Increasing Digital Performance

As the poor performance of the global economy sinks in, the drive toward higher performing advertising channels continues. That’s good news for most forms of e-marketing, despite some reports to the contrary.

Over the past weeks, I’ve seen more than a few articles projecting cuts in spending in the newer forms of digital, online, and social media. No firm, agency, medium, or practice is immune from economic fallout. If the recent market events have made anything clear, it’s that we’re all, more or less, in this together.

Looking across the marketing channels that apply online — including search, keyword buys, e-mail, and social media — the fundamental motives remain strong. Each of these is highly focused, and each has relatively strong, direct metrics that can show an ROI (define). When you can demonstrate your worth, it’s more likely you’ll continue to be seen as valued, right?

So it is with all forms of marketing, or at least it should be. Attention to measurement and the specific evaluation of performance are likely to point the way to integrated campaigns that deliver better results.

Too many marketers fail to measure the performance of individual channels when using multiple marketing tools. Fewer measure both the individual and combined effectiveness of their integrated efforts. The downturn and the renewed attention to discipline and quantitative results that will surely follow present a great opportunity to get serious about measurement.

A focus on unbiased, quantitative evaluation helps in more ways that you might think. Sure, measuring helps tune campaigns over time, leading to better marketing results and increased efficiency. But it goes beyond that. By measuring and applying ourselves to an analysis of the results, we can often find new ways of succeeding and accomplishing business objectives.

For many marketers, “good times” provide the freedom to experiment. Getting a bit of extra budget to try an innovative program is easier when more cash is available.

It’s when times are tough that we start watching every penny. The folly of only paying attention to expenses when times are tough aside, our predictably human response to a perceived threat — pulling back to our tried-and-true comfort zones — limits our success when the chips are down.

During conditions of market-wide weakness, the largest competitive gains are possible. These gains, however, won’t accrue to the risk averse. After all, Warren Buffet is investing in the stock market right now. Looking at your options as a marketer, the fundamentally measurable emerging channels seems like a great place to be now.

In a recent Ad Age column, Abbey Klaassen talked about the use of search (and by extension, social media) as a product research tool. As consumers seek superior value — again driven in part by pure economics — consumer use of online channels toward making better choices will play a larger role in the overall purchase process.

“More people will use search engines to go price shopping,” according to Klaassen. “TNS’s Compete and Google recently completed a study that found the economy is affecting retail shoppers and leading to more research activity around purchases.”

Apart from the potentially tricky interpretation of search metrics — more use of search for research means continued strong absolute conversion but also a lower apparent conversion — clearly online tools that support superior buying decisions are more useful to consumers than a brand promise.

The Economist featured a piece October 4 about the brand slogans of selected financial institutions. Compared with this post, how much value do you suppose consumers place in AIG’s “The Strength to Be There” or whatever replaces that slogan? Consumers are increasingly turning to sources that involve them directly. Because of this, these channels also can be measured directly.

“In this digital age, where 1.3 billion of 6.6 billion consumers have Internet access, brands must insert themselves into the global digital conversation while still adequately managing their reputations,” Hewlett-Packard CMO Mike Mendenhall noted in Natalie Zmuda’s recent Ad Age article. “Brands are no longer defined (purely) by the 30-second TV spot.”

So much for retreating to comfort zones. The new market leaders are engaging consumers online through an intelligent blend that includes measurable e-marketing channels.

But it goes well beyond marketing. One of the points that I make in my book, “Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day,” is that contemporary brands are increasingly defined by operations, not marketing.

“Many companies have employed digital strategies as just one component of their marketing communications,” Mendenhall pointed out. “It’s very important that you look at R&D, at how you use the digital space to produce better results. Look at your customer service — digital can play an incredible role.”

So, downturn or not, take a look at your digital channels from the combined perspective of marketing, operations, and measurement. E-mail, search, keyword, and social media all can be used as quantitative guides in your product and service development efforts. As consumers increasingly share information about what really works versus what simply promises to work, the emerging digital channels are defining the next round of brand winners.

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