Maintaining Balance: Lessons in Digital Strategy Development

Nick Winkleblack
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More often than not, businesses reach out to digital marketing companies such as ours for one reason: they want their companies to rank higher in Google search results so they are more easily found by their clients. They are typically searching for SEO services, as this has long been the buzzword used in the marketing industry as well as across the Internet.  In fact, Mad Fish Digital used to be called “Mad Fish SEO”; however, just as the Mad Fish brand has evolved, so too has SEO strategy. SEO and online marketing go hand-in-hand A truly great digital marketing strategy is holistic and integrated. Businesses shouldn’t be surprised when their discussion on search engine rankings lead to broader questions from their agency of choice. For example, the questions digital marketing agencies should be asking will concern the overall voice of a company, company goals, competitors, and profit per product. In fact, if the agency your company is interviewing is not asking these questions, it may be a sign that they do not have a complete understanding as to how digital marketing and SEO have evolved. What we have found is that once we get past search engine-specific questions, the underlying reasons most businesses reach out to digital marketing agencies such as ours are as follows:
  1. Their current digital marketing agency is not reaching their key performance indicators (KPIs), or fulfilled the promises made at the outset
  2. The in-house team is not savvy enough to navigate the world of digital
  3. Revenues have stagnated and the company is looking for new avenues and ways to position their product
The first two are easily remedied. The first with a fresh look at the overall strategy and a renewed focus on how the company and agency can best work together, and the second by hiring a data-focused digital marketing agency. The third reason is not only the most common but also potentially the most problematic. When the initial profit pursuit begins to stagnate and revenue streams dry up, digital agencies are expected to immediately alter the course of a downward trend. Of course, reputable agencies would have caught a downward trend before it became problematic by keeping close watch on performance. However, sometimes this problem lies at the very heart of the business. The most obvious example is in the case of reputation management services, where companies are willing to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to push unsavory content “down the page” in Google or other SERPS through sheer volume of content, rather than conduct an introspective assessment of their business practices as a whole. At the heart of this dysfunction lies one fundamental strategy flaw – the unbalanced approach. A strategy that focuses entirely on one thing, whether it is first page Google results, improved web traffic, or even simply “profit,” will often fail to realize its goal. Such a narrow focus can be easily undermined by competitive forces with the same profit motive. A single-minded approach restricts strategic diversity and ultimately results in businesses throwing money at a problem rather than addressing it. Businesses must have balance from the outset and that balance needs to be reflected in everything they do, whether it is operations, sales, or marketing strategy. If this is not the case, achieving sound business balance through creative marketing strategy is not possible. If a business wants to achieve a sound marketing strategy, then they must begin with a balanced approach. How do you determine if you are running a balanced business and not just focusing on “right now” priorities? There are a lot of indicators and they all require a broader look at the business as a whole. Instead of digging too far into the weeds right away, whenever Mad Fish develops a digital marketing strategy for a client, we ask them to focus on what makes them unique, and try to find ways to help them maintain consistency in that uniqueness across all of their promotional avenues. Before you consider hiring a marketing agency to solve revenue problems, be prepared to address these critical topics:
  • Find your voice – Develop a set of core values and goals and following them religiously. This will help set the tone for all marketing decisions.
  • Have an understanding of who your audience is and how your business can grow with them – There are a million ways to analyze traffic, messaging, and campaign performance. Make sure you are constantly split testing ad copy, social media articles and demographic makeup, and leveraging the data to make informed decisions. Your audience may not be who or where you think it is and it is also a moving target.
  • Define your industry – Identify the actual industry in which you operate. For example, a movie theater may consider itself an entertainment business, but it is not really in direct competition with DVDs or home videos. Instead, it is competing for people’s free time and expendable income, putting it in direct competition with places like bowling alleys, sports venues, and people’s living rooms. As a result, there has been a proliferation of beer theaters which supply drinks and more comfortable seating in order to provide the same experience as watching a movie at home.
  • Respect the competition – Some of the questions I always ask in the initial client intake process are “Who are your competitors?”, “What do you like about their marketing?”, and “What do you dislike?” The responses range from very insightful thoughts about how a competitor’s site looks and functions, to “I don’t have any competitors.” Unfortunately, there are always competitors. Even if there are no products like yours, everyone has limited time, energy, and budget, and you will always be competing at least indirectly for one of those things.
  • Identify your segment – Before entering into any engagement with an agency, it important that everyone sets what the target cost per lead and cost per acquisition is at each product level. If there is not a clear goal or set of goals with associated CPAs, there cannot be a path to success. CPA consulting and goal setting for each product line or segment is a critical aspect of digital strategy development.
The answers to each of these questions involves a discovery process that is unique to each business, and encompasses planning and research. Marketing cannot solve problems that are endemic to the business itself and an agency that approaches digital marketing in a vacuum is ultimately not doing right by its clients. It takes a combination of technical know-how and overarching business sense to be successful in the digital space. It is the responsibility of both sides, client and agency, to determine how to best develop and integrate digital strategy in a way that is effective and lasting.

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