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The Day We Dropped the Word “Digital” From Marketing

Posted on Monday, 14th October, 2013

This will happen.

5 years ago no one knew how to harness it all. Traditional companies that have been in existence forever needed chief expert guru ninjas to help them make sense of emerging opportunities and migrate beyond broadcast and mass reach…. to create a vision, pave a road to scale their strategic approach, executional capabilities, build new departments and hire the right people.

The day we all just all go back to being marketers is coming very soon. Smart marketers are finally demonstrating that the future of our industry is not about digital or social marketing. It’s about marketing in a digital world– we’re in it, we live it, we know it.

It’s not optional anymore. It’s not a speciality. It’s just marketing…6 best practices found below.


Digital as a mindset

We are amidst a storm of change– sometimes it’s hard to even notice what’s occurring because it’s happening at such a rapid pace.

Digital is an enormous conceptual change, a social and psychological shift. It’s a tornado of activity reimagining who we are, how our world is organized, and how we live.

Not a silo.

Not a channel.

Not a technology.

A mindset.


We’ve come full circle.

In the pre-telephone/print press era we learned from others via word of mouth. We were driven by personal influence.

Then our minds became programmed by fixed communication—print, broadcast—a medium that allowed an advertiser to control their message.

Now, we’re back in the era where you’re likely to come across information from in your social graph and circle of trust- people who influence your decision making (news, personal opinions, sales, deals, rants, raves, endorsements, thoughts) right or wrong— its uncontrolled by anyone, yet influential to everyone…all enabled by social technology.

One of the best takeaways from a great post in Ad Age this week”

“Social isn’t just a single channel or a tactic, it’s increasingly a core principal/behavior behind the marketing strategy.”


2 examples of marketing shaped by social behavior:

1) Google:

Following Facebook’s endorsed promoted posts from last year, Google plans to take organic public conversations and monetize them by turning them into profitable endorsements for brands and companies— as published last friday in the NYTimes. The power of personal influence trumps everything; replicating word of mouth from the era before us.

Case example: If a user follows Paragon Sports on Google+ or gives an video 5 stars on YouTube, that person’s name, photo and endorsement could show up in an ad for Paragon Sports.

2) Triple Lift

A new form of ad tech using image recognition to source the brand’s top owned and earned images (measured by their level of engagement/influence) and automatically serves/retargets them as visual ads to consumers. While I’m not all that enthralled with ad tech given its’ disruptive nature and the rise of native advertising—I do think this is groundbreaking b/c it’s a socially driven platform—and serves native ad content.

Case example:  If Design Within Reach’s Knoll ® Womb Chair (swoooon) has the most likes, shares and comments—Triple Lift will identify that as an asset to retarget across select publishers driving further awareness and conversion. Great for eComm brands.

This is not “social marketing”. This IS marketing in a social world.



A 6-step Playbook for Marketing (in a digital world)

Successful marketing organizations will shift the way they gather insights, define strategies, budget, and allocate internal/external resources.


1.   Lead with customer insights and analytics

Having a traditional customer persona/profile is one thing, but if you’re not tapped into your customer’s digital behaviors, attitudes and consumption habits you’re wasting your time planning for anything. Syndicated research from the likes of eMarketer, Forrester, et al on media consumption, device usage, social traction is a must have.

In addition to any behind the glass qual you have piled in folders—there’s nothing that will inform strategies better than real time social insights derived from using social intelligence services like Networked Insights and Sysomos.

Note: It’s obvious to me that real-time social insights can help you identify and address current issues and drive future strategies better than anything—however marketers have still not fully embraced it as a source of business intelligence and may only track brand mentions—which is a vey soft metric. If you don’t have access to these – get them. You really can’t plan with out them.

 social data


2.   Create scalable strategies

By far, one of the hardest parts: redefining an archaic annual planning process. Establishing quarterly marketing strategies invests your thinking in small scalable bets—to allow for testing, measuring and learning how and what types of compelling experiences keep consumers engaged over time.

The planning structure remains the same but the mix of strategies, initiatives and timeframes do not

  • Objectives: quantifiable goal related to addressing a customer or category problem
  • Strategies: An actionable initiative that supports the objective
  • Tactics (marketing activities) required to achieve the strategy
  • Analytics: Key performance indicators and tools to measure metrics for success

It takes unlearning everything you’ve ever known with linear waterfall processes to pave a new windy road of lean thinking–hedging small bets over the certainty of one big idea. Test & learn. Definitely the most challenging shift and not for the meek; aka “the maintainers”. This is for the change agents—marketers inspired by the unknown, those able to take calculated risks balanced with measurable outcomes.


no big idea- perpetual state of beta



3.   Define technology last

If you are able to build solid strategies that address a customer need, create communication, services or support and fosters sharing amongst your customers…. picking the technology vehicles and channels to CONNECT, distribute and keep consumers engaged is the easy part—100% driven by your customer behaviors, media consumption and device usage.

