We like to believe that all there is to digital marketing is to do some search engine optimization, send out an email blast every once in a while, get our agency to create a flash-heavy "brand experience" website, or slap together a mobile app in the corporate-approved shade of eggshell white. A small bang here, a big sizzle there, one big paid search campaign and … VICTORY!
Reality, as is its wont, is much more complex.
Yes, some of these things can help. (Except the flash bit. Remember: Every time you use flash on a website, a puppy dies! )
But a robust digital marketing strategy for medium- or large-sized businesses encompasses so much more. It is not just what you do to attract traffic (what most people think of as marketing and advertising), but also what types of experiences you create (something people rarely think is marketing) and how good you are at delivering for where you should be in 2013 rather than 2009 (only the rarest of marketers think with this lens on).
How can a company know if it is staged for complete and glorious success when it comes to digital marketing? What is a good way to self-identify gaps in strategy, to discover the mistakes that might be making your strategy sub-optimal?
These two questions have been sloshing around in my head for a little while. I wanted to come up with a simple framework that companies could use to self-diagnose the sophistication of their digital marketing strategy. But nothing magical had come to me. That changed recently.
I met with the senior leadership of a multi-billion dollar company (think alcoholic beverages). I was surprised to learn that their primary digital strategy consisted of creating Facebook pages (and not much else). Something clicked in my mind. In a burst of inspiration (to help them) I created a diagnostic checklist that brings together a lot of my thinking into one simple question-and-answer process to quickly identify opportunities and gaps.
In this post I want to share my " are you ready to be magnificent at digital?" framework with you.
Context: The Approach.
I like thinking in layers. Do this. Then do this. Then do this other thing.
I also very much like figuring out what is the foundation, what are the next set of elements, what do you put on top of that, then what's the final layer of gloss that really puts the shine.
So, when you go through the exercise below, at least initially, try to do it serially. First step first, then second, then the next. And if at any stage you get stuck, don't skip it and move on.
Figure out what the problem is.
In each step, figure out what you do well and, more important, figure out what is it that you really stink at.
Identify the solutions, build them out, bully the people you have to, massage the egos that need massaging.
If you skip steps – or, rather, if you skip the solutions that need to be implemented – you'll be trying to pull off the ultimate trick: Building your digital castle in the air. Usually that does not work.
My promise is that if your company/brand/division goes through this diagnostic analysis, it will help identify your opportunities, point out current gaps, and create a much, much better step-by-step digital strategy. It will take some time to fix the gaps and truly monetize the opportunities, but in the long run you'll win big.
Is Your Digital Strategy Magnificent?
Put on your thinking cap and gather your key stakeholders (a mix of people who fund marketing and digital and people who actually do the work on the ground – don't leave the latter group out, they are both smart and responsible for what exists today).
Here are the questions that need answering:
1. Do you have both an "own" and a "rent" existence for your brand?
When all you have is a presence on Google+ or Facebook (ignore Twitter for now, it is a unique animal), you are renting an audience. Sure, people may circle/like you on those platforms. But everything there is controlled by the platform owner.
Google+/Facebook determine who will see your posts (how much to choke you with EdgeRank). They determine what you can do on the platform today, what you can do today that you can't do tomorrow, and the pace at which they innovate. For the most part, they also own the data about your circlers/likers, and in many ways the relationship too.
You do get to engage. You get to bring your creativity within the confines of the newsfeed system on either platform. You get to determine if you want to reply to comments, or allow x or y or z.
But you are simply renting.
No modern company will have a complete digital marketing strategy without a robust presence on Facebook/Google+. But to have only a rented digital existence is a profoundly sub-optimal and short-sighted decision.
You need to have an owned existence as well. For almost all brands, that means a website on your domain and where you set the rules of engagement, own the content (and whether it can be deleted/kept/blacklisted), and determine the sophistication of the creativity; a destination where you send all the "clicks" you collect from your multi-channel inbound marketing strategy, the outcomes you can deliver for your customers, the data you collect (with permission), what you do with it, and so much more.
