Get your digital ducks in a row

Couldn’t have said it better myself….
Your organization can’t succeed in digital if all its operations aren’t properly aligned. With this simple guide, you’ll be on the right path in no time.

For the right and wrong reasons, companies large and small are shifting marketing emphasis toward the digital channel, but along the way they are realizing gaps in strategy, staff, partnerships and infrastructure they hadn’t anticipated.

Whether your company is on a pragmatic evolutionary digital marketing path or making a dramatic shift in strategy and spend to play catch up, you need to make sure that the organization is prepared to support the effort. Otherwise, you risk falling into traps with execution and support or, worse, missing the intersection between the brand and consumer.

How often does the missed intersection happen?
When Forrester dedicates bandwidth to speak to Web 2.0 blunders, including names like Whole Foods, Dell, Burger King, Johnson & Johnson, Target and Apple, you begin to wonder if there’s been an epidemic.

UGC and branded content also have their own set of challenges, so firms sometimes have a difficult time managing the go/no go decisions involved in using these strategies. Take a look at a few high-profile meltdowns:

  • General Motors. The Chevy Tahoe UCG campaign backfired and was then shut down. After the great success of Doritos’ consumer-created Super Bowl campaign, big brands’ eyes were opened to the possibilities of user-generated advertising. Unfortunately, Chevy missed the mark with its first foray into UCG when it ignored potential backlash from the eco-conscious side of the planet.
  • Based on the theory that “everybody loves our ads,” Anheuser-Busch created its own online branded content channel that is dying a slow death on uniques and has yet to find its resonance with viewers or consumers.

So what does it mean for your company to be digitally aligned?

The dynamics of the industry, brand/product lifecycles, your consumers and the digital maturity of your organization will all dictate if you’re on course or not. But first, you need to find a starting point to evaluate your current position and assess where you need to be.

The best way to start is by examining your alignment plans in three key areas: strategy, the organization and your partners and infrastructure.

The first step to alignment is to create a vision for the role interactive will play between your brand and consumers over time, as well as how your organization will support it.

This is different from the annual marketing plan in that traditional media and marketing investments were historically created in a relatively static environment. By and large, TV or print advertising media mixes have been allocated as a percentage of sales and haven’t varied much from year to year. So, even after 10 years of interactive marketing, many companies are still left with this offline planning legacy on both the agency and client side.

The digital vision should ask and answer the following questions:

  • Are you leveraging offline and online strategies by optimizing the strengths of each channel?
  • If this is a multi-brand corporation, are your brands working together, alone or against each other online?
  • What is your quantitative and qualitative model to allocate budget for online? And, does this model account for evolving time spent in each channel?
  • How will your strategy reflect the effect of changing media landscape such as the rise of social networks, distributed media (i.e., widgets), the decline of network TV consumption and fewer minutes spent on portals?
  • Do you have measurable success metrics?
  • How do you create a sustainable competitive advantage?

The outcome of the research and strategic effort should identify the existing gaps and potential opportunities for your company, as well as serve as a guide to socialize the vision internally.

As an organization, you can’t afford to be underinvested in the most critical aspects of interactive to your brand. That said, reality dictates that budgets, changing market conditions and organizational constraints will impact the ability to execute against the vision you’ve developed.

Organizational considerations
The second key toward digital alignment is making sure your organization has the right infrastructure of executive air cover, the right people in place and the right tools and partners to do the job.

The primary constraint within an organization is its digital maturity. To a certain degree, interactive marketing is a discipline with a lot of moving parts, with skills and knowledge that can only be gained by doing the job.

Today, it takes more than being an individual that “gets it;” you need a team that “lives it” to convert a strategy into action.

Assessing the right blend of skills that you’ll need (typically industry- and strategy-dependent), assembling the team with the idea in mind that some of the training can be done on the job with the appropriate internal resources, while other more strategic or technical support may require a hire from a competitor or agency.

Finally, ongoing training is a must, as this is a fast-paced  and constantly evolving segment of marketing.

