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Gender, Job Drive Search Choices

Dawn Anfuso
Gender, Job Drive Search Choices Dawn Anfuso
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iProspect's recent Search Engine User Attitudes Survey indicates that knowing the characteristics of your target audience can play a significant role in determining the amount of paid search listing to include in a marketing mix.


These characteristics include:



  • Gender

  • Employment status

  • Education level

  • Frequency of Internet use

  • Years of Internet experience

For example, results show that women find paid search advertisements to be more relevant to their online queries than men do. Looking at the four largest search engines according to market share (Google, Yahoo!, AOL, and MSN), 43.1 percent of female respondents chose a paid search advertisement as the most relevant result to a sample query, compared to just 34.6 percent of men.


However, despite this finding, the results unmistakably indicate that marketers who target a predominantly female audience must focus on both paid search results and natural search results, or they will neglect 40 to 60 percent of potential online customers. Sites that target women include the highly-competitive cosmetic, home fashion, personal care and online toy markets; examples range from Avon.com to Linens ‘n Things to PotteryBarn.com.


The survey results also show that search engine users who are employed full-time find natural search results to be more relevant than users who are employed part-time or not at all. Nearly 65 percent of fully employed respondents chose a natural search result as the most relevant result to a sample query, compared to users who are employed part-time at 60.8 percent and just 55.1 percent of unemployed users.


Education level and time spent online also are factors influencing how users use search. For example, results show that 64.8 percent of college graduates found natural search results more relevant, compared to 56.2 percent of non-college graduates. And more than 65 percent of respondents who said they use the Internet four or more times a day selected a natural search result as more relevant, compared to 56.3 percent of users who identified their Internet use as being less than four times a day.


Focusing on how many years a respondent has been using the Internet, the survey showed 63.2 percent of users who have been online for more than six years chose a natural search result as more relevant. For respondents who have been online four to six years, 60.6 percent chose natural search results as being more significant as well. Only 54 percent of users who had less than three years of online experience chose a natural search result over a paid search advertisement.


“Our sense is that there is a correlation between education level, frequency of Internet use and years of Internet experience that indicates that the more savvy the Internet user, the more likely they are able to differentiate between a paid search advertisement and a natural search result,” states iProspect CEO Fredrick Marckini. “As a result, that percentage of the population that avoids advertising in general may be reluctant to click on paid search advertisements in greater numbers, regardless of their feeling about the ad’s relevance.”

Introduction
Step 1: Recognize that online video isn't "coming someday;" it's already here
Step 2: Learn from early adopters
Step 3: Forget everything you think you know about search-engine marketing
Step 4: Get creative about how to produce -- or link to -- video
Step 5: Stop thinking "static text"


Step 1:


That's why Apple, Amazon and countless others are so darned interested in movie downloads.


But the rise of online video is about more than how we choose to entertain ourselves.


User behavior and user expectations themselves are shifting to favor video over static text-- and that's where the rubber meets the road for marketers. According to market research firm eMarketer, nearly 60 percent of all internet users watch video regularly-- and that number will hit 80 percent by 2010.


Previous: Introduction          Next: Step 2

Introduction
Step 1: Recognize that online video isn't "coming someday;" it's already here
Step 2: Learn from early adopters
Step 3: Forget everything you think you know about search-engine marketing
Step 4: Get creative about how to produce -- or link to -- video
Step 5: Stop thinking "static text"


Step 2:

Marketers outside of the entertainment industry are already leveraging online video in a variety of ways:



  • Breathing new life into old television ads. Some made-for-TV-ads have morphed into their online equivalent, playing automatically before or after desired video clips. Alternatively, commercials deemed too risqué for television are now popping up on YouTube, such as Chrysler's Foldgers spoof.

  • Soliciting user-generated content. "Create your own commercial" contests are one way to cozy up to the young and tech-savvy. Although the approach can backfire, as GM famously discovered, Frito-Lay is encouraging users to create their own Super Bowl ads.

