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The digital marketer's checklist

The digital marketer's checklist Jim Nichols

We've all been there: We worked on an assignment where we had to create and deliver a digital plan that ran counter to our own best judgments. Sometimes decision makers are obsessed with certain tactics and make us "pound them to fit." Other times, people insist on vendors you don't think are the best choices.

Perhaps an even more common situation in which the metrics used to measure effectiveness for a plan have very little connection to what the program is supposed to do. Anyone who has had to report clicks for an awareness campaign knows what I am talking about here.

Such situations can be rather disheartening. Worse yet, they have our names on them. Accepting criticism for decisions you believed in that turned out to be wrong is one thing. Having to nail your trousers to a mast that you know has no sail is quite another.

But there is a way to drastically reduce the number of times this happens in our careers. By asking certain questions at the outset of an assignment, we can align the entire team to a set of smarter actions.

In other words, using questions to identify and "pre-sell" the sensible. Here are five simple questions you can use to get everyone pointed in the right direction.

What is the objective of the campaign?
Yes, bloody friggin' obvious. But when I ask teams what their biggest frustrations are, many say that all too often they must develop plans based upon confusing, contradictory, or unfocused objectives.

Real world example: How many times have you asked, "Is this about awareness, brand perceptions, or direct sales?" To be told it is all three? Obviously, all efforts have some benefit on every standard marketing dimension, but prioritizing goals is essential to drive real effectiveness.

Three objectives weighted equally is not direction, it's a punt. And it leads to crap plans that don't do anything well because they are forced to meet three different needs simultaneously.

If we force a decision on priorities, we can actually deliver results.

What digital measures align with the objective?
Note that I didn't say, "What measures and metrics are we using?" That is an entirely different question that may have nothing to do with the objective.

I think it can be really useful to go to your team meeting with a spreadsheet that lists all of the things you can measure on the left hand column and the different types of objectives across the top. Put a check in every cell where a measure offers a good indicator of changes against that objective.

For example, with direct online sales, the best measure is -- wait for it -- direct online sales tracked via site tags. Not clicks. Not time spent. Not video plays. Having the team fill in the chart as part of the discussion can be really valuable, because it makes people understand the essential connection between how we measure and what we are trying to achieve.

Now, if it turns out that regardless of the business objective the decision maker is set on a specific measure -- like clicks or sales -- we can at least discuss how the measure and the objective are at variance, and do a reality check on whether the stated objective is the true objective.

For example, one of the most common adages in digital is that "branding is important until the first reporting comes in. Then it's all about sales." I once worked on a client that had dreams about reaching and persuading a highly affluent audience. But the reality was that rich users were a nice to have, while lots of users were a need to have. If we had been real about the goal, we would have focused on performance tactics instead of purchasing a bunch of high CPM media in venues that attract a $100,000 audience. And quite frankly, we wouldn't have wasted $500,000 in the first month on ego instead of building the business.

What efforts outside of digital can we align with?
If future marketing efforts are to be digitally led, we need to lead in identifying and leveraging ways to drive more benefit from across the marketing plan. That means better understanding the scope, components, and timing of non-digital activity so that it can be reflected in what we are doing.

Silo-ization is something we yammer and wring our hands over. Let's start taking a proactive stance on the issue to demonstrate to clients and other decision makers that we are the solution, not another component of the problem. By understanding what the brand is doing, with which assets, at what times, we can align our efforts to maximum benefit.

What role should innovation play in this effort?
Chances are you already have some tactical ideas on how to meet the objectives outlined earlier in the process. Here the goal of the question is to gain agreement to how venturesome the plan should be. There are two sides to this:

Sometimes certain team members are interested in being bold in trying new strategies and tactics to deliver on brand goals. Deciding to do this ultimately requires that the team be comfortable with performance risk. That risk may be necessary; beyond the simple desire to innovate, there may be compelling reasons to be rather venturesome:

  • Perhaps the effectiveness of existing strategies and tactics has plateaued, and the brand needs to disrupt to grow.

  • Perhaps the brand is dependent on a few tactics that are volatile on the pricing front. Aggressively pursuing new tactics helps to ensure the long term success of a brand.

  • Perhaps the essence of the brand would be enhanced with more bleeding edge tactics.

Alternatively, the team may collectively decide that the need for immediate short term results is too important to risk spending significant dollars on the unproven.

There are a host of possible right decisions here. The point in asking this question is to ensure that everyone on the team is aligned with the challenge and business situation. That's important because teams may assume that they need to go with the tried and true when the brand really needs to disrupt. Alternatively, decision makers may request "out there" ideas that have no realistic chance of being acted upon. Most of this should have been clear in the objective setting that took place with question one. This question provides greater granularity on the best "hows."

Ultimately, the goal is to focus the team's efforts and creativity on things that will actually matter -- things that might actually happen. No client wants rote solutions -- they pay for out of the box thinking. And this question helps us understand what box to get out of.

How can we be smarter in this effort versus previous efforts?
This question gives everyone the opportunity to discuss ways that they see our efforts can be improved.

One approach to take is to ask people to bring forth ideas on how to be smarter in five areas:

  1. Measurement: Are there better ways to measure than what we are doing now?

  2. Vendors/partners: Are there new vendors to consider, or ways that we can derive more insight and ideas from existing partners? Etc.

  3. Creative: Are there ideas to make our creative more effective? Technologies?

  4. Ad Ops: What are the bottlenecks in our process that need to be addressed? Are we spending too long dithering so that trafficking is always rushed and ergo error prone? Etc.

  5. Analytics: Are there new tools to consider to more accurately track metrics identified in this process?


By compartmentalizing functional areas, we ensure that each of the major tasks of an effort receives team attention. Further, each of these areas has very different characteristics and requires disciplined thought toward improving performance.

I am well aware that there is no earth shattering new insight behind these five questions. The value here is in codifying a process -- to improve what we end up doing by aligning the team more fully and completely from the beginning.

A cynical person once said, "Garbage in, garbage out." When we fail to drive genuine and deep alignment across these simple dimensions, we can expect misfired efforts in a lot of cases. It can be difficult to insist on real answers to these questions. It might even be painful -- but probably less painful than trying to do jazz hands in front of bad results for the next 90 days. In our rush to create deliverables and execute, let's make sure we don't forget to ask the questions along the way that help ensure we do the right things.

Jim Nichols is senior partner at Catalyst: SF.

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Jim Nichols is VP of Marketing for Apsalar. Jim has 20+ years experience in over 80 different categories, including developing successful positioning and go-to-market plans for more than 40 adtech and martech companies. He joins Apsalar after...

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Commenter: Vijay Vasu

2011, July 31

www.gunshotdigital.com I liked the part when you talk about non - digital efforts. I tried that once - the concept was simple - send a post card to a list of subscribers. The result - 1000% increase in traffic. Thanks for great content Jim. [email protected]