Do Your Consumers Care About Your Digital Marketing? (Really, Really Care)

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This week marks the annual pilgrimage to Social Media Marketing World in San Diego.

Personally, I have been attending this event for many years. I’ve had the pleasure or speaking, presenting, mentoring, teaching and even networking there. For some, it’s more like summer camp than a conference. For others, it’s a vital part of the year to get a brand’s digital marketing stack in order. Social media, content marketing and native advertising all intersect for these few days right off the pacific coast. And, as the years go by, the appetite to better understand how to connect with consumers through social media has not dwindled. Many prefer to use terms like “content marketing” now over “social media,” and many are there to figure out how to make their efforts more effective, and to see which technologies might help them to better automate the process.

It’s hard not to feel old.

Before there was this world of social media and right before blogging took hold (early 2000s), I had been tinkering with desktop publishing and digital media. Back then, you could feel the pending wave of publishing, content and connectivity about to collide for brands. It’s amazing to see how far things have come. It is a veritable industry unto itself within the marketing industry. On one hand, I take tremendous personal pride in being right about how things evolved. On the other hand, I still believe that so few brands are able to truly understand what social media and content marketing can do to build a brand for the future. Instead, many brands have both invested in technology to evolve their marketing, while at the same time they have relegated their social media activity to content that feels more like advertising (than anything else). As Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and the others continue to fight for supremacy, brands are stuck in a pay-to-play model that looks, feels, acts and smells like just any another paid media channel. Sadly.

Is this a brand strategy or execution challenge?

This is a question that the CMO of a multi-national brand asked me the other day. It gave me pause. Is there a universal truth as to why so many brands have tried to be engaging in social media and failed? Why have so many brands built out their own publishing platform, and yet the results have been mixed (at best)? Maybe it was fortuitous that MediaPost published the article, CMOs Plagued With Widening Gap Between Strategy, Execution, the other day? From the news item:

“Only 7% of more than 250 marketers surveyed are able to deliver real-time, data-driven engagements across both physical and digital touchpoints… Only 5% are able to see the bottom-line impact of engagements in real time, primarily due to the current processes requiring manual transport of data and intelligence from disconnected systems… companies have willingly adopted a number of new technologies, and the marketing technology stack has continued to grow. In the past five years, 42% of marketers have installed more than 10 individual solutions across marketing, data, analytics or customer engagement technologies, and 9% have brought on more than 20 individual tools or solutions. During that same time, marketers have gone through numerous rounds of ‘rip and replace,’ with 44% of marketers indicating that they have spent more than 25% of their marketing budgets to replace existing technologies. And despite the implementation and discarding of various data and customer experience solutions, only 3% of marketers believe they are totally connected and aligned across all systems, with data, metrics and insights flowing seamlessly across all technology platforms.”

Ouch, marketers… ouch!

There is way too much posturing going on in marketing today. Brands are attending marketing automation, cloud computing and artificial intelligence symposiums and showering audiences with PowerPoint slides that would make the owners of Westworld proud, but there is a bottom line… and it’s not pretty. Using technology and spending on it, without knowing how it hits the consumers – and their pockets – is problematic (and that’s being kind). Marketers want digital marketing to work, but there is a problem of pace. Marketing technology, marketing automation, social media, content marketing and whatever else is being dumped into this marketing stack is not advertising. We know this philosophically, but do we understand it tactically?

Advertising is direct response. Everything else is (pretty) different.

The promise of digital marketing is real. The ability for it to help, improve and be there as a better brand support mechanism than advertising is real. Still, none of that matters if the brand’s consumers don’t care. If consumers aren’t buying more and/or if they’re not being brand loyal, what is this all of this technological and content infrastructure for? Consumers will not stand up and applaud a brand’s valiant effort to build a Snapchat following. If Snapchat works for a brand, it will look, feel and act almost invisible to the consumer. It won’t be as overt (and direct) as a snappy ad campaign. On top of that, I don’t think a brand has ever met a consumer who has been thrilled that they replaced an antiquated email marketing platform with a cloud-based marketing automation solution. The results of that transformation are felt only on the bottom line (and are probably impossible for a consumer to acknowledge). If you couple that thinking with the MediaPost post report above, we’re seeing something very clear: a massive fail rate between the brand’s technology transformation, the strategy on how to use it, the execution of the work and the end result on the company’s bottom line. Remember the old advertising adage: “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is that I don’t know which half?” Well…

We now know our marketing works about 3% – 7% of the time… and that ain’t pretty.