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7 ideas to drastically improve your digital marketing

7 ideas to drastically improve your digital marketing Kent Lewis
Now that you've committed to (and given up on) your New Year's resolutions, it's time to get down to work. While many marketers completed strategic planning for this year back in 2013, too many of us have procrastinated and are now thinking seriously about what we will need to improve to have a successful 2014. For those of you who've waited, I've created a short list of ideas that will drastically improve your digital marketing success in 2014 and beyond.

7 ideas to drastically improve your digital marketing

Get a fresh start

Far too often, we marketers tend to "roll-over" our marketing plans from year-to-year. We rarely take the time to step back to get a fresh perspective. Unless you tend to rebuild your digital marketing programs from the ground up annually, you may want to think about a clean slate for 2014. It's never too late to take your marketing team out of the office for an offsite strategic planning session. Stepping back and taking a new look from a different perspective and encouraging input from new sources can open up a new world.

Combined with evolving trends, tools, and behaviors, digital marketing is a moving target. What's worked in the past may not work moving forward. Strategies you've dropped recently may be worth revisiting as well. I recommend starting with a comprehensive audit of your digital marketing strategies (metrics and goals), overall online presence, and competitive benchmarking to determine where you are, where you've made progress, and where you're falling short. When in doubt, don't rely on third party research or "experts." Test new theories yourself. I recommend allocating 20 percent of your digital marketing budget for testing.

Particularly hot areas to evaluate include improved data and market segmentation and evolving digital advertising options. In terms of segmentation, break down your database and markets into personas and develop personalized messaging and calls-to-action that resonate with each market sector. On the advertising front, tools, formats, and inventory are constantly evolving and overall spending is increasing. The larger search and social networks have vastly improved and expanded advertising options, providing more ways to take your money. On a related note, if you're not increasing your spend this year, you may be losing ground to competitors.

Explore new roles

Along with taking a fresh look at digital marketing strategies and tactics for 2014 and beyond, consider adding new people. How can you be successful in an ever-changing digital marketing landscape utilizing the same individuals and job descriptions? Your team must evolve with the marketplace. Here are a few new roles to consider, particularly if you are a larger organization with a strong brand presence:

  • Chief storyteller: One of the recent trends in digital marketing is the concept of "storytelling." Rather than relegate the responsibility to your PR, search, or social team, why not hire a professional storyteller to ensure your marketing messages are framed within the storytelling framework, are consistently communicated, and reflect your brand and culture? This person may have a Master's in English, originate from the ad or film industry, or generally be a gifted marketing professional. All that matters is that they are the keeper of the stories for your brand.

  • Content curator: With the rising interest in content marketing, information is being created at a record pace. With so much content being created by so many different people in so many different locations, who are responsible for collecting, organizing, integrating, and measurement for your organization? Someone with a comfort level or experience with content curation is an essential role moving forward. Think retired librarian or even a financial analyst for the role. Anyone comfortable organizing content and making it easily accessible is ideal. Related statistic: Customer testimonials have the highest effectiveness rating for all types of content marketing, with a rating of 89 percent. Who's managing your customer testimonials?

  • Data evangelist: Data are being generated at every turn in the digital world, from website analytics and social media to sales and marketing automation. Unfortunately, all of this information is being collected by different teams and platforms and is not likely being shared or managed consistently. The data evangelist is responsible for ensuring all departments are talking to each other and leveraging the data for greater insight. Hire yourself one today, if you're serious about leveraging data to move your business forward.

  • Customer service marketing liaison: The line between marketing and customer service has been blurred, particularly in social media. While customer service representatives often have the ideal mindset for customer interactions in social media, they may not have the experience or sophistication of marketers when it comes to being power users of social platforms and tools. Ensure both departments benefit from close interaction and collaboration of a marketing liaison. This person will be able to speak the language of both customer service representatives and marketers alike and understand how both can work together to be more effective.

  • Social media marketing evangelist: I've described this role in previous articles, but in essence, this role is more strategic than a typical social media manager. If you haven't upgraded or otherwise retooled your social media team, consider this role and the impact of being able to leverage the horsepower of your entire organization to move the needle in social media.

Get deep, immersive, and personalized with content

I've been saying for years, as have other digital marketers, that content is king. In 2014 and beyond, content will take on new forms, meaning, and impact on marketing. In terms of deep content, Google's Hummingbird algorithm update rewards deep content with improvements in semantic search. You no longer have to worry about burying your highly technical or detailed content deeper in your website architecture. Google will find and elevate it in search with a focus on contextual relevance.

Converse to deep content; be sure to make all information useful to prospects widely available and accessible. Balance the need to create value in the marketing automation process (lead forms) with the reality that prospects are one click away from finding what they want somewhere else. Break down the walls and you may see the benefits immediately.

Beyond deep and accessible content, Google also loves multi-media content. Businesses and publishers that have been using images, video, and audio in conjunction with text on their websites, blogs, and social profiles have been rewarded with increased visibility and engagement. Fun fact: Social posts receive 94 percent more attention when multi-media is utilized. On a related note, consumers (and Google) appreciate real-time content and interactions. Consider increasing the amount of live engagements with website visitors, including click-to-call, chat, and live webinars in 2014.

One compelling statistic you may have seen recently sets the stage for 2014 digital marketing: Seventy-eight percent of CMOs believe custom content is the future of marketing. While creating custom content takes a significant investment, the rewards can be compelling. A key component of custom content is personalization (targeting), which will become more mainstream as tools become more affordable and companies see the ROI first-hand. What level of personalization are you utilizing in your email, search, and social marketing?

