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Make Digital Work for Your Customers

  |  October 23, 2008   |  Comments

During these tough economic times, here are three ways advertisers can integrate digital into the marketing mix.

The ongoing financial crisis is forcing advertisers and customers to pull back on spending, re-evaluate contracts, and re-prioritize projects. These actions have been going on for many years -- such as the shift by J&J, GM, Chrysler, and other top advertisers into digital.

The economic climate has made it more acute and urgent. Some advertisers are "in-sourcing" repetitive and ordinary tasks, such as updating or resizing ads or looking for lower-cost production sources. They want their agencies to provide unique expertise that can't be replicated or sourced elsewhere.

Advertisers are also cutting from typically the largest expenditure in budgets -- the media spend -- but still expecting similar or better results. They're looking for greater efficiencies in media, more measurability, and ROI (define). Furthermore, "mass media" is no longer as "mass" as it used to be -- television audiences are far smaller today due to audience fragmentation (niche cable channels) and attractive alternatives (online video). Advertisers retreated to traditional advertising during the last economic slowdown, but this time they're sprinting more expeditiously into digital.

Moving to Digital Is Harder Than it Looks

The transition has been more difficult than expected for advertisers and their agencies. Peter Cowie, managing partner of UK-based search consultancy OysterCatchers, is in the trenches of this transition every day. He observes:

  • "'Digital marketing' means different things to different people. Clients are learning fast and faster than many agencies.

  • "Most clients are deeply insecure about all things 'digital' and find it hard to know how much digital stuff costs or if they are getting the best value.

  • "Traditional agencies still see digital as a new marketing channel; they start with the creative and work backwards [and] integration is hard.

  • "Digital marketing comprises so many new disciplines and specialties that are like a foreign language to both clients and their agencies -- SEO (define), SEM (define), GUI (define), IA, experiential design, social networking, mobile, gaming, analytics, etc."

Historically, digital has been a "bolt-on" capability and treated as "media buying." Online advertising used to mean buying banner ads just like buying reach and frequency. But digital got complex quickly with many new technologies, specialties, disciplines, and capabilities.

This was further exacerbated by the rapid rate of change and introduction of new products and services. Few people had enough time to become experts at any of these new disciplines. While smaller agencies with roots in digital were ahead of the game in advising clients going digital, most agencies learned on the fly.

Learning Digital Marketing on the Fly

The characteristics of digital marketing make it well suited for advertisers and modern consumers. Most of the players were on the same level playing field, the medium affords clients the opportunity to experiment and "test and learn" because there aren't the same long lead times, upfront budget commitments, and massive spends as with traditional forms of advertising like television. Agencies and clients can test small digital projects quickly and learn in real time from customers' interactions with this two-way medium.

The new analytics tools and metrics available in "digital" provide unprecedented levels of detail about customers, their interactions with marketing programs online, and other new data points such as what they were saying or thinking about the brand. The irony is that traditional media are still referred to as "measured" while the more measurable digital channels are referred to as "unmeasured" media.

While digital marketing is different for advertisers and their agencies, it's very different for modern consumers who have very different habits, behaviors, and expectations. They also have a set of digital tools and information that consumers of a decade ago did not.

Today's consumers can find endless information online about a product or service they want to purchase. They have developed skills to judge the quality and trustworthiness of such information and tend to trust information from "people like themselves" rather than marketing messages from advertisers. They also use technology to tune out disruptive advertising and other noise in the landscape until they want to or need to look for something. When they do go looking for information, the ad messages from advertisers are generally ignored and typically don't contain enough information anyway.

Integrating Digital into the Media Mix

Consider these factors:

  • Modern customers skip ads. In the shift towards digital, it isn't enough to put a Web site address at the end of a television commercial. When consumers look online for information, if they can't find you, you don't exist. Proper SEO and marketing is necessary so your information shows up when consumers search online.

  • Modern consumers need deeper information. Digital has conditioned consumers to need more information. While a 30-second spot or a full-page ad may inspire awareness of your product or service, when the user goes online to find more information, ensure that the maximum amount of objective information can be found on your site -- or else the user will go elsewhere to find information about your business. Digital is a medium with no space or time constraints; so while only so much (little) information can be crammed into 30 seconds or a full page, advertisers can make far more detailed information available online to consumers who want it.

  • Modern consumers interact online. Because of the two-way nature of digital, advertisers should use it as an "end point" for other forms of marketing -- where the user goes to learn, subscribe, buy, etc., after being inspired or made aware by those other media. Using digital analytics, advertisers can integrate digital to see what's working in real time. This means properly identifying each ad so that when consumers come online to interact they can specify which ad prompted them to go there in the first place.

The accelerated shift toward digital is needed in these tough economic times. It also maps well to the needs of the modern consumer, the capabilities of the medium, and advertisers' need for greater efficiency, measurability and ROI.

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Augustine Fou

Dr. Augustine Fou is the senior digital strategy advisor to CMOs, marketing executives, and global brands. Dr. Fou has over 15 years of Internet strategy consulting experience and is an expert in social media marketing strategy, data/analytics, and consumer insights, with specific knowledge in the consumer packaged goods, financial services/credit cards, food/beverage, retail/apparel, and pharmaceutical/healthcare sectors.

He is a frequent panelist, moderator, and keynote speaker at industry conferences. Dr. Fou is also an Adjunct Professor at NYU in the School for Continuing and Professional Studies and at Rutgers University at the Center for Management Development, where he teaches executive courses on digital strategy and integrated marketing.

Dr. Fou completed his PhD at MIT at the age of 23. He started his career with McKinsey & Company and previously served as SVP, digital strategy lead, McCann/MRM Worldwide and group chief digital officer of Omnicom's Healthcare Consultancy Group (HCG). He writes a blog "Rants, Raves about Digital Marketing" and can be found on Twitter at @acfou.

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