August 28, 2018

3 Reasons Why Your Digital Strategy Is Not Working

“Quick, we need more digital!”

How often have you heard these words from a well-intentioned client? As understandable as the impulse may be, it’s time we said something about this knee jerk reaction. I want our clients to see that no, the sky is not falling – and that there’s more to digital marketing than just being digital.

As a digital professional I’m here to let you in on a secret. Digital – if not backed up by strategy – is not all it’s cracked up to be. Here are 3 reasons why appeals to a “digital first” or a “digital strategy” will more than likely miss the mark

  1. Digital is not a strategy

When a client mutters, “Digital Strategy!” my advice is to go full analog: close your laptop and pull out your moleskin journal. And while you’re at it, turn off Spotify and put on a vinyl record. Calmly and politely remind your client that “digital” is not a strategy, as Mark Ritson correctly argues, but a tactic.

It’s worth listening to what Ritson has to say:

“The last decade has seen marketing deluged with a sea of new tools and techniques. The concept of real-time rather than long-term planning has added fuel to the fire… A new breed of marketer who prefaces their title with the tactical term ‘digital’ has inundated our discipline with under-trained, overly tactical managers who have already selected their mode of execution long before any research or strategy has been even countenanced. They already have their crossbow drawn with no clue where, who or what they are attacking.”

I get it. Digital is fairly new, it’s shiny, and it’s where most of us spend our time. It’s makes sense to clamor for “digital first!” But there’s no excuse for a professional digital consultant to forgo basic marketing principles. As Riston continues:

“Our discipline must be founded on understanding consumers and then coming up with the strategy that helps our organization win in the market. All the tactical mish-mash and creative hoo-haa that follows is an important part of the marketing plan, but it’s not the starting point and it’s certainly not the most important bit.”

Begin with a marketing strategy and then, and only then, plug in the digital tactics.

2. Digital without analytics is blind

For those of us who suffered through a philosophy 101 course, you might recall the words of the 19th century German Immanuel Kant: “thoughts without intuition are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.” I’ve never been clear on what Kant was after, but that doesn’t stop me from crafting my own analogy. It goes like this: digital tactics without analytics are empty, analytics without digital assets are blind.

What makes digital such a powerful tool is its ability to measure and analyze performance, all in real time. Unlike traditional out-of-home marketing campaigns, say billboards, digital marketers have a fairly accurate grasp eyeballs/impressions. Unfortunately, many of the very same people who clamor for “digital first!” push analytics – the very measuring and learning from digital metrics – to the background, if not out of sight. Likewise, website design all too often starts from the principle of, well, art design. Analytics are then considered post-factum (see how I inserted a philosophy term?).

So, here’s a radical concept: why not design analytics friendly websites from the get-go? Or what if we put the same amount of energy into analytics audits as we do creative briefs and design concepting?

Stop what you’re doing on watch Adobe’s Marketing Analytics commercial. Best 1:01 of your day.

3. Digital is a victim of its own success

Digital is quick, easy to deploy, easy to optimize, and it can turn on a dime. It’s also cost effective. But this is also its greatest weakness. In other words, digital has little staying power; or maybe too much – think of Facebook or Twitter’s infinite scrolling paradigm.

David Sax’s book, The Revenge of Analog, touches on this very point. “In digital, a legacy brand is yesterday’s lunch, because the best digital technology is always the next one, and consumers have no loyalty to the past.” We know this is true of digital products; say, streaming music services, digital photography, etc. But what Sax says here applies to digital tactics. Writing about the surprising success of Moleskin notebooks in our so-called digital age, Sax highlights how magazines, notebooks, and other non-digital mediums capture audiences, quite unlike digital. You can’t swipe away from your Moleskin to an Instagram feed.

Magazine ads are another example. Audiences are much more captivated when it comes to a page spread; it’s tactile, sensuous, and, unlike Facebook, it has finality rather than the infinite scroll (yes, magazine ads also more expensive. Touché).

Hear me, please. I love digital. It is one of our most powerful marketing tools. But if all I had was a toolbox full of hammers, I’d wouldn’t get much done around the house.

Remember, there’s something prior to digital. Back in the olden days, I’m told, they referred to this as marketing.


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Robb Beck

Robb, like all HMH'ers, has a passion for following these trends in and out of the industry in order to better determine the best solutions for our clients. Nice.