  • Making banner ads that literally say something. Red Bull recently used video banners to promote its Giants of Rio extreme sports competition, achieving full-view rates as high as 66 percent and clickthroughs just above two percent, according to rich media provider EyeWonder.

  • Letting your company's "talking heads" speak for themselves. Pulling executives out of the press release and in front of a camera is already emerging as a relatively inexpensive way any company can leverage video. That's what my company did on our About ClipBlast! page.

  • Selling product features-- as well as more products. Seeing a product in action is unquestionably more enticing than viewing a thumbnail. While e-tailers don't have video clips of their main products (yet), a harbinger of what's to come is tech-review site CNET.com's collection of video product reviews.

  • Sharing expertise with your target audience. What better way to spotlight your thought leadership -- or reduce the number of support calls -- than to present step-by-step demonstrations? Askthebuilder.com features several how-to videos, including one on how web marketers can make their own videos.


PreviousStep 1         Next: Step 3

Introduction
Step 1: Recognize that online video isn't "coming someday;" it's already here
Step 2: Learn from early adopters
Step 3: Forget everything you think you know about search-engine marketing
Step 4: Get creative about how to produce -- or link to -- video.
Step 5: Stop thinking "static text."

Step 3:

As an online marketer, you more or less expect that if you build it, (eventually) they will come. After all, sooner or later, search engines will find your clip, right? Uh, well… no.


Video search capabilities, believe it or not, are basically where Google was years ago, when web search was new. That's because standard web search relies on text to find and categorize site content. With video files, there is no text, making it harder to decipher what a video is about, who posted it and how relevant it is.


Google gets around this difficulty by requiring users to create "metadata" that describe the video before posting content to its site. "Google video search" literally means just that-- searching videos posted to Google/YouTube and nowhere else.


That approach not only makes your content difficult to find, it also makes it difficult for you to monetize your own clips. On your site, you control the branding, you own the user experience and you capture the leads. On Google and YouTube, you don't.


Fortunately, a handful of companies -- including mine, ClipBlast! -- specialize in true, internet-wide video search that not only makes it easy to find video content, but to monetize it. What that means for you, as a marketer, is that you may need to expand your concept of search to also partner with the right video-search provider.


PreviousStep 2         Next: Step 4

Introduction
Step 1: Recognize that online video isn't "coming someday;" it's already here
Step 2: Learn from early adopters
Step 3: Forget everything you think you know about search-engine marketing
Step 4: Get creative about how to produce -- or link to -- video
Step 5: Stop thinking "static text"

Step 4:

Creating high quality video can be costly, and shooting amateur video can be deadly to your brand. Fortunately, you don't have to be Steven Soderbergh (or his less auteur-like counterpart, the webcam aficionado) to give your users the video they crave.


If you can't shoot it, get your content the old-fashioned way: Link to it.


Partner with a company that can embed video search directly into your web pages, enabling you to seamlessly push relevant clips to your users.


PreviousStep 3         Next: Step 5

Introduction
Step 1: Recognize that online video isn't "coming someday;" it's already here
Step 2: Learn from early adopters
Step 3: Forget everything you think you know about search-engine marketing
Step 4: Get creative about how to produce -- or link to -- video.
Step 5: Stop thinking "static text."

Step 5:

We know, we know. You've spent 10 years figuring out how best to portray your brand on the web. The last thing you want to do is think about yet another element-- or, heaven forbid, completely rethink your site.


Here's the cold, hard truth: If you as a marketer aren't thinking about video, you're not thinking the way your customers are thinking. It's kind of like railroad tycoons who didn't invest in airlines or newspaper magnates who didn't embrace television (or, more recently, the internet).


Conclusion
Just as YouTube emerged from total obscurity to a top 10 web destination seemingly overnight, user preferences for video will force marketers to add video to the mix faster than it takes to hit "Play." Every company -- from Amazon to Ziff Davis -- will have to figure out how video fits into their web strategies. Why not get started today?