Go SoLoMo

For those of you not "jiggy" with it, "Go SoLoMo" stands for go social, local, and mobile. Many marketers would say they are already "there," but I beg to differ. Fun fact: Ninety-three percent of marketers already say they use social media for business. While that may be true, using and truly maximizing are two different levels of engagement, and you need to know where you are on that spectrum.

In 2014, look for a more balanced social media program. From general awareness and content creation to engagement and conversion, ensure you have thoroughly tested and committed to the big six platforms: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+. Don't forget to evaluate other evolving platforms, including Instagram, Vine, iTunes, Foursquare, and SnapChat, to maximize reach. Ensure your social profiles are properly integrated into your website, blog, and email communications. Social sharing drives the web, as well as influences rankings.

As social adoption and usage evolves, it is critical that your company create and maintain a unique voice and tone that is relevant to your brand and customers. Equally important in 2014 and beyond is the ability to engage in real-time and bringing context to conversations. A recent example is Arby's witty reaction to Pharrell's bizarre hat at the Grammy Awards.

In terms of going local, 91 percent of U.S. adults have their mobile device within arm's reach. What are you doing to take advantage of the new reality of mobile consumption and targeting capabilities? Don't forget to claim, optimize, and manage your local listings, particularly if you are a multi-location consumer retail business. Keeping an eye on reviews is essential for hospitality businesses where decisions are made on the fly and on foot.

Double-down on digital advertising

As much as my background in PR and SEO biased me toward "earned" and "owned" media, "paid" has its place. Now more than ever, that place is front and center in the world of digital. While all research points to bigger investments in digital advertising by marketers in 2014, there are hurdles to achieving maximum return that require creativity to overcome.

Fun facts: Fifty-four percent of online ads are not seen by their intended audience, and 50 percent of web ads go entirely unseen. There is hope, however. As 4G speed becomes readily available across mobile networks, video is becoming more viable as an advertising medium. That being said, a trend in video advertising is that it will be more contextual than personal in 2014 and beyond. That means you have to look at ad buys more strategically than ever before.

In terms of general creativity in advertising, I've personally been impressed with noise-cutting innovative advertising from Dodge, Pepsi, and Old Spice. Dodge partnered with Will Farrell on a series of Dodge Durango ads that boosted visibility for the movie and SUV sales. The recent Pepsi halftime ad was not during the Super Bowl, but rather for the Grammys. Old Spice is back with a series of internet-based products that men shouldn't buy, and require an "Internetervention." What creative ways will you use to cut through the noise in 2014?

Embrace technology and big data

While I've been pleased the "big data" buzz has subsided somewhat, the reality is only now sinking in for marketers. The reality is that all companies and marketing efforts create data. The question is what are you doing to leverage that data to create actionable insights that drive your digital marketing in 2014 and beyond? Industry pundits recently spoke up about their thoughts on big data and technology moving forward:

  • "The biggest disruptor that we're sure about is the arrival of big data and machine intelligence everywhere. The ability to find people, to talk specifically to them, to judge them, to rank what they're doing, to decide what to do with your products... [it] changes every business globally." -- Eric Schmidt, Chairman, Google

  • "Marketers will start contextualizing their data, drawing even richer insights, and using those insights to create not just more relevant, but personalized campaigns and experiences. In short, 2014 will be the year that marketers begin to turn big data into smart data." -- Melissa Parrish, Principal Analyst, Forrester

  • "The ad tech community would have to move beyond the cookie to evolve in the multi-device, web vs. app, iOS vs. Android world." -- Adam Berke, President, AdRoll

In terms of understanding the marketing technology landscape, Chiefmartec put together a comprehensive "supergraphic" to print out for your boardroom wall. WebDAM also assembled an infographic worth a look that highlights "20 Marketing Statistics that Will Influence Decisions in 2014."  Bottom line: Your understanding of the marketing technology landscape and how key players can help you leverage big data will determine your success in 2014.

Cross your channels and dot your eyes

The holy grail of measurement is the ability to understand how various marketing channels (online and offline) impact your business. Cross-channel analytics has seen significant growth the past few years, but medium and small businesses still lack the sophistication to understand which half of their marketing investment is working. The good news is that the technology continues to become more affordable and powerful, offering better measurement than ever before.

Even without robust multi-touch attribution measurement or predictive analytics in place, you must still have a mastery of your various marketing channels. Integration and consistency of messaging across channels is critical. In 2014, explore the relationship between offline and online marketing, particularly as it relates to social media. Explore how you drive offline marketing efforts via social media.

One area of continued investment in 2014 will be conversion optimization. In order to remain competitive, you must be able to maximize online conversions, and the best way to do that is through testing. Landing page optimization is the most common form of technology and process for achieving this goal. Fun fact: Landing pages that included videos see an 86 percent increase in conversions.

Last but not least, expand your thinking about analytics. Consider new ways to measure social and brand impact of digital marketing. In a recent article, "6 Ways to Measure Twitter Share of Voice Beyond Brand Mentions," Simply Measured shared thoughts on brand-centric metrics you may not have considered as a consumer-facing brand. I have my own thoughts about what you should and shouldn't be measuring in social media as well.

We're nearly a third of the way through 2014. What are you doing to ensure your digital marketing success? Consider evaluating and adopting one of these seven ideas above to maximize your return on investment this year.

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.

"A competition concept, clouds with ladders on blue," image via Shutterstock.

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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