How to create a digital marketing strategy when trends change

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I had to learn the hard way how to create a digital marketing strategy when market trends suddenly changed.

From 1999 to 2001, I was the Vice President of Marketing at WebCT, one of the first successful course management systems for higher education. During that time, I helped to:

  • Raise $25 million in December 1999 and $70 million in September 2000 through a series of private placement offerings – with Merrill Lynch acting as our exclusive financial advisor.
  • Triple the company’s installed base around the world, from 700 colleges, universities, and tertiary schools to 2,172 higher education institutions in 75 countries.
  • Launch, which at its height was visited by more than 10 million college students worldwide, making it the second most popular website for that audience, behind only Napster.

But, partway through my tenure, I was grilled by WebCT’s board of directors after I decided not to spend $2.2 million for a 30-second commercial during Super Bowl 2000. Hey, 14 other dot-com companies were going to have a spot during the “big game.” So, why weren’t we?

I defended my decision by presenting the results of a test I had conducted, which found that print ads in campus newspapers generated leads at $400 per lead, radio ads on campus stations generated leads at $40 per lead, and banner ads targeted at college students generated leads at $4 per lead. So, I “skipped” the big game because I thought that “a Super Bowl ad is the equivalent of lighting money on fire.”

A few months later, the dot-com bubble burst – and many dot-com companies that had run commercials during Super Bowl 2000, including,, and, folded. But, I never got thanked for keeping WebCT’s burn rate under control.

Instead, I had to shift from B2C to B2B marketing help deliver on a new business strategy that required WebCT to increase the price of our course management system by a factor of 10. A few months after doing that, I had to cut my budget in half and lay off 10 of the 20 people in my marketing department. And finally, I had to update my resume.

Well, that was then. What about now?

The rapid spread of the coronavirus is dramatically affecting people and businesses around the world. For example, digital ad spending in the U.S. had been growing at a double-digit rate since the Great Recession. But the pandemic has changed all that.

According to eMarketer, digital ad spending in the U.S. is forecast to:

  • Plummet 41.0% year-over-year (YoY) in the travel industry to $3.2 billion.
  • Drop 18.2% YoY in the automotive industry to $10.9 billion.
  • Decrease 9.3% YoY in the media industry to $6.3 billion.
  • Decline 6.9% YoY in the entertainment industry to $7.0 billion.

And eMarketer adds, “Search spending will decline this year, despite its focus on performance – mostly because of the travel industry’s heavy reliance on the format. Display, meanwhile, will continue to rise, buoyed by video.”

So, a lot of Marketing VPs who have been spending the lion’s share of their budgets on Google and Facebook advertising are now very interested in learning how to create a digital marketing strategy when market trends suddenly change. Fortunately, there are tools and resources available today that weren’t available 20 years ago when I sorely needed them.

And more importantly, there is also a Modern Marketing Model (M3) that fuses digital and classic marketing into one future-facing framework. Developed by Ashley Friedlein of eConsultancy, M3 defines marketing in the digital age. Unfortunately, this framework didn’t exist back in 2000.

If you mix the tools and resources below with this future-facing framework – and add a dash of Marketing Imagination – then you end up with a recipe for success. Let’s take a closer look.

How is marketing going to help deliver on our business strategy?

Defining goals is the first step in creating a digital marketing strategy and it’s the first thing to revise when market trends suddenly change. And one of the best tools to help marketing deliver on your business strategy is appropriately named “goals” in Google Analytics.

As the video below explains, a goal represents a completed activity, or conversion, that contributes to the success of your business. Macro goals should correspond to the primary objectives of your site, such as making a purchase for an ecommerce site, or submitting a contact form for a lead generation site. Micro goals should help you track other user activities that lead up to the primary conversion.

Google Analytics provides goal templates that meet most business objectives. The goal categories are Revenue, Acquisition, Inquiry, and Engagement. Use them if they meet your goals, or edit any template field before saving a goal.

When you set up a goal, you should assign a monetary amount to the conversion. Then, each time a particular goal is completed by a user, this amount will be recorded, added together, and then shown in your reports as the Goal Value.

Virtually every action a user takes can be translated into a dollar amount. For example, if your sales team can close 10% of people who sign up for a newsletter, and your average transaction is $500, then you might assign $50 (i.e. 10% of $500) as your newsletter sign-up goal value.

Avinash Kaushik, the Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google, provides another reason to assign a monetary amount even to micro conversions in a post on his Occam’s Razor blog entitled, “You Are What You Measure, So Choose Your KPIs (Incentives) Wisely!

He says, “Every micro-conversion creates economic value for your business. It engages in the awareness, consideration, comparison, purchase slow dance. It delivers higher macro-conversions (revenue!) over multiple visits by the same person by incentivizing you to behave optimally, in sync with your customers and at their speed.”

Kaushik recommends focusing on Economic Value, which is the sum of Revenue and the micro-conversions on your website.

