The one element of business which embraced the digital movement from the word ‘go’ is that of marketing.

In this article I would like to explain to you why it is that in my opinion the majority of digital marketing undertaken by businesses small and large tend to fail, generating average results at best and generating an overwhelming feeling towards digital marketing that it is a waste of time and it doesn’t work, and, what you can do to ensure your digital marketing does in fact seriously work!

I recall once living in a world pre internet. Pre likes. Pre smart phones. The business landscape was different. Consumer behaviour was different. In that age we turned to the heavy physical encyclopaedia for information (do you remember the Encyclopaedia Britannica?), or simply visited the local library. As consumers we purchased mostly from physical stores, and relied on the knowledge of the sales person to help us make a buying decision. We actually carried cash. We had patience – certainly more than today’s society.

And then, in a space of a few short years we went from saying ‘wow did you see that guy had a mobile phone’ and asking ‘what is this internet thing’, to ‘acting as if our world was about to explode because we left our mobiles phones at home’ and being connected to the web virtually everywhere we go.

It also didn’t take long for a bunch of smart cookies to recognise the power of the internet to make a whole heap of cash by selling advertising, quickly turning the www into what has undoubtedly become the most powerful marketing medium on the planet.

And so it began.

Like a snowball growing bigger and gaining fast momentum down a steep mountain side, the digital marketing phenomenon took off, bringing with it a whole new industry revolving around the practice of digital marketing. Over the years since conception we have seen a plethora of digital marketing tactics develop, from humble classifieds style text based adverts to mystical SEO practices and the really cool, innovative stuff like remarketing and multi-segmented email marketing. Pushing these tactics have been the ever increasing number of digital agencies, which have rapidly sprouted all over the place, touting their wares and their expertise, beating the drum of the digital movement.

As with many things in life however, all that glitters is not gold. And so, despite the statements often made about digital marketing, the reality is that the digital marketing landscape is full of false information, false assumptions and even worse, full of unscrupulous operators ready to take the unsuspecting person for a ride.

The cause of the above stated issue is not easy to pin point. One only needs to scratch the surface to uncover software companies promoting products as if they were one click one trick solutions to the problems of the universe, despite the reality being very different. One only needs to open up their emails and read the marketing crap received from so called agencies telling them they can get them Google Page 1 rankings in a day – guaranteed. Or just have a discussion with a few digital agencies to realise that some of these companies simply recite stuff they read online but have no understanding of the implications their advice has on a real world business.

Am I being harsh? I think not – I am merely pointing out the facts.

Why Does Digital Marketing Tend to Fail?

In order to answer this question, we need to first look at where we are today in the digital marketing landscape:

  • We have a digital marketing marketplace full of agencies and people calling themselves experts, masters, and even digital marketing ninjas, and software houses touting amazing super powers for marketing use;
  • Granted, we have some phenomenally successfully businesses for whom experts, masters, ninjas and software houses have delivered excellent outcomes, however,
  • Most importantly, we have a situation where the majority of digital marketing actually fails to deliver on expectations, and often times fails to deliver anything at all. If you research this topic you will see that I am not making an off the cuff statement, this is actual reality.

So why is this? Why is it that so much digital marketing actually fails? What has happened?

Well, I think it comes down to two key points:

  1. Much of the business landscape has incorrect expectations from digital marketing based on incorrect assumptions, which leads to incorrect actions and decisions being made, and,
  2. Many business owners have been blinded by the digital marketing movement, forgetting the old saying ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’.

Expectations and Assumptions

Let’s expand on point #1. In terms of expectations and assumptions, there are many statements around digital marketing which are simply not correct, but, which many people believe to be true. Some of these include:

  1. Digital marketing produces instant results
  2. Digital marketing is instant to deploy
  3. Digital marketing is easy and anyone can do it
  4. Digital marketing is cheap
  5. Digital marketing allows the business owner to ‘set and forget’ their marketing
  6. Digital marketing is all about computers and ‘web stuff’
  7. I don’t understand computers therefore I don’t understand digital marketing
  8. Traditional business principles do not apply to digital marketing
  9. Just whack something up – that’ll do -> ok so this is more a statement – but you know what I mean – it irritates me just how much rubbish gets produced digitally by businesses without giving stuff a thought!

I’m sure you could add some more to this list!

Forgetting Basic Business Principles

Now, when it comes to point #2 and the realities of being in business, frankly, the digital marketing snowball has been so irresistible for many businesses desperate for a fast win, that many have and still keep scrambling in order to deploy digital marketing tactics without any thought given to the traditional foundational components of the business.

