What is digital marketing? Does digital marketing really exist? I mean… can you still imagine a marketing that does without digital tools or online activities ? In my opinion no.
There is no difference between digital marketing and “traditional” marketing, except that now the entire purchasing process can be completed online. But this is nothing more than a normal evolution.
We should call all this stuff simply… Marketing.
So why is there so much insistence on this adjective? I think it’s some kind of fear. The fear of not knowing how to handle the whole mass of tools and concepts that in recent years have flooded our lives through the mobile phone screens.
Indeed, instead of enthusiastically greeting the new technical possibilities, we ended up confusing the tools with the purposes. We filled our profession with indicators and targets as if the whole matter of marketing be solved with those tools and we forgot that even the compass and the sextants are useless if we don’t know which port we want to get to.
Nonetheless, it is true that the introduction of the digital dimension into marketing has created a real rift between the “before” and the “after”, bringing with it two very important consequences.
Marketing before and after the iPhone
The first consequence relates to how much we know about customers.
When Apple launched the iPhone back in 2007, email marketing , SEO and SEM were the most advanced frontier of marketing. Big data already existed, but we weren’t called that yet. The chains of modern distribution collected them with Loyalty programs. They weren’t sure what to do with it and therefore they kept their customers loyal with gifts collections. In the points of sale, things were a little better, because it was possible to carry out Category Management studies , tests for the introduction of new products and evaluations to optimize the purchase paths. More or less that was all.
We knew little about customers and that little we discovered with focus groups and market surveys. These studies were slow, expensive and offered generic answers, referring to the undifferentiated universe of certain categories of customers.
Then we all bought a smartphone and – without even realizing it – we started providing information about our tastes, our families, our friends, our sexual and political preferences. And again: information about the car of our dreams and the one we could afford and on the destination and duration of our holidays. While we watched Facebook and Google, they watched us and learned. They already used to to beahave like such when we connected from the computer, but the amount of data was infinitely less. We are now connected and monitored around the clock, seven days a week. We discover products online, choose them online and buy them online.
Before smartphones, it was us who gaave data to them. Since we always have one in our pocket, they take them on their own. And they do so with a consent that we grant all too easily.
The things we know about customers
Now, thanks to the large availability of data, we can better understand the Customer journey (the consumer’s purchasing process), define our Buyer Personas (ideal customers) more precisely and then imagine a process of Marketing automation with sales process engineering and lead generation. With the funnel, we design the path by which we meet our potential audience in one of the many touchpoints they attend, we attract their attention, make them a first proposal for an essay and then we raise the bar, we make them become a customer and then we build loyalty.
And that’s not all, because once the customer has provided enough data, they no longer belong to the generic cluster of individuals they resemble in gender, tastes, habits and residences. Now Facebook, Google and many others have his precise psychographic profile and make it available to marketers in varying degrees of detail.
Even if we work well with method, perhaps with a CRM system, we can capitalize on that knowledge and increase the overall value of the relationship. And do it for the duration of his and our life. We know that finding new customers is much more expensive than retaining existing ones, so we keep them loyal. After all, why not stay together “until death do us part”?
One to One Marketing
With this information we can create literally different messages and marketing initiatives for every person on the planet. This is the first consequence of digital: the era of messages and “one to many” initiatives is over. And the communications and marketing projects “One to one” began.
As we know, this matter is ethically very delicate. The risks of privacy violation and manipulation are many. The Cambridge Analytica scandals, with support for Brexit and Mr.Trump’s election confirmed this. Here we can limit ourselves to considering the positive side: greater efficiency in sending relevant messages to people who could really benefit from them.
The second, incredible, innovation introduced by digital tools in marketing is that customers can now respond to the messages we send them: communication is one-to-one, it is an interaction.
We can stop making assumptions and – instead – explicitly ask for their opinion. We can listen to specific requests and increase the level of service we provide.
This is the opportunity, never had before, to interact with the public and obtain directions for developing products and services that truly respond to market demand. Whether explicit or latent.
In this way, the concept of “Ready to Customer Order ” is spread to each category and the risk of producing goods that will remain unsold is reduced. The whole chain of Lean manufacturing finally makes sense.
Our Customers’ Voice
The customer is no longer passive either . He can exchange information about our product or service and not only with us: he is part of one or more communities, influences others and is – in turn – influenced by them. In this way, a global democracy of judgments and opinions was born. Peer ratings are as important as expert ratings, and sometimes even more, because they cover 100% of the common user experience.
Managing these relationships is certainly very complex, because the points of contact are innumerable and conversations almost always take place in public, where everyone will notice evasive or disrespectful attitudes.
In all these points of contact we must interact with coherence, uniformity of style and appropriate tone of voice. Digital increases the potential, but also the risks. Reputation builds slowly, but can be destroyed in less than a second..
The pitfalls of digital marketing
Why are these two changes produced by digital marketing tools, precise psychographic profiles and multiple interactions relevant? Because with all this information and interactions, it would be reasonable to expect better, more efficient and cheaper goods and services. Is this what’s really happening? It seems like no. Or, at least, not on a large scale.
However, something unexpected is happening: the availability of advanced technology at low cost has significantly increased the use of these tools even by those who, before, would not have had the necessary budget. The number of companies and professionals who today compete online for customers’ attention and time – always the same customers – has practically exploded.
What Is Digital Marketing? Just a way to destroy people’resilience?
The belief that we must play at all tables has led many companies and organizations, even small ones, to multiply the touchpoints in which they hope to intercept customers. So, not only do they end up being repeatedly exposed to the same messages, but this also raises management costs, as it requires to effectively monitor the “places” in which these exchanges take place.
To contain this increase, companies and organizations are induced to resort once again to technology and its automated solutions.
So as soon as you land on a site, you are attacked by a petulant bot that offers its help, the telephone operator of the company you subscribed with, responds with a system based on artificial intelligence (and maybe it does not solve the problem either) and Alexa tries to sell you ” unlimited music” subscription. These ways of interacting, however, risk aggravating the problem they would like to solve.
This informational and relational pollution ends up by lowering the threshold of attention and the reactivity to new communications. In addition, web users are starting to use countermeasures such as ad – blockers , ie applications for blocking advertising.
People react as they can: they are interested in your messages just as long as they don’t feel hunted.
Rethinking digital marketing
In addition to overload problems, there is another, even greater risk: that of putting all faith in digital tools and forgetting about the strategy.
Because even now that we know everything about our customers, now that we can decide to send a message only to male primary school teachers, with traditional families, who have three children and love albino dogs, live in a small city in the South, in a house they own… what are we talking about to them? And what do we do with their answers?
Let’s assume we have established that these are our buyer personas. It was our intuition or our tools to suggest that. Therefore the purchase intention will be high and that is a promising target.
However, important decisions remain to be taken on what to produce and where, for which customers, at what costs and with which Pricing strategy.
The Old Good Marketing
It will not be SEO, big data, Content Strategy, Click-Through Rate , interactions with a Facebook post or some other KPI to answer these questions. Nor will they help us decide whether to enter a market by evaluating the crowding rate of competitors and profit margins. Online marketing will not formulate our Value proposition or establish the ideal positioning of our brand. These decisions have to be taken before we start using Digital tools of any form. Its indicators are only useful tools for correcting the course. They do not solve the fundamental questions of which direction to take.
All these things – instead – need to be established them with a strategic marketing plan done the old way. It is that plan that, in a manner consistent with the objectives, will establish whether online activities should have a role and what it will be. Just as it always has been for any marketing operation.
Without these fundamental skills, we have something digital, but it is not marketing and we are – at best – good helmsmen, not admirals.
An Italian version of this article can be read here