Tried It, Doesn’t Work!

As digital marketing and communications matures as a discipline, moving from the experimental to the mainstream, most brands and organizations have undertaken a raft of different digital initiatives. Chief marketing officers (CMOs) and chief content officers (CCOs) are now building up a sizeable chunk of digital experience and familiarity. However, not all of these experiences are going to be positive, and with an increasing frequency I’m hearing a “…tried it, doesn’t work” point of view from clients (and some senior agency folk).

There are a multitude of reasons for this perspective, but I want to highlight a few which are perhaps symptomatic of an incorrect analysis of the situation.

Business Objectives and Digital Strategy Misaligned

At the top of the list of the “…tried it, doesn’t work” conversations is the one regarding content marketing and its appropriateness or otherwise to a particular business challenge. By way of examples, in the past week, I’ve had digital strategists talking to me about which media metrics (impressions, clicks) they should be looking at when they’re looking to prove a return on investment case for content marketing. In other conversations, I’ve seen people arguing the case for content marketing but attempting to justify the investment in terms of direct response (CPA, CPC) measures.

In both these conversations there has clearly been a mismatch of objectives, strategies, and measures. Somewhere along the line a disconnect occurred. It could be as simple as failing to ask the question, “Is this a top-funnel (awareness, interest) or bottom-funnel (demand/desire, action) requirement?” or it could be something more complex.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to remember that depending on the objective you are trying to achieve, a different digital strategy and its component tactics need to be applied. Is content marketing the solution to all marketing ills? Of course not. If you’re trying to shift product a CPA-based network buy is much more likely to succeed than a promoted YouTube video for the same level of investment. Will the network buy drive awareness or brand consideration in the same way as well put together and promoted YouTube video? Probably not.

This presentation makes the point I’m trying to make brilliantly. I thoroughly recommending clicking through to be entertained and informed!

To summarize the first point, when the desire to utter “tried it, doesn’t work” occurs, consider whether or not in the past the right digital strategy and tactics have been applied to the right business objectives.

Early Adopters Are Necessarily Ahead of the Curve

Another reason for negative perceptions of what otherwise may be a very effective digital strategy is where an early adopter has had prior experience of that approach.

Frequently, communicators, to demonstrate that they and their organization are at the bleeding edge of digital, adopt digital techniques early. Achieving a “first” is a badge of honor pursued by marketers and agencies looking to win awards and make their mark. Unfortunately all too often the “industry first” does not translate into business results for the long-term. Too often again, the nascent technique is discounted as a “gimmick” when in fact it could be a very effective long-term approach, given the right objectives and conditions (as above).

Being first earns plaudits but also skews opinions – be wary of past early adopter experiences and judge the efficacy of a strategy in the long-term and across the adoption cycle.

Different Strategies Work Differently for Different Organizations

While the average tenure of CMOs is on the rise (up from 23 months to 45 in 2012 according to Forbes), there’s still a very high churn rate amongst senior decision-making clients in the marketing and communications field. In my experience, with this churn comes a whole bunch of unwelcome and misguided ideas about which digital strategies and tactics work or fail.

Without cognizance of this potential risk, there is a real danger of comparing apples with oranges and it’s imperative that client decision-makers keep an open-mind with respect to what’s an appropriate strategy for the brand they are currently marshaling.

In summary, be wary of early experimentation, previous organizational experience, and most importantly misaligned objectives and strategies before pronouncing “tried it, doesn’t work” to the next digital proposal to cross your desk.

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