The Digital All-You-Can-Eat Buffet

When presented with 30 feet of sumptuous choices, the tendency for many buffet restaurant patrons is to pile their plates with a little of this and a little of that until their plate is overflowing. We are just not good at prioritizing, making definitive choices, and walking away from some that aren’t as satisfying. While the visual and other sensory inputs spur consumers to gluttony, the food is usually inferior and warmed over – and probably sneezed on a few times by the passing hordes – ick. Give me a quiet table in a nice restaurant where I can enjoy the company and choose my made-to-order repast with care. I don’t need to sample the entire menu to maximize my experience.

Likewise, our digital buffet of communication and marketing options is growing. One of the hardest jobs of marketers is prioritizing our efforts and matching them to business goals while letting go of some things that just don’t fit on our budget plate. Budgets, if they are growing, are growing at a fraction of the rate of our option set. Most digital strategies need time, budget, and attention to scale to a place where they can impact the business, and when you have multiplying and different options to review, manage, optimize, and support, you cannot do it all and still do it well. Video, mobile, apps, games, e-commerce, social sites/promos/advertising, email, and more are all competing with the foundational programs that have likely been honed over years in organic and paid search and display advertising across a bewildering array of targeting and technology approaches. We want it all. But unless there is unlimited budget and staff support, we can’t have it all without sacrificing quality, scale, and results and muddling the strategy in the process.

There are many factors driving this perceived need to be represented in all channels, across all devices. Some of it is the shiny object factor where your team or C-level wants to know why you don’t have a mobile strategy or whatever has not yet floated to the top of your list. That kind of pressure can lead to poor decisions and an artificial priority set that has nothing to do with results.

Competitive pressure is another factor. If your key competitors are racking up a huge social media following or just released an awesome app that is getting attention and lots of downloads, that is certainly something that you should be watching, but you can’t let competitor strategy drive your decision making or you will constantly be following their lead and playing catch-up. Their budgets, margins, priorities, and results are different from yours, and what makes sense for them may not be your best course, even if it kills you to watch their success. Carve out your own successes.

A fractured audience profile can also lead to a fractured strategy. Consumers have many more options and they are increasingly splitting their web time across sites, hardware, and experience types and multitasking to boot. Do you need to surround that target audience at all digital points? That might be appropriate for niche audiences of particularly high value, but in most cases that would be overkill, a poor use of budget, and a bit creepy and therefore counterproductive. Look to match your goals with the targeting options available, frame of mind of the consumer, and the overall results. Choose the right places to engage with the right frequency and concentrate on making that a quality experience that can be extended in some fashion or is sharable.

None of this is to suggest that a currently performing plan should be laid in stone and never changed. New opportunities will come along and testing should be a regular part of your plan, but “I want it all” is not a strategy unless you have truly unlimited budgets. If you can’t make the hard choices, if you sacrifice thinking and scale for a little bit of everything, you end up with a set of underfunded tactics that cannot get the attention and optimization needed to make them work for you. This is anything but strategic. Marketers who will thrive in this environment are those who can analyze, prioritize, and make hard, strategic choices that are reflected in their plans. It doesn’t mean you can’t choose a few new tasty items from the digital buffet. It just means you have to be discriminating and apply logical criteria to your planning process.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.