The planning legacy mentioned above translates to a broader call for change in organizations. As the online world becomes more layered, it must become more complex to manage the current structure that exists within each client, partnering agency and publisher leveraged.

Evidence of the demand for change in agencies and publishers is demonstrated with myriad layoffs, restructurings and acquisitions in large agencies and publishers (Publicis restructure, Google acquisition of DoubleClick, Microsoft purchase of aQauntive, and Fox restructure of the interactive media group) in addition to well informed research.

On the client side, for consumer and B2B firms, digitally led, multi-channel marketing and ecommerce initiatives break form, function and culture of the traditional sales, brand, direct/trade, promotional management silos from an organizational perspective and roles for staff. Some companies have recognized this by integrating prior stand-alone interactive marketing groups into brand teams. This is a good first step, but you generally still need support to connect stand-alone efforts into a common strategy.

With the vision and downstream impact as the context, marketers should objectively assess and scorecard their company’s appetite and ability to execute in the digital channel to prioritize their initiatives and manage risk.

Some core questions to ask and answer:

  • Do you have executive level sponsorship for the vision?
  • How interactive savvy is your leadership team?
  • Is interactive an integrated or stand alone marketing discipline?
  • What digital tools does your firm consider mainstream, emerging and experimental?
  • Are you still relying on a “one size fits all” agency, or have you initiated relationships with an integrated team of resources to flexibly support your vision?
  • Are your business objectives and marketing strategies supported by the technical infrastructure and initiatives?
  • Does your corporate web presence feel like a constellation of disparate micro sites or a digital marketing platform?

Without the right type of support, even a world class strategy will fall flat. By understanding the constraints and limitations of your organization now, you can begin to strategically build the right team and give them the support they need to execute.

Partners and infrastructure
As your organization moves along the digital marketing maturity curve, alignment becomes more important, as you select your partners and determine the work infrastructure.

Having been on both the client and agency side, I recognize that each one typically underestimates the sheer demand for pulling off comprehensive interactive marketing-led strategy.

Let’s consider the downstream impact of a few moving parts with the fictional $1.2 billion online media announcement above.

  • Integrating timing and production with offline
    • TV, print, radio and PR
    • Packaging
    • Offline promotion
    • Sales and retail distribution
    • Employee & partner training and education
  • Combined search, display and video in-game advertising
    • Strategic upfront negotiation
    • Coordination of standard ad & custom units production
    • Brand, long tail brand and generic keyword management
    • Program management resources
  • Engagement within online social and affinity communities (fan sites, blogs and niche category websites)
    • Project management
    • Legal approvals for content
    • Community management and relationship support
    • Brand surveillance
  • Syndicated content partnerships in the form of RSS, widgets and mobile feeds
    • Distribution partner research and relationship development
    • Custom content development and approval
    • Third-party vendor selection and management
    • UGC governance
  • Leading to an in-network array of brand and ecommerce websites, landing pages, games and brand blogs as well as external affiliate sites, e-tail partners, portals, media aggregators and in store kiosks
    • Creative concept development
    • User experience design
    • Editorial content team
    • Search engine optimization
    • Software selection and integration
    • Build and launch

The example above just scratches the surface of the effort involved to support an interactive-led initiative within an organization. Like it or not, the choices made early on with regards to creative, content and technology partnerships can make a significant difference in the amount of risk an organization assumes for each campaign.

Companies large and small are still trying to decide what the digital channel means to them. With over $60 billion projected to be spent online in less than four years at nearly 20 percent of the marketing budget, (Forrester 2007) preparation must begin now.

In the near term, I anticipate more rigor in the annual and long term digital planning to take place in the form of comprehensive digital roadmaps that cover channel integration, Web 2.0 filtering and budget alignment to consumer media consumption.

There will also be an increased emphasis placed on the underlying technology support within organizations to realize these necessary shifts toward digital which will lead to digital marketing platforms as opposed to the myriad of disconnected micro sites that exist today.

Finally, I see a strong likelihood of partnership shifts, moving toward those that truly understand the intersection of marketing and technology with the consumer.

Andy Peebler is senior vice president with Acquity Group.

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