Digital Accountability Begins Now

Digital marketing is awash in a never-ending array of “shiny new objects.” Be it social listening tools, the "must have" app or the newest rich media ad formats of today or the RSS feeds of a day long gone (which promised to eliminate email BTW), marketers are constantly bombarded by new, seemingly creative ideas with which to drive awareness, engage customers and ultimately generate sales.

The presence of so many new and inventive ways to market (this month alone I evaluated three new platforms all claiming to build, edit and host rich media "like never before") drives a mindset of tinkering, resulting in marketers spending too much time in the lab and far too little on the shop floor. A life spent chasing shiny objects risks driving little business value as marketers constantly search for that elusive and unquantifiable magic called “digital buzz.”

Enter digital accountability, a new breed of thinking challenging the historical tinkering mindset of digital marketers. Digital accountability has its roots in the simplest of principles –- digital marketing is a mature art. Long gone are the "amplification" buzzwords and Flash Web sites, which outside of providing a warm sense of accomplishment for the marketers that created them were unaccountable to real business results. Like events, sponsorships, branding and advertising, digital now takes its permanent place in the marketer’s toolbox -- a defined skill with defined outcomes that eliminates mystery, and most importantly, eliminates marketing waste.



Yet still the tinkering continues -- a brief trip online shows disjointed microsite after microsite, banner after banner, app after app, as marketers continue to blindly throw digital bait into the Web, hoping that customers appear. New campaign sites launch with no supporting media -- effectively digital tombstones from the word go. New Web sites launch that ignore even the most basic usability rules, trying to redesign the wheel but producing only a square. The worst offenders? Those digital experiments that seemingly do everything right to get customers on their Web property, but forgot to offer even the most basic call to action: register now, call us, try a demo, sign up for future updates, etc. -- anything that allows the hard work to be monetized in customer value.

Most unfortunately, Web analytics has not helped. The proliferation of these systems has provided marketers with a sense of accomplishing something, with no clarity on what exactly that was. Web site traffic, visitors, uniques, click-throughs, returns, abandonments, time on site and conversion metrics provide a bewildering array of reports demonstrating what’s occurred while skipping any sense of causality or business value. A digital marketer can no more improve results from a Web analytics report than he can make the news by reading the newspaper.

So what are we to do? How do we take this mature genre called digital marketing and make it truly accountable? How do marketers once and for all enter the era of digital accountability to the benefit of their customers, and most importantly, the bottom line of their businesses?

The rules of the road are straightforward -- and if these rules are applied, they will improve results and customer engagement and increase the respect of your fellow sales and marketing colleagues.

Rule 1 – Agree and target your "digital purpose."  Are you trying to engage a community? Drive new product awareness? Encourage trials? Generate leads? Sell through an eStore? Long gone are the days when a single landing page and email campaigns were launched to do all of the above. Only through a relentless focus of your digital purpose and targeting your efforts to the right audience can there be any hope of having impact with your efforts. Early adopters are not loyal customers, and both differ dramatically from new prospects -- your digital marketing should as well.

Rule 2 – Realize "digital" does not mean “easy.”  World-class Web experiences derive from a focus on the end goal, professional information architecture, skilled online copywriting, interaction Web design, business analyst-led development efforts and obsessive customer testing. None of the above can be accomplished in a few weeks, and this allows us once and for all put to rest the phrase "can’t we just launch this week -- it’s only a Web page."

Rule 3 – Pursue a D4 mindset – only make data-driven digital decisions.  Digital marketers are blessed with the most measurable marketing environment of the last century; use it to eliminate one-off decisions based on the chairmen’s preferred "shade of blue." Online customer testing, usability checklists (not dissimilar from what pilots use) and quantifiable A/B testing will guarantee that new digital experiences will have maximum results before they ever leave the door.

Rule 4 – Measure results ONLY against business value.  Stop generating Web analytics reports that are awash with factoids but lack insight on whether business value was created. The knee-jerk reaction to “show movement” around the new experience must be replaced with a methodical measurement approach around real business value. Has perception changed in the market? Did we grow the contact database? Have new customers signed up for a trial? How much revenue did the campaign generate? A rigorous measurement approach based around business value will stop the perceived mystery around digital marketing, focus scarce resources on those efforts that matter most and generate newfound respect for this critical channel.

Companies are operating in a more competitive environment than ever before, at the same time that customers are overrun with a daily feed of new digital attractions. In the midst of the challenge, digital marketers can grow their success and continue to take a larger piece of the overall marketing pie by adhering to the simple guidelines above. Digital is a mature trade and by making the needed adjustments now in how companies go to market online, exponential returns can be realized over both the short and long term. Good luck!

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