And he concludes, “Over the long term it shifts your company from the corrosive single-session, conversion obsession … to a pan-session, way-beyond-a-one-night-stand experience that delivers higher Economic Value. Rather than just focusing on 2% success, and 98% failure, you are now focused on 100% success!”

Are we adequately aligned and capable of succeeding in this market?

Despite the traditional pressures to be product-centric or sales-oriented, most marketing VPs understand the importance of being customer-centric and market-oriented. So, they are adequately aligned to succeed even when market dynamics change rapidly.

But, many of these same VPs of marketing have difficulty making the business case for getting an adequate budget to be capable of succeeding. Why? Because they haven’t read Return on Marketing Investment by Guy R. Powell, which was published in February 2003.

Powell explained that the traditional return on investment’ (ROI) metric measured money that was “tied up” in plants and inventories for years, which is a capital expenditures or CAPEX, But, spending on marketing is typically “invested” or “risked” in the current quarter, which makes it an operational expenditure or OPEX. So, he proposed a new metric for measuring the return on marketing investment (ROMI): [Incremental Revenue Attributable to Marketing ($) * Contribution Margin (%) – Marketing Spending ($)] / Marketing Spending ($).

For example, if a company wants to generate $5 million in incremental revenue and its profit margin is 60%, then it needs to spend $1 million on digital marketing to deliver $2 on the company’s bottom line for every $1 invested in digital marketing. If it can only afford to spend $100,000 on digital marketing, then it should only expect to generate $500,000 in incremental revenue.

Once you can calculate ROMI, you’re in a much stronger position to make the business case for getting an adequate budget to be capable of succeeding in this market. If your CXOs want to generate more revenue, then you can make the business case for a bigger marketing budget. And, if your CXOs want to spend less, then you can reduce the incremental revenue that you need to generate to be successful.

Who are our customers and what are their needs and expectations?

Customer insight is always important, but it’s absolutely critical in a dynamic environment. That’s why you should use tools like Google Surveys and Google Forms to understand who your customers are as well as what they need and want today.

Google Surveys give you a cost-effective way to get valuable insights into the minds of your target audience in a fraction of the time it takes for traditional market research. Users complete survey questions in order to access high quality content around the web, and publishers get paid as their users answer the surveys.

For example, you can measure brand lift by asking up to 10 questions before and after a campaign, including:

  • “When it comes to [category], what brands come to mind?”
  • “How likely are you to consider [brand] when making your next <category> purchase?
  • “How likely are you to purchase [brand]?”
  • “How likely is it that you would recommend [brand] to a friend or colleague??

Or, Google Surveys for website satisfaction enable you to easily create surveys that ask 500 users:

  • “What is your main reason for visiting this website today?”
  • “Did you successfully complete your main reason for visiting this website today?”
  • “What, if anything, do you find frustrating or unappealing about this website?”
  •  “Overall, how satisfied are you with this website?”

Google Forms also enable you to easily create surveys and questionnaires. You can select from multiple question types, drag-and-drop to reorder questions, and customize values as easily as pasting a list.

You can embed forms on your website or sharing them via Facebook or Twitter. You can add images and videos to give people who respond a great survey experience. And you can watch responses appear in real time as well as access the raw data and analyze it with Google Sheets or other software.

Why should anyone care or take notice? What unique value are we providing?

Next, you need a brand purpose and value proposition that can change the hearts, minds, and actions of people.

The best book on this topic is Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki, which was published in January 2011. He explained, “The process of enchantment is not about manipulating people.… And when done right, it’s more powerful than traditional persuasion, influence, or marketing techniques. The goal is not merely to get what you want but to bring about a voluntary, enduring, and delightful change in other people. By enlisting their own goals and desires, by being likable and trustworthy, and by framing a cause that others can embrace, you can change hearts, minds, and actions.

I was a contributor to Enchantment and added, “Video content that can enchant people must provide intrinsic value to your viewers.” This value comes in four forms:

  • Inspiration: Tell emotional and relatable stories of personal triumph.
  • Entertainment: Make people chuckle, giggle, or laugh out loud.
  • Enlightenment: Like a documentary, change or improve society.
  • Education: Like a tutorial or how-to, leave the audience smarter.

So, the right goal is to provide a steady supply of video that is inspiring, entertaining, enlightening, or educational and that, over time, enchants people.

How does our market break down into groups and which will we go after?

To break down their market into groups, many marketers create fictional characters called “personas”. But, if you rely solely on demographics to create your personas, then you can miss significant segments of potential consumers.

Why? Because demographics rarely tell the whole story. Customer intent – what customers are looking for – is a more powerful way to segment your market and target groups you’ll go after.

For example, go to the report on Think with Google entitled, “How search enables people to create a unique path to purchase”. Scroll down and click on the Electronics tab to explore the journeys of three consumers who are shopping for a video game.

