We’re in a competitive field in a competitive time. The stakes couldn’t be higher for most of us as we work very hard to earn the increasing budgets we are seeing in online marketing. We earn those budgets with ideas that drive results and analytics that prove the results. But it all starts with an idea.
The idea informs the strategy, which drives the tactics; therefore, an idea could and should find its way into approaches, messaging and creative, channel selection, as well as measurement and optimization strategies.
An idea that drives marketing strategy and needs to be explored could be:
- A problem statement like, “We’re losing revenue as customers’ AOV (average order value) has continued to trend down for the last 3 quarters.”
- An opportunity like, “We have yet to tap the potential of the under 25 year old demographic.”
- A goal like “We need to expand into the Asian markets this fiscal year.”
Where do these ideas come from? Creative directors and digital strategists will tell you they come from knowing the client and audience segments. They are absolutely correct — at least the good ideas. But good ideas can be inspired from a number of different sources. When looking to rethink a problem or shake loose from the insidious hold of well performing but not game-changing programs, I go back to a number of sources that never fail to spur thinking.
I find the following helpful for brand or company specific idea generation:
- Company or brand plan. Any company of size goes through a regular process to flesh out a set of strategic goals that should be a road map for all decisions. Reviewing that plan document keeps it alive and helps to keep ideas on track. Digital agencies should have a copy (at least) and should be involved in its development (ideally).
- Rethink your frame of reference. Take a completely new look at your approach from front to back as a hypothetical third person who has never heard of your brand, comes from another country or region or is just being introduced to the category. This exercise can be highly effective in spotting the assumptions we unknowingly make that hinder clear communications.
- Create a timeline that notes when strategies or even tactics have last changed. I would not advocate change for change sake but some programs tend to get tenure status and from then on never get a hard look. Nothing should be immune from scrutiny.
- Company personnel. If you have access, it can be quite instructional to talk to those beyond the marketing department to get their point of view on current and past events as well as future opportunities. Those in customer service, R&D, shipping, finance, IT, and other departments may have critical feedback for you.
- Competitive activity. See what your direct competitors are doing now and have been trending toward.
- Non-competitive but related activity. Review the marketing of those companies or brands addressing your audience to see where and how they are finding success. Not all of that information will be directly applicable but may be of interest nonetheless.
- Data. Boring site analytics can uncover a multitude of anomalies and opportunities. I have never, ever met a site that could not be improved.
- More data. Dive into your various program stats for display media, SEM (define), affiliate, e-mail, whatever you have. Look at them separately for insights and then in dashboard view to see trends across programs.
- Audience feedback. Surveys, reviews, and focus groups are all fertile ground — especially the negative feedback. Listen using social media monitoring tools to learn what is important to your audience and how they relate to the brand or company. If you suspect site deficiencies watch audience members navigate the site using eye tracking, if available, or less sophisticated methods, if not.
- Traditional program results. Find out what is working (or not) and even more important, why.
For general brain and battery recharging:
- Conferences are a great place to have deep discussions with colleagues you respect and hear new thinking to apply to your particular circumstances. A good industry conference rarely fails to recharge my thinking. Look not only at the big digital conferences but also at your local meetups and vertical industry events.
- Reading — especially business case studies. Learning from the successes and failures of others can help to illuminate your situation. Find blogs and podcasts that challenge your current thought processes.
Whatever you call it, the process of ideation need not be pigeon holed to the creative process alone. It can also be a strategic exercise that launches, recharges, or readjusts an existing digital campaign. In our world of constant optimization that effort is critical and continual.
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