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A newbie's guide to surviving digital

A newbie's guide to surviving digital Julie Roehm

Whether you are a digital savant or a digital dabbler, it's always good to revisit those things that remind us of what it takes to succeed in this chaotic yet exciting space. Even those of us that have been living in the digital world for almost 15 years can find value in re-asserting those traits and strategies that got us through the early years and helped us thrive through its heyday. Still, even the most seasoned veteran gets rattled every now and again, and in this economy, fear of making a misstep looms large.

So with that in mind, here are some guidelines on surviving the choppy waters of digital marketing:

Make fear your friend and beware the status quo
A few months ago, I wrote a blog on making "fear your friend". The basic premise was that we have become a society that has learned to run to the status quo and away from things that make us afraid, when instead we should learn to embrace the emotion and use it to push us forward.

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Few things can make the "seasoned" professional more fearful than keeping up with the latest technology. In truth, the "latest thing" incites both fear and excitement in many. Excitement about what is possible, fear about having to figure it out, or worse, deciding how to implement it into your media plan...and measure it...eek!

My favorite new quote on this topic is from Seth Matlins in his Ad Age article, where he said, "In marketing -- like government, education, financial reform, healthcare -- the status quo is a slow death. It is killing progress and stifling creativity and innovation. It's the competition."

Some good marketers, digital and otherwise, are actually promoting the idea of fear in their advertising for technological products. Jim Hardison, from Character Camp, wrote a blog called "The Truth in Darkness" where he spoke about the Droid campaign. "While part of the effectiveness of the Droid commercials was clearly that their dark tone created a counter note to Apple's domination of the category, there seemed to be more going on. The early Droid commercials captured a specific tension in our relationship with technology.

We're fascinated by and drawn to innovative technology, while we're simultaneously suspicious of it and fear it. That's a big part of what made the 'Terminator' movies tick. We want the power that advanced tools bring, but we recognize their potential to overwhelm, addict, or even destroy us. Technology is power, and like power, it can be used for good or ill. Rather than shying away from this tension, Verizon jumped right into the thick of it and intentionally blurred the lines between man and machine. In contrast to the iPhone's story of happy empowerment, the Droid campaign let Verizon express the attractiveness of raw power and dominance -- in all of its dark glory."

The best tips are universal
Even if you are not a bona fide techie, you can still be a successful digital marketer. And many times, the real techies are the worst marketers. In general, if you get so mired in that which makes your discipline unique, it becomes easy to forget the general truths that connect your discipline to the rest of the business equation.

To test this premise, I asked a few digital marketers in my network what advice they would give, and there are a few good ideas worth sharing. The funny thing that I think you will recognize is that most of these tips are indeed universal, which in itself is a big tip. To be a good digital marketer you have to have good habits, a good perspective, and a good understanding of how to be successful in any job.

Have a plan, man
I've heard this more than once, and while seemingly obvious, the idea of planning must be more comprehensive than the time before digital marketing. Don't think of planning as your annual plan, or your launch plan, but rather your brand plan that takes into consideration the expected as well as the unexpected. The best example of a brand that seemingly had its act together but was completely blindsided as a result of ill-preparation in the digital (social specifically) marketing arena is Toyota. We all remember the recall fiasco. Toyota is a formidable marketer that is no stranger to digital marketing, but it was not prepared for things that were out of its control. You may say that none of us can control the uncontrollable, and you would be right. But we can PLAN for the unforeseen.

Fail fast forward: Don't be afraid to fail
Ah, the fear (there is that word again!) of failure. It drives us, it haunts us, it stifles us. The fact is that if Apple had quit after the failed launches in the late 80s, we would be sad campers today. Those who fail, more often than not, are those who end up winning through perseverance and adjustment. Counterintuitive to some, but really, it makes perfect sense. You have to know how far and where to push in order to find that differentiation and really make an impact. So my advice? Fail fast forward. And if that is not specific enough, then take the word of the brilliant Seth Godin, who offers some advice. "Here are six random ideas that will help you fail better, more often, and with an inevitably positive upside:

    1. Whenever possible, take on specific projects.

    2. Make detailed promises about what success looks like and when it will occur.

    3. Engage others in your projects. If you fail, they should be involved and know that they will fail with you.

    4. Be really clear about what the true risks are. Ignore the vivid, unlikely, and ultimately non-fatal risks that take so much of our focus away.

