Skip to content

5 Imperatives for Marketing Strategy in the Digital Age

2012 March 21

Do you have a digital marketing strategy?  Probably not. Chances are, what you have is a collection of tactics that augment massive TV buying.  Those days are quickly coming to an end.  The line between digital and analog is blurring and will soon disappear.

The silos of creative, media and digital are no longer tenable, but the domains of creative account planning, communication strategy and technology have been sequestered in different agency structures, each operating in blissful ignorance of each other.  That can’t go on.

I wrote previously about the difficulties of digital marketing strategy.  Now I’d like to point the way towards some solutions.  The challenges we face herald great opportunities.  From neurobiology to behavioral economics, from the semantic web to HTML5, we have new powerful new tools at our disposal.  Here’s how we can put them to good use.

1. Understand the New Psychology of Marketing

For most of the history of modern marketing, people were assumed to make decisions rationally.  Messaging strategy was focused on core value propositions and rational benefits.  These notions attained the level of doctrine.  You didn’t question, but obeyed them.  Selling meant concrete advantages that highlighted key features.

For the most part, that view has been upended by science.  In the 1990’s new data poured in.  Antonio Damasio uncovered strong neurological links between emotions and decision making and formulated his somatic marker hypothesis.  Joseph Ledoux documented the role of emotions in memory and learning. The list goes on.

Even before that, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky pioneered the field of behavioral economics (the work was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2002).  Gary Klein’s research (partially funded by the US Military) documented how people who regularly make life and death decisions do it by a mix of intuition and trial and error, not planned rationality.

Marketers need to implement what science already knows.  Rationality is a suckers bet.  To understand the new marketing psychology you need to understand how the mind actually works, not what seems reasonable in a PowerPoint deck.  Put another way, if you want to gain share of market, you need to build share of synapse.

2. Build Assets, not Eyeballs

It used to be that marketers could take a 30 second ad and simply “put it on the box.” Marketing strategy therefore revolved around messaging. Then audiences got fragmented and communication planning became primary.  Now, we’ve entered a new era of paid, owned and earned media.

The paid, owned and earned framework represents a paradigm shift in how we think about marketing.  Once nebulous concepts like “word-of-mouth” have become trackable and quantifiable.  What was a vague hope for multiplying reach has become a crucial component of strategy.

What’s even more important is that the preponderance of evidence suggests that owned and earned media are more influential on purchases.  So the days of simply buying our way to market share are over.  We need to build assets in the marketplace, online, offline and in consumers hearts.

3. Activate Through Paid Media

One might infer from the paragraph above that we now live in a purely social marketplace and paid media is now a waste of time.  That’s a grave mistake.  While owned and earned assets are great, we still need to get people there.  Eyeballs, and therefore budgets, still matter…a lot.

However, it’s still not as simple as “putting it on the box” anymore.  Tablets (and soon connected TV’s) will unify media on one platform and that infrastructure is becoming an entire industry unto itself.  Take a look (click to enlarge).

Media buying has become a blend of massive ad networks, electronic trading and demand management platforms along with a host of targeting and re-targeting technologies that can reach consumers at home, in store and just about anywhere else.  Emerging digital video capabilities will eventually subsume TV.

The lines between digital and analog will disappear. It is through this universal, semantic platform that we will activate owned and earned assets.  With so much at stake, buying efficiency will be more important than ever.

4. Create Immersive Experiences

In a former post about the future of retail, I quoted what  Ron Johnson, who created the Apple store, said in an interview:

A store has got to be much more than a place to acquire merchandise.  It’s got to help people enrich their lives.  If a store just fulfills a specific product need, it’s not creating new types of value for the consumer.  It’s transacting.

The past few years have been about mobile and social, but the next few years (and possibly more) will be about in-home and in-store.  Advances in screens (especially OLED), will make them lighter, thinner, sharper and cheaper. Even better, they are becoming interoperable, able to share media from one screen to another.

A new digital battlefield is emerging. Google, Apple and Microsoft are currently in a pitched battle to build the right blend of voice, gesture and touch interfaces for the next generation of connected TV’s.  Other companies, like Viggle, IntoNow and GetGlue are building second screen experiences for tablets that sync with programming.  

So it will no longer suffice to put simply bombard consumers with marketing messages or to offer a selection at retail for a competitive price.  Consumers will expect experiences that inform, excite and inspire them.

5. Manage the Entire Path to Purchase

Marketers used to be primarily focused on two things, awareness and sales.  Lately, though, they have begun to realize that what happens after the sale is as important as what comes before.  Advocacy is now something that we can measure and manage.  We have entered a post-promotional paradigm.

