Like many of you reading this article, I’ve spent years handling all sorts of digital campaigns and programs ranging from microsites to social media, loyalty programs to response-based campaigns, and...
Like many of you reading this article, I’ve spent years handling all sorts of digital campaigns and programs ranging from microsites to social media, loyalty programs to response-based campaigns, and so on. Trust me—I know how you feel and I fully understand the lure of adding more and more digital tactics to your brand plan.
But, as sweet as these items appear, you risk getting digital cavities. I felt the same way as presenting new tactics and proving ROI and results was nearly impossible.
You need to make sure you take the right steps to keep your digital healthy or you’re only steps away from a not-so-pleasant trip to the “digital dentist’s chair.”
The digital problem
Doug Levey, co-author of the classic marketing book Can’t Buy Me Like, speaks to marketers bluntly about the risk of not changing your thinking: “What’s absurd is the idea that a complex understanding of yesterday’s reality will be relevant to a radically different tomorrow.”
Yes, the world has changed: yesterday’s marketing [non-digital] and tomorrow’s marketing [digital-first] are radically different. Are you prepared?
To explain this radically different marketing style, it is imperative that you understand not just WHAT needs to be done but WHY it happened (tactics vs. strategy).
Not to bore you with a history lesson but to make the shift into digital leadership (vs. digital tactical supplier), we need to step back in time. It all started about 100 years ago when marketing became a subject in business education, most notably at the University of Pennsylvania through their 1905 course, “The Marketing of Products.” This trend saw many developments pushing marketers through the six “ages” of marketing: Product, Sales, Market, Target Market, Response and Social.
The problem, of course, isn’t the development or advancement of marketing, or even the media used to advance the craft (radio, TV, print, CRM, internet, social, etc.).
Rather, the problem is that marketing didn’t change its core fundamental approach.
Marketers have been consistently taught mechanisms relying on the classic approaches and frameworks (e.g., the 4 Ps of marketing, etc.). But those approaches simply aren’t yielding the same results in today’s digital marketplace.
Oracle made this reality concrete by citing four main brand problems in today’s digital space:
Loss of customer interest
Lower conversion and engagement rates
Consumer confusion and mistrust
Delayed consideration and delayed sales
Yes, the marketing world has changed and marketers had better be ready.
What has digital actually done to marketing?
Until the advent of digital media, marketers were accustomed to simply applying the old approaches to each new media that came along, with only minor adjustments to tactics.
With reference to the marketing ages mentioned above, we simply had new channels to reach our audiences while still for the most part using those media to deliver brand messages to the desired customer. Said simply, marketing for the past century has spoken AT customers and then, at different points, brought in research firms, initiatives, and programs to figure out what customers were actually saying in reply.
But tomorrow has arrived, and a whole host of digital communications modes and devices has ushered in a new age of marketing. The Dialogue Age, the age of instant, two-way communication, demands new strategies and methods.
The Digital Dialogue Age has changed the role of the marketer from focusing on how to sell (4P focus) to focusing on how to inform (dialogue engagement focus). You must focus on developing brands as trusted authorities, and through digital media (via guides, websites, blogs, social, content streams, etc.) understand how consumers engage with, speak to and yes, expect to be listened to by brands.
Sales will come when your brand is trusted and is consistent with the information being offered to consumers.
Your opportunity (it’s MASSIVE):
In a recent Forbes survey, “only 32% of brand marketers believe they’re executing an effective digital strategy.”
Forrester proved that social media engagement rates are plummeting: Instagram fell by 50%, Twitter fell by 10%, Google + fell by 35% and on and on it goes.
Digital communications are growing daily in size and impact; but what must you actually do to shift strategy, make a difference and increase returns?
The strategic marketer’s role
You must cease relying on yesterday’s approaches and stop speaking AT customers, risking alienation of at least some of the group you are working to attract. You can lead by leveraging digital communications to reach out and speak WITH customers in a fluid conversation.
At its absolute core, you must learn to solve the poignant challenge set out in the Cluetrain Manifesto: “The onus will be on organizations [via the marketer] to enter the marketplace conversation or risk becoming irrelevant.”
Businesspeople and brand managers are waking up to the reality that marketing is the answer to solving the digital challenge, and if done correctly, marketing will be the strategic growth driver for future success. Through this, you must excel in 5 key skill sets:
A robust understanding of how digital actually works and how it has radically changed the brand:consumer relationship;
A solid approach to business focused on digital strategy and not simply picking up new digital-based tactics;
A knowledge of how to segment/profile customers based on digital realities (traditional profiles don’t work);
A strong handle on business intelligence through digital analytics and how to leverage these for sustained loyalty; and
A depth of experience in digital voicing to deliver brands relevantly to the right audience via the right media.
