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4 Principles Of Effective Digital Marketing

By Noel O'Regan

Life for marketers used to be easy.  Back when we had just a few TV channels, a couple radio stations, a handful of magazines and newspapers. Now with hundreds of TV channels, millions of web sites and an alphabet soup of DMP’s, API’s and SDK’s marketing has become a whole lot more challenging.

What used to be a matter of identifying needs and communicating benefits now requires us to build immersive experiences that engage consumers.  That means we have to seamlessly integrate a whole new range of skills and capabilities.  It’s easy to get lost among a sea of buzzwords and false gurus selling snake oil. Here are 4 principles to guide you:

1. Clarify Business Objectives

There’s so much going on in the marketing arena today, everybody is struggling to keep up.   At the same time, every marketing professional feels pressure to be “progressive” and actively integrate emerging media into their marketing program.

However, the mark of a good marketing strategy is not how many gadgets and neologisms are crammed into it, but how effectively it achieves worthy goals. Therefore, how you define your intent will have a profound impact on whether you succeed or fail.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency for marketers to try to create a “one size fits all” approach for a portfolio of brands or, alternatively, to want to create complicated models to formulate marketing objectives.  However, most businesses can be adequately captured by evaluating just three metrics: awareness, sales and advocacy (i.e. customer referral).

Some brands are not widely known, others are have trouble converting awareness to sales and still others need to encourage consumer advocacy. While every business needs all three, it is important to focus on one primary objective or your strategy will degrade into a muddled hodgepodge.

2. Use Innovation Teams to Identify, Evaluate and Activate Emerging Opportunities

Marketing executives are busy people.  They need to actively monitor the marketplace, identify business opportunities, collaborate with product people and run promotional campaigns.  It is unreasonable to expect them to keep up with the vast array of emerging technology and tactics, especially since most of it won't pan out anyway.

Therefore, it is essential to have a team dedicated to identifying emerging opportunities, meeting with start-ups and running test-and-learn programs to evaluate their true potential.  Of course, most of these will fail, but the few winners will more than make up for the losers.

Once an emerging opportunity has performed successfully in a pilot program, it can then be scaled up and become integrated into the normal strategic process as a viable tactic to achieve an awareness, sales or advocacy objective.

3. Decouple Strategy and Innovation

Unfortunately, in many organizations, strategy and innovation are often grouped together because they are both perceived as things that “smart people” do.  Consequently, when firms approach innovation, they tend to put their best people on it, those who have shown a knack for getting results.

That's why, all too often, innovation teams are populated by senior executives.  Because innovation is considered crucial to the future of the enterprise (and also due to the institutional clout of the senior executives) they also tend to have ample resources at their disposal.  They are set up to succeed.  Failure, all too often, isn’t an option.

However, strategy is fundamentally different from innovation.  As noted above, a good strategy is one that achieves specific objectives.  Innovation, however, focuses on creating something completely new and new things, unfortunately, tend to not work as well as standard solutions (at least at first).  The truth is that innovation is a messy business.

So failure must be an option, which is why technologically focused venture capital firms expect the vast majority of their investments to fail.  However, failure must be done cheaply, so resources (and therefore senior executives) must be kept to a minimum.

4. Build Open Assets in the Marketplace

The primary focus of marketing promotion used to be to create compelling advertising campaigns that would get the consumer’s attention and drive awareness.  Once potential customers were aware of the product, direct sales and retail promotions could then close the deal.

That model is now broken.  Today, effective promotional campaigns are less likely to lead to a sale and more likely to result in an Internet search, where consumers' behavior can be tracked and then retargeted by competitors. Simply building awareness and walking away is more likely to enrich your competition than yourself.

Successful brands are becoming platforms and need to do more than just drive consumers to a purchase, they have to inspire them to participate.  That means marketers have to think less in terms of USP’s, and GRP’s and more in terms of API’s and SDK’s.  Focus groups are giving way to accelerators and creation to co-creation.

In the digital age, brands are no longer mere corporate assets to be leveraged, but communities of belief and purpose.


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