With the exception of 2009, every research report since the beginning of digital marketing has been touting the growth of digital spending as a portion of total marketing spend. The year-over-year percentage rise has been dramatic, as is fitting when you're starting with small numbers. But the percentage of spend still doesn't approach the percent of time consumers spend with digital content.
Marketers have responded to try and close that gap. The trend to spend more on digital and less on traditional channels has been rewarded with new levels of consumer engagement and with performance data that helps to justify even larger digital spends in the next budget cycle. Forrester's recent U.S. interactive marketing forecast reported that 60 percent of marketers intend to increase their interactive marketing budgets. They will do this by reducing their spends in other, more traditional, channels like direct mail, print, and TV. But there are still numerous obstacles to finding confidence in your marketing mix and achieving the right balance that optimizes results.
Obstacles to Smart Online Marketing Planning for 2010
No one knows what makes the optimal mix of digital versus traditional spending (or even within digital channels) until you do a lot of testing around the specifics of your brand and audience, while keeping some variables constant. Because almost nothing is constant in digital marketing, trending is moot and only split tests in the same moment are valid. This limits some research opportunities and can layer additional cost.
Year-over-year comparisons often offer little guidance for the same reason. The ground is simply shifting too fast to allow for an apples-to-apples comparison in any recent year. 2009, in particular, was a year of anomalies, including a crashing economy, broad adoption of smartphones in the U.S., and the dramatic influence of social media.
As many have suggested, the significant investments in content and social media development and support are clearly investments in digital marketing, but don't readily show in digital ad spend reporting. We're left without a clear definition of what constitutes digital marketing spending and no way to track a significant portion of that spend. We're certain however that more consumers are online, pursuing a broader range of activities online than ever before, through more devices across more channels for a greater percentage of their day.
That newest opportunity (whatever that may be) is unproven, but sexy. The chairwoman wants to know about it, it's all over the news. There will be pressure to include it in the mix just because of the noise and because your competitors will succumb as well.
We're still playing catch up with metrics. Attribution tracking among online channels is getting better, but most people still don't have this puzzle solved. Add to this the confusion of all the content creation and social media expenditures, and where and how to count them.
The future is uncertain. Although that's always the case, this year feels even more so than usual. Unemployment in the U.S. will still be high in 2010, and consumers are spending less and saving more. We don't know what long-term impact that will have. Many businesses are still at risk. They have less marketing budget to spend and may have to be conservative in their planning. They may even have to plan in quarters still and show results on a short term basis. This can put long-terms planning on the back burner and long-term goals at risk.
Recommendations to Overcome Obstacles in Your Digital Approach
Create a separate plan to leverage existing customer relationships for up sell, cross sell, recommendations, and advocacy. This is probably the most important thing you can do and is often overlooked in the pursuit of new customers.
Shore up your fundamentals: Is your site in shape? Are your metrics available, meaningful, and actionable? Is your content relevant and engaging? Have you reached beyond the borders of your site to engage your audience where they're spending time? (Hint: that is not likely on your site, at least not in majority.)
Pick a time horizon for planning that makes sense for your business, based on what you know today, but re-evaluate on a regular basis, based on results.
Have both short-term and long-term goals and baseline metrics in place, even though the emphasis might shift.
Follow your consumers' patterns, not your competitors. This isn't the time to "keep up with the Joneses," especially if they're slightly different or better funded than you are. Amend that recommendation a bit in channels like paid search, where you may be bidding against each other and have to factor that into your strategy.
Don't change everything at once or put all your eggs in one basket. That's a big dice roll that can backfire.
View your marketing as one big portfolio. Not every channel or campaign has the same weight or purpose. Some feed other programs, so evaluate results in that light.
Take advantage of all the great free, but immensely valuable information in tools like Google Analytics, to help you set baselines and track results.
Regardless of the digital spending trends, don't overlook the impact of traditional spend on your digital results. We've seen time and time again how important a broad set of touch points is to a successful digital effort. On a related note, offline research can uncover good insights to apply to both digital and traditional efforts. Make sure all that info is shared in the team.
Lastly, remember that your audience doesn't choose or avoid activities based on your advertising plans. You're just not that important to them. Consumer surfing habits maximize their own perceived benefits. Continually ask yourself what your site content, mobile app, Facebook page, Twitter updates, or ads offer consumers in the way of educational, entertainment , problem solving, connection, monetary, or other benefits?
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Robin is the CEO and cofounder of NetPlus Marketing Inc., a top 50 interactive agency established in 1996 to focus exclusively on online marketing and advertising best practices. Robin brings innovative strategy and a depth and breadth of marketing experience to the agency's practice and management. As one of the industry's pioneers, she is a driving force behind NetPlus Marketing's ongoing success with a diverse and discerning client base that considers online results critical to their business success.
Robin is a frequent speaker at national industry events, including ClickZ, internet.com, OMMA, Ad:Tech, SES, Online Marketing Summit, and Thunder Lizard conferences and is a sought-after resource for industry and business publications for her insight and advice on such topics as digital strategy, social media marketing, and behavioral targeting.