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Successful digital marketing begins first and foremost with smart marketing

Digital marketing is everywhere but let’s not neglect marketing

The four marketing tasks
Digital marketers receive briefs from their in-house business teams, or if they are working for a digital marketing company, from their clients. This is often a specific requirement e.g. website development, social media marketing, running online campaigns, setting up e-commerce or other such services. In some cases, the requirement may be for a digital marketing strategy or a composite set of activities.

Either which way, the digital marketer is not involved in the marketing side of things. To better understand this, let’s begin by defining marketing, to be precise by defining marketing management, which is marketing that organizations practice. This is the art and science of identifying target markets and creating, communicating and delivering superior customer value*. Let’s call the underlined items the four marketing tasks.

Of these four tasks, digital marketers are responsible for communicating value, are partly responsible for choosing target markets and occasionally responsible for delivering value. They are rarely involved in value creation. Let’s explain this a little more.

Choosing target markets in terms of geography is the prerogative of marketers. However, digital marketing, especially online advertising, allows the targeting of audiences in terms of demographics, interests and behaviour. This is thanks to the sophistication of the ad platforms, whether Google, Meta or the others. Thus, a digital marketer can recommend innovative ways of targeting that are not possible in print, TV or other offline advertising. Hence the statement in the paragraph above: that digital marketers are partly responsible for targeting; it is a responsibility they share with their clients (marketers).

Again, in e-commerce, digital marketers can shape the user experience by building great websites. This is an example where digital marketers play a hand in delivering value. Digital marketers also play a role in setting up systems for consumer feedback as well as in studying the Web analytics across paid, organic and social media. This data can form the basis of recommendations to the client on how to improve the product offering i.e. help create value

There will be other examples of how digital marketers play a marketing role.  However, the  responsibility for marketing is widely understood to be that of the marketer. It is her organization that develops the product or service, that develops pricing and creates and runs the distribution system. It is also the marketer who acts as the guardian of the brand, managing it so that it remains strong and grows stronger.  

Further, digital marketers assume that the marketing clients knows what is the key marketing problem that needs to be addressed and have briefed them accordingly i.e. marketing objectives for digital marketing activity are well defined.

Without doing a good job of the product, price, distribution, brand management or in defining the marketing problem correctly, it is foolhardy to expect that digital marketing by itself will provide great results.

Unfortunately, many of these assumptions about what marketers must necessarily do – before commissioning digital marketing – don’t hold in practice.

Let me illustrate this with an example that we faced with a client of ours.

Case study: A retail entertainment centre
A retail entertainment client – will keep details confidential but think theme parks – with several attractions to be enjoyed in one outing, was faced with lackluster sales. They were pioneers in the business, had been around for some years and had encountered little direct competition. They had suffered due to the Covid pandemic. On resuming operations, they had to hire new staff. The company had not invested much in marketing or digital marketing in recent years. The customer purchased or topped up a prepaid card at each visit and this was debited whenever an attraction was visited by the customer.

They approached us, believing that digital advertising can help improve the sales.

The client, a INR 200 crore (USD 25 million) company, lacked a marketing team and had not invested in market research, formal or even informal. They did not know why their performance had stagnated.
Was it poor recall or awareness of the brand?
Was it due to poor communication of the location (they were in a little known area in the city)?
Was it due to poor word of mouth due to an unsatisfactory experience of previous customers?
Was it due to increased competition – a few had opened up in recent years – even though our client overall had a superior set of attractions?
Was it due to poor conversion of the walk-ins into customers (customers could walk through and buy the prepaid card only when they wanted to play) ?
Was it the due to the customers showing interest in only a few attractions and not others?    
Or was it something else?

Our own visit to their centre revealed that any or more of the above hypotheses could have been the cause of the sales issue. While our own mandate as a digital marketing company was to deploy campaigns that could address the sales issue, the advertising message would necessarily be different depending on the real cause. E.g. if customers were defecting to competition, we could choose to focus on the width and superiority of our attractions, if it was a simple matter of people not knowing where to go, we could create a custom map as part of our advertising. If it was poor word of mouth, we would spread positive buzz through social media.  

If on the other hand, walk-ins were not converting to customers, it could be due to the fact that for the most popular attractions, there was a waiting period. It could be due to poor service by the company staff present at each attraction or due to high ticket prices or something else. These root causes would need the company itself to correct the core product and service.

In view of the above knowledge gap, in addition to digital marketing services, we offered to act as  marketing advisors to the client. We asked to study the data on daily footfalls and sales. We commissioned customer surveys among the walk-ins and customers at the centre as well as telephonic surveys among past customers. We quizzed the staff as well. 

What happened thereafter is another story. Suffice to say that we found two key issues. We were then able to put digital marketing to work to address these issues. For a third issue, we found that using collateral in the form of danglers and stickers at each attraction would help. Hence, we designed these. This was a very different solution from the digital advertising we had been originally hired for.

This case is more to make the point that doing smart marketing is a pre-requisite to being successful at digital marketing. In fact, good digital marketers must be good marketers first, ask the right marketing questions and find ways to get answers to these.         
* Marketing Management, Chapter 1, 16th edition: Philip Kotler et al

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