Marketing Strategies for a Digital World

By Eric Greenberg and Alexander Kates

In an increasingly digital age, organizations are being rapidly educated about the importance and scale of digital channels, and the colossal impact these platforms have on the modern consumer. Below, Eric Greenberg and Alexander Kates discuss a framework for strategic digital marking success.

Enter the digital age. The new digital consumers are super- empowered, ultra-informed, and hyper-connected. How do today’s brands build awareness, foster loyalty, and fabricate a positive image in a world where consumers hold all of the cards?


Being Liquid: The Marketer’s New Role

Today, marketers are the seeds of a brand’s image. They are storytellers, curators, perpetuators, and enthusiasts. They feed messages into channels in a natural way and let the other stakeholders run with them. They listen to and facilitate conversations, and optimize and share them strategically to maximize impact. Lastly, they analyze the reach of those conversations using data, and further optimize their behaviors accordingly.

Bruce Lee, the sensational martial arts icon of the 1970s, said this:

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Don’t get set into one form. Adapt it, and build your own. Let it grow, and be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless —like water. Now, you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

It turns out the same mindset that makes a great Jeet Kune Do practitioner also makes a great digital marketer. Marketers in the digital age must be like water. They must ebb, flow, and adapt their roles and behaviors on a constant basis. They must spread their activities over a wide range of channels and content types, see which attract the most interest, and run with what works. This concept forms the basis of what we call the modern liquid marketer.

Aside from marketers and content adopting liquid properties, companies themselves must adopt liquid principles at the very core of their operations to make it all work. Organizational structures, budgeting procedures, HR compensation polices, legal and compliance principles, and upper-management philosophies must all be reformed to operate in this fast-paced digital world.

A liquid mindset—liquid content, curated by liquid marketers, within a liquid organization—is a great foundation for creating effective digital strategy in today’s digital world.

Getting Started: Learning by Example

For Small Business Saturday this past year, FedEx wanted to show its support of small businesses by offering American Express gift cards, in $25 denominations, to the first 30,000 people to “like” its Facebook page and fill out a short form. Including logistical expenses, FedEx invested a cool $1 million in the campaign. When companies are giving away free cash these days, word travels around the web, and fast.

On November 26th, FedEx announced that it would open up the contest at sharply 1:30 p.m. EST. When 1:30 p.m. rolled around, it was estimated that nearly 300,000 people were trying to access the form at once. The servers FedEx was using were not nearly prepared for that kind of traffic. They crashed almost immediately.

At around 3:00 p.m., FedEx made a post to their page announcing that all 30,000 gift cards had been claimed. Even those who received the gift cards felt that the promotion was poorly run and required a great deal of hassle.

The real question here is: What did this campaign do for the FedEx brand? They spent $1 million, plus the resources to ship 30,000 gift cards, not to mention the labor required to put together the campaign. At the end of the day, FedEx was left with approximately 20,000 gift-card receivers whose sentiments ranged from neutral to grateful (many were not received, and many Internet-savvy folks received more than one). FedEx was also left with about 280,000 extremely frustrated and disgruntled people who felt that the company had cheated them and wasted their time. In total, about 15,000 of these frustrated individuals made snarky or hateful comments on the FedEx Facebook page, which were collectively viewed by several million visitors. Many more of those 280,000 tweeted about it or shared their discontent via some other social media channel.

So, what could FedEx have done with their $1 million for Small Business Saturday that would have been an effective social media campaign for the brand?

Perhaps they could have held a one-day contest in which participants submitted their story about how they use FedEx services to further their small business or cause. Stories could be submitted via photo, video, or written text using a form on the FedEx Facebook page. The top 20 stories, chosen by qualified FedEx employees, could be posted to the Facebook Page to allow page visitors to vote (via likes) on their favorites. The authors of the stories receiving the most votes could receive something nice, like an all-expenses-paid vacation that includes a trip to FedEx headquarters, or perhaps a lifetime’s worth of shipping credit with FedEx. We recommend making the remainder of the top 20 instant winners for larger-denomination gift cards. Additionally, everyone who submitted a story that didn’t make the top 20 would be entered into a drawing to win one of a several thousand larger-denomination branded FedEx gift cards.

ROI is the ultimate goal of any digital marketing campaign, just as it is the goal of any traditional marketing campaign or investment.

In a scenario such as this, there will always be the large majority that submit their stories but don’t win the voting con- test or the drawing. For such individuals, we’d recommend sending them small-denomination FedEx gift cards anyway (maybe $10 or $25). Everyone who votes on stories could receive an exclusive discount coupon by e-mail or via Facebook, reiterating the winning stories/quotations and thanking them for their loyalty and support.

Using this new strategy, FedEx wins all around. The entries are limited primarily to FedEx customers, and the FedEx Facebook page gets flooded with twenty glowing stories, photos, and quotations for an entire day. FedEx page visitors get to read these warm stories and vote on their favorites, engaging them and simultaneously promoting the brand to them via their peers.

Perhaps most importantly, with this approach no one feels cheated. Everyone submitting stories is a winner to some degree, and the entire group is segmented (and rewarded) based on their engagement level in the campaign. Not a single person feels like their time was wasted with technical or logistical bottlenecks.

ROI is the ultimate goal of any digital marketing campaign, just as it is the goal of any traditional marketing campaign or investment.

The Ultimate Goal of Digital Marketing: ROI

Just as digital marketing is still marketing, it is important to remember that marketing investments, whether they’re made in digital channels or otherwise, require a positive return on those investments. ROI is the ultimate goal of any digital marketing campaign, just as it is the goal of any traditional marketing campaign or investment. Justification for initial investment in digital initiatives should be crafted and judged in much the same way as traditional ones—using ROI.

