Shifting your marketing approach and embracing digital

Teresa Sperti compels marketers and brands to embrace a digital marketing approach and accelerate their online efforts, in order not to be left behind.  

While many brands are leveraging digital marketing, there is still a vast difference in maturity between the leaders and laggards. However, if 2020 has taught businesses anything, it is this: ignore digital at your peril.

The digital age is not new, in fact, if Facebook were a person it would be celebrating its sweet 16th birthday this year and the iPhone would be starting high school. Digital is pervasive and its existence has implications on how communication occurs, education is shaped, knowledge is spread, ideas are formulated and far more. Technology enables so much in our daily lives and has fundamentally shaped the way consumers interact and transact with brands.

But despite all of this, many marketers and marketing teams are struggling to embrace and embed digital marketing as a key part of their marketing approach.

What is holding the marketing team back from embracing digital? 

There is a multitude of reasons why digital marketing uptake is stalling within marketing teams.

Some of the most common include:

  1. Digital is not seen as everyone’s role – It is not uncommon to still see marketing departments allocate the responsibility of digital marketing to a select few rather than require all marketers to have a well-rounded skill set and think through the line when planning. Worse still, in some organisations digital and traditional marketing is siloed. As organisations attempt to drive alignment and integration in the digital experience, they separate out digital as a separate team entirely. This exacerbates siloed thinking. When digital is seen as the domain of a team or a specialist it allows marketers to ‘defer’ to the digital experts for knowledge and direction rather than procure the knowledge themselves.
  2. ‘Digital vs Traditional’ rather than AND – As digital marketing has grown in popularity, the marketing community has been divided and this extends into the marketing department. There is a lack of common language and understanding across the different camps of and for those organisations who are wedded to more traditional approaches and it has inhibited the uptake of digital. The digital community hasn’t helped either – much of the training and discussion fails to connect digital back to core marketing principles, which results in digital becoming very tactically focused.
  3.  Digital as a bolt on – Too many marketing departments still operate with digital is a bolt on. Gartner found in a recent survey of marketers, that 50 percent of marketing departments are using a ‘set and forget’ approach to budget management (rolling or incremental). This fixed approach to budget management results in rigidity in marketing investment, which often hampers digital uptake. Campaigns and initiatives are still too often planned based on channels rather than customers and given lead time for above the line media – decisions and investment are upstream and made independently of digital, which tends to be more towards the pointy end of decision making.
  4. Agency bias – Agency bias can also have a significant impact on digital uptake. Large creative agencies and large media agencies often struggle to plan and execute in an integrated fashion. They too see digital as the job of a few and have failed to upskill a wider portion of the agency in digital marketing methods and approaches.

Navigating the internal challenges of driving digital uptake

Getting marketing to embrace digital is one challenge, but getting the rest of the organisation to buy in is another. Whilst we all come across the odd trail blazer and advocate within the organisation, it is often outweighed by the sceptics.

Channels like TV, newspaper, billboards and others have a tangibility that digital doesn’t afford – executives feel comfort in seeing the brand show up in traditional mediums and marketers are having to appease internal stakeholders as opposed to plan based on customer behaviour.

Digital marketing, ecommerce and digital experience projects often require capital investment over and above expenditure which means marketers are competing for funds against other strategic projects. Digital can often be seen and funded as a project rather than a way of doing business and this results in a stop-start approach to efforts.

Where digital is newer to the organisation, it can be under greater scrutiny and isn’t afforded the time to deliver material gains. Expectations around impact and outcomes aren’t well managed and often lacklustre short term results can cause the business to pull back on digital efforts.

How to start and build maturity over time 

The pandemic has challenged organisations in many ways and as consumer adoption of digital has accelerated, so too has an organisational investment and focus. With a heightened strategic focus on digital at an organisational level, marketing teams need to equally accelerate their efforts or face becoming increasingly out of step with customers and organisational needs.

Some pathways to start:

  • Clear vision and direction – Re-cast your vision and direction for marketing and clarify the important role digital plays to future success. This isn’t about being digitally-led, as this is just another unhelpful bias – it is ultimately about being customer-led and understanding how consumers engage with your brand and the category. It is understanding the importance of leveraging data to drive strategy and execution.
  • Break down the siloed thinking and approaches – More of the same won’t produce a different outcome. To better leverage digital as part of an integrated approach, marketers need to break down the siloes that occur within departmental ways of working and across their agency roster to accelerate the uptake of digital. In addition, digital needs to become every marketer’s job and responsibility and not just that of the specialists.  
  • Be prepared to be bold and brave – Driving a more balanced approach to marketing requires marketers to stop investing in activity to make space for new initiatives and to move away from a ‘set and forget’ approach to budgets. If consumer behaviour has changed, it stands to reason that we need to re-think how we best reach and engage our audiences and therefore budgets need to become far more fluid and adaptive.
  • Upweight knowledge and build common understanding – Without the knowledge and expertise marketers will gravitate towards the channels and approaches they are most familiar and comfortable with. Marketers need to be immersed in all facets of digital and have opportunities to apply learnings on the job to help build confidence and experience.
  • Bring the organisation on the journey – Building maturity in digital requires organisational support and buy-in. It will require a fundamental shift in how the organisation engages with its customers, requires investment and requires a shift in mindsets. Marketers play an incredibly important role in educating the business on changing consumer needs, expectations and painting a clear picture on how the organisation needs to evolve to get there. It is important to engage early and often – articulate out the direction and the why, provide regular progress updates and set clear expectations from the outset.

Teresa Sperti is the founder and director of Arktic Fox digital, who have recently launched Digital Marketing Masterclasses

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash.