Digital Marketing From Purpose to Competence

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Despite their large and growing digital marketing budgets, there is a troublesome gap between marketers’ enthusiasm for digital marketing and their ability to invest their growing budgets strategically and effectively to achieve their goals.

My former Forrester colleague Jim Nail recently published a report entitled “2015: The Year Of The Big Digital Shift” that illustrates this disconnect. What particularly caught my attention was the report’s subtitle: “B2C Marketers Boost Digital Budgets Despite Lingering Knowledge Gaps” (emphasis added). While virtually everyone surveyed said that "creating digital experiences that will build stronger relationships between customer and the brand” is a top priority, barely two thirds of respondents said their companies are effective at doing so, and less than half are actually investing in the requisite technology. 

Marketers today have become very tactical with their digital investments, as indicated in a recent CIO.com article. Rather than thinking through an end-to-end strategy that includes objectives, partnerships, measurement, technologies and processes that would lead to these digital experiences tying brands to consumers, marketers are too frequently approaching digital with short-term solutions.

There’s an interesting theory of development introduced by Freud disciple Erik Erikson in the 1950s that breaks up humans’ psychosocial development into eight stages. The transition that marketers need to make in order to find success with digital technology is strikingly similar to one found in Erikson’s stages of psychological development.

Marketers need to make a developmental shift from “purpose” to “competence,” much as Erikson envisions the transition from preschool to childhood. There’s a lot of positivity and success around digital marketing that is leading to growing budgets (expected to grow 4 percent in 2015, according to the Forrester findings) and there’s no doubt that the future of customer engagement lies in technology.

But even though we’re living that future, marketers may need to take one step back to take the quantum leap forward. Here’s what that looks like, as advice to any eager preschooler getting ready to move on to a new challenge:

Listen to Your Teachers and Ask Lots of Questions

Virtually everyone calls on companies to think less in terms of silos or channels and more in terms of the customer. Rather than starting from scratch, companies should draw on advice from marketing practitioners, tech vendors, research analysts and B-school professors. Use these influencers’ ideas as the basis for your strategy, and fill in with practical steps that are tailored to your organization’s specific needs.

Make Sure You Have the Best Supplies

I don’t know about you, but I considered the annual back-to-school trip to Staples for notebooks and pens to be a Top 5 holiday when I was growing up. Because really -- how can you be the best student without the best supplies?

The same is true for your digital marketing readiness: You have to have a repository of tools that are uniquely suited to how your brand approaches marketing and customer engagement. There is no one-size-fits-all, and it’s essential that you do your due diligence to pick what is right for your brand’s strategy rather than just selecting tools that address one piece of the overarching challenges.

Learn to Love Report Cards

This isn’t to say that straight A's equal success. No matter what your starting grades are, regular reports from your teachers are helpful benchmarks to make you aware of how you’re doing and teach you where you can improve.

Likewise, a sophisticated, credible digital marketing program needs to be measured regularly. But rather than A’s and B’s, marketing programs should be measured against the KPIs laid out by leadership at the start of the initiative. If you can’t measure it, you’re doing it wrong. And if you can’t demonstrate how results affect macro objectives -- e.g., how click-through rates on emails contribute to customer lifetime value -- then your approach is too myopic and needs to be rethought.

Play Nicely in the Sandbox

Customer experience will be strongest if it is a shared goal among all departments, functions and disciplines. Digital marketing has a privileged and unique role to play but needs to be inclusive and collaborative, particularly when it comes to IT and sales. Together, these three departments will drive growth and business success in the next decade or more. Better to become best buds now, when the building blocks are still being laid, than to find yourself trying to overcome major social pressure once your organization has moved beyond the preschool stages.

You’ve embraced your purpose, and now it’s time to refine it and prove your competence. It’s time to grow up and put those big-kid pants on! 

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  woodleywonderworks