We began 2012 talking about the theoretical impact that customer experience and content strategy would have on digital marketing. A theoretical discussion will only get you so far. So we got real and began talking about what customers want from their online experiences. Let's a take a look at what we discovered.

It turns out consumers are a fickle bunch, but as digital marketers we do our best to deliver what they want, when they want it, where they want it. This year, we learned what we need to do to make our marketing investments pay off.

Be Flexible, Useful and Value Your Work

In February, Aaron Dun taught us that the quest for customization often results in complex massive, complex frameworks. Instead companies need to focus on flexibility so you can “ensure systems and plans are flexible to adapt to “What’s Next” when it's appropriate.”

In April, Gerry McGovern encouraged us to ask what our websites help our customers to do. Instead of clamoring for attention, companies need to pay closer attention to the customers' needs on the web so they can learn how to be more useful.

By July, thanks to insights from Simon Sinek, Daniel Pink and others, Deb Lavoy broke it to us that despite our best intentions to deliver successful digital customer experiences, it’s not likely to go anywhere if you don’t really care about it. She gave us permission to do good work and value the concept of collaboration and engagement.

Tell a Story

The art of storytelling emerged as a theme during 2012. Erick Mott showed us that telling an effective story to your customers can help build a bridge between you and your audience that “will differentiate your product or service from the hundreds of others.” In order to tell a good story, companies need to understand who they are, who their audience is and the experience they want to share.

Just like any marketing tool, storytelling should be used strategically so it has the most impact, but should reinforce the values already demonstrated by other marketing campaigns. In order for a story to do the heavy lifting, it has to be authentic and match the tone of the company.

Be Social

While storytelling embodies a more traditional method of marketing, social media has helped digital marketers evolve the story into a conversation. But even as social media has become a mainstay for most marketers, there’s still not a definitive playbook for its ROI, but we’re getting there. This year, not only did we benefit from a multitude of multichannel integrations and migrations (I’m looking at you Hootsuite), we became more social in the way we support customers and engage with employees.

And though social media has become a staple of our marketing strategies, it's more than just a media, it's a state of mind. You're either a social company or you're not. If you are, you're social no matter where you engage with your customers. This year, we paid close attention to the call center and we developed apps that help call center agents and service representatives respond to customer inquiries.

Be Mobile

2012 was a boom year for Mobile. More proliferation. More choices. More ways to get in front of the customer. A year ago, we were only talking about responsive design and the benefits of building for the mobile web. This year if you didn’t focus on the mobile web, you were certain to get left behind. And it wasn’t just design, it was mobile advertising.

Digital advertising for mobile came in many forms, from targeted mobile ads to sponsored stories on social media, and mobile analytics. But just as social is as social does, mobile is more than just a device -- it's an experience. As more mobile devices become the preferred screen for television, shopping and just about everything else we used to do from a traditional desktop, everything and everyone is on the go, even if we're tweeting from our couch or playing Words With Friends from an airport terminal.

Be Relevant

Forget social media. Forget the mobile web. Forget telling a story. None of it matters, if you aren't relevant. Only recently, this message was reinforced. "the true value of Web content management is delivering to the consumer the most relevant content in the most personalized way, at the most appropriate time." In order to really optimize the customer experience, it shouldn't matter what device they use, or what time of day, or if they're a consumer or a business. The only thing that matters is if they can do what they need to do when they want to do it.

And well, look at that -- we've come full circle. Being useful, flexible and relevant are the secrets to successful digital marketing. In 2012, social and mobile really hit their stride as viable platforms for delivering customer experiences. In 2013, that could change, but for digital marketers it shouldn't matter as long as your strategy remains useful, flexible and relevant to your audience.