Digital marketing allows a far greater connection with your current or potential customer than many of the other marketing channels. Yes, you can still advertise, promote, provide offers as elsewhere, but you can also gather information, engage, interact and provide far more than is possible on TV. So yes, think about the basics – search advertising, great product and company information, all the stuff that you want to tell the customer. But take the chance to focus on what the customer wants from you. When thinking of digital content and activity, is it going to be useful, relevant or entertaining for the audience. What is the reason they are going to like it or engage with it. It’s about a value exchange, not just pushing information but key areas – get the basics right. So have a digital presence with product, information, contact details etc up there and ensure its easily accessible. Then think about your advertising and search elements, for mass reach and then explore what else can be done.
But where else should you be? That all depends on the audience and who you are trying to connect with. There’s most likely going to be a social network in there, but B2B is more likely to be on LinkedIn, consumer on Facebook. And you have to be looking at mobile. Recent research shows that 58% of adult males own a smart phone, with 42% of women – so having your content accessible there is important. It also leads to consideration of location-related services, such as offers or vouchers. Applications from brands are popular; some can be short-term apps, that go viral, get downloaded but then ignored or deleted if they do nothing. The best value is obtained when the app is useful to the person – I’ve got brand apps that allow me to remotely record TV programmes, check in to flights, find local offers and book a test drive in a luxury car, although the latter sits as an aspiration rather than a reality. All of my personal social apps are on there as well, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Flickr, Tube etc, so a brands content can be present there to ensure they are always in hand.
But whatever platform you choose, you could back the wrong horse. Innovation – and fashion – across social tools is fast and furious. What is popular now may not be there next month. What’s popular this year is more than likely not to be popular in 2 years time. From the news articles about Second Life, you would have thought that would have been a sure bet, but it declined. Would you have guessed the rapidity in the changes in MySpace? Should you jump on to the Google+ platform? Well, not according to Google, who are warning businesses to stay away from the site until it has settled down and Google are in a position to provide tools to businesses to maximise its efficiency. That hasn’t stopped businesses (or their agencies) trying though. Facebook took years before business was comfortable with it, but the hype cycle has sped up and now there’s always going to be brands jumping in early, even if only for the PR purposes. But should they? It’s right for some, if it fits with what the brand stands for and suits the internal culture. For others, it’s better to wait. What’s most important is you have a strategy – a digital communications and engagement strategy, not a Twitter one and a Facebook one and a Foursquare one. The tactics for using these platforms falls out of the larger strategy; if you have that, then it is easy to assess if a new route fits and is appropriate. With the rapidity of development in the space, it also has consequences for managing budget profiles. I’d always suggest having some flexibility in spend, to leave a little room for experimentation, e.g. to do something on Chatroullete, or to try Foursquare offers, or Facebook Deals or whatever comes out next week if your audience are going to be active on that platform. But a full commitment to anything new immediately, no. definitely wait and see. Despite breaking records in gaining users, we’re still not sure if Google+ will be right for a brand.
That leads us onto the biggest challenge – there’s no one way to do this. The digital world is fragmented and difficult and complicated. The audience is too, they’re all over the place and there is rarely a single way of reaching them. So effectiveness is the challenge – what are the best platforms to be active on for your audience, to provide reach without stretching your resources and budget too thinly. Back to the strategy; be clear about what you are trying to do, be clear where your audience are and what they want and assess what are the best places to be. A further challenge is measurement; it’s digital so there can be a surfeit of data, but not a lot of information. Upfront consideration of what is success is key, but there is also managing expectations in what is achievable. Digital is only mass reach occasionally; there are far more YouTube brand videos getting a few 100 views than the millions that are seen as a success. But if those 100 views are the right people, who then go and talk about the brand everywhere else, that can still be a success.
So tips for getting this right? Don’t jump right in (but the reverse is also true, don’t spend a year thinking about your Facebook strategy, you may never get there). Listen to your audience and then listen some more. Understand where they are, what they do, how they talk, how they relate to brands online, how they want to interact with them. Be clear why you want to be in the space. Just because your competitor is there is not a reason, it could be useless for them too. Make sure you have the resources and budget needed to commit to digital. It’s less campaign based and more a long term commitment, it’s not easy to turn it off when the TV commercial stops it run, you have to have a plan about what you are going to do next. And finally, be realistic about what the results can be. If all people are doing is talking about how poor your product or service is, a digital or social media campaign will not change that. You have to change what you are doing and give them something else to talk about.