For all the social observation and concern about people “having their faces in their screens” prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is even more so now. A recent survey by Arlington Research and MFG revealed that nearly half (46%) of all people worldwide are consuming more digital content than they did before the outbreak.

While digital marketing has long been an important tool for marketers, it is fair to say that it is now the essential tool. At the same time, “digital marketing” now covers a range of tactics that include paid and organic search and social, email and content marketing, interactive, display and video ads, app and mobile marketing, and—of course—the company website.

The critical characteristic these all have in common is that they are two-way channels. A company’s “message” is really just the opening line in a conversation. Or, it should be. If you haven’t thought about your marketing this way before, now is the time to start. And here are a few questions to ask yourself when you do.

What Is Your Return Path?

If digital marketing is a conversation with your customers and prospects, you need to have a way to listen. Of course, unlike a real conversation, the person on the other end of your digital exchange is not trying to make themselves understood. You need to help them.

The lowest hanging fruit is your landing pages. If you’re still sending response to your website homepage, wake up and smell the money you’re burning. But, is the landing page the end of it? If you’re an ecommerce merchant, you’d better hope not. If you’re a B2B service provider, you want to make this the start of a long and mutually rewarding relationship.

You need to game out the flows and dialogues you’re trying to create and prepare for them. Anticipate your visitor’s desires and build and link accordingly. The only way visitors are going to connect the way you want is by laying out the necessary breadcrumbs.

What Do You Hope To Learn?

When you listen in a face-to-face business conversation, do you just smile and nod without regard for what’s being said? Of course you don’t! You want to know what your customer—or prospective customer, or prospective partner—is looking for. You want to know what they don’t understand about your business. You want to know what you don’t understand about theirs.

Same for a digital dialogue. The only difference is that it probably isn’t happening in real-time. (Though, crafty marketers with the needs and resources can leverage their Support operations to do just that.) So, you want to identify the gaps in your knowledge and set up your communications flow to fill them.

The pages that people view, the links they click on, files they download, and the forms they fill all offer insights into their wants, needs, and expectations. Build your digital operations as a research environment, and design them to help you learn more about your market.

How Will You Measure Your Marketing?

Whatever your digital marketing footprint covers, you should be able to measure every step. The best place to start is at the end: How do you measure ultimate success? What metrics do you use?

Then work backwards—What is the next to last step? And the one before that, and before that? What metrics do you check? Which ones actually matter? Are they vanity metrics or do they reflect the true value system of your market? As the saying goes: You can’t manage what you can’t measure. And that goes all the way out to the investment you’re making (read: spending) to get people on your journey in the first place.

Mercifully, you can measure just about everything in the digital realm. Determine which of those steps along the journey really matters, which you can influence, and what it will mean to your business if you do.

What Will You Do With Your Results?

…and by “results” we mean the very fact that a real live customer visited your site. By carefully laying out your beautiful ninja warrior course of interactions (only much easier to navigate) you have accomplished exactly… nothing. All you’ve done is arranged the furniture for your meeting. Now the work begins.

As soon as the prospects start coming through—assuming you have somewhere for them to go—you know what you’re trying to learn, and you have a way to measure that information—they are sharing their most precious commodity: their time. This is true just as surely as if you had engaged them in a face-to-face conversation. For your sake and theirs, be prepared to act on what you learn.

You may develop new content as a result of what you learn. You may post different…well, posts. You may change your product features or your merchandise mix. You may completely shift your marketing budget. In other words, don’t ask questions if the answers won’t matter. (Pro tip: The answers always matter.)

What Does This Mean For Your Brand?

Brand marketing sometimes gets mistaken for something much more or less important than the day-to-day grunt work of lead generation or ecommerce. But the fact is: Every interaction with a company is an experience of a brand. The more considerate your digital operations are of visitors, the better your brand looks.