For brands that are a bit more advanced, an owned existence is increasingly a conversation- or solution-centric mobile website and mobile application. Again, same set of rules.
Having an owned existence means being in control of your destiny, the type of relationship you create and the 16 types of value you'll deliver to your audience when you attract them via Search Engine Optimization, Paid Search, Email Marketing, Display Advertising, and, yes, Social Media.
So what do you have? Do you rent or own?
You want to have both.
But if you can only have one, choose own.
2. On your "rent" existence, are you shouting or adding value to the audience's life?
It is heartbreaking to see how most big brands use Facebook and Google+ (Twitter is a unique separate beast). Vaseline's FB page is one product shot after another.If you follow Vaseline, do you really want to see a Vaseline product shot Every Single Day? The other thing they are good at? Labeling women by shape of lips: "Did you know round lipped women are flirtatious and rebellious? Why don't you tag your friends as such?" I'm not kidding, that's an actual post from Vaseline. #omg
But they are of course far from unique. Check out any P&G brand. Check out L'Oreal. Check out any other Consumer Product Goods (CPG) brand.
I mention CPG because of all other types of businesses in the world they should have something interesting to say! Something we would love to see in our newsfeed every day.
Don't stop there. Check out any B2B, B2Q, M2Z brand. In. Any. Country!
Almost no shouting. Almost no pimping. No: BUY ME! BUY ME NOW! DID YOU FORGET I COME IN A BOTTLE?
And here's the test to apply to your brand: Would you want your brand's posts to in your own newsfeed every day? Multiple times a day? Day after day after day?
If the answer is no, shut down your Google+, your Facebook existence. You may be posting, but you are certainly not adding value to your business.
Ditto for YouTube brand channels. Do you have yet another lame brand channel full of just your TV ads, or does yours rock, like Tide's or Purina's, which offer tips and in many ways make your life better and really connect with you?
Another test to apply: How are you doing in terms of Conversation Rate, Amplification Rate, Applause Rate? Use those metrics to optimize your social existence.
If you are going to rent an existence, make sure it is an existence in which you can build a loyal, repeatedly reachable, truly connected-to-your-brand audience.
3. On your "own" existence: Are you solving for a local maxima, 2% (one outcome) or are you solving for a global maxima, 100% (a cluster of macro and micro outcomes)?
The most common "own" existence is your website. It is also your mobile website (if different from desktop). It is also your mobile app. It is your blog (hopefully on the company domain). Etc.
On an owned existence, you can deliver a cluster of macro and micro outcomes to your direct site visitors as well as to the people you invite via your digital campaigns (search, social, email, display). Unlike on Google+ or Facebook (and you should be on both) you can have product recommendation tools, you can have in-depth information about your products, you can have downloads, you can have lead gen forms, you can have games/videos/branded content, you can have credit card applications, support options, forums/peer-to-peer help areas, you can have … literally anything your customers are interested in.
If all you have is one conversion, say a buy now process or lead gen, then you are making a very poor use of the web. You can of course do ecommerce/lead gen. But what is amazing about the web, unlike TV or Radio or even your physical store, is that you can deliver against multiple customer expectations at a very low cost.
Here's a company in a direct-to-dentist supplies equipment business with macro (Add To Order) and micro (all others below) outcomes, solving for a global maxima:
So … is your digital outcomes strategy this robust?
Are you satisfied with a local maxima or is your digital existence solving for a global maxima?
Bonus: Are you tracking all the goals in your web analytics tool? Have you assigned economic values to each? Do you know what primary purpose (tasks) your visitors are there to accomplish? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you are not doing digital marketing, you are just waiting for a competitor to come and put you out of business.
All Advertising Can Be Classified Into Two Buckets: RC – PC
I want to take a moment and introduce you to two terms I've recently coined.
We have many advertising channels available. For the purposes of simplicity, I've defined them to serve two purposes. They are along a continuum, but just two purposes.
