Over the last few years, I've had the privilege of teaching several hundred marketing executives through Rutgers University's Center for Management Development. I've started every class with the same question - what is your top digital marketing challenge? What follows below is the collection of answers from the marketing executives, which are increasingly common across classes, regardless of industry.
More and more marketers are making the transition to digital and allocating more spend to digital. This shift is also accelerating, even among industries that were historically reluctant or laggards in adoption. The economic downturn of the last few years forced brand marketers to try digital; once they have been on the other side of the "Grand Digital Canyon" and tasted the new metrics based on actual users' actions, rather than audience sizes, there's no going back. But many still have very logical and practical questions for making the transition.
In rough order of priority:
Metrics, analytics, and ROI of the digital marketing programs. Since digital tactics are so new and so different from traditional channels, what are the right metrics to use and how do we even start to get at a return on investment (ROI) with these metrics? Another important aspect of this is benchmarking - e.g., what's a good cost per thousand (CPM) or cost per click (CPC)? What kind of return should I be expecting and what should I do if I'm not getting it?
Unifying and integrating within digital and also with traditional. Many companies have already done a bunch of digital "experiments." Now, when their CFOs are breathing down their necks and asking for results and metrics, they are taking a step back and reassessing whether those tactics yielded any business impact. In most cases, they haven't. But going forward they are looking for ways to make digital and traditional marketing tactics work better together and drive real business return.
Allocation of budget to digital. Many brands are still struggling with getting enough funds allocated to "digital." The less B2C the brand is, the harder it is. Much of this is due to the lack of a clear path from dollar invested to sales. In traditional media, there is precedent that suggests spending this much extra should lead to this much lift in sales. In digital, few such precedents exist yet. So it's even more important that the brand manager can articulate a clear path to sales - for example, for every dollar spent online, X users come to our website, Y users print off a coupon, and Z users redeem said coupon in retail stores driving this much incremental revenue.
Finding the right marketing mix to allocate budget across channels. Historically, if the brand has been TV advertising-driven, the main metrics had to do with reach and frequency, which drove awareness of the product and therefore sales. However, in many cases now, awareness is no longer the marketing challenge so doing more TV may not drive any more sales. Other tactics work better at lower stages of the consumers' purchase funnel - e.g., during consideration and choice, like search and customer reviews. If these are the customer needs that, once addressed, will lead to greater sales, then the Unified Marketing(tm) framework will show redundancies in current spending and opportunities for reallocating spending to address these areas of the purchase funnel.
Creating lasting impact. All advertising campaigns are over once you turn them off. The large spike in traffic to the website evaporates once the media supporting the campaign is stopped. In digital and social media, however, brands must think of building relationships with customers. This is centered on earning their trust; and this takes time. So companies that used to think in terms of ad campaigns need to now think about digital and social media commitments - long term. When you build a dialog and relationships with customers you can't just turn it off. One way of building lasting value while still on campaign-based budgets is by spending the money to simulate the desirable social actions like "sharing" or "discussing" or "reviewing" instead of just buying "likes" where the users never come back after the campaign is over.
Keeping up or missing out. There is a common perception that things in digital move and change fast. That's true. But the corollary that it's impossible to keep up is only partially true. Indeed there are dozens of startups that achieve incredible fame in the media, but turn out to be flashes in the pan. And even huge successful companies may also wane - like Digg, Delicious, Friendster, MySpace, etc. So chasing every "shiny object" is not necessary; a focus on what really matters is. What are the best practices in digital disciplines that are the same no matter what industry or audience? So as long as you continue to read and learn (don't read books, read online because it's current) and continue to ask the fundamental questions about whether those tactics can actually drive business impact, don't sweat the details or worry about missing out on shiny objects (there will always be more).
Speed and innovation. In digital channels, marketing can happen at light speed - a.k.a in real time. Once you put a campaign in market, you can immediately see user actions and reactions to it. No longer does it take months to compile data and write performance reports. With this comes the ability to optimize in real time as well. But too often, the companies don't have processes in place to enable the quick reaction to problems or opportunities. A way to address this is to identify a few scenarios of how customers may react and then pre-plan actions to respond. This will allow the company to innovate the message, the marketing, or even the product or service in question to take advantage of the speed of feedback.
Organizational structure and knowledge sharing. In many large organizations, departmental silos were created originally for the purpose of standardization and efficiency. Unfortunately, in the fast-moving digital marketing world, these very silos now mean incredible inefficiency, slowness to react to opportunities, and knowledge gaps. While most companies don't have the luxury of reorganizing, there are processes that can be put in place to increase knowledge sharing and speed. Johnson & Johnson has been a great example, proactively and continuously bringing together marketers from different brands (ranging from consumer to medical device to pharmaceutical drugs) to share best practices and case studies. The company brings together individuals from different teams (e.g., compliance, med/legal, IT, product management, marketing) to discuss ways to streamline approval processes, etc.
All in all, companies are at various levels of sophistication and face one or more of the above challenges in digital marketing. So you're not alone out there. With a continuous focus on business impact and ROI, you can and should always ask the hard questions when something new and shiny gets pitched at you. And you should test and learn to quickly figure out what works best for your brand, product, company, and industry.
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.