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.
- Define objectives.
- 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.