How to avoid digital dead ends

Have you ever noticed that so-called �express lanes� on the road or in stores are often slower than the normal lanes?

While I know it�s easy to go on auto-pilot when performing mundane chores like driving or shopping, it amazes me that people so often follow the actual signs instead of reading the signs around them.

Because we humans are inherently disengaged, conflicted or uncertain as to what we should do in many situations, we�re attracted to people and things that can give us clarity, focus and direction. This is particularly the case when we don�t know a great deal about the subject at hand.

Charismatic leaders understand this. The more effective they are at providing a clear and compelling way forward, the more followers they attract. Not that their chosen path is always a good or rewarding one as history has shown on many occasions.

Digital marketing, as a discipline is failing miserably in giving marketers a clear way forward. Or perhaps it�s the other way around.lemmings-copy

It�s not for want of trying, however. You could spend all your time consuming books, courses, podcasts, webinars, articles and conferences on digital this, mobile that, programmatic whatever. It�s information overload, the sworn enemy of clarity and focus.

What ends up happening is that huge dollops of dollars are being spent on doing digital stuff with no clear idea as to why it�s being done.

I was in a brainstorming session a few years ago with our client and their creative, media and PR agencies. The solutions that were put forward to increase awareness and drive sales of the client�s brand were all based on just doing digital stuff. Let�s sponsor Shazam, let�s run targeted Facebook ads, let�s do cool banner ads, let�s do pre-roll YouTube ads etc. Lots and lots of stuff.

My suggestion about first creating a strategy, engaging with consumers via email and phone to better understand their interests and needs and THEN rolling-out select digital stuff was met with a deafening silence. I was obviously a buzz-kill.

It�s no wonder clients end up going down expensive digital dead ends when they consistently receive advice that amount to just doing lots of stuff. The people giving the advice often know just enough jargon to confuse the people (clients) receiving it.

This doesn�t have to be you.

Here are the four key questions you need to answer when planning and implementing your digital program IF you want it to deliver actual results beyond views, likes, clicks and opens:

  1. What do you want?

    OK, it seems like I�m trying to teach you, an experienced and savvy businessperson how to suck eggs. Sorry. But for this rant to actually resonate with you in the context of all the hot air you may have been fed, I need to boil it down to the basics.

    Is your market aging and you need a younger demographic? Are your competitors doing a better job than you of building awareness / relevance in the market? Do your customers buy on price and not much else?

    These are the types of grunty sales and marketing problems that you need solutions for. They�re exactly the problems you can and should be looking to digital marketing to help you solve.

    Marketing strategies and digital marketing strategies are not mutually exclusive. They must be intertwined. You must know what you want to achieve commercially before a coder�s keyboard is struck in anger.

    If your digital partner doesn�t get what you�re looking to achieve outside of what can be done on a computer, mobile phone or a tablet, get a new partner.

  2. What do your customers want?

    I know, it�s obvious, but why do so many digital programs seem self rather than customer serving? One of the exciting aspects of web marketing is that it�s relatively easy to find the customers you�re looking to influence. So there�s no real excuse to be inward or focus group oriented with your digital programs.

    The internet is the ultimate home of people seeking answers, solutions and to have most of their needs met. As with all types of marketing, the better we meet those needs the more successful we will be.

    Technology changesOften, the main solution web browsers are looking for is to make a connection with others who are �just like me�. We�ve achieved phenomenal results by simply asking customers to – confidentially – tell us their story as it relates to the product / service we�re marketing. Usually for no incentive other than the satisfaction of being heard.

    Billions of dollars of value are being wiped off bottom lines in many industries because of many companies� failure truly understand what their customers want. The default reaction: cut the price.

    Do online surveys using third party lists if you don�t have your own; send an email to your customers asking for their opinions; put on a series of wine and cheese chats in your office; do targeted Google / Facebook ad campaigns driving prospects to a survey page. Heck, get on the phone and just talk to a bunch of random customers! Or do all of the above.

    Your customers don�t care about your new website, app, eDM, social media page. Unless of course those platforms give them something that they want. If you use the access you have to your customers / prospects using various digital means, any or all of these may be appropriate. But you don�t really know if you don�t ask.

  1. Think Long-Term

    Unless you have a here today gone tomorrow offering, your digital vision needs to extend beyond the next six weeks or months. Try six years � for starters.

    I get that marketers tend to be career butterflies but if you do your job effectively, your brand�s customers are not. We all are looking for long-term relationships: with our spouses, friends, work colleagues and of course, brands. Those types of relationships don�t happen after a 6 week burst. That�s a start, but the true value for everyone involved only becomes apparent over the years.

    The same applies with your digital programs. Companies who view digital through the prism of the next quarter or year�s results are leaving money on the table.

    By all means launch with a bang, get consumers engaged and excited but make sure you have a compelling answer for �now what?�. If senior management are looking for a ROI directly attributable to your investment in digital after only a few months in most cases, you may have a problem.

    I�ve seen many cases of clever short-term digital campaigns with no follow-up strategy. This is old paradigm thinking: run my ad today and watch the sales fly tomorrow. The main advantage with digital vs. traditional advertising is that it�s much easier and more cost-effective to create assets � e.g. email / mobile databases / social media engagement.

    And what can assets do? Provide a return over many years. Your 2016 digital budget should be directly returning money to your organisation in 2021 and beyond.

  2. Stay the course

    Don�t get bored with your digital campaign. Make adjustments by all means based on customer feedback but resist the urge to try something new when the old way could be working just fine.

    Many marketers love shiny new things in the name of keeping up with changing consumer interests and needs. Which has some validity. The problems arise when you keep having to continually start from scratch, rather than build on what you did before.

    Like relationships, if it�s the right one you hang in there through good and bad times. Customers don�t care when your budget starts and finishes; if you disappear for six months, one of your competitors has probably stolen your thunder – and customer.

    Invariably, there are countless opportunities in your market for you to launch successful digital programs simply because most companies are not planning and acting in a structured way like this.

Use this formula to steer a course through the maze of digital options. Don�t just ask �what are we going to do?� WHY you�re going to do it is an infinitely more important question.

When you read and understand the signs that are all around you�ll be much more likely to get where you want to go. The alternative is far less appealing.



Peter Applebaum

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