Gary Baker is president of ClipBlast!, which he founded in 2004. Read full bio.

What do inbound links say?
You want all the inbound links you can get, but what really makes the difference, according to Sean Tiner, engagement coordinator at Trinet Internet Solutions, is to make sure that the linked copy from the other website includes a term that people would naturally search for, rather than the name of your website.


Here's Tiner's example: "A cosmetics website can identify key terms, such as 'beauty products,'  'discount cosmetics,' and 'lipstick.' Then, the website can encourage outside websites, including blogs to link on these terms instead of the name of the cosmetics website. Over time, the website will start to position itself on these key terms and improve its search engine positioning."


404 Errors are something to worry about
When a user encounters a 404 error, it means they won't be able to see the content that was once housed at that location, but when a search engine finds the same error, it has no idea what to make of the valuable links that continue to point to that content. When that happens, your site won't get one ounce of credit for the link, says Daniel Riveong, head of search marketing at e-Storm International.


According to Riveong, the solution is to use 301 redirects -- something Google's Matt Cutts also recommends -- to "capture" these bad links and point the user and the search engine to the right page.


Watch your "www"
Does your site display as both YourSite.com and www.yoursite.com? The difference can be subtle to the human eye, but to a search engine, that "canonicalization" can be a death sentence, says Brad Dixon, internet marketing manager at uShip.com.


"A URL is the unique identifier to a search engine," Dixon explains. "You want to chose one way that a search engine sees your site." You should do this in two ways. First, create a Webmaster Tools account, verify your domain as instructed, and then choose whether or not you want Google to index your site using the www or not. Then implement a 301 redirect to the non-preferred URL so that it will forward that name to the preferred one.


"It's somewhat like changing your email address," Dixon says. "You are telling the search engine that Page A has "permanently moved" (301 is the code) to the other official URL."


Keep an eye on the index
You probably add new pages all the time, but how do you know if they're being indexed? According to Jay Bhatti, co-founder of Spock.com, a search engine specializing in people, the answer is to do a weekly spot check of the index.


If you enter the site "YourSite.com" in Google's search box, you can see how many pages have been indexed by the search engine. This tactic helps you tell if your pages are going unranked (something you can determine by checking the index number against your content management system statistics). But checking the index will also tell you how your pages rank in relation to each other. According to Bhatti, many people might be surprised to find that "About Us" pages and other identifiers may rank higher than other content because that's information search engines place a greater emphasis on.


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Check your ranking on multiple search engines
Yes, Google is synonymous with search, but Yahoo and Microsoft do account for a lot of raw traffic, and a sound SEO strategy must include multiple search engines, according to Quentin Muhlert, lead SEO strategist at 6S Marketing.


While Muhlert says you can check your rankings on each engine one by one, the process can be rather time consuming. Instead, he relies on tools like Authority Labs for some quick, easy, and free comparative analysis of his site's SEO profile. Another similar tool, recommended by Harry Brooks, director of search marketing at Network Solutions, is Rank Checker by SEOBook.


But no matter what third-party ranking tool you use, many SEO experts agree that those who fail to do comparative analysis on their rankings do so at their peril.


See what the search engine sees
The old rule against Flash-heavy sites is changing since Google starting working with Adobe to make graphics searchable. But search remains a text-focused medium, and that means it pays to see your page as the search engine sees it, according to Steve Gavette, managing director of the search agency Visible.


To do that, Gavette recommends looking at your site in a browser like Lynx. Or, you can click on the "cached" link in Google search for your site and then follow it to the "text-only" link, says Chris Wallace, founding partner and COO The SuperGroup.


Either way, both methods will give you better insight into what the search engine sees when it looks at your website. If you don't see anything at all in the text view, you definitely have a problem, according to Gavette. But according to Wallace, a Flash-heavy site will be just fine, provided that each page's content (Flash or otherwise) is located in a universally accessible location like an XML file.