Senior management might not understand digital marketing— they may not even be able to distinguish an iPad from a Kindle in some cases—but they are keenly aware of something many marketers forget: Shareholders are not going to be appeased by growth in Twitter followers. Owners won’t be happy with vague measures of increased awareness. Company expenses can’t be offset with any number of Facebook “likes.” Senior management wants to know how spending on a campaign is going to impact sales, and ultimately, the bottom line. Marketers and management are saying the same thing, but the message isn’t coming across. If increasing sales is the ultimate goal, shouldn’t we always evaluate digital marketing, and all marketing for that matter, through an ROI lens? It’s the universal language that marketers, management, and shareholders can all understand.

Estimates for ROI should be built directly into campaign design from the outset. For instance, if a campaign involves garnering Facebook likes, the value of an incremental like should be estimated. Conversion data from your brand’s previous Facebook campaigns, comparable third-party campaigns, or campaigns utilizing other channels, might shed light on the probability of a Facebook like or impression converting to a sale. By estimating this probability of turning a like or impression into an actual customer, your customer cost of acquisition (COA) for this campaign can be set against customer lifetime value (CLTV) estimates to evaluate part of this campaign’s ROI. In essence, using what you can measure to estimate what you can’t can help project and measure ROI to some extent. Building measurement and tracking into digital campaigns will help tremendously in backing into ROI estimates, improving projection accuracy, and justifying campaign potential to senior management.

Channel Interaction as a Part of ROI Calculation

Another important component of estimating and measuring campaign ROI is channel interaction. Interaction is a term commonly used in statistics to demonstrate the impact multiple variables have on one another. In the case of marketing measurement, these variables are the various digital marketing channels. No individual channel operates in a vacuum. For example, to estimate the impact of a video posted on a brand’s YouTube channel, we certainly must estimate how the number of views or shares translates into sales using the aforementioned methodology. However, we must also ask: How are users getting to this video? Which media is the traffic coming from? After viewing the video, where do the users head next?

Views of this video can lead to visits to the brand’s Facebook page, and perhaps posts or likes. They might lead to searches on Google, followers on Twitter, or visits to the brand’s website. The trail of actions users take must also be quantified to accurately assess the ROI potential of a given investment in any particular channel.

All channels, including traditional channels, are linked to every other in some way (though traditional media advertising generally links forward to digital properties, and not vice versa). Our data analyses show certain general trends about how actions in each channel lead to specific actions in other digital channels, but specific campaign design also plays a crucial role in how one channel interacts with another. Using col lected data in conjunction with typical interaction paths, the entire marketing ecosystem of a brand can be modeled and mapped visually, showing how channels interact with one another. The result is a complicated and irrevocably intertwined network of interactions between channels that provides a complete picture of how investments will impact the entire ecosystem. Once modeled in this way, it is much easier to estimate how a particular campaign or investment might impact overall results. This is marketing mix modeling for the digital age, and is more important than ever for today’s brands.




A Framework for Digital Success Now that you’ve gotten a feel for both qualitative and quantitative strategies for digital marketing success, it’s time to pull it all together strategically to garner real results. Before jumping into any campaign, however, it is absolutely essential to understand your customer through thorough research and analysis. You will gain a better understanding of the people purchasing your products and services by using the data collected from your marketing campaigns, but without a comprehensive understanding of your customer from the outset, your first attempts are far less likely to see positive results. The framework for strategic digital marking success includes four fundamental steps toward a complete digital marketing strategy:

• Create stories for your brand: Using liquid principles, merge your marketing creativity with ideas garnered 
by listening to your community to create stories that stick.
• Feed and curate digital channels: Strategically place, manage, and perpetuate the stories in several digital channels. Combine planned campaigns with unplanned virility and direct both toward your desired brand image goals.
• Determine ROI of strategies: Estimate sales using collected data and industry insights. Determine channel interactions and long-term gains from customer acquisitions, and add them to estimated sales to determine ROI.
• Test, measure, and refine: Use analytics to measure impressions, results, and traffic flows. Manage stories, refine channel allocations, and improve ROI estimates using the collected data.

These steps are listed numerically to give you a sense of their typical flow, but in reality all four happen simultaneously and continuously, as shown in Figure 1 below. Testing, measurement, and refinement are at the center of the diagram because all three of the other stages should be constantly and consistently measured and improved. This simple model can be used as a starting point for beginning to understand and plan digital strategy.

Reprinted by permission of McGraw-Hill. Excerpted from Strategic Digital Marketing: Top Digital Experts Share the Formula for Tangible Returns on Your Marketing Investment by Eric Greenberg and Alexander Kates. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

About the Authors

Eric Greenberg serves as Managing Director of Executive Education for the Center for Management Development (CMD) at Rutgers University. He is also President of EG Consultants, LLC, a marketing consulting services firm focused on brand management and customer-centric strategies. Prior to these positions, Eric founded and served as the CEO of MTS, one of the nation’s largest providers of CRM services. Eric has created several innovative and world-class executive education programs while at CMD. He is also a sought-after faculty member at Rutgers, having taught in marketing programs for both students and executives at Fortune 500 companies.

Alexander Kates is an entrepreneur and digital marketing enthusiast. When he’s not engrossed in a high-tech venture of his own creation, he works as a marketing consultant, providing strategic guidan to executives around the world. He speaks in training programs, at universities, and at conferences on the topics of digital strategy and emerging media. With Rutgers University, Alex has developed tailored digital training programs for Fortune 500 companies. He serves as instructor for a new Rutgers CMD course entitled Creating Viral Media. Alex is the founder of several companies, including Planga, a social calendaring and geomapping platform for colleges and universities.

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