Tom Davenport, a world leader in business innovation and knowledge management and Fellow of the MIT Center for Digital Business, says it brilliantly: “The benefits from effectively leveraging data, embedding data into decision making and truly becoming an analytical competitor will apply to any firm in every industry.”
This business intelligence truth applies to you as an agency in how you must deploy any digital program: Listen, Understand and Respond.
Harvest business intelligence.
Develop strategic assessments.
Guide your brand with data.
Deploy evidence-based decisions.
As you forge your agencies into strategic digital leaders, remember what the great data scientist W. Edwards Deming said:
“Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.”
Digital has undoubtedly changed the game of marketing. Grasp and deploy the new rules and new approaches, and great success will surely follow.
So yes, keep the digital candy coming but make sure you brush regularly.
Have you ever looked back over a campaign, admitting the results weren’t as expected? Followed closely by the imminent conversation with your colleagues around the pending question: why?
We chew on data, we interrogate timing issues, we critique creative or perhaps copy or budget spend but no matter how it’s sliced, the outcomes tilt unfavourably against the efforts of our marketing craft.
The core truth is: most digital campaigns render marginal results not because of timing, creative, copy or even budget. Campaigns fail because we enter the battlefield of digital in the wrong way.
Let’s take a closer look at the source of the problem:
Since the early 1900’s when marketing began to take shape within academic fields, it was seen as a discipline of telling a story to an audience with a desired outcome (buy something, promotional offer, trade in, etc.). This approach developed by E. Jerome McCarthy is commonly referenced as the 4P’s (Product. Price. Promotion. Place). It took hold and became the fundamental thrust of marketing for the next century.
Granted, the media has changed greatly seeing radio, TV, telemarketing, direct mail, e-mail campaigns and even .coms and social media all hold places of prominence on the marketer’s podium but again, marketers still relied on the 4 P approach:
Tell a story via the available media (fill in your own 4 Ps)
Expect changed behavior from target audience
Tactics aside, marketers have gone through a series of very distinct ages: Product. Sales. Market. Target Market. Response. Social. All of which again caused us to modify overarching strategic approaches of how we would tell our stories but those stories still were delivered within the framework of a 4 P philosophy (see the following chart)
So now with digital at the forefront, marketers do what marketers have always done – the problem: we pour enormous energy into learning the media itself and then, deploy traditional campaigns through it, again:
Tell a story via the available media (fill in your own 4 Ps)
Expect changed behavior from target audience
Marketers continue to use dated strategies and tactics in a totally new environment. It’s like the classic metaphor: are they bringing knives to gun fights?
Consider for a moment pre-gunpowder warfare: Two sides, horses, archers, foot soldiers all lined up and when the battle started, they’d advance and crash into each other. Then gunpowder entered the scene. We then witnessed how military generals had to go through a learning curve.
At first, even with new weapons at their disposal, namely guns and canons, the two sides would still line up and act as if they were still using bows and arrows. They would advance towards each other unleashing the new weapons but, in the same old fashion way. That’s what they knew worked, from years of experience and battles.
War doesn’t happen like that anymore.
War strategies have changed because the WAY wars are fought changed. The WAY wars are fought changed because gunpowder changed the game.
Digital is the ‘gunpowder’ of marketing: it’s changed the game.
As gunpowder changed the way we go to war, digital has changed the way we go to market.
It’s tough to shift over 100 years of practice but let’s face it: it’s a new world and marketers need to help clients learn the new WAY of dialogue-based, brand engagement.
In my Mastering Digital Strategy courses, I spend over an hour unpacking how Digital has radically changed how marketing is done. To summarize, digital is NOT about enabling past brand actions in a different media. Digital is a two-way dialogue between a brand and its customers whereby marketers are responsible for ushering in a new model to brand behavior.
Marketing In The Dialogue Age
Yes, gone are the ages of Product, Sales, Market and so on; today’s age is the Dialogue Age – the age of instant, two-way communication and it demands a new WAY: new strategies, methods and tactics.
Has the end objective changed? Absolutely not. You are still charged to achieve changed behavior of a consumer towards a brand. Has the WAY in which you realize this changed? Absolutely.
OLD WAY: Focusing on how to sell (4P focus)
NEW WAY: Focusing on how to inform (dialogue age engagement focus).
To start, you must focus on developing client brands into trusted authorities, and through digital media, understand how consumers engage with, speak to and yes, expect to be listened to by brands.
Have a hard look at your digital strategy: if it’s filled with quivers of 4P arrows and not the dialogue ammunition of today, don’t be surprised if the battle turns ugly…and of course, you’re going to have to answer the question: why?