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November 2012

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DIGITAL MARKETING: Build the Model and Make it Pay

By Bob Chernet


In all probability you or someone in your company has decided to jump into one or more digital marketing channels as a means to better reach customers or drive more business. While these new opportunities can be an important component of your mix, did you have a specific business case detailing why you got involved, and (more importantly) a planned and measurable outcome for each?

There are many companies and organizations that felt they had to be on Facebook? Yet when you look more carefully at their motives it often boils down to one of two reasons: 1.) because their competitors are doing it, and 2.) they are afraid of being left out. Those are potentially the wrong reasons for jumping into any media; especially when today's economics require bottom-line justification, and internal resources are already stretched thin.

Certainly social media is but one of the ever present (and growing) digital media types which provide the ability to better connect with audience and customers. But creating a corporate social media presence with no plan, and relegating posts, updates and necessary administration to anyone in your company who simply has the time or understands the technology is headed for disappointment.

How then do you create relevant marketing messages for specific audiences and delivery methods, and find ways to tackle the increased media channel workload with little or no increased staffing or budget? First:

TARGET THE DELIVERY METHOD AS WELL AS THE AUDIENCE

For decades marketers have been tasked with creating messages, usually incorporated within an integrated marketing campaign, and buying all sorts of traditional media (as well as well-placed public relations efforts) in order to get the message out. I don't have to tell you that model doesn't work anymore, particularly with the abundant (and redundant) media channels available today.

These growing media outlets offer the ability to profile and segment audiences as never before. Paired with the enormous array of technological devices (web, tablets, smartphones, mobile, apps. and such) that are adding to the delivery channel options, successful companies are now finding that they get more bang-for-their-buck by completely overhauling their marketing message process and adopting an approach that centers on basic editorial planning; much like the old magazine and newspaper method. That is, creating user/media-specific content based on an editorial calendar, modified for the delivery channel, with unified high-impact visuals and relevant (and current) content.

Different media channels publish at different intervals; some are instant (RSS feeds, Facebook posts), some are push-based, others daily page refreshes. As well, each channel's audience profiles differ, their engagement levels can be unpredictable, and their likelihood of reception and acceptance can vary widely. So, today more than ever, it's wise to see that a one-message-fits-all strategy not only wastes time, resources and money, but probably will miss the mark in delivering the desired marketing effect.

Smart companies are now looking at their e-initiatives (web, mobile, campaigns, e-blasts, social media and such) through the lens of a marketing editorial planning / publishing calendar, tied with social-listening practices which tune the message to the media, audience and environment. This not only serves to help regularly engage customers, but propagate high quality content that is relevant to each audience member.

Driving these successful engagements now demands the creation and delivery of meaningful, relevant and media-specific messages, dictated by user preferences, habits, seasons / events and geographic location. The only way to do that is to plan your messaging strategy appropriately, and align the tactics that will give it to your audience on their terms.

Not long ago I conducted research for an arts organization interested in learning about how to attract a younger audience, and more specifically, where these potential customers get their information and recommendations on arts events. Not surprisingly the people interviewed indicated they all went to the Web first. Either they frequented local web calendars, depended on social media or used specific apps. They also learned about events and performances via e-blasts, e-newsletters or other mechanisms. Yet, while most of these younger targets favored the digital realm, the organization cannot forget their current audience base which skews older. These people rely on the more mainstream media types including newspapers, television and direct mail.

So here is the conundrum. The organization has to address and serve two distinct audience types, with two different messaging strategies, and two relatively diverse channel strategies. Yet, their budgets and staffs are no bigger now than they were a few years ago. In fact you've probably found yourself with more marketing work to do and fewer resources to do it with. That seems to be a common thread among marketing managers you talk with these days. And it's no surprise.


TAKING ON NEW MEDIA CHANNELS WITH CURRENT STAFF & BUDGET

Digital technologies have brought us compelling ways of reaching out to these targeted audiences with our messages. With more choices come a greater need to plan, budget, resource, produce, deploy, monitor and measure. I don't recall many budgets taking these issues into full account, have you?

