Let’s face it, most people with even a limited involvement with interactive marketing get it by now - they understand the foundational concepts behind media and creative optimization for digital marketing. They know all about multi variant testing, advanced targeting and eCRM that help drive deeper eCustomer relationships. They have come to understand how to better assess ROI, some understand the interdependencies between channels, and a select few even know how the enabling technologies actually work.
Yet, with the industry-wide changes that have forced us to re-define how we identify, engage, and interact with our client’s audiences, one aspect of the new order of interactive marketing strikes me as surprising; that is, how few of our colleagues actually put into practice any of the aforementioned techniques on a regular basis. My gut tells me that we don’t put these practices into place as a cohesive operational tool set because today, it’s hard work.
Frankly, the operational aspect of this new marketing world can be a pain. With new marketing tools being developed as fast as new customer constituencies and communities are formed and defined, marketers must apply a critical eye to discern those tools whose value is grounded in fundamentally sound principles, and those whose value is more limited in nature. Of course, the successful adoption of any disruptive technology or process does not come without pain and missteps.
Recall not too long ago, it took marketers and advertisers years to learn how to most effectively place an advertisement in print media, without misdirecting the campaign resources or missing the mark. There are those who can recall stories of typesetting by hand. So-called new technologies were brought into the industry with the advent of film, line screens, separations, blue lines, crop marks, bleeds, and registration marks. In time, these new practices became second nature and even mundane - the “plumbing” of the industry – just make it work, I’m not interested in knowing how it works. These skills and tools were eventually replaced, and things got easier for us, but we still needed a basic awareness of Postcript, Syquest and Zip Disks, and don’t forget to embed those fonts. With direct mail you had to learn rules around weight and insignia, but again, the new technologies eventually became the plumbing, and presumably our attention was better spent on higher value activities when this came to pass. In hindsight, the lesson we learn is that there really was no reason to panic then or now – we’re just at the upslope of another learning curve – and sooner rather than later, there will be others.
Today, one of our challenges is how to incorporate the entire spectrum of interactive media into campaigns. We need to understand the expanding role of some of the key tools we have available currently, such as paid and natural search, targeted email campaigns, 3rd party banner campaigns, viral, etc. More often than not, there is no clear formula that describes how to incorporate these tools and practices. What is apparent is that many of these techniques do yield the results we (and our clients) want, but some have yet to be fully proven. Often times, we find that the lines between the disciplines of strategic, design and development, and media planning are blurred because these new tools – the pipes if you will – demand a highly collaborative approach to interactive marketing. Once we figure out how those new pipes fit together, even for a short time, we will have made it through the discovery and definition phase.
Compared to pulling off a successful campaign today, yesterday’s efforts seem like child’s play. Visualize the myriad of key steps, vendors, and technologies you would have to involve to trigger an email offer to a customer based on what they were browsing for on our website in real time. If you can answer that, I’m impressed; if you can pull that off in less than 3-4 days in your organization, you are nominated for a marketer of the year award.
I believe that we are nearing the point where this exercise should actually be more straightforward than it is today for most marketers, and it can be, if we focus on getting the plumbing right. Ask yourself what your marketing technology ecosystem looks like. Have you focused on the data that these investments can potentially empower you with, and have you thought though the operational work-flow for you and your team? And what good is knowing that, where if you changed the message today, it could yield another million dollars in revenue only to then learn it will take you three weeks to make that change? Optimizing thru spreadsheets is so five years ago – get the plumbing right first.