Dear Marketers of All Shapes and Sizes and Types,
2014 is a pivot year for digital. I’m not a headline-grabbing kind of guy. So when I say this, I mean it.
This is the year that digital can go from a high-return, extremely effective 25% of client—by ‘client’ I mean agency clients or the companies for which in-house marketers work— marketing budgets to an even more profitable 30%, or even 60%.
That will mean higher profits and revenue, better client relations and happier customers. It will mean better reviews for us, and longer tenure. Digital agencies can be heroes, for once.
Why We’re 25%
Digital is more transparent to leadership, more measurable and more agile than most traditional media. So why does it account for only 25% of client budgets? Why are we always agency #2, hired by agency #1 (the traditional agency), with agency #1 managing creative direction?
Because digital feels neither safe nor creative. Transparency isn’t so great when ‘measurable’ means that failure is immediately and painfully apparent. And it’s hard to be creative when your entire marketing plan is a spreadsheet.
In traditional media, your client can’t dissect the 50% that fails. In digital, one look at the data can drive months of second-guessing: Why did you buy the display ad that generated -5% ROI, when this other one generated +200% ROI?
The answer, of course, is that you didn’t know. You couldn’t know, until you tested. Testing means you get some wrong. Getting some wrong means you’re fallible. But the data that comes with digital creates an aura of infallibility.
So, here we are. We all know we might get fired for spending $250,000 on a banner ad, but we’ll rarely get fired for running a $250,000 print ad. And we know we can do some brilliant creative, but we never do. Digital remains 25% of our clients’ budgets.
This year’s going to matter, a lot. It will determine whether digital continues as the ugly stepchild for another decade, or becomes the marketing leader. Why? Because digital data is penetrating the offline world:
- Mobile. We’re past QR codes. Apps and web sites can detect location and deliver content based on that data. This year, smartphones will become devices we rarely use as phones. Instead, they’ll be our mobile control panel.
- The internet of things is emerging as a reality.
- Search engines and social networks are better than ever at connecting ideas with ideas, instead of links.
All of this together means we can detect the needs and wants of clients’ customers more accurately, and more proactively. To do it, though, we need to act now, and act wisely. Here’s what we need to do:
Put the marketing back in digital
Digital marketing has become digital spreadsheet management. I’m a data nerd, so I know how addicted we marketers have become to reams of data.
But I’m also a marketer. I know that, even if I had every data-driven detail of my audience, that data still wouldn’t create a resonant message. Our customers aren’t algorithms. So algorithms won’t compel them.
(Yes, I know Google is algorithmic. But it doesn’t drive commerce. It drives people to the commerce. It’s still up to the brand to make it happen.)
Data can guide, but it can’t drive. Set expectations with your clients, from the start: Yes, you’re great with the data. Yes, you provide lots of reports. But you also bring the insight and creativity of a marketer, which means we’ll deliver far more value. And any client, large or small, can appreciate that, if we make it clear from the start.
Get technologists on your team
In traditional marketing, we have no control over infrastructure. We deliver our ad to the publisher, or the TV station, or the radio station. They present it to the audience using their tools and channels.
In the digital space, though, we control much of the infrastructure. At least, we should. If the web site fails, our ad buy is wasted. If the banner ad crashes 1/3 of all web browsers, we lose 1/3 of the audience.
It still shocks me how few digital agencies have true in-house web geeks. That leaves them dependent on outsourcing or their clients’ IT teams. Neither leads to good outcomes.
Get your own technologist. They can do the work, or they can work for your clients. Either way, you need that expertise on your team. The client’s IT team has to focus on security, stability and other priorities. You need someone 100% focused on you and your clients’ needs as marketers. So get that technologist.
Coca-Cola’s web site crashed after a 2012 Super Bowl ad drove scads of traffic to their site. Acura’s did, too. I don’t know which agencies built those sites, but a technologist, on their team, pushing for site performance, might have helped and saved them millions in lost revenue.
This matters even more for small businesses. You must be able to help them judge good from bad. You can’t do that if you don’t know the infrastructure.
Treat content as the foundation, not a tactic
Go one entire year without saying “content marketing.” Instead, return to the assumption that content is marketing. Make a clear message and valuable information the guiding principle of any campaign.
This isn’t idealism. It’s how the best marketing has always worked.
The best marketing always makes the best stories. John Caples’ classic “They Laughed When I Sat Down At The Piano. But When I Started to Play…!” shows this has worked for almost a century.
Tell a great story with great content. Sell your clients on it. Don’t give in to the “We need 10 articles for $50 each” mentality. It’s tempting, but it fails, and it doesn’t make you any money, either. $50/article? Really? What exactly is your margin on a $50 article? How many do you have to write to pay the bills?
Take the high ground. Make content the place where you start to show creative prowess. You’ll be surprised how many clients come around.
Don’t forget the data
We have a tendency to dive into the latest thing at the expense of all others. I’m saying we shouldn’t let data lead—I’m not saying we should ignore it. It’s still a fantastic tool. Don’t forget about it.
Make omnichannel a strategy, not a buzzword
Finally, if you want it all to come together — if you want 2014 to be the most successful year you’ve had yet—don’t try to replace traditional with digital. Put them together, and show your clients why no one’s better qualified to do it than us.
Take traditional and digital marketing out of their silos and coordinate them. You don’t need technical wizardry like location-awareness (although it doesn’t hurt). You do need clear audience cues, presented when the audience has a smartphone in their hand, or a TV nearby, or a magazine in their lap.
Zappos does this by placing ads in those NSA security trays that hold our shoes at checkpoints. We’re thinking about shoes, right then. They know it. We see it. We remember. Brilliant, effective and creative. No technology required.
Think environment first, technology second. Whether you work with the Fortune 500 or 50,000, there are great opportunities out there for omnichannel strategies and tactics.
Learn to measure this kind of marketing, too. It is possible to measure cross-channel impact. Learn how! This is the most important bit of data we have, but we tend to ignore it.
Why I’m telling you this
We’re all marketers. We work in-house and at agencies. We compete with each other. So why work on something like this when we can undercut each other and get more business?
Because, if we all aim high, we can increase digital’s share of budget. That makes us all more money. It also better serves our clients. And it delivers great value to clients’ customers when they need it.
It’s not often we get to take the high road, do cool work and profit at the same time. I say we enjoy it.
Help make 2014 the real Year of Digital Marketing.