Are Marketing Execs Falling Behind When it Comes to Digital?

Are marketing execs falling behind when it comes to digital?

It’s a digital horse race and marketing execs aren’t running.

Here’s an interesting post from Mark Schaefer that would indicate that perhaps marketing execs still don’t place the same level of importance on digital marketing when compared to more traditional marketing channels.

Schaefer’s post is based on a Harvard Business Review report that stated only nine companies in the Fortune 500 would be regarded as having a “highly digital” orientation.

Couple this finding with reports that digital media spending still significantly trails traditional spending and it would cause one to wonder how much importance marketing execs place on digital. And this is given the fact that digital media channels are growing much more rapidly than traditional.

A couple factors could be hindering digital growth in the marketing world: 1.) The reluctance of some execs to change and 2.) The need for a better demonstration of ROI from digital media.

I think everyone agrees that digital will move forward. The question is how quickly will it grow in the marketing world?

The Danger of Shifting Priorities

Often, it’s not the lack of aspiration that leads to mediocrity, but the expectation to excel too quickly. We live in an always on, deliver today society. While it’s certainly important to set goals, patience in achieving those goals is just as important.

Most great success stories took time to blossom. These stories were marked by hard work and determination that ultimately brought a vision to life. Periods of setbacks and advancements were common, and they’re part of all journeys to success today as well.

Temptations abound to shift priorities to new shiny objects, trends or developments that promise quick success. But continually doing that assures never really achieving much of anything. Sometimes the best thing to do is stay true to your first strategy, only commit to doing it better.

Who Defines the Brand?

Does the age of social media and connectivity spell the end of “branding?” Many people claim this is the case. In reality, it’s not true.

Social media does present some unique challenges to brands. People can complain publicly when expectations are not met. These complaints, if they persist and spread, can also damage a brand. But, brands for the most part still control their own destiny.

The best definitions and concepts related to branding often come from company CEOs. I had the chance recently to listen to some great branding wisdom from Greg Brown, CEO at Motorola Solutions, a company that’s had great success developing its brand internally and externally.

Here are some of the insights he offered:

“Brand is the image you create and the experience you deliver.”

“Implement a brand framework around a cultural identity.”

“Create a brand purpose. Is what you’re doing fitting that purpose?”

“Determine ‘how’ the brand speaks, not so much what it says. Be concise, human and imaginative.”

These aren’t comments that indicate a loss of the ability to develop a brand. Much to the contrary, developing a consistent and powerful brand is still very achievable, despite the prevalence of social media.

(Shorter) Content is King

Bigger isn’t always better. In fact, when it comes to content, shorter, bite-sized pieces are often (but not always) better. For marketers and content publishers, competition for attention and speed of information almost necessitates shorter content in many cases.

Shorter content allows more frequent publishing, which is needed when the average life of a tweet, Facebook or Google+ post is only hours.

It can also be saved and built into lengthier content pieces. Entire books have come out of a of series of blog posts. If the content is collected it can be used for any number of long-form applications.

Bite-sized content also allows fast communication. Views can be shared more immediately while news is breaking.

Passive audiences are also more likely to consume a short piece of content than a piece they fear will steal their time.

Long content pieces will always continue to have their place and importance. But with content marking, saying it as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality are becoming as important as ever.

Here are a couple excellent (but longer) posts on content brevity:

6 Reasons to Make Your Big Idea Small

What’s So New About Content Marketing?

22 Key Takeaways from the Program “New Social Media Marketing Tools and Rules”

I had the privilege of attending the Chicago American Marketing Association’s “New Social Media Marketing Tools and Rules” on Wednesday. Speakers for the program were Adam Lilly, Brand Director at Goose Island Beer Company and Nader Ali-Hassan, Associate Director, Social Media at Razorfish. It was an afternoon filled with actionable social media information, including the following key takeaways:

Adam Lilly shared:

  • Make time to connect with people on social media.
  • Generate new and fresh content; don’t say the same things over and over.
  • Social media is a destination. Participate in the conversation.
  • Enable others to talk about your brand.
  • Practice timely storytelling.
  • Social must be a commitment and ingrained in the culture of the brand.
  • Good brand social media frontline employees are good storytellers.
  • Metrics are not as important as engagement.
  • Share in a creative and meaningful way.
  • Weekly digital content meetings can help generate ideas.
  • Encourage widespread use of social media by employees.

Nader Ali-Hassan shared:

  • The story and how you tell it is important.
  • Social media is about creating and connecting.
  • People don’t want to connect to a brand, but the people behind it.
  • Think about utility: providing value to the consumer.
  • Have a consistent brand voice across platforms.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel; take advantage of the technologies that are available.
  • Think about social as a paid, earned and owned proposition.
  • Always plan ease and sharability into your content.
  • Trust your gut: If the shiny object doesn’t feel right, don’t use it.
  • Be willing to cede control of the brand to others.
  • Include social media in the overall marketing mix.

What would you add?

To Blog or Not to Blog

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for blogging, or business blogging at least.