Give each page special treatment
In most enterprises, it's important to see the forest through the trees, but when it comes to SEO, one needs to be cognizant of both. If the forest is your whole site, the trees are individual pages. But according to Ted Rooke, director of search engine marketing at Nurun, both the individual page and the whole site are equally important because you never know which will drive the user to you.


For Rooke, that means choosing your keywords wisely and then making certain that they appear on each page.


"There is no hard-and-fast rule on what the 'right' keyword density is, but a general rule for each 200-250 words of text is that each target term should be repeated two or three times," Rooke explains. "More importantly, however, is where and how you incorporate your keywords. Be sure the target term appears in the following places within the page: title tag, H1 tag (on-page header tag), and text link within the main navigation."

Title tags say a lot about you
Most sites do a good job of putting relevant keywords in the title text of a page, the trouble is many sites enter the same text over and over again, says Alex McArthur, VP of search for OrangeSoda.


"Spend a minute and look at the title tags of every page on your site and see if you have accurately described the page with your title tags," McArthur advises. "A good title tag will include the keyword you are trying to rank that page for, [but] don't forget to add your company's name [as well]."


But McArthur warns that brevity is also a virtue because many search engines -- Google among them -- will truncate your title tags after 65 characters, including spaces.


Meta matters
If you've ever wondered why some websites have a full-blown directory in the Google results and others offer only a lonely link, the answer is in the meta data, according to Angela Hill, president of the Incitrio agency.


In the example below, Coca-Cola has taken the opportunity to position itself as a worldwide beverage company. OK, that makes sense. We know what it does and what it's about. But what about other websites? 



According to Hill, marketers need to be cognizant of what story that information tells a prospective visitor to your site, and that means entering useful copy in your site's meta data that will inspire the user into actually coming to your site to hear more.


Ask about relevance everyday
If you're not asking about relevance, you're definitely failing at SEO, says The SuperGroup's Chris Wallace. "Much like a credit score, no one knows exactly how specific factors affect rankings," he adds. "But as a general rule of thumb, always ask yourself: What more can I offer the users who I want to attract? How can I be the most relevant website on a particular topic? This means an abundance of informative content, and a diversity of content that a user might be interested in. Don't just load your site down with text. Make sure to include PDFs, videos, and even links to outside resources that would be helpful for your users. Do anything you can to make your site extremely relevant and useful for a visiting user, even if that means providing links to outside resources. This will rank you higher in search engines."


Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Yes, you can use a bot


First, the good news for bots: In some cases, bots can be quite helpful.


"Bots can be an invaluable scheduling tool that lets an agency or a brand automate tasks that don't need to be run through human hands," says Justin Oh, senior digital strategist with 22squared. "But bots are just a tool, and like a lot of tools, they can easily be misused, which happens a lot in digital."


According to Andrew Cunningham, a community manager at HUGE, bots can serve a few important marketing functions. But he cautions, "Overall, bots are a means to an end. They should be used infrequently, if ever, and are more of a business tool than an effective means of social reach."



  • Bots are cheaper than people. That may not matter across the board, but some brands are understaffed.

  • The technology that allows you to post pictures and videos on Facebook and Twitter can be "finicky," so some marketers prefer to upload and test in advance and use a bot to schedule the post.

  • Bots make it easier to target a message by time zone.

When robots are left unattended


Frankly, we've all seen a robot screw-up. Those screw-ups are as common in social as hashtags and typos. But from a brand perspective, bot-related screw-ups can be a disaster, showing "extreme insensitivity or a total lack of awareness," says Cunningham.


For Cunningham, the NRA's Twitter account in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting is a good example of bots gone bad. But he says that it is just one of many examples of a bot that was preloaded with a message that turned out to be insensitive by the time it actually posted. 


Should you kill your social media bots?


Now, there's a perfectly good reason for that tweet. The message was totally innocuous and on brand when it was written and loaded into whatever bot the NRA uses. But when it posted after the shooting in Colorado, it looked like the NRA was either clueless or mean. In reality, it was probably more like careless. Because, while Cunningham says there are some good reasons for deploying bots, he's also adamant about keeping humans in the loop.


