I’ll start with one question. As a marketing leader, would you spend a large chunk of advertising budget without a defined product message and positioning?

I’m assuming your answer was a resounding “No!” …

So why do you settle for a dull message that just kind of exists? Then you spend your budget pushing out that dull message as quickly as possible across digital channels? But ... why? 

This is the kind of thing we see time and time again in the digital space.  Businesses that are struggling with their brand, message, and advertising turn to digital shops and consultants looking for a quick fix. These folks do not understand that while digital is powerful, it is just a grouping of channels to market through.  Many instead see “digital marketing” as some sort of magical lever that can be switched on to solve all of their issues.

The rough part is, this confusion is only perpetuated by the digital shops themselves. These digital marketing firms promise “exponential traffic increases” or “more awareness on the web” or some other promise that at its core doesn’t even make sense. These highfalutin promises eventually end in poor returns, confusing reports, and a bad rap for the digital marketing industry. Here’s the interesting part, this borderline sad cycle is not due to poor work. In many cases, the work itself is very solid. The issue is the reason behind the work.

The Reason behind the Media

Your typical digital agencies are selling the wrong thing at the wrong time. These shops are completely focused on the channels, or the media if you will, with little concern for the reason behind the media. This leads to poorly constructed campaigns, loosely tied together initiatives, and an ineffective “digital strategy.”

While digital marketing initiatives can create wins for a company, big wins even. The science of digital will never touch the customer at his/her core. Digital folks would argue that social media gives the ability to connect and engage with consumers in ways that never were possible before, and they are correct. However, the best social media experiences are built by/for brands with a great story to tell. Brands win on social. Organic search is another great example. Mid-size businesses can spend all the money in the world on a great SEO provider, and still not crack the top 5 for key search queries. The top spots are monopolized by brands. There are ways around this, a good firm will point you to creating content for longer tail keyword phrases, and variants with unique user intent. But the real innovation in SEO will come through building the entirety of your brand through a message and experiences that connect.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Check out this quote from Will Critchlow, founder of Distilled. Here. 

And yet something was wrong. Powerful content was becoming ever more effective. And yet the greatest examples of content that we were seeing at search conferences weren’t built by SEO agencies. Brands were getting a bigger and bigger advantage in search. And yet the best brand builders weren’t SEO agencies.
— Will Critchlow, Founder of Distilled

Or this message from Stephen Surman, Head of Global Digital and Social at Mead Johson Nutrition, on the confusion of digital strategy

Your company may not even need a “digital strategy.” In fact, I would go as far as saying you should throw that phrase out the window.  Digital marketing is nothing more than a collection of channels and opportunities. All of your digital marketing channels must be informed by the same overall brand message.  A message that you can use to build digital experiences that your customers love.

Bringing Creative and Media Together – The Why before the What

Fortunately, there is a new trend in the industry that I do believe is positive. More and more top agencies are bringing media and creative back together. In some cases, this is large creative firms buying smaller, upcoming digital shops. In other cases, it is two groups in the same family tree re-uniting. The point is the same. The science of digital is great and all, but the creative still builds the real winners.

Check out this post from Anush Prabhu & AdWeek on the marriage of data and creativity. 

Or this old but great statement from Procter & Gamble's global brand building officer Marc Pritchard. 

This concept may seem fairly intuitive, it may even seem like common sense to some marketers. Of course great advertising takes a certain level of emotional pull. So why do digital shops, mid-size companies, and even large enterprises try to bypass this reality?

Because great ideas aren’t easy. It’s not about having the right product positioning, or a unique differentiator. It takes the right position paired with the right message, to the right audience. It is considerably easier for a digital shop to make a sale by pitching their skills with channels like organic search & digital ads. This creates a simple relationship. Client provides general message, agency provides services backed by (hopefully) detailed analysis. Yes, I said it. Digital shops are too often taking the easy way out. However, this type of relationship rarely, if ever, creates a long-term winner.

Your typical mid-size business needs more than a “flip a lever” digital solution. These companies are too lost in the weeds of history, product, and competition. These companies need a partner that understands the importance of a unique brand experience. A partner that will focus on the brand before diving into systematic paid advertising and content creation.

Brand First, Digital Second.

The point here is pretty clear. As a marketer, you would never spend a large chunk of your advertising budget without a defined product message. So stop settling for a dull message that just kind of exists. Create your brand message, voice, and experience before you settle into spending advertising dollars.  Once this is in place, your digital initiatives have a chance to make a real impact. And your brand has a chance to be a real winner. 

 

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