First came the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth study that delivered these findings, among others:

  • Blogging declines for the first time among the Inc. 500.  Fifty percent of the 2010 Inc. 500 had a corporate blog, up from 45% in 2009 and 39% in 2008.  In this new 2011 study, the use of blogging dropped to 37%.  Companies in the Advertising/Marketing industry are most likely to blog while companies in Government Services and Construction make very little use of this tool. This decline mirrors a trend in other sectors as this mature tool evolves into other forms or is replaced by communication through Facebook or Twitter.
  • New tools replace older ones.  Facebook and LinkedIn lead the way. The platform most utilized by the 2011 Inc. 500 is Facebook with 74% of companies using it.  Virtually tied at 73% is the adoption of the professional network, LinkedIn.  Twenty-five and 24% respectively report that Facebook or LinkedIn is the single most effective social networking platform they use. Texting, downloadable mobile applications, and Foursquare are being utilized by 13%-15% of the 2011 Inc. 500.

The study was followed by a Digiday post by Jack Marshall that indicated creative agencies are ditching their blogs as well. Here’s the quote that sums up the gist of the post:

“Nobody reads agency blogs, and there are so many out there it’s impossible for people to keep up anyway,” said Sam Weston, director of communications at digital agency Huge. “We put ours on hiatus while we figure out what we want to do with it. We do use Facebook and Twitter. We’ve figured out what works for us there.”

Marshall’s Digiday post caught the attention (or ire) of popular bloggers Mitch Joel, Chris Brogan and Shel Holtz.

From Joel:

Here’s a dirty little secret: I hope more agencies stop blogging. I could also name some bloggers that I’d like to see stop. Why? Am I being mean? Absolutely not. I see too many agencies and bloggers struggle with their blogs. It’s both obvious and painful to watch. They wind up spending too much time writing about themselves or covering the same areas of interest that everyone else is talking about. They’re afraid to have an opinion, step into a territory that they’re uncomfortable with and – most of all – they’re afraid to go “off brand.”

From Brogan:

I’ll tell you without even having to look why nobody reads a blog: because it’s boring. Because it’s poorly written. Because it’s utterly self-referential.

Nobody has time to read junk. Why would you? There’s so much great material out there.

From Holtz:

The assertion that nobody reads agency blogs came as a surprise to Niall Cook, one of the architects of Hill & Knowlton‘s blogging initiative. Cook left H&K last year to start his own consultancy—Sociagility—but says that by the time he left, the agency’s blogs “were generating more traffic and higher search engine rankings than the corporate website.” The website, he says, cost considerably more than the few thousand dollars invested in getting the blogs up and running.

“Even today, there are way more links to blogs.hillandknowlton.com than to http://www.hillandknowlton.com or http://www.hkstrategies.com,” Cook says. His new company’s blog covers topics like why there will never be a standardized social media ROI metric. There isn’t a new-hire or we-won-an-award post to be seen.

In fact, those self-promoting blogs Marshall seems to think characterize agency efforts don’t represent the best agency blogging. Agency blogs that produce the kinds of results H&K has achieved spotlight thought leadership, not awards and new-hires. The ain’t-we-great style of blog—whether from an agency or a company—never appealed to anybody, a fact reinforced by Forrester research that dates back 3-1/2 years.

It could be, given the data from the Dartmouth study and at least the appearance of a decline in blogging among agencies, that businesses overall are coming to the conclusion that blogging isn’t for them, and that’s okay.

I’m pro blogging from a marketing standpoint and feel there can be numerous benefits to the tactic. Not every business, however, fully understands blogging and how to execute it successfully. Or, it could simply be that these businesses have found other channels that yield increased ROI and choose to focus on those. That’s perfectly fine.

The idea that businesses must blog or that blogging is some kind of silver bullet holds no truth. Blogging, like other forms of marketing requires strategy, commitment and hard work. Even then, in most cases business blogs take time to mature.

So, choose wisely. Blogging holds great promise, but should be undertaken with great care and planning. If that’s not the right approach (for your business), the marketing world has many other avenues to choose from.

What do you think? Do you feel business blogging is on the decline?

Who Should Manage Social Media for an Organization?

Since many organizations lack the resources to hire dedicated social media professionals, I see this question quite frequently. I don’t think the answer is as straightforward as some would say, but for sure there at least are several guiding principles to consider for anyone making this decision.

Internal vs. External

First and foremost, if at all possible, the best case scenario would be to have the organization’s social media channels managed internally. In the case of a small business, this might not always be an option. Time constraints or unfamiliarity with the different social platforms can seem daunting. Eventually, managing social media internally would be a great goal to set. After all, nobody knows an organization like its employees. They should be able to represent the brand with the most enthusiasm, authenticity and efficiency.

If internal management just isn’t an option, an established digital or social media agency can help. The agency selection process should be entered into with the goal of developing a long-term relationship so that the agency personnel can fully learn the business and represent it most effectively.

Marketing vs. Public Relations

If an organization has marketing and PR professionals, which group should manage social media? Many organizations have professionals that have both marketing and PR responsibilities. If so, these would be the ones to take on social media as well.

What about larger organizations with separate marketing and PR departments? Generally professionals with PR backgrounds would be better suited to manage the social media activities. Their training and experience in communicating with various publics in many different types of situations would serve the organization well in its social media communications.

Introvert vs. Extrovert

Neither one would necessarily be the “ideal” personality type. The person or people should however have a desire to be social, have an understanding of the platforms and how to use them effectively, along with a desire to be pleasant, helpful and committed to representing the organization well through social media.

Let me know what you think. Anything you would add?