"It always makes sense to still have a set of eyes checking each post once it does go live to ensure there are no issues [such as] cancellations, change of plans, national event, etc.," says Cunningham.


But beyond adequate deployment and supervision of bots, their use raises some serious questions about the nature of social.

What your bot says about your brand


"In a lot of ways, how a brand uses a bot is a litmus test for how committed they really are to social," says Oh. 


But it's not just as simple as saying, "Brands that use bots just don't get social," because there are obviously places where brands are going to use bots effectively. It's really about whether or not the brand understands that social has changed us as consumers, and, by extension, changed the way we think about brands.


"There's been a huge reset in terms of how consumers see brands," says Kleinberg. "Consumers now have an expectation of humanity from brands."


That doesn't necessarily mean a brand needs to put specific names and faces to its social profiles -- there is, after all, a big risk that those people will leave the company eventually and take that personalized brand equity with them. But it does mean that we want a little more human touch from our brands, especially when it comes to social.


What works for one brand won't necessarily work for another brand, of course. But each brand should experiment with appointing social media spokespeople or just try striking a different, more personal tone online.


For Kleinberg, it's a little like the automated telephone menus that have become so common when you call a large company. Sure, those menus can walk you through a lot of options and provide good information, but they shouldn't be a model for how your brand communicates online, especially on platforms like Facebook and Twitter where the expectation is that everyone is -- or ought to be -- a human.


"Just be human," says Kleinberg. "I think too many brands obsess over content curation and that gets them into trouble -- whether they're using bots to post or not -- because they're not thinking about creating something that a human would actually want to see or read."


And if those brands are using a bot for a significant portion of their messaging, they're really not talking at all, says Oh. What those brands are doing is a lot more like walking into a crowded room, turning to face the corner, and shouting nonsense at regular intervals.


"Nobody wants to be carpet-bombed with clunky messages," says Oh. "That's not what I'd call being part of the conversation."

The brands that do it well


While there are a number of brands that have gotten praise for their Twitter accounts over the years, the fact of the matter is that we're currently seeing some brand categories join the conversation, while others are lagging behind.


"In general, I'd say that airlines and banks are getting pretty good about actually talking on Twitter," says Oh. "They may use bots sparingly to push out a particular message or offer, but their accounts are manned by humans who do an excellent job of reaching out to customers when the conversation warrants it."


Admittedly, a lot of that outreach is about customer service, not marketing. And it's no surprise that brands that are especially prone to customer service nightmares have gotten particularly hands on -- in a human way -- with social media. But for all brands, no matter the category, we're way past the point when they should be debating whether or not to be in the social space. The fact of the matter is, all brands are already in the social space because their customers are using social. So the only choice brands have is how they're going to engage thoughtfully via social media.


Some brand marketers talk about engagement in social, while others talk about listening. But for Kleinberg, it's about presence, which is something you can't really get from a robot.


"If we're talking about a big brand, you really do want to have a person on that Twitter account whenever you're delivering a product to your customers," Kleinberg says. 


Obviously, for airline brands that can be a 24/7 commitment. And clearly, that's not something all brands are capable of. But it all comes back to that human thing, for Kleinberg.


"The brand can set the expectation for engagement," Kleinberg says. "People understand the concept of office hours, and you can tell them when a human will be in to respond to their Tweets."


On the other hand, Kleinberg warns, if brands deploy robots on a fulltime basis, the expectation is that there's always somebody home for the brand. And that can be a really bad thing because no brand wants to be in a position of failing to meet consumer expectations.

Understand your platform


For the most part, we've talked about bots in the context of Twitter. But the truth is, bots can also be used on Facebook and several other social platforms. And while nobody I spoke with is suggesting that brands make widespread use of bots, it should be understood that the rules about using bots change slightly with the platform.


The fact that bots are a common part of the conversation on Twitter is a little surprising to Oh.


