June 13, 2010

When it comes to digital, there's an unfortunate conversation that still goes on among marketing folk: one that sounds like a conversation on integrating digital, but really plays more like rattling off a list of individual online initiatives. It's effectively a digital to-do list: "We'll do X, then we'll do Y, then we'll do Z." Fill in the blanks with a little display, some search and social.

It looks and sounds like something digital, but it lacks a strategic framework and cohesion and doesn't tap the full power of platforms and options within digital. In the end, it's got no soul. And such an ad hoc or haphazard approach seeds its own problems down the road.

I think about this still prevalent soullessness a lot, when in different settings: visiting with traditional agencies trying to "add digital planning capabilities"; chatting with strident marketers; collaborating with allies to course-correct client programs. In these scenarios, the lag is no one person's fault. There's a lot to embrace, understand, align and operationalize in order to meaningfully, productively, integrate digital strategy into a master plan and channel strategy. It's not linear and is the team effort of all team efforts. Stop to consider just a few of these interrelated challenges:

-- Aligning the management team on the relationship among business direction, marketing objectives, and strategy: marketing, cross-channel, and digital, specifically.

-- Maintaining a forward-thinking view while still mastering the here and now.

-- Knowing the marketplace and options on platforms, providers, relevant third parties, and your competition.

-- Driving an environment of deep understanding across digital as a discipline and all of its sub-disciplines, creating an organization that knows digital is not represented by any one-flavor-of-the-month discipline.

-- Tuning your operation processes into best practices of discovery, strategy, planning and ultimately, execution.

-- Knowing where experimentation fits into your culture, budget, planning process and future vision.

The list goes on.

Somewhat obsessed with this theme of digital strategic advancement, it was with open ears that I recently attended the presentation by eConsultancy of a newly released report called "Achieving Digital Balance: Best Practices for Mastering Digital Strategy and Budgets." There is a lot of meat to the report, so I will not attempt to summarize or encapsulate it.

It's an engaging body of work, in how well it presents the concrete organizational benefits of sound, well-thought-out plans for digital. Among other helpful passages, it gets into "10 typical problems" that can be managed by having digital properly defined within a brand or company's channel plan. The author also names 10 pitfalls of not doing it right, among them:

"Lack of clear objectives and performance management systems to track and improve results from digital channels.

"Duplication of resources and investment... for example, different parts of the marketing organization purchasing different tools for analysis of web site performance, email marketing broadcasting tools, or negotiating with specialist agencies for the best price on search or affiliate marketing.

"Lack of integration of online marketing activities into marketing strategy and campaign activities. A digital planning document acts as a focus to educate and co-ordinate online marketing activities across different groups.

"Poor quality of customer insight. Online customer data profiling and customer research is lacking and what data there is isn't integrated well with existing systems. Email targeting is difficult without specific targets for list size and quality.

"Missed opportunities for applying digital media channels such as searchmarketing or email marketing... or the execution may be inefficient if the wrong resources are used or marketers don't have the right tools."

We talk a lot about languishing in a tactical place when it comes to digital, about not yet being as wholly strategic as we can be. But the reality is, marketer by marketer, until we attend to a whole set of operational, organizational practicalities, no strategic progress can truly take root and hold.

By Kendall Allen
Kendall Allen runs most of her media and marketing pursuits through a company she established, Influence Collective, LLC, based in New York City. She also serves as General Manager for Digital Ventures at Carolyn & Co. Media and teaches digital marketing and media to executives for Laredo Group.
Courtesy of MediaPost

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