Marketing 101: POST methodology

  • People
  • Objectives
  • Strategy
  • Technology

Technology should always be last in the ideation process—it is the connector, the enabler of all communication efforts. If you lead with the “shiny new thing”….you’ll likely end up with just 1 shiny new thing that isn’t connected to anything else.




4.   Don’t hire a “pure play digital agency” as your main partner

Chances are you’re just going to get execution out of them; a necessary part of the criteria—but not the only one. (I speak from experience). Many pure play “digital shops” may not be rooted or resourced in traditional planning or marketing expertise, and may skip over the basic foundations of brand strategy and dive right into tactics. They may not focus on solving customer problems or connecting experiences together, they may just build shiny things.

Ask the right questions. Look for the new breed of agencies and collectives that are well resourced with a team of strategic and creative individuals—people that can think and do. Trust the teams that can assess existing marketing activities and evaluate their viability through a wide-angle lens (and use of analytics), before going to the drawing board to start from from scratch. Otherwise you may pay for layers and layers of people that talk a lot about wireframes but wont necessarily deliver anything tangible from a strategy standpoint.

There may come a day when you just need to hire a specialty execution shop to create some amazeballs technological experience — but that is NOT what I am focusing on here. I’m focusing on your day to day strategic & creative partners– the extension of your brand team.

The new breeds are hybrid creative strategists that live and operate in our digital world. They understand upstream marketing insights and downstream marketing efforts and execution. Analytics should be outsourced to experts– see more below on this.




5.   Create flexible budgets

I had a discussion with a friend last week on how brands approach their annual paid media planning and buying — if they had shifted the buying cycles to quarterly, to accommodate changing behaviors seen through analytics. Sadly, we both agreed <50% marketers who cannot make major leaps in marketing spend, continue to depend on the prior years’ budget to “maintain”, with occasional small incremental shifts.

On the media end, networks and publisher packages also need to shift to be more flexible vs. forcing marketers into annual buys without the ability to flex throughout the year. (Granted media is only one component—this analogy applies across all paid, owned and earned marketing activities.)

A seasoned marketer will not have a separate “digital budget” in isolation—they should develop 1 marketing budget encompassing all channels to maximize reach, relevancy, and engagement at various touchpoints in the customer lifecycle.

In addition to commercial opps, distribution, business intelligence, marketing, and creative services there are additional line items essential for optimizing and scaling the “smaller strategic bets” outlined earlier:

  • Social data/ insights
  • Technology development resources (internal and external)
  • Usability testing (always overlooked)
  • Analytics

flex budget


6.   End with customer insights and analytics

Establish a holistic attribution model. By far the most important practice to follow—something every CMO needs to budget for, and take ownership of.

Back in May, Harvard Business Review published an illuminating white paper titled “Advertising 2.0.” which focused on current digital marketing efforts happening in “swim lanes.” Definitely one of my favorites, and most clarifying reads of the year thus far.

An attribution model, while not new, represents the holy grail in marketing—knowing precisely which marketing activities (tactics) lead to your marketing goals (ie: behaviors like conversions and sales).

A top line approach is easy:

  • Centralize distribution and media channels into a unified platform/dashboard
  • Effectively track and report all touchpoints using common industry metrics

Creating a model that encompass this involves three broad activities isn’t as easy:

  1. Tactical attribution: the process of quantifying the contribution of each marketing activity (tactic)
  2. Optimization: “war game” and use predictive analytics tools to run scenarios for business planning & performance
  3. Allocation: the real-time redistribution of budget/resources across marketing activities based on performance

There’s a GREAT 5-minute video by Harvard Business Review that outlines this in a very digestible and actionable way.

Building and adhering to an attribution model allows you to experiment with adjustments that will ultimately inform what you should do next week/next quarter. This won’t likely be shared amongst a tribe of “digital” chiefs or day to day marketers—it needs to be owned by the CMO—a triathlete who’s part revenue generating marketer, part technologist, and all parts digital evangelist.

This is easier said than done, analytics takes some work but smart CMOs will make this a priority to their to outsource the right analytics group/team to partners like Splunk Domo or Tableau  (again, not likely found at an agency).



The entire industry will continue to recalibrate their mindset so marketing co-exists with environmental shifts as they arise, whether they be cultural or technological—and not the other way around. Be the change. Drop the word digital and be a smarter marketer.

For more insights into my approach on marketing in a digital world—take a look at this post that focuses on the right type of people that can execute against this vision; what a successful talent mix looks like within a marketing organization. If for nothing else, it will definitely serve as a provocative catalyst for conversation and debate, preferably over a really good bottle of 2006 pinot noir. Cheers!




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