, as well as your own original baselines?
  • Are there no obvious gaps in your program, e.g. websites that have many out-of-date webpages?
  • Has your company won any digital marketing awards?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you may still be on your way to excellence. But getting there doesn’t have a clear list of tactics. It’s more about being absolutely relentless in your pursuit of perfection. 

If you’ve tried everything and don’t know how to get further, this may be the point where you hire a more advanced and specialized firm to get your program to the next level, e.g. an SEO firm to get you ranking at the top of the first page of Google for certain keywords, or a UX/UI agency to make your website purchase experience more seamless. 


Leading all companies in digital marketing effectiveness

Some business leaders don’t just aspire to be as effective as possible in their marketing. Some want to change digital marketing itself. Their goal is to be recognized as influential leaders.

At this level, we’re talking about businesses that have long surpassed excellence, and are exploring the next frontier, whether it be artificial intelligence, augmented reality, big data analytics and other advances that sound amazing and hold tremendous potential, but are extremely sophisticated and almost exclusively reserved for the world’s most expert teams. The businesses using or testing these technologies and techniques are either looking for a breakthrough edge over their competition, or simply pushing the envelope for the sake of moving the industry forward. They don’t want to just beat all their competition – they want to be the best in the world.

There are very few companies that fit within this tiny tier of our hierarchy, but we felt it was necessary to include because a) it is truly a unique goal some businesses aspire to, and b) to highlight at what point leaders should really be thinking about being recognized as influential.

Many companies who talk about being becoming highly regarded in this area have much further to go in their digital marketing journey. They think they can leapfrog right from a basic level of competency to true widespread influence. While anything’s possible, we believe they should aim for sustained excellence before even considering changing the way entire industries operate.

That takes us back to where we started. Many of the exceptionally advanced technologies and techniques that are often talked about in the popular business press, and promoted by the majority of experts and agencies, are really only appropriate for businesses at this tier. Proclamations about emerging trends and the future of marketing can usually be safely ignored by the large majority of businesses who are still building themselves a solid foundation.

How we use this framework

We created the Mountwell Hierarchy of Digital Marketing Needs to serve as a complete reflection of the ideal path to digital marketing success. We felt showing the full spectrum was critical to highlighting the area most companies should spend much more time focusing on: the foundation.

Specifically, we focus on helping companies establish presences, develop competence and begin building an audience. With those basic steps established, they can grow their business much more reliably through online marketing.

In fact, we separate the hiearchy into two groups – fundamental needs and competitive needs. We think every single company should at least aim to satisfy the bottom half of our hiearchy – Presence, Comptence and Audience – and only then aim for the top of the pyramid as necessary to compete in their market.

Want our assessment of where you are in our hierarchy, and what you need to get you to the next level? Contact us today.

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Haddonfield, NJ



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