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7 obsolete digital marketing strategies

7 obsolete digital marketing strategies Kent Lewis

When I entered into the marketing world as a PR intern in 1994, digital marketing consisted of multimedia demos on CD-ROM. The World Wide Web was just starting to take off, and fax machines were preferred over email for remote communications.

Since then, the digital universe has exploded, offering marketers unprecedented opportunities to reach prospective customers. Unfortunately, many of the old dogs of digital and traditional marketing are not quick to learn new tricks.

In the following article, I will outline obsolete digital marketing strategies still in widespread use today. More importantly, I will suggest alternative approaches for each of the seven outdated techniques that are more likely to generate a positive return on investment (ROI).

Building a digital marketing department
After nearly 15 years of corporations and agencies building "digital" marketing teams, some savvy companies are realizing this is outdated thinking. In this model, companies hire "digitally savvy" marketers (aka, recent college graduates) to fill in gaps left by the traditional marketing team. The problem is that, often, neither party respects each other and, thus, collaboration is lacking.

By definition, marketing should be agnostic to media type, and so too should the strategist developing and implementing marketing campaigns. As such, companies need to conduct a skills assessment of existing marketing teams to determine who might need training or who might need to be replaced with talent that natively understands both digital and analog worlds. That doesn't mean automatically hiring recent college grads either.

While there are a host of training and consulting resources available to "teach" digital to traditional marketers, it can be just as challenging to teach traditional marketing to younger, less-experienced digital strategists. Although ensuring your marketing team is able to truly integrate digital into campaigns can be challenging, it will be a requirement for companies looking to thrive in the new millennium.

Designing a website via internal stakeholder committee
Take a look at any random corporate homepage, and you will notice they all have something in common: poor design. Too few corporate websites are actually designed with the end user in mind (prospect, customer, partner, shareholder, Google, etc.). As such, the sites lack intuitive navigation, appropriate architecture hierarchy, relevant keywords, or clear calls to action.

The primary reason for the lack of user-centered design is that most websites are built by a host of departmental managers, who have ultimate say on colors, fonts, images, and copy. The problem with committee-based design is that each representative makes decisions on their personal tastes and preferences versus those of the site's intended user.

The frustrating part is that larger companies have available resources and budget to "do it right" with focus groups, surveys, and other forms of user testing, yet rarely bother to ask or even listen when valuable feedback is provided. The most common mistake in corporate website design is failing to ensure every page of the website has a clear call to action relevant to the content, user, and your own business objectives.

Managing digital marketing campaigns to impressions, clicks, or budget forecasts
In the "Mad Men" days of yore, marketing (particularly advertising) budgets were set based on limited historic and forecasting data. More recently, budgets during the dotcom heyday were based on generating "eyeballs." Today, any marketer worth his or her salt will be managing all marketing (digital and otherwise) based on conversions and ROI.

The days of managing paid search campaigns to achieve a No. 1 position in Google, spending $50,000 a month on Yellow Page ads, or buying a 30-second Super Bowl spot, and not measuring the impact on revenue, are dead. Instead, companies should be managing paid search, print, and broadcast advertising based on conversion rates, whether it be a target cost-per-action/acquisition or relative ratio.

Paying third-party vendors to represent your brand in social media
We all know social media is the shiny new penny with marketers these days. Unfortunately, vendors have been able to exploit the opportunity by selling their "expertise" and becoming "brand advocates" out on Twitter, Facebook, and other social sites. In this scenario, social media "experts" lurk on Twitter, forums, and blogs and look for opportunities to "spread the word" about clients' products or services, not fully disclosing their relationships with the companies.

The most common excuses for outsourcing social media management include a lack of internal resources and overall proficiency with social platforms. My response: Every employee, partner, and shareholder is a potential social media evangelist. In regards to the lack of proficiency issue: Hire experienced consultants or agencies to help develop the overall strategy and provide necessary training and support. There is a big difference between getting help with strategy and having someone represent your brand when they've never purchased or used your services or even visited your offices.

Let us not forget that that social media is an inherently transparent community, and stakeholders will lash out against companies that are quick to outsource its brand. The issue is not unlike outsourcing customer support call centers, which can also damage your brand by providing a poor customer experience. Unfortunately, these experiences are then shared on social media for all to read, thereby compounding the issue.

Beyond the potential dangers of brand erosion from customer backlash, legal liability is also tremendous when outsourcing. A third party might not understand industry regulations on what can and cannot be disclosed via social media. The bottom line is that nobody knows your brand better than your employees, partners, and other advocates. Let them spread the good word, not a low-paid college graduate working from home.

Doing black hat SEO
In 10th grade, I learned the hard way that cutting corners doesn't pay off when my Spanish teacher caught me cheating on a test. Google, like my Spanish teacher, penalizes websites that fail to follow its rules. Unfortunately, large corporations are just as capable as small businesses of "cutting corners" in the world of search (and paying the price).

So how do you know if you've cut corners in Google's eyes? The first rule of thumb is to put your "end user" cap on and judge whether or not the website experience is positive. Is the content in search results relevant to the page once I click through? If not, Google might feel you are pulling a bait-and-switch.

Google has developed a detailed set of guidelines for search-friendly website design. If you follow its rules, you will be much more likely to rank for desired search terms. Bing and Yahoo operate on very similar terms: no IP-spoofing, redirects, hidden or duplicate text, etc. To boil it down, do good marketing, and Google will reward you with higher rankings.