I’ve seen this time and again. Business owners ‘dumping’ thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands into a variety of digital marketing activities, never to see their money again. They forgot about a strategy. They forgot about how their actions impact the rest of the business. They left patience behind. They either opted to tackle digital marketing themselves or completely went hands off, turning to a ‘marketing’ agency to manage their digital marketing, many of whom themselves had incorrect assumptions and had little regard for the business beyond its marketing silo.

And so it is no surprise that, when you combine incorrect expectations and assumptions with a disregard for whole of business strategic planning, digital marketing in most cases fails. Without a clear strategy, one that is whole of business and not just marketing focused, we are simply hoping to succeed, rather than knowing how we will succeed.

The future

There is good news however. The digital marketing space is growing up. More and more business owners and smart agencies are ‘awakening’ and realising that digital marketing is powerful, but only if used as part of an overall strategic focus and if the expectations we have from digital marketing are clear and correct, free from false assumptions.

Finally we are starting to see a movement towards the digital marketing of the future, what I call Transformational Digital Marketing. Why am I using what looks to be another catch phrase I hear you say? Well, I guess I wanted to highlight the point to anyone seeing this for the first time that this take on digital marketing is a different practice, that it can be truly transformational if correctly used. In actual fact it really isn’t anything new for those of us who have been involved in business for some time, however, this style of practice has only been practiced by a few, and ignored by the majority.

From my point of view Transformational Digital Marketing isn’t a fad. It is digital marketing grown up. Put simply, Transformational Digital Marketing is this:

It is the act of developing and implementing digital marketing actions which are driven by a clear business and marketing strategy, and which takes into account not just marketing, but also the people, operational and financial needs of a business. It is a measurable process which evolves over time, driven by data led discussions in regular management meetings.

Transformational Digital Marketing uses digital tools to drive sales, to engage with customers and staff, to drive business process efficiencies and to deliver stronger financial returns. It is, in my humble view, the future of marketing.

Transformational Digital Marketing goes back to the basic principles of building a business on solid foundations, and is developed by:

  1. Understanding the business in its entirety by delving into operational, financial, HR and marketing discussions;
  2. Understanding the business goals and in some cases the personal goals of the owners/managers;
  3. Using the above gathered information to help the business build a realistic digital marketing strategy;
  4. Setting clear action items which can actually be implemented by the business given their available resources in the form of time, people and money;
  5. Using available tools to capture data;
  6. Implementing regular monthly management meetings where marketing discussions are led using real data, where action items are discussed and set, and where quick decisions turn marketing into a fluid, responsive tool which changes based on data, business needs and market needs.

The tools the we business owners and digital strategists have at our disposal today have led to the transformation of how businesses operate. These tools have also led to the blurring of lines between marketing and business processes, highlighting the need for this new practice of Transformational Digital Marketing if we want to build a truly competitive, sustainable, modern business.

So where to from here?

If you are a business owner then my advice is this: if you want your digital marketing to work effectively, then don’t get caught up in the fad, forgetting about the basic foundations of every business. Use digital marketing as a tool to help you expand and grow because DIGITAL MARKETING DOES WORK, but, do this as part of an overall business strategy, in a measured, well thought out manner.

So – if you have a business plan then dust it off, review it, update it, and start using it strategically. If you don’t have one, then invest the time and effort to develop one – it will be well worth the investment. Then, use the strategy to drive your marketing activities, making sure to monitor, measure, and make decisions each month so that your marketing becomes an ever evolving, ever refined process. Do this correctly, and YOUR DIGITAL MARKETING WILL SUCCEED.

And never forget about the following in your business activities:

  1. Provide excellent service at all times by focusing on the needs of the customer instead of your need for the dollar.
  2. Provide an excellent customer experience at all touch points (not just when a sale is made).
  3. Become an Employer of Choice and attract the best talent to work for you.
  4. Maintain a pro-active evolution of services/products to remain current, interesting and competitive.
  5. Use strategy, planning and financial monitoring to drive change and decision making processes.
  6. Be willing to try, fail, learn, try, fail, learn, try, fail, learn and so on….

Lastly, if you are a digital marketer or would like to become one, then my advice is this: do right by your clients and yourself and educate yourself on the foundation principles of business. Business owners have far more things to worry about than just marketing, and you need to be aware of these complexities if you want to truly help your clients with their marketing activities. Learn to develop strategies that work for the client you are dealing with, consider the non-marketing aspects of their business in your strategies, and learn to educate your clients so that they are better engaged with you during this exciting journey.

Of course, I am always happy to take questions and explain anything in this article in more detail. I am also happy to discuss with you how my practice of transformational digital marketing can benefit your business for the long term. Just email me or give me a call