Since its creation, the Internet has evolved from a nuclear resistant military communications network, via an academic knowledge-base, into a fully functional platform for global information, communications and commerce.
I recently met author James Glieck who said in his latest book The Information, “As the printing press, the telegraph, the typewriter, the telephone, the radio, the computer and the Internet prospered, each in its turn, people said, as if for the first time, that a burden had been placed upon human communication: new complexity, new detachment and a frightening excess.”
These advances have had a profound and disruptive effect on markets and marketing, and radically altered the way media is consumed, commerce is transacted and communications are facilitated.
I often characterise this as moving from ‘one market of a million’ to a ‘million markets of one’. This inversion permits different ways and new opportunities to engage with our customers, as individuals. It has changed how we might now undertake market research, new product development, channel selection, customer relationship management, advertising and marketing communications.
As all these processes undoubtedly contribute to successful marketing, how much more effective will we be when we increase two-way customer engagement and focus? Digital marketing helps us to do this.
If marketing is about ‘anticipating, identifying and satisfying customer wants and needs’, and creating products and services that ‘add value to, and are valued by customers’, we now have a far broader range of tools and techniques available to realise these goals.
Some organisations believe that Digital Marketing should be outsourced to ‘specialists’. While there are some technical aspects that may demand this approach, I believe that it is critical for all executives and managers in all organisations to understand this new field, develop winning digital strategies, and then use appropriate internal or external resources to manage their tactical implementation.
People often have concerns relating to; safety and security, relevance and ‘noise’. Let me address these.
By far the biggest worry is data privacy and protection, hacking and bullying. The reality online is the same as it has always been in the non-digital world. Just as we secure our property and premises, it is important that we adopt Best Practice online in terms of up to date anti-virus and anti-hacking software. Take sensible precautions regarding passwords and backup data regularly. Decide how detailed and how publically visible you wish your online information to be and set the access controls accordingly. All reputable sites have facilities to block and even report unwanted attention, often in far more permanent and effective ways than in the non-digital world.
Some look at the main platforms available online; Google, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and the rest, and decide that these sites have certain drawbacks - a lack of relevance, being just for younger people or the online equivalent of ‘junk-mail’. These views are largely due to a misunderstanding of their different strengths and weaknesses. Properly used as part of an integrated marketing and communications plan, they can provide substantial competitive and cost advantage. If Facebook was a country it would be the world’s third largest! Is that something we can really afford to ignore?
Problems can be caused by the enormous volumes of inconsistent and inconsequential data available online. Companies may find it hard to be heard, whilst consumers sometimes find it difficult to ‘cut through the noise’ to locate the information that they seek.
The solution requires efficient information filtering and sorting, in both directions. Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimisation techniques are now very well developed and used to make sure that companies have a usable, prominent and visible web presence. On the customer side, communications delivery channels such as social media, Blogs, Wikis and mobile platforms allow them to receive just the information that they want, in the places and at the times that they want it.
In summary, a good digital strategy, properly implemented, can be a significant source of improved customer satisfaction, differentiation and cost reduction. As Charles Darwin said “it is not the strongest that survive, nor the most intelligent, but those most adaptable to change”.
It is time that we evolved!
Peter Rees DipM FCIM FRSA MCIPR Chartered Marketer