"Twitter is about one-to-one conversations," says Oh. "And it's impossible for your customer to really talk with a bot."


By contrast, Facebook does offer a little more room for brands to use bots, especially when it comes to scheduling a post.


"Bots can be really important if you just think of them as a scheduling tool for your brand's Facebook page," says Oh. "The fact is, each brand is different when it comes to scheduling the optimal time for a message, and bots allow us to both schedule and get good data on that scheduling."


Conclusion


While I've been semi-active on Twitter for several years, I can honestly say that I didn't get serious about it until 2012. I got serious about Twitter for a rather selfish reason -- promoting my novel.


I mention this, not to plug my book, but to illustrate just how important it is to really use the tools that are out there. It's one thing to poke around on Twitter for a few hours, read some articles, and maybe even talk to some experts; but it's something else entirely to use Twitter and understand it in the same way that you understand your community or neighborhood.


That's why Adam Kleinberg's tweet was so striking to me. He gave voice -- ok, text -- to a sentiment that I had felt for a while.


Even before I saw Kleinberg's tweet, my publisher had asked me why I wasn't using HootSuite to make more efficient use of the time I had allocated to promotion. The answer, quite simply, was that I felt funny about pre-loading my tweets. Sure, I could write a lot of tweets that would be relevant (possibly even effective), but it wouldn't be the same as talking with the people that make up my Twitter community. In fact, it wouldn't be talking with them at all. It would just be blasting them with my own messages that have nothing to do with the conversation. And while I have a pretty liberal follow policy, I always unfollow people and brands that outsource the conversation to their bots.


Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.



"Comic style speech bubbles collection" and "Funny robot stay with laptop" images via Shutterstock.

Not getting credit where credit is due


We've all been in the meeting where your co-worker, or even your boss, doesn't acknowledge your contribution to the project. I've been in team situations in which the leader has taken the credit for winning an account and never credits the "cold caller" for opening the door or the closer for closing the deal. Truth be told, it was the door-opener, the closer, the creative team, and the leadership.


Avoidance


I have a client I'll call Allen who was asked by the CEO of his company to welcome and support the new president. It was a difficult request, since it was the ousted president who had brought Allen into the company. But after all, he was still an employee. So, out of a sense of fair play and team loyalty, Allen wholeheartedly welcomed Sheila. After a couple of weeks he realized that his fellow co-workers were avoiding him. They no longer would come to his office for the occasional chat, there was no water cooler conversation, and basically they started treating him as an outsider. What Allen soon realized was that his co-workers were sabotaging the new president and that Allen was going to be collateral damage.

Loss of control


Losing control in the workplace is often a devastating feeling, and it erodes self-confidence. I remember one candidate I'll call Sandy who was working as the SVP of client services at a major healthcare agency. She hired a smart, strategic thinker to work on a major account. At first, the colleague was in Sandy's office on a regular basis, soaking up, as Sandy puts it, knowledge about the client, the office politics, etc. After six months, Sandy noticed that her colleague was going directly to Sandy's boss (with Sandy's ideas, usually). This person was also trying to undermine Sandy's authority with other people in the client services department. The good news with this situation was that Sandy had a very long and solid relationship with her boss. They both recognized the struggle for control of the office and approached the newbie to fix it.


Being left out of the loop


Ever walked by a conference room to see your entire team gathered for a meeting you weren't invited to attend? Sometimes, being excluded means something. It almost always does when nobody in that conference room goes out of their way to assuage your concerns afterward.

The sharp elbow game


As the workplace has become more treacherous, a new expression has emerged: being "thrown under the bus." Just a few years ago, nobody knew what this saying meant. Now, however, when people start throwing colleagues under the proverbial bus instead of defending them like professionals, le jeux sont fait! (This is a French expression meaning, essentially, "the game is on.")


