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June - 2009 - issue > Technology
Online-Marketing-Campaigns,-Circa-2009-A.D.
Arish Ali
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
The Cambrian Explosion in Digital Media Evolution

In the Darwinian theory of evolution, the Cambrian Explosion is the name given to the relatively rapid appearance of large number of species around 530 million years ago. In the last couple of years we seem to have witnessed a similar phenomenon in online digital media. A few years ago having an online presence primarily meant setting up a website that could be viewed on desktop web browsers. Today we are living in a digital world inhabited by iPhone, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, BlackBerry, Android, RSS, Google Gadget, YouTube to name just a few of a rapidly evolving array of social sites, widget platforms and mobile phones. Online marketing in today’s world requires the understanding and mastery of not just one technology and platform but the development of a whole arsenal of diverse technologies and skill sets. And even that is not enough – the pace of change in today’s world is so rapid that if you are merely doing things in “Internet Time” you have already been left behind.

For any company whose core expertise is not technology, it is virtually impossible to stay on top of what is happening in online media today. On the one hand, such a company can opt to grow in-house expertise in all these different areas which means spending a fortune and wasting a lot of time in hiring and grooming engineers with the right skill set and experience. On the other hand, the company can choose to work with a host of different vendors, each specializing in its own niche technology arena, which leads to the nightmare scenario of trying to manage and coordinate marketing campaigns across different teams while trying to keep costs in check. Both these choices are hard to justify in today’s economic reality of a recession, multiple layoffs and severely tightened purse-strings for new marketing initiatives.

Faced with the above choice, for many smaller companies the only sensible option right now is to wait out the downturn and simply go after a few low hanging fruits that do not require significant new investment or effort. Set up a Facebook page, start a Twitter channel or improve the usability of your website. However, if you are a bigger company, or if you have the luxury of having a budget for new online marketing initiatives, it is a fantastic time to reach out and connect with your consumers in an unprecedented manner by launching what can be called the “Next Generation Online Marketing Campaigns.”

Next Generation Digital Media Campaigns

While traditional online marketing campaigns have focused on developing a dedicated mini-website or landing page coupled with possible print and TV advertising, the next generation of online campaigns are distinguished by the following three characteristics -

1.Technology Agnostic: The campaign should work across all digital media channels and platforms, and should not be limited to a website. It has to be where your users are - Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, RSS/Blogs, YouTube, iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Mobile Smartphones, Feature Phones, SMS, WAP/XHTML, Widgets, Gadgets- and any other technology users may use in the future to consume online content.

2. User-Engagement: Users expect to be able to interact and participate with the campaign, either through user generated content (video or photo uploads, ratings, comments etc.), or through viral sharing such as Send-To-Phone (from Web), Facebook sharing, Tweets, Blog-posting, or through personalization (eg. iPhone Apps), regardless of the technology or platform. User engagement is fast becoming a popular metric in online advertising.

3. Real-Time: Marketers should not just be able to launch campaigns quickly but also have full real-time control on the campaign - they should be able to modify and adapt the campaign on the fly (eg. disable/enable a feature, remove specific content items, add a new channel etc.) and be able to monitor its performance through stats and reports.

With the above three features in place it is possible to create truly ubiquitous, compelling and responsive marketing campaigns for the new digital media era. Such campaigns have the potential of capturing fresh mindshare for your brand by reaching out to consumers on new devices and channels. Such campaigns can increase your sales by driving more traffic to your e-Commerce website and/or your brick and mortar stores. Such campaigns also give you the flexibility of experimenting and seeing what works and what does not for your specific brand by tweaking various attributes of a campaign while the campaign is in progress.

Scylla and Charybdis

While it is relatively easy to identify the desirable attributes of the next generation campaigns, it is quite hard for most companies to be able to implement such campaigns effectively. The biggest problem facing any company are the twin dangers, the Scylla and Charybdis if you may, of either getting stuck in an expensive in-house team building effort or getting mired in the operational complexity of synchronizing campaigns across multiple vendors. Even worse perhaps, is the danger of inaction when faced with such a choice.

Many companies are spending significant time and effort “researching the market trends” and evaluating their options and are either intimidated by the perceived cost and complexity of next generation campaigns or are content to wait and watch as the market evolves and are thus consequently missing out on the unique opportunity today’s environment offers. Just as brick and mortar retailers lost mind-share and revenues to online retailers in the first era of internet marketing, current online retailers face the risk of losing mind-share and revenues to those of their competitors who embrace the paradigm of the new marketing campaigns and make the most effective use of it.

The Right Solution

Our recommendation to marketers and retailers faced with this challenge is two-fold:

1. You need to be planning and executing your campaigns now – make sure you have features of the Next Generation Campaigns in all the campaigns you are planning for the rest of 2009, and in particular the 2009 Holiday Season, since many of your competitors are doing it!

2. Work with a dedicated technology team that has experience in all the new technology areas you need to execute your campaigns – this team can be your in-house team if it has the necessary skill set and expertise, or it can be a large work-for-hire shop from which you can put together a diverse set of engineers with expertise in different technologies. Alternatively you can work with companies which are dedicated to this space and already have the necessary skill set, experience, top-tier customer references and a proven track record of executing such campaigns.

As you plan your Next Generation Campaigns one has to be aware of the challenges and opportunities enabled by the rapid evolution of new digital media technologies. As a marketer, you should of course do your own research into your options and a competitive survey of vendors in the space along with the capabilities of your own in-house team. The important lesson here is to make sure you are not just thinking about the Next Generation Campaign features but are actually including them in all your campaigns this year.

Arish Ali is the Co-Founder and CEO at Skava, Inc. and can be reached at arish@skava.net
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