    5. Concentrate your energy and will on the elements of the project that you have influence on, ignore external events that you can't avoid or change.

    6. When you fail (and you will) be clear about it, call it by name and outline specifically what you learned so you won't make the same mistake twice. People who blame others for failure will never be good at failing, because they've never done it.

While most things change, not everything does. Businesses are still in the business of making money, and marketing still has to deliver its part in that equation. Digital is supposed to make it easier, but our customers are changing, and the way we measure and correlate the marketing activities of our customers and our media, digital and otherwise, sometimes makes it more complex. To be successful, we must constantly evolve and not be afraid to change our thinking to adapt, but we must never change our adherence to generating results. At the end of the day, if you are not happy with the results you are getting then you should change what you are doing. So while our pathways to the customer, their behavior and interests, and our approaches and thinking should be ever-changing, just remember that the bottom line is not.

No one likes a know-it-all
Being a digital marketer is uber-cool these days. You can't open up a news link without reading about the huge demand for them along with the signing bonuses and other perks they are getting. Just remember that arrogance is the enemy. Digital marketing is enticing with its promise of short-term results and sexy applications. Still, there is much to be learned from the "old guys." I don't write this because I am old (40 is the new 30, right?), but because I remember being considered cool and hip when I was younger and more than once opening my mouth when I would have been better served to shut-up and listen. As I mentioned before, in the midst of this constant change, the song does remain the same. Knowing the latest and perhaps even best way to get things done is most effective when done in concert with the other teams, and when the efforts can be delivered through the connection of other marketing elements and mediums that can best be learned from those who were there before you.

Don't put your eggs in one basket
Digital is cool. Social is hot. Mobile is the future. We get it. Still, this does not mean that "TV is dead," or that print is ineffective. It is human nature to want to do more of the kinds of things that you are naturally good at. People with a good sense of balance tend to like participating in sports. People without a good sense of balance shy away from participating in sports like surfing and snow boarding. Yet, sometimes when all the cool kids are doing it, we decide that we must become good and therefore spend all of our time practicing until we are as good as our friends. The same is true in the work arena. But this can be highly problematic. Take for instance Pepsi's latest Refresh campaign. I recently wrote a blog on this and the overall point was that social media worked really well for their brand. The problem was that the campaign itself was about Pepsi's philanthropic efforts, not the product itself. The medium was great for generating "likes" and attention for their charitable good works, but it didn't get people to drink more Pepsi.

Their quest to show dominance in the social marketplace led them away from their past media formula that has worked so well. Pepsi seemingly (though it suggests otherwise) put all, or at least too many, eggs in that one, philanthropic, socially delivered message. Now, the brand is going back to the formula that helped make it the powerful "challenger" brand we know it to be...one that includes digital media, social media, and traditional media, with a message that includes the actual product. Digital marketers, while obviously biased to their discipline, need to be good overall strategists as well. They are as responsible, if not more responsible, for ensuring that the overall plan will work. Winning the budget allocation, or the attention, or the bragging rights for delivering the whole plan is not worth it when that plan fails simply because one group was greedy.

Overall, I would venture to say that there are few career paths as exciting or burgeoning than those in the digital marketing arena. In fact, when I asked colleagues for their ideas on the best survival tips, most said, "Survival? These guys are hot right now." But it is one thing to be hot and another to stay hot. And because there are so many people entering this space, they need to not only be digitally savvy but also business-minded to truly succeed. A hot market breeds competition, so resting on your digital laurels will not be enough in the long term.

At the end of the day, while we are all living a digital life, it is not the only life we live. To be a good marketer you have to know that. To be a great marketer, you have to act that way.

Julie Roehm is a CMO for Hire Marketing Strategy Consultant serving companies in all industries, of all sizes.

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Julie Roehm is SVP Marketing, "Chief Storyteller" at SAP. Formerly, as a Marketing Strategy Consultant she served companies in all industries, of all sizes. Her client list includes, Credit Suisse, Time Inc., BIAP, Acxiom, ad agencies, and...

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