The Opportunity Cost of a Safe Online Strategy

If you play e-marketing to win, you’re playing a portfolio of tactics for long-term gain. If you have sufficient budget, there’s simply no other tactic that will give you the same results over time as a coordinated, multipronged effort. Much like a solid financial portfolio, your online strategy needs to be diversified, respond to market conditions, and have a goal and timeframe in mind to make any sense at all.

Some financial investors choose to simply float with the market in a broad index fund, expecting and finding their results will mirror those of the market. Similarly, some investors in online marketing may simply repeat the same Google search marketing campaign or broad display campaign without taking advantage of new opportunities or testing new approaches. They believe they’re creating a more certain future, but what are they giving up in exchange for that perceived stability?

  • Scale. It’s very tough to scale in a significant way on the back of one channel, or even two. The elements of a multifaceted program tend to feed each other to create forward momentum. Sure, you could dump increasingly more budget into that single channel, but you would more quickly reach a point of diminishing return than you will with a well-crafted multidimensional program.
  • Niche winners. The Internet is a collection of niche populations overlaid by broader, shared characteristics. If you only address your audiences at the level of least differentiation, you’re missing the best opportunity to demonstrate relevance. Relevance is what drives results.
  • Balance. Having a single-minded focus on revenue or lead-generation goals is different than declaring it the primary objective. An online strategy often encompasses multiple objectives, many audiences, and different timeframes. Some portions may be designed to support marketing objectives at different points of a customer or consideration cycle. A program’s balance between objectives, audiences, and other variables will often shift with seasonality or over time or as other needs or circumstances change. Maintaining the flexibility of component parts that can be stretched or reduced, tested, or added or deleted enhances the ability to create the mix needed to satisfy the current need.
  • Optimization. Optimization implies a prioritization among tactics, messaging, budget, or promotion. You can’t do nearly as much with a one-note program.
  • Multiple platforms. A corporate or brand site’s page views are decreasing in importance as the importance of apps, social media, mobile, and other alternate touch points increases. Marketers need to be where their audiences engage or where they consume media — which is across many platforms for most demographics.
  • Learning. You can do conversion optimization testing on a site with a single or consistent set of traffic drivers; in some cases that might even be a more valid test because it rules out some of the variables involved. But how do you learn about how different audiences or sources are responding to your site or offerings if you don’t give yourself the opportunity to test? Campaign testing that strives to rank and prioritize the value of different channels obviously needs those channels live to test. Staff training will also suffer with an overly simplified plan. There is an old saying that if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. If your staff is conversant in multiple disciplines and has real-world experience with different kinds of smart programs they will be better digital strategists.
  • Perception. In some cases, some brands need to have a presence on the bleeding edge of new media channels to maintain their credibility with their audience. If you are a cool or progressive brand, sometimes you just need to be in the latest cool media scene.
  • Relevance. Consumer patterns shift. Audiences use different media over time, or they use the same media differently. Either way, marketers must stay current with their audience and adjust their plans to be where, when, and how the audience wants them to be.

As with a financial portfolio, you have to be willing to accept some level of intelligent risk with your online strategy. Not every trial will result in a win, but it will result in knowledge that can be applied to an ongoing effort to balance and optimize results.

Robin is off today. This column was originally published Sept. 9, 2009 on ClickZ.

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