Five ways to get back to what works, do what's real, and get the education to be a successful in online marketing for the next 10 years, not just in 2009.
In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, President-Elect Obama said, "Tonight, I say to the people of America, to Democrats and Republicans and independents across this great land: Enough." As I sit here planning for 2009, that thought perfectly reflects my sentiments. Enough with all the hyperbole and predictions about what's in store for 2009.
Admittedly I've spoken and written on such, too. So today I get back on the actionable-tactics track. Look at your marketing plans for the year ahead and see how they stack up against five timeless digital marketing rules. I've included at least one central action item you can do right now.
Understand the Fundamentals
Understand, then plan; don't plan to understand as you go. E-mail marketing, Web site usability, and search marketing are the three tried-and-true pillars of digital marketing in terms of sustainable ROI (define).There isn't a company today that can't see significant gains by improving its existing programs in these areas. Yet most have no idea of the fundamentals that actually drive success for a good e-mail campaign, for a strong customer experience on a Web site, or for combining SEO (define) and PPC (define) into one effective campaign. Never mind integrating all three into a cohesive strategy that supports and drives the ROI for all. We execute (or have an agency execute for us) but never take the time to understand the fundamentals that make these efforts work.
Action item: Budget time and money for education. Get research, watch a Webinar, get certified, or attend an educational event (full disclosure: I have vested interest in the last two). It's no secret that MBA programs and test preparation entities make a killing during downtimes, because people realize there's no better time to get on the right track than when every dollar counts and the fast pace of growth has waned into a more methodical approach to business and marketing.
So grab your calendar, put in a recurring appointment with yourself to read something of educational importance (not industry news) for the same hour every day or week. Undertake one education event, program, or initiative. If you need help finding some good reading, find me on LinkedIn or Facebook, and I'll be happy to recommend top books and whitepapers.
First Things First
Execute on the foundational basics, then add the fun, new stuff. For example, many sites are trying to figure out how to add a blog or CGM (define) to improve engagement. Commendable ideas. But improving the engagement on a site that doesn't apply the most basic site usability fundamentals is like painting over a rusted metal wall to make it more visually appealing. The paint may look fresh for a few days and folks will comment on its appeal, but quickly the rust and corrosion will take hold and the same rusty wall will be visible.
E-mail's another great example. We all love e-mail because it's so easy to blast a message to our customers with a few pushes of a button. Ask one simple question: why do we send e-newsletters? Get a real answer to that question, and see if it matches up with what your customers actually want from you. Most companies have nothing worthwhile to report every month to customers, so they try to sell them with the latest promo or gimmick. If you've got nothing, send nothing. Just because you can doesn't mean you should.
Action item: Send out a survey as your next e-newsletter and ask your customers what they want from you and how frequently. Then actually do it (e.g., don't send the same e-newsletter format next month).
Customers Know Best
We all say we listen to our customers, but that's the furthest thing from the truth. With all the data about our customers' online behavior, budget is no excuse not to understand. There are hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of usability studies done on customer/user behavior as it relates to Web sites, search, e-mail, and social media. Much of this is free and already posted online. Just because you did some cookie-cutter survey last year doesn't give you any indication on why your customers do what they do online and how they prefer to be served. Yes, preference surveys are important for specific elements, but they won't answer the big questions. So read the research, consider doing your own, then stop the guessing and promoting. Make educated decisions based on customers.
Action item: Get three to five friends or coworkers who aren't familiar with your Web site to go to your home page and find your top one or two offerings on the site. Watch them over their shoulder, ask them to think aloud so you can understand what they are doing and why. Then sit back, fight the urge to tell them anything about the site, and take copious notes.
You'll get a great sense of what a customer actually sees instead of your opinion about a site you know all too well.
Help Me, Help You, Help Me
With so much to learn in the ever-changing world of digital marketing, we must turn to peers, support groups, and interest groups to find people who can give us insight into what's working and what's not. Your local marketing associations are a good place to start, though there's a dearth of good digital marketing education offered by most. So don't end your search with these associations. Group sites like ITToolbox.com offer programs for the information technology industry. LinkedIn groups are popping up, though not much action is happening yet. And some publisher sites are heading down this path. Be patient, many forums are still ghost towns. Before you heavily invest some time in any, look at post recency and frequency as well as contributors' credentials.
Action item: Go to Google, type on the subject area of greatest interest or need, and see what pops up. This may take some surfing, so do more than one search and go beyond the first page of those search results.
Socialize Your Efforts
Every marketing campaign today can benefit from social media, such as a blog to support your PR, a ratings/reviews overlay on your Web site to get customers sharing their needs and wants, or social networks such as Facebook or (to a lesser degree) LinkedIn to understand this change in human behavior and begin connecting with partners, customers, and so forth. It's long past time for you to figure this out.
Many people don't understand the human behavioral aspect of social media and how it's really changing business communications so personal and business lives blend. Unfortunately, generation gaps are a big reason for this. Anyone over 35 hasn't grown up on the electronic medium, only adapted. If you're in this age group, it's imperative to try new things and get into it. Otherwise you'll be making fun of someone's status update changes at a party, while everyone else will be laughing at you because you just don't get it.
Action item: Just do it. I strongly recommended folks understand the big social networking environments, such as Facebook. LinkedIn is great for collecting names (a virtual Rolodex), but it doesn't have the social networking implications. Get engaged.
These aren't suggestions just for 2009. They're timeless rules for digital marketing and the principles will apply at all stages of your progress. There's no better time to get back to what works, do what's real, and get the education you need to be successful for the next 10 years, not just 2009.
After selling the Online Marking Summit (OMS) event company in 2011, Aaron is now leading the charge of the newest venture, the Online Marketing Institute - an e-learning platform and training destination for digital marketing education.
Kahlow is one of the most recognized thought-leaders in the digital marketing and social media space. Having founded, funded, and built three prolific and highly profitable digital marketing companies, Kahlow has also delivered hundreds of marquee keynote speeches around the globe. He is a recognized author, columnist (ClickZ, NYT) and authority on social media marketing, sales and marketing integration, demand generation, business-to-business marketing, search marketing, usability, analytics, and digital marketing strategy.
Today, Aaron can be found in his new home city of San Francisco, working on the global expansion of "Teaching the World Digital" in his e-learning technology venture, the Online Marketing Institute. Facebook and LinkedIn are his preferred places to connect.
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