Reactively Create: This represents what we do on TV, in newspapers, on radio. We have products or services, new ones or ones we are just launching, and we use those channels to shout loudly and frequently to create an awareness to which people will react. We know little about the people at the other end, other than some simple demographic or primitive psychographic information. We don't know what they want. We don't know their needs. We don't know their current condition. We know they are there, we shout, we create demand. And I don't have to tell you that it works.
Proactively Capture: This represents what we do with search. People have a need/want. They go to Bing/Baidu. They seek information to fill that need/want. We show hyper-relevant ads that fit that need/want. Some of the people click on those ads, end up on our site, do business with us. A lot of that search also happens on YouTube. (My last one: "how do I pair sennheiser mm 100 headphones" Who needs Google? :)).
I believe that digital display advertising (on AOL or Yahoo! or YouTube or NY Times) falls at the Proactively Capture end because we don't know as much about the intent as in the case of search, we do know a lot about the audience's context. What are they reading? Have they visited our website? Have they done a search for our product? Have they clicked on other ads in our category? Etc. All that context helps deliver more relevant advertising (not hyper-relevant advertising).
Social is unique. There is little need/want or commercial intent (see above section on rent). But we know a bit about the unique context. People often proactively raise their hand and friend/follow/like/+1 our brand. So we are Reactively Creating with the hope that when the customer is ready they will proactively look for our brand.
The Reactively Create and Proactive Capture clusters have two other dimensions that are of value when we think about the opportunity they present.
Customer intent is significantly stronger as you go to the right. That makes sense because at the very left people are passively consuming content ("let me sit on my couch and you bombard me with ads!") and as you move to the right the consumer actions are much more proactive and directed.
Eyeballs on the other hand are still huge as we look at the far left, then we see a spectrum, and towards the right increasing again (though TV still has more eyeballs even if they are fragmented).
I do hope so. It is my attempt at taking the very complex and creating one slide that forces you to think harder about how you allocate your media budgets today.
Let's get back to our digital marketing readiness framework…
4. . Are you capturing 100% of the Proactively Capture possibilities on YouTube/Google/Bing/Yandex/Baidu Search?
Search marketing is a quantifiable numbers game. You know what is being searched. You know where. Often, you know by whom.
When you have an ad on TV you have no idea if someone's raising their hand and saying "I want laundry detergent!" But you have no such problem with Search. People come, raise their hand. Do you show up?
Why not? :)
In a recent presentation I'd framed the Search opportunity like this (I've changed the data to be fake below):
Brand searches. Then immediate category. Then adjacent category. You know the searches, you can also get your coverage – how often you show up in Organic or Paid listings on page one – (just ask your search engine partner).
I've also framed brand searches as capturing the convinced (people who have mostly made up their mind, are familiar with our brand). Category, immediate or adjacent, is capturing the unconvinced. These people have not made up their mind: in CPG parlance they are the trade-ins.
So what does your coverage look like?
Should you capture only 63% of your brand searches? Should it not be closer to 100%? After all, just because you don't show up does not mean your competitors are sleeping too.
What about the immediate category? It is hard to know what the perfect coverage should be. I typically decide based on a deeper clustering analysis of the keywords, intent expressed in those clusters (does it have anything to do with our brand, value, benefit), and, after we bid/optimize, economic value delivered.
What about the adjacent category? There is a range of intent inside adjacent categories. Some of it is definitely for you. Do the required analysis to figure out what your number should be. You have lots of data to decide that.
Very few people have a Proactively Capture strategy on a traditional search engine and YouTube that is well thought out as in the buckets above, and specifically targeted to capturing people who are raising their hands (regardless of whether they are convinced or unconvinced).
You can't be great – nay, magnificent! – at digital marketing until you have a well-thought-out, written-down, agreed-upon-in-blood-with-CxO Proactively Capture strategy.
5. Is your Display advertising strategy imaginative enough to Reactively Create demand? Does it max out the the spectrum of Yahoo!/Mommie Blogs/Facebook/Mobile Applications?
To keep our metaphor going, we have partially raised hands here. We have important context from site content, for example. The hands are a bit more raised in Social (even if less than Search). Consumers are expressing intent (even if weak intent).
