The Art of “Digital” War

These famous words from Sun Tzu, a master of strategy, are all too relevant to where modern marketing stands today. Its takes courage to admit that today’s marketing is digital and the yesterday’s vestiges of traditional marketing and the thinking that accompanied it are fast becoming history. Simply put, the ubiquity of digital media and the increasingly efficient dialogue that technology allows customers to create with one another and with brands has created a new paradigm that brand marketers need to accept so they can truly become what they might be.

The landscape surrounding digital marketing is full of jargon but in essence there are some simple facts and concepts that we need to learn and accept on our way to being better equipped to deal with this new reality.

In principle, “digital marketing” is about creating content [the story] and campaigns [the storytelling] to be shared with customers. Promoting brand awareness, informing customers about channels of availability or ensuring the return of customers to the brand, and promotions are the most common uses. The main point of difference is in the fact that customers today have direct access to many of the channels marketers use, and are actively involved in assessment, promotion and selection of the products and services they buy.

In a nutshell, a well-thought-out approach to digital marketing embraces the customer, the devices they use, the content they create, the feedback they provide and can drive brands towards greater personalization of products and services for their customers. A well created digital dialogue also allows customer to look out for products and services that complement their needs and solve pain points along their consumption journeys.

The proliferation of mobile technology has also been a game changer and allows customers to connect to information anytime and anywhere. Virtually any content, in any form, can also be easily accessed by consumers using various digital channels. As the number of people with mobile and other digital devices continues to explode, especially in emerging markets, business will need a rethink of the methods they have used so far to market to customers. Building Facebook or LinkedIn pages and buying banner ads or targeted ads on Facebook will not cut it. Nor will the frequently abused strategy of lead generation via direct marketing and email lists with offers, really help to ensure future success.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat” – Sun Tzu
So where’s that digital marketing plan? A good website – did you say you have one? Many brand owners truly believe that their websites and other digital assets are good and that they don’t really need a professionally developed digital strategy to ensure they stay the course through this marketing evolution. Even fewer know how to judge the quality of their digital presence and return they are or are not receiving on their investments.

Is the website mostly dedicated to the brand’s product / services? Does it talk at all about customers or how the brand’s services might solve problems or add value to consumers?

How about a campaign plan? Did you just say that the brand has been running direct marketing campaigns, banner and Facebook ads? Many brand owners pay millions of dollars in creative fees to agencies without adequate intelligence being applied to the amplification of brand content and campaigns. Did you wonder then why that beautiful Facebook post that you paid that posh agency a thousand dollars to make got you four measly likes? Conversion to a successful lead or sale is also frequently not measured nor is anyone held accountable for it.

Indeed, the first step towards winning the digital game is to build a strong game plan – to build a presence that is always on, that embraces and engages the customer at every stage in their discovery to selection, purchase and return journey. A carefully crafted digital strategy, as opposed to ad hoc tactics and investments will go far in helping build the brand narrative and content that is relevant and contextual to evolving customer needs.

“Let your plans be impenetrable as night and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt” – Sun Tzu

The next step is to develop a carefully timed execution roadmap that will allow the brand to precisely and effectively target its current and potential customers. A series of ongoing messages about the brand and its offers that can be proliferated across the digital and social sphere. Guided by smartly defined keywords that will allow consumers to find the brands and its offers in search, and ensuring they stand out in the sea of thousand other me too offers is crucial to bringing customer traffic to websites and social profiles.

“Drive thy business, or it will drive thee” – Benjamin Franklin

Last, but certainly not the least, is building return on marketing investment. Very few brand owners understand it and even fewer know how to measure it. Simply asked, do all your investments in the digital and social space vanish into a black hole called marketing budget or do you actually have a sense of how much business value each dollar of your spend adds to your brand? Though not through prophecy, a well-managed and pragmatically defined set of measurements around customer conversion to sale or customer return through a loyalty loop are ways in which marketing investments can be made accountable.