A brand can be well known, yet still fail at the point of purchase.  Another might have a devoted following, but will fail if they don’t get their message out.  A third might have strong market share, but will eventually falter if they aren’t actively recruiting new consumers and existing ones aren’t advocating.

While many champion one metric or another, we need to monitor awareness, point-of-sale and advocacy and then focus on the particular area where a brand needs lift while maintaining performance in the other two.  To build sustainable competitive advantage, a brand must perform along all three axes.

How to Move Forward

Our world is in flux.  There is no part of the consumer experience that is untouched. Digital technology is disrupting the marketplace, while changes in our understanding of the psychology of decision making have overturned centuries of conventional wisdom. Even a brief summary such as this one can make the challenges seem overwhelming.

So what to do?  First, start somewhere.  It can be one place or the other, but at least start. The change will be unfolding for years and everyone else is as confused as you are.  

Second, go to primary sources, not marketing gurus.  People at the forefront of innovative thinking, like Dan Ariely, Duncan Watts and others at the top of their fields and are more accessible than you’d think.

Third, integrate and cross-pollinate.  The old lines between creative and media, agency and supplier, marketing and operations are blurring and will soon disappear.  As Rishad Tobaccowala says, “The future will not fit into the containers of the past.”

Marketing as we know it is over.  Marketing of the future is still unknown.  We have a lot of work to do.

– Greg

12 Responses leave one →
  1. March 21, 2012

    Great post, Greg. All very valid pillars of a digital strategy. And I particularly like the focus on the co-ordination necessary to develop and implement strategies in the digital age. This is exactly where I think that the majority of agency models fall down.

    So much so, I’m beginning to think that HOW to work and build strategy in the digital age is a much harder task than determining WHAT to do.

  2. March 21, 2012

    Great point! Agencies have been specializing for decades and that is making it very hard for them to integrate services.

    – Greg

  3. March 21, 2012

    very nice article. Looks like the passage from traditional marketing focused on market messages to customers to the new technological platform for informing, exciting and inspiring consumers. The passage from media to digital marketing infrustructure where brands can interact with customers. And new customer demand: help me to make a choice and help me to find solution. So, the new marketing model based on customer messages to market…

  4. March 21, 2012

    Thanks Sergei. Glad you liked it.


  5. March 23, 2012


    Good stuff…

    The days of “MadMen” advertising execs buying market share are LONG gone… The concept of earned media is a good one – building deep niches where customers will engage with us first – buy from us second…


  6. Mark permalink
    March 23, 2012

    Brillant. I have been hocking and bitching about how SM (Twitter, FB, etc.) are these tactics that are prayed to like gods on Easter Island by most without any regard or consideration for a strategy that they work within.

    My area of expertise and interest is medical education. To build share of synapse marketers (educators) must think in terms of problem centric marketing (solving problems adults are seeking solutions to). Brand centric (feature benefit price) is not a driver in this day of connected. We can find more knowledge and information in three minutes. Thank you, Mark

  7. March 23, 2012

    Thanks Mike.

    Have a great weekend!

    – Greg

  8. March 23, 2012

    Thanks Mark.

    I like the idea that while the totems may change, the blind reverence stays the same. It called the phenomenon “Cargo Cult Marketers.”


  9. April 24, 2012

    Greg, short time decoder, first time encoder. While redundant, it bears repeating: Great post. I have a feeling you teed up at least ten more posts. Compelled to read more.

    I’m most interested in your [current] definitions of “paid, earned and owned media.” After all, the lines are becoming increasingly blurred.

  10. April 24, 2012


    I think the “paid, owned, earned” distinction has more to do with usage than the platform. For instance, Facebook is clearly a great platform for earned media (a lot of people advocate brands there), but a company’s Facebook page is clearly owned media, just as a store owns a storefront, but people sharing pictures of the storefront (i.e. Harrods) clearly needs to be earned through brand equity.

    What’s interesting is that many marketers think that merely having a twitter feed makes them a participant in earned media. It doesn’t. You have to earn that:-)

    – Greg

  11. April 24, 2012

    I take a different approach. As a context-qualifier, I’m a reformed retail entrepreneur. Lately, I’ve directed clients to reframe their point-of-sale as “owned media,” exclusively.

  12. April 24, 2012

    Yes. I would agree. Point of sale is definitely owned media. People sharing info about it would be earned media.

    – Greg

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS