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How Digital Success Relates to Business Success

How Digital Success Relates to Business Success Greg Kihlström
You know what you are doing with your social media marketing. I know you know what you are doing. Even though the senior management at your organization knows you know what you are doing, too, there is often a disconnect between the way a digital marketer talks about success and the way the board views the success of the business.

The goal of this article is to make your job a little easier by helping you frame your digital marketing successes in a way that even the most skeptical CFO would want to support you.
First, a disclaimer: this is not to say in any way that senior executives don’t get new trends or digital marketing. Remember how GM’s Bob Lutz was a trailblazer in corporate blogging way back in 2004? Or what Tony Hsieh of Zappo’s is doing on Twitter? Though for every Bob Lutz or Tony Hsieh, there are those that do not inherently understand the value of your digital marketing. For instance, unless you are calculating the value of a Facebook fan, sometimes saying you got a large percent increase in fans from one quarter to another is not enough to illustrate your marketing accomplishments. The problem is in the presentation, not necessarily in the execution. Learning how to explain things in a similar language to what a top exec would evaluate tactics in will go a long way and will help you highlight your success in an effective manner.

Let's start with defining what is truly important to the success of any business. It can be boiled down to three things:

  • Increase revenue

  • Decrease costs

  • Increase customer satisfaction

It is actually pretty simple. There may be a lot of other things that your business does and goals it is working to achieve, but at the end of the day, if what the different parts of the company are doing are not contributing to one (or more) of the above, the business will not grow and succeed. If you view all of your activity through these three lenses, how would your current efforts change? If you were asked to relate each of the metrics you currently report on to one of these, could you easily do so?

My guess is that the majority of people out there would answer the latter question with "absolutely yes" with some of the metrics, "yes, with some effort" for others, and "not without analysis tools I don't have access to and/or a Ph.D in mathematics" for the rest.

So what is a marketer to do? My first suggestion would be to go back through that list and relate the ones you can, modifying your internal reports to reflect these relationships.

Second, go back through your list of Web and social media properties and digital marketing tactics to determine what is effectively achieving one or more of those three goals. Then think about which are not. How would you justify their existence in a world where only revenue, cost savings and customer satisfaction are key? Let me add a caveat here: I recently wrote an article discussing the challenge of being distracted from your overall goals by individual tactics. When you are reviewing your tactics, do not attempt to reverse engineer your digital strategy to account for them, but instead be willing to let go of the ones that simply do not have a strong business case.

Finally, what could you easily modify, add to, or remove from your current efforts to better achieve one or more of the three primary business goals? After going through your checklist, go back through the metrics that were not so easy to relate to and take them one step further to see if that helps.

Let's take Twitter followers for instance. You could relate Twitter followers to a sale as long as you can track them by username or by their trail to the conversion page on your site. Even if you cannot do this (or your organization lacks the analytics sophistication necessary to do this), think about the other two objectives (decreasing cost, increasing customer satisfaction). Does your Twitter account also serve as a point of customer service? If so, it could be fairly simple to calculate the cost savings a public Twitter customer service portal provides versus other methods. Even if that calculation is difficult, the estimated number of people helped by your interactions is a great benefit to increasing customer satisfaction. Hopefully you see where I am going with this and can already see how to apply this to what you are doing. The goal is to focus on what is meaningful to the business and to report on how it is meaningful.

Beyond relating your performance to the three key objectives, make sure you can stand behind the numbers you report with full confidence. The same applies with website metrics. Website visits seem like a pretty good KPI (key performance indicator), right? But what if the New York Times comes out with a terrible piece on your organization this week that drives a ton of traffic to your site? Unless you wholeheartedly subscribe to the mantra 'any press is good press,' all of that extra traffic this month could hardly be considered a positive.

While that may be an extreme example, there are two key points here:

  1. Tie your metrics to a conversion with a specific target audience. You cannot go wrong if you are able to do this.

  2. Make sure the numbers you report are examples of true success. In the negative press example above, it could be tempting (in less extreme cases) to gloss over the details of why exactly there was a boost in Web traffic that month and just claim a successful month for the website and related marketing efforts. However, it may not be an intentional oversight at all – you simply might not have the tracking and reporting in place to detect subtle changes in who is visiting your site and how.

Trust me though. You will have plenty of opportunities to report success. Make sure the numbers you report are both bullet proof in their validity and directly tied to the three key business goals. You will have a lot more success in your efforts to demonstrate the effectiveness of your digital marketing programs, and the results you get will be even more closely aligned with the core objectives of your organization.

Greg is a digital strategist and creative director who has worked with top brands on a number of campaigns, including AOL, AARP, Ben & Jerry's, Geico Direct, MTV, Starbucks, The Nature Conservancy, Toyota, TV One and Washington Wizards.

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