Are you recognizing them? Understand their context? Are you then delivering the most relevant, unintrusive, display advertising possible?
What's your DoubleClick strategy? What's your YouTube TrueView strategy? What's your Facebook display strategy?
If your company is already good at TV/Radio/Print, you have all the raw ingredients to create a powerful (and measureable!) display strategy.
Win the Reactively Create game. Win digital completely.
[After my recent keynote in Singapore someone asked me this: Which would you do first, Reactively Create or Proactively Capture? Good question. My answer: I would spend the budget I need to take 100% of the Proactively Capture (right most in the visual above) and then steadily spend rest of the budget moving from right to left. I hope that helps you.]
6. Do you have a 2009, 2012, 2015 mobile strategy?
In a recent engagement I defined three stages of a successful mobile strategy: 2009, 2012 and 2015.
If you have a mobile-friendly version of your desktop website, congratulations! You are ready for the year 2009!
If you are leveraging all the amazing ad formats and extensions to monetize the massive explosion of the opportunity in mobile search (via Bing, Google, Yandex, etc.), congratulations! Your mobile strategy is ready for 2012. As an example see the ad below, it uses mobile app extension, brand endorsement via social extension, plus the normal link to the site. Sweet!
If you are truly executing utility marketing via mobile platforms, then congratulations! You are ready for 2015! For more examples of utility marketing please see my detailed blog post with more examples. Beneful, above, is a great example of utility marketing. They not only have a mobile site, their site is uniquely created to leverage the mobile platform and its capabilities to truly become a part of your life. #awesome
So what's your mobile strategy? 2009? 2012? 2015?
Bonus: Does your mobile strategy bridge the online and offline worlds? We were shopping at Target recently. My young daughter asked for my phone, saying she wanted to buy a product. She took my phone, scanned the barcode on the back of the product box, clicked on Google Product Search button. Ranked #1 in Google was the product she was holding in her hand (yea, SEO!). When she clicked on the link, the manufacturer's product page displayed a picture of the product, ratings (4.4/5) and Facebook Likes (480). My daughter turned to me and said: "Daddy, let's buy this product." I was so proud.
When people scan the barcode of your product using their phones, do you show up #1? Does your product page have the content (reviews, likes, +1s) that customers need to decide if they should buy your product?
That's solving for 2013. Is your mobile digital strategy in place and rocking?
So there you have it. A textual Ishikawa diagram you need, with six serial stops, to help you diagnose if you have a digital strategy that puts your company in the best possible position to win.
I recommend doing the analysis in the order presented. 1. Rent or own or both. 2. Rent: Shouting or conversation. 3. Own: local or global maxima. 4. Proactively Capture distribution structure. 5. Reactively Create influence strategy. 6. Mobile: 2009 or 2012 or 2015.
At the end of this process you should have a crystal clear understanding of the gaps in your strategy and what actions you need to take to fill the gaps.
Once you are informed you'll still have to convince your CxO, corral/threaten your Agency/Consultants, fight the company bureaucracy and its love for status quo and slowness, find the right people to execute your vision, and do so many other things. None of which are easy.
But at least you'll know.
Your company will never again be able to make an ill-informed decision when it comes to digital. You might make the wrong decision, but at least it will be an informed wrong decision (and I genuinely mean this: that is ok, when you fail you'll know exactly why and that is a good thing).
Update: Here's my first attempt at summarizing this blog post into a simple, hopefully, easy to understand picture. It is best understood if you read the entire post (above), especially to truly grasp the nuances. But even if you don't read the post, this should help.
I hope the picture helps.
As always, it is your turn now.
Think about your current employer/business: in which of the six elements are they weakest? Is there one element you've simply not been able to crack? Does the simplistic Reactively Create and Proactively Capture continuum help crystallize where you are spending money? Do you have favorite examples of companies doing Facebook, YouTube, Display, or Search right? What is the biggest missing piece in my framework? What will be your biggest obstacle to closing the gaps once you've identified them using the framework above?
Please share your wisdom, critique, feedback, and war stories via comments below.