Think about it for a moment. More channels mean more messaging content which, in order to remain fresh, relevant and accurate should be updated regularly; and by that I mean daily, weekly or more frequently, as the situation requires. Today's media consumer expects the very latest information from digital sources, which by its nature gives it an advantage over the printed page. Whether you're a service company or offer products, there should always be something new you can say about your product's advantages, usage, benefits, testimonials, new features or lead generation promotions. After all, that's what makes Facebook so appealing; it's incredibly current. Likewise, a company or organization's online messaging should constantly be refreshed so that a customer's repeat exposure (for whatever reason) is rewarded with something new, useful or engaging.

From a practical perspective, who within your staff has the time to do that (and of course, their time is billable, so if they are revising digital content there is a cost associated to it)?

What about maintaining social media? Who has the time to write blogs, contribute to groups, send tweets, and monitor the conversation? The same could be said about the mounting mounds of data coming in from web measurement applications; how do you find the time to review and consider the web side as well as all you analyze for the more traditional media forms?

So you see, you now have the potential for greater segmented marketing activities but no more budget to accomplish them. How do you grow your audience while marketing with less? How do you maintain your sanity?

As with any new media type, you need to prove its return-on-investment so that you can go back and justify it to your manager at budget time. Long ago when cable television advertising was new you ran a pilot program to see if it created any measurable impact. When it did, and you could go to your department head and make the justifiable case for its use, they would give you more budget in the following cycle. Of course, you still had to justify your entire media plan and spend from year-to-year, but why shouldn't you be doing that anyway?

The same applies to today's digital choices as you use technology to further your marketing activities. But if your current workload is already stretching your resources and budgets thin, take one digital channel (perhaps a Google AdWords campaign or your corporate Facebook site) and take funds and resources from another project (do less) and apply it as a test case. Don't just jump in and create a Facebook presence unless you know what you want it to accomplish. And be sure you have enough dedicated resources to attend to its enormous need for regular care and feeding. Make sure it has every chance for success; do the research, do the planning, create the right messaging, and do the right measurement. Add up the results at the end of the campaign and report back to your bosses, with a full business case of why they need to fully fund it (including staffing resources) in the next budget cycle.

It will be important to explain to them the steps you took in order to achieve this test. "We pulled some resources from here and some dollars from there in order to tackle this digital test..." is one way you can approach it. In fact, some of your request may not be for media dollars at all but for additional people resources. That's something you'll need to determine.

Finally, do you have a specific plan to develop robust and relevant content (and maintain it)? Are you prepared to dedicate resources and budget to keep all your online content and initiatives fresh and monitor their performance?

While it may not be practical for you or your organization to jump in to these media channels as fully as you may want immediately, you can set the stage by developing an audience-segmented media plan, based on an editorial calendar, and test each medium for responsiveness which will deliver the success and necessary funding to help you develop and deploy without driving you, your staff or your budgets crazy in the short term.
Bob Chernet is an integrated marketing advisor and consultant for businesses and organizations seeking help segmenting audiences and developing strategies to reach them through an intelligent mix of emerging, digital and traditional media and methods. He provides guidance in marketing & communications research, planning, strategy, operations and project management. His clients include a public television station group, a state gubernatorial candidate, several universities, a renowned opera company, and a major wholesaler of fashion accessories.
Prior to forming his own practice he was the Manager of Digital & Traditional Media Marketing Strategy and Development for Viewmark, Inc., a Denver-based media and technology firm. He concentrated his efforts helping clients identify, develop and deploy customer-centric marketing solutions through innovative use of integrated media channels. In his 9 years at Viewmark he directed a wide array of projects with clients including Agilent Technologies, Hewlett-Packard, Baby Einstein, KEMA Energy Consulting, Frontier Airlines, and others.
He may be reached at BestPracticesForMarketing@gmail.com





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