How to Find Your Way Through the Maze of Digital Marketing

The digital marketing arena is becoming ever more complex. At TFM&A this year there were 180 different seminars covering an enormous variety of topics from content management to web optimisation, customer relationship management (CRM) to data analytics, social media to mobile marketing and on and on. It’s becoming increasingly clear that you can’t be an expert at everything. For those running SMEs like many of my clients, it would be easy to spend so much time on your digital marketing that the operations side of the business was totally neglected. So how do you strike the right balance? 

digital marketingLet’s go back to basics…

The first ever advertisement (a half page spread in the local newspaper) was placed by John Wanamaker to promote his Grand Depot department store in the Philadelphia in 1874. It was an enormous success. So Wanamaker employed early copywriter John Powers to write a series of ads which helped to double his sales from $4m to $8M from 1880 to 1883. This strategy worked because in those days everybody read the newspaper and John Powers’ content was excellent.

During the twentieth century we went through a period when everybody watched television. Brands could be pretty confident that by placing an ad on the TV they’d be able reach their target audience in great numbers. Today, most of us don’t read the paper any more. Many of us don’t watch TV either. Or if we do watch TV, there are so many different channels that it’s all become very confusing.

Welcome to the brave new world of digital marketing. Actually, despite the plethora of new channels of communication, the first question in any marketing campaign hasn’t really changed:  it’s still this: “Where are your target customers likely to be found in the highest numbers?” The difference is that instead of interrupting their day with an attention grabbing headline you now need to hang out where they hang out and make friends with them.

What were the key messages I took away from this year’s Show? I came away with three key lessons.

First, like everything else in life when it comes to digital marketing you need to know where you’re going. That means having a coherent digital marketing strategy and some milestones to show you how well you’re doing. One of the speakers I listened to was Dave Chaffey, a well-respected author and public speaker. At the beginning of his talk, Dave asked his audience how many of them were carrying out some form of digital marketing. Everyone put their hands up. He then asked how many had a digital marketing strategy with clearly defined objectives. Only about 30% put up their hands. So, even amongst people who are actively involved in digital marketing, only about 30% have a plan. The remaining 70% are just doing some sort of activity and hoping for the best. Remember the old adage: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail?

Second, whilst you can’t be an expert at everything it isn’t safe just to wash your hands of the problem and contract everything out to an agency who don’t understand your business as well as you do. A better approach is a “T-shaped” strategy. Using this approach, you find one key area to specialise in, then delve down and develop detailed expertise in that area (the upright on the T). For everything else (the horizontal on the T) you get help. How do you work out what to specialise in? What about going back to that fundamental question I mentioned earlier: Where in the digital world are my customers likely to be found in the highest numbers?

Third, the one thing everyone is in agreement about is the importance of content. Whilst in one sense, everything has changed since John Wanamaker’s first advertisement, in another sense everything is still the same: you still have the medium and the message. And in the digital world the content you put out there, whether text, video or audio, is your message. As part of your overall brand management that needs to be carefully controlled.

So in summary:

  • 1) have a plan with clearly defined goals;
  • 2) think about where your customers are likely to be found in the highest numbers, then go and hang out there and make friends with them; and
  • 3) people will judge your brand by the content you put out there, so it needs to be carefully controlled.

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