Renting email lists
In the fall of 2001, I joined forces with two friends to form an email marketing agency, emailROI. We realized there was a tremendous demand for a reliable, yet affordable email marketing platform for small and mid-sized businesses. Those same companies also benefitted from our strategic consulting and creative design services. Unfortunately, we quickly ran into a problem: list rentals.

Some of our bigger brand clients (think world's largest retailer and one of America's largest emergency relief organizations) felt the only way they could effectively reach new audiences was through renting email lists from brokers. Even early on, we realized renting email lists was not a sound strategy, as few brokers and list owners properly groomed their lists.

Against our best wishes, these companies pushed forward with significant list buys, resulting in a large number of spam complaints. Our clients then threatened to sue the list brokers and owners for selling names of people who did not expect or want to hear messages from third parties. At that point, we adopted a company policy not to advise or provide our clients with email lists for rent or purchase.

With the understanding that building an email database in-house is still a highly effective sales and marketing strategy, how then can a company grow its list? Some of the more effective methods of building a house email list include: direct (mail) marketing, co-registration (email) with partners, contests (via social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook), and most importantly, search marketing.

Of course I'm biased toward the use of search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) directing toward key pages on your site with an email registration as a call to action. The ideal scenario is to embed an email newsletter registration into your website template (every page), followed by registration for demos, trials, and content like seminars and white papers.

Sending unsegmented or untargeted emails
Perhaps one of the most egregious but all-too-common obsolete marketing strategies still in use is the regular email blast to a house list. Most commonly occurring as monthly newsletters or weekly email promotions, far too many companies send the same email to the entire list.

Sending one email to thousands if not millions of people with varying needs and interests is an efficient way to generate unsubscribes and generally disengage prospects and customers. Although email targeting and segmentation has been available to marketers for more than a decade, too few companies make a serious effort at leveraging the capability to maximize response and conversion rates.

Spend the time to understand your email list by digging deep into the analytics and contact profiles. Consider expanding available data points by surveying your list. From there, create and target content based on the indicated preferences and demographic and psychographic information. Watch the value of each subscriber increase exponentially, with incremental effort.

In order for a business to succeed in this increasingly complicated and noisy digital world, marketers must let go of obsolete ideas and embrace the concept of continually testing evolving techniques and technologies. What worked yesterday won't necessarily work tomorrow.

Kent Lewis is president and founder of Anvil Media, a search engine marketing agency based in Portland, Ore.

On Twitter? Follow Lewis at @kentjlewis. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

With a background in integrated marketing, Lewis left a public relations agency in 1996 to start his career in search engine marketing. Since then, he’s helped grow businesses by connecting his clients with their constituents via the...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Kent Lewis

2010, November 04

Not closed! We never close!

Commenter: Gary Cunningham

2010, November 04

Are comments closed here?

Commenter: Roman Schauer

2010, October 19

I think you are spot on with these except there is still plenty of room for "digital marketing" specialties within organizations. In fact, I would say now more than ever. While companies may not choose to segregate "traditional" and "digital" specialties, the marketing landscape in digital has become much more rich and varied and you should not expect all your marketers to be experts in each area. It could even be argued that search marketing is now too broad and requires it's own group of sub-specialists. Beyond that each channel in digital has its own rules of the road which may not be compatible with the marketing objectives. While I agree that communication among multi-generational team members is critical, you still need specialists to lead the way in their areas. The non-specialists can lead in strategy.

Commenter: Nikki Piplani

2010, September 14

Hi Kent,
Good summary and some good comments here. To me, it all sounds like what's needed is a plain well, thought out integrated strategy based on feedback and data. From website design to email marketing to social media plans - if we could bring all sources together to look at the data and trends and tie them back to common business goals, it's not that hard to arrive at an integrated strategy. By doing that, we can make sure we are marching to a common goal and achieveing objectives. There is the need for specialists who understand the power and limitations of specific channels and media and then those with the skills and ability to tie all of those together in a plan.

Doing that, however, is harder to do than to go off and build plans and programs in a silo - which explains why a lot of the things you decry are still very much an established practice.


Commenter: Carter Boatner

2010, September 13

Great point about building digital marketing "teams". Oftentimes the appointees are gleaned from PR-related posts and have little in the way on ingenuity experience.

Commenter: Kent Lewis

2010, September 13

Thank you for your comments Lori & Jeff. I agree that branding metrics are certainly valid for a variety of situations. In the context of this article however, I was taking the stance that older modes of thinking will not sustain or grow a brand. Branding does not always correlate with sales, as Superbowl ads have shown us.

Jeff, good point on evolving vs. killing various marketing strategies. For the purpose of the article, I took a strong stance against a variety of outdated strategies. It doesn't mean I don't support them in theory, or that they can't work, but that they may not be as effective now as they once were. We agree though: think before you market. It's a complicated world out there and consumers are savvy and jaded as ever.

Commenter: Jeff Cannon

2010, September 13

Nice overview on where people are going wrong by sticking to the tried and true. It is not necessarily that those tools no longer work, it is that they need to be adapted to how the medium has changed overall.

No matter what moniker we try to add to it, it still sounds like evolution to me. Which means the good agencies and brands evolve,or, well, we all know what happened to the dinosaurs...

So next time you need to move your business, Think.

Think Cannon


Commenter: Lori Shecter

2010, September 13

Great article. With the exception that, for many years (at least 5) my clients demanded a ROI on their online investment While this is an important part of the mix,it important to count brand awareness as a critical success metric with digital marketing. Brand awareness hopefully translates to sales where it counts--in store or online. Just like with TV, print, radio, etc. I'm all for ROI but lets not forget the impact Brand Awareness has on purchase patterns.
Lori Shecter