People talking trash about others


If you hear your colleagues talking trash about others, most likely they are talking behind your back as well. This is the type of behavior that undermines a company's culture, damages company morale, and ultimately, interferes with the company's ability to deliver in the marketplace. Do all you can to refrain from talking negatively about colleagues at any time. There's a reason why the expression "don't shoot the messenger" is so prevalent. As often as not, the messenger gets shot.


Think about the playground in sixth grade. Remember the bully? The brainy kid? The jock? The popular kid? These and other roles persist in many workplaces. How did you manage when you were a kid? Sometimes practicing the Golden Rule is a great place to start. Stay vigilant though, because in most workplaces, that's not enough.


Erika Weinstein is president and founder of eTeam Search.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.



"Businessman suspicious with white table" image via Shutterstock.

Lack of expertise and training


Among the top factors important to success in digital marketing is having the right resources and expertise to guide strategy, as well as the staff to implement it. About 60 percent of brand marketers believe they need more help from experts to get the most out of their digital efforts, and only 27 percent of those in mid- and senior-level brand and digital marketing positions consider themselves experts.


The word used most often to describe how survey respondents feel about managing efforts in digital marketing is overwhelmed. To put some perspective around this, the pace of change and fragmentation in our industry can sometimes overwhelm even the savviest and experienced of us. There is a baseline of experience required to drive strategy and execute on specific disciplinary practices. Yet the industry changes so much and so frequently that it is impossible to know everything even in a specific subject matter area.


The top 3 marketing challenges facing brands today


The words most often used by marketers to describe how they feel about managing efforts in digital.


The complexity, rate of change, and the ability to plan and execute effectively in digital continue to be a challenge. As one senior brand manager at a Fortune 500 CPG firm said, "Let's face it -- TV is easier to do. Digital is more complicated and fragmented with a pace of change that can make your head spin."


While TV might be more expensive from a production and media buying perspective, it is far more turnkey than digital; the investment in people, skills, talent, and effort needed to develop and execute effective digital programs is often overlooked.


Only 29 percent of brand marketers surveyed feel that their companies have sufficient skills training in the realm of digital marketing, and 60 percent say they need more help from experts.


The skills required to produce effective digital campaigns are often multi-disciplinary and can require teams of a dozen or more. "Skills have a lot more to do with thinking more broadly and strategically -- while thinking tactically," said Cyrille Labourel, a senior brand manager with Johnson & Johnson. "To be successful, you have to be able to move between strategy and execution easily."


Half of all brand marketers surveyed believe that hiring internal staff members that specialize in digital is important to success, but only about a third feel that their firms are doing a good job addressing this need. Some brands are addressing this need by including digital experience in their job descriptions for brand management roles.


When hiring for digital expertise, it is advised to look for core characteristics such as the ability to cross-communicate and connect to business goals. Digital marketers must have a good marketing basis on which to build their digital expertise and a thirst for ongoing learning. Perhaps Jonathan Sullivan, digital lead for Valspar Paint, said it best when he shared, "Experts in our industry are experts at learning."


It's clear that budgets for digital marketing and media are increasing, but corresponding investments are lagging in the areas of acquiring the expertise and resources required to plan, develop, and execute effective strategies and programs. Brand marketers must start to integrate essential characteristics in their hiring practices and demonstrate the corresponding value to get the support they need.

Misaligned organizational structures and processes


Equally important to having digital expertise and resources is having the right organizational structure and processes to facilitate connections and communication across brand, marketing, and business goals.


To be successful, digital can no longer exist in a silo, in a backroom, or as an afterthought. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. And change has to come from the top.


While 62 percent of brand marketers feel that they are now getting senior leadership support for digital, only one in three think that senior leadership at their company has a clear vision for the role of digital marketing. This is greatly felt in the lack of organizational structure and process required to succeed. Brands need more active senior leadership support and focus on the role of digital marketing in their organizations. CMOs are in an ideal position to help facilitate and advance these efforts.


"There was a time when the web was its own thing -- brand managers weren't involved," said Barbara Rentschler, CMO for K'Nex Brands. "There was no integration between marketing efforts and what we were doing on the web. Over time, we have changed the organization and the way people work together so that they are integrated, high performance, self-managed teams."


