Matt Gill
By Matt Gill
Jun 7, 2012 2:12:14 PM

Digital Is A Business Strategy Not A Marketing Tactic


Facebook is the answer to any marketing problem you have. Ever.

It is possible that some clients are beginning to believe this, given the over-reliance of agencies to propose Facebook as a component of EVERY SINGLE media plan since 2009....

Can it be that Facebook really is the silver bullet? Have we nailed it already, only 5 years into the social web? I don’t think so.

A new study released by the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council has found that a staggeringly low percentage (just 9%) of senior marketers believe that they have a ‘highly evolved digital marketing model’ - whilst 36% describe their digital marketing efforts as a ‘random’ collection of poorly integrated solutions.

This is pretty damning. Over a decade into the digital revolution and still the technology is not influencing company behaviors as it perhaps should.

It would seem that whilst the majority of corporate management teams support digital marketing investment, confusion reigns as to how to convert this enthusiasm into a coherent plan of action.

Clearly, ‘digital’ is not going to go away, with technology having an increasingly transformative effect on businesses of all shapes and sizes. It allows for closer integration of core business functions (sales, service and marketing) and provides new and innovative ways for brands to connect and interact with their customers.

Given the power of digital communications channels to change a company’s entire go-to-market approach, it is crucial that digital is treated not merely as a series of tactical executions (shiny object syndrome). Instead, it is imperative to develop a broader digital strategy for your business - a strategy that is set at board level rather than being the responsibility of individual brand managers. It is too big and too important - and potentially too expensive - to get wrong.

Grasping this importance, the first inclination of many senior marketers is to defer to their agencies for advice and guidance on how to navigate the complex world of digital communications channels. Whilst this is a natural and understandable reaction - any agency worth its salt should be providing their clients with digital expertise and thought leadership on an ongoing basis - it is also a risky strategy, given that agencies  make their money from execution within specific channels and could therefore tend towards a biased point of view.

Indeed much current agency output would appear to be ‘template based’ - transferring solutions and recommendations from one client to the next, minimizing additional workload  and maximizing income, without providing clients with the tailored strategic guidance that they really need. It is this approach that has arguably led to an over reliance by many agencies (and in turn advertisers) on a handful of key platforms and channels such Facebook which have yet to prove their true value and ROI to clients.

The cracks are starting to show, what with GM pulling their adspend from Facebook and the controversy surrounding the recent Facebook IPO. It would appear that an increasing number of advertisers are starting to realize that ‘Likes’ or ‘Follows’ are not in and of themselves a currency of marketing (or indeed business) success - and are perhaps starting to question the wisdom of the agencies who sold in these platforms as a panacea for all of their digital marketing challenges.

Our belief is that it is crucial to develop a broader strategic approach to digital communications and tools around which to organize marketing assets. To do this it is necessary to take a macro view, divorced from execution, to guarantee complete neutrality and to ensure that recommendations are developed with the best interests of the client, rather than those of the agency, at heart.

We’ve had a few very interesting client conversations this year about themacro challenges  facing large companies to embrace digital channels and tools company-wide not just as a marketing department.

This is truly a big question but need not be a complex one. In fact the solution is to create a set of principles at the top and at the centre which can be implemented globally. The tough bit is having a plan to organise the company around these principles. When some marketing leaders and their agencies are wedded to exploring innovations in digital execution it can sometimes be hard to develop a fundamental role for digital that stretches beyond marketing.

The key is to adopt agility in global communications as a core principle - Meg Whitman at HP is taking the company down this path, with a nod to Starbucks and P&G’s recent successes.

Update: A recent study into the new media capabilities of companies in the Fortune 500 has found that only 9 (!) of these companies can be considered as 'highly digital', with board members considered as experts in this channel....and these are all tech companies!