11
Jun
13

Digital Marketing: Looking Back to Look Forward

As I see it, enough time has passed in the evolution of digital space for us to re-evaluate some of our earliest assumptions—starting with a thorough review of basic concepts embodied in standard terminology. Take, for example, the phrase “Web site.”

From the outset, there was plenty about Web sites to make marketers giddy. For the first time, they could give consumers a guided tour of their brand without the expense of sales training or glossy print runs.

Better yet, Web sites allowed users to be self-guided and go directly to the content they found most compelling. Next thing you know, marketers were tracking and analyzing user-paths abetted by the burgeoning growth of search engine technology.

Age of innocence.
It was the age of Click Here, when Web sites were created to produce clicks, worn as badges of honor by savvy brands who “got” the Internet. The only thing missing was a reliable, active pull.

Looking to real-world analogues, marketers turned to Web banners, hoping they’d perform as well as billboards and POP displays. Ill-conceived, Web banners endured a childhood of abuse and an adulthood of dysfunction so severe—their sizable potential was squandered in less than a decade.

Meanwhile, search engines, whose potential was realized in the late 1990s, offered only a passive pull, no matter how stealthily search rankings might be jiggered.

To the rescue came social networking. Marketers believed they could drive traffic just by reaching consumers in their virtual hometowns. Soon, “Join us on Facebook” was seen as the universal solvent. So, in addition to Web sites few people visited, marketers created Facebook pages few interacted with.

The result is stagnation, evident in today’s flat, boxy, affectless digital landscape.

Age of “standards.”
It’s this result that should motivate us to rethink the way we plan, create and build a Web site—abandoning the standard, sequential process:

  • Map an information architecture
  • Flesh it out with “creative”
  • Fill it up with “content”
  • Stud it with promotions
  • Clone it onto social sites

…in favor of an organic co-development of your brand’s digital presence. In this paradigm everything that’s now conceived as an add-on feature designed to give the campaign legs would be carefully melded into a seamless entity. Not with a superficial carryover of look and feel, but with a coherent thought process that gets beyond “click.”

Now, one obstacle to this approach is the scatter shot way many brands divide their agency assignments—one agency for Web design, another for SEO, a third for social media marketing, another for banners, and a fifth for content distribution, under the guise of media placement.

Add to that the mechanical adoption of general advertising motifs developed by a sixth agency and the tango of tangled authorities requires the patience of a Bodhisattva to sort out.

Age of organic growth.
But assuming leadership trumps niggling politics, you’d work from the premise that a Web site is not a thing, but an organism. The home page? Merely, by analogy, the face of a complex, fascinating creature.

From this perspective it would be unthinkable to launch a Web site and then “socialize it” months later. Before authorizing a single pixel of stock art you’d need to work out interlaced strategies to:

  • Drive traffic
  • Create social interaction
  • Syndicate content to sites users frequent

…and understand how these components must influence site content. That’s “content” in the broadest sense, including a comprehensive editorial calendar for rolling out new material and repackaging it for syndication. The result would be a circulatory system for your digital presence to clarify, unify and strengthen your message to consumers.

Bear this in mind, however: Each environment your message appears in requires special handling.

If, for example, the attraction of social space is the infinitely renewable connections it creates, it only makes sense that content cloned from other media, including a “strong call to action,” will not be effective.

You need instead to create content idiomatic to social space—in which you tell, not sell, your story and invite comment. Similarly, content you distribute must match its surroundings. The solution lies in allowing your work to grow organically from a unified thought process with specific goals and specific benchmarks for success. The result is dynamic, lively, human communication.

Why does this matter? Because the first of your competitors to get this right will have the privilege of eating your brand for lunch. A digital presence truly responsive to consumers, engaging them successfully through multiple pathways and always—always—delivering fresh value? That, my friend, is the path to your door


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY

m.laporta@verizon.net
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