Dedicated, internal digital teams that can bridge both classical and digital marketing are also a key contributor to advancing success. According to a brand manager at a Fortune 500 food manufacturer, "People are used to running traditional marketing programs. Having a digital team really helps."


These internal experts can bridge the language and skill barrier between digital marketing and brand management, helping brand managers get the most out of their agency partners and each other. "Brand managers and digital marketers are still learning what each does and how our roles can support each other," said Renee Heath, digital lead at B&G Foods. "It's a tag-team effort, and some things we work on jointly. We are all focused on where we can best apply our expertise and skills."


As content becomes integral to effective digital marketing, integration across brand management and digital becomes even more important as well. Brand managers for the most part are responsible for an increasing volume of content and messaging, in addition to their responsibilities for overall financial performance of the brand. Seventy-two percent of brand marketers believe that investment in strong digital content is important, but only 39 percent feel that their companies' efforts are "good" or "very good." To be successful, there must be true organizational support to drive the right business outcomes for brands.


Brand marketers are also calling for improved alignment and reorganization around agency selection and management. Many of those interviewed expressed frustration with agencies' lack of digital expertise or ability to hire agencies with the expertise they need. Often brand marketers are managing multiple agencies. Brand managers and digital marketers are calling for innovation in agency management and to be included in decisions regarding agency selection. Often times, these decisions are made from the top down -- by those furthest away from the existing and emerging needs of brand managers.

Ingrained legacy practices


Brand marketers are driven to figure out valid measurements, establish benchmarks, and gauge ROI returns that map meaningfully back to financial outcomes. When it comes to digital marketing, the language and the means are vastly different from what came before, and there is not a long history of proven performance, especially when you consider the pace of change.


From the perspective of the brand marketer, the fear of the unknown can be paralyzing. It's always tempting to rely on vehicles like TV, even if they are losing relevance, simply because they have sophisticated validation models. As one brand manager put it, "You never get fired for deciding to go with TV. If you make a large investment in digital and it flops, everyone notices." These legacy mentalities remain a key barrier to success with digital.


According to one senior brand manager at a Fortune 500 personal care giant, "There are so many legacy mindsets and processes from the old way of doing things that continue to persist. I'm not sure if CPG companies are still feeling safe about putting a lot of money down in the digital space because other older tools are 'more proven' because of historical marketing mix models."


Labourel with Johnson & Johnson went further to say, "Even if we know that TV doesn't have the same ROI, we don't know how much digital connects to sales. At the same time you have to be able to convince management that we need to do things differently."


There have been many industry attempts to translate digital metrics into legacy models with online ratings and GRP-type measurements with mixed results. While industry guidelines might be helpful, brand marketers must also focus on understanding the metrics that digital provides to develop their own benchmarks and ROI models that translate to their business.


According to one senior digital manager at a Fortune 500 beverage firm, "I sometimes get asked about how many GRPs digital provides, which reflects people trying to transfer old thinking to the new tools, and that just doesn't work. It's critical to be able to get into the numbers to understand what's happening and the behavior behind them. These are different metrics from what brand managers usually look at."


Conclusion


As digital rises in importance, brands need to have the right support from management. Budgets are increasing, but fragmentation, confusion, and frustration are as well. So while we might celebrate increasing digital budgets, the advancement of our industry, and acknowledgement of its importance, we still must address significant, unmet needs among brand marketers if we are to make these investments successful.


Only those organizations that recognize the needs and address them with senior-level commitment will be in a strong position to activate digital's full potential.


Are you prepared for that?


Denise Zimmerman is president and CSO of NetPlus. A special thanks goes to Finch Brands for its work on the "Finch Brands and Netplus Digital Pulse Study" that drove the insights in this article.


On Twitter? Follow Zimmerman at @dzimmerman. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


"Surviving adversity and managing risk for big business" image via Shutterstock.

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