  • Sita, 34, spent 68 days and 80+ touchpoints (19 searches and 3 videos).
  • Tom, 29, spent 28 days and 550+ touchpoints (14 searches and 4 videos).
  • Shannon, 31, spent 51 days and 100+ touchpoints (10 searches, no videos).

Now, only one in three shoppers is the stereotypical gamer, who is an 18-34-year-old male. So, if you target demographically, then you’d miss two-thirds of the consumers who are expressing interest in buying the next big game.

To drive this point home, watch “What Do You Really Know About Gamers? | YouTube Advertisers.”

How will we convey our product/service and how might that differ by individual customer or segment?

If you segment customers by their intent, then positioning your product or service different ways to different groups becomes fairly straightforward. All you need to do is use a tool like Google’s Director Mix to create multiple versions of a YouTube video ad that are customized to appeal to the different interests and intent of different shoppers.

For example, when soup sales were down in Australia, Campbell’s Soup turned to Director Mix to created 1,700 variations of a single video. Users searching YouTube for “Orange is the New Black,” for example, were served ads with cheeky copy about prison food. Those searching for Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” were asked if they needed “dinner for one.”

With an average view rate of 55.43%, the “SoupTube” campaign garnered 1.67 million total views, generating a 6.9% lift in brand awareness – which is impressive for an already well-known brand like Campbell’s. The use of Director Mix reduced production costs and best of all, Campbell’s “Simply Soups” saw a 55.6% increase in sales between May and July 2016.

Watch this video to see how the campaign didn’t give users one reason to buy Campbell’s soup; it gave them thousands of reasons. while targeting specific audiences on YouTube.

What is the customer journey, how will we understand and improve it, and how will we support that with content?

Alistair Rennie and Jonny Protheroe recently published an article on Think with Google entitled, “How people decide what to buy lies in the ‘messy middle’ of the purchase journey.”

After observing several hundred hours of shopping tasks, covering 310 different journeys across 31 categories, they discovered the “messy middle” consisted of two different mental modes: exploration and evaluation.

Using Google Trends, they mapped where seven main search modifiers – “best”, “cheap”, “deals”, “difference between”, “discount codes”, “ideas”, and “reviews” – were used in the customer journey.

You can harness their strategic insights by creating different content using different modifiers.

How will we be found in the places our customers are?

To be found in all the right places requires you to go beyond buying ads on Google and Facebook. It requires you to identify other places that deserve marketing investment — not just advertising, but partnerships and outreach, guest editorials and content contributions, authentic endorsements and organic references.

Fortunately, there’s a new tool that helps you to identify the publications and people that influence your target audience. It’s called SparkToro.

Launched in April 2020, SparkToro can help you quickly and accurately identify where your audience spends time and pays attention, so your marketing efforts can be better targeted and more effective.

How will we actively get our message in front of the right people?

To actively get your message in front of the right people, you need an integrated marketing communications campaign that uses paid, earned, and owned media to promote your brand. This includes all forms of digital and traditional advertising, marketing, and PR approaches.

That’s why you and your team may need digital marketing training in one or more disciplines that are considered core to OMCP certification. This includes:

  • SEO.
  • Digital Analytics.
  • Digital Advertising (including PPC).
  • Content Marketing.
  • Digital Marketing Strategy.
  • Social Media Marketing.

You may also want training in other specialized disciplines, including:

  • Digital PR.
  • Video marketing.
  • Influencer marketing.
  • Programmatic advertising.

What data do we need to support our marketing? How do we measure and optimize performance?

Now, defining the data that you needed to track as well as the metrics that you’d use to gauge and optimize marketing performance required a degree in computer science.

But yesterday, Vidhya Srinivasan, Vice President of Measurement, Analytics, and Buying Platforms at Google, introduced “the new Google Analytics.” Called Google Analytics 4, “it has machine learning at its core to automatically surface helpful insights and gives you a complete understanding of your customers across devices and platforms.”

So, now you can rely on Google Analytics 4 even as industry changes like restrictions on cookies and identifiers create gaps in your data.

Why do we still need to add a dash of marketing imagination?

Although Google Analytics 4 can automatically alert you to significant trends in your data – like products seeing rising demand because of new customer needs – you still need a dash of marketing imagination to anticipate the future actions that your customers may take. For example, Google’s advanced machine learning models can calculate churn probability, but you still need to dream up new ways to efficiently invest in retaining customers at a time when marketing budgets are under pressure.

Google is continuing to add new predictive metrics, like the potential revenue you could earn from a particular group of customers. But, you still need to create audiences to reach higher value customers. And even if Google Analytics 4 can analyze why some customers are likely to spend more than others, you still need the experience to tell you marketing team how they can improve your results.

Nevertheless, you are in a much stronger position than I was in 2000. You have access to tools and resources that weren’t available 20 years ago. Now, all you have to do is use them to get a more complete understanding of how customers interact with your business. And, then apply your smarter insights to improve your marketing decisions and get a better ROMI.

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