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6 Simple Tips for Digital Marketing Success

2010 August 4
by Greg Satell

Wanna jump on the Next Big Thing?  Then you have probably already failed.

The problem with new media marketing channels is that most of them don’t work very well.  Compared to traditional media, there is a lack of experience, established best practices and standard operational interfaces.  In short, we’re just not that good at it.

However, as the old saying goes, “You don’t need to outrun a bear, just the guy running next to you.”  In that same spirit, here are 6 simple tips that will help you achieve well above average performance.

Think about the House You Want to Build Before the Tools You Want to Use

Many people start their digital strategy by saying, “I want to do social media,” or “Let’s do some microsites and flash games.”  That’s the completely wrong way to go about things.  You wouldn’t bring a contractor to work on your house and say. “I want you to use one of those cool new wrenches,” would you?

As the Ad Contrarian puts it, “There’s no bigger sucker than a gullible marketer who’s convinced he’s missing a trend.”  No words could ring more true.

Digital strategy, just like any other kind of strategy, should start with the problem you want to solve.  Maybe you want to inform people about your products, or drive transactions or build a community.  Whatever it is, you need the right tool for the right job and that means the job needs to come first.

Usability First

Whatever you’re doing online, your success will depend on consumers being able to use it.  If it’s complicated or frustrating or they just can’t see any clear benefit to engaging with it on a regular basis, your message won’t get through to users.  They’ll be somewhere else.

The whole point of the “great digital revolution| is that it’s interactive – it puts consumers at the center. If you’re trying to build a web site that looks “different” for difference’s sake, or build an “innovative” social media strategy, you’re not thinking about the user, but about impressing your colleagues (who are probably no brighter than you are).

Luckily, there are two excellent authorities who can help you get started:  Steve Krug and Jacob Nielsen.  Click on respective links, receive their wisdom and start on your path to becoming a usability Olympian!

Start Small and Iterate to Scale

Despite the acrimony that often divides them, web developers and marketers do have one thing in common: big dreams.  My first few years running development were plagued by enormous projects that never seemed to end.  Often, they never actually did.

Eventually, I got smart and started demanding that we launch new projects as modestly as possible.  We often would plan later phases at the same time as the earlier ones, but would keep the first version as bare bones as possible.

The results were outstanding.  Our performance against deadlines improved immensely and the quality of our projects advanced as well.  Moreover, when we did run into problems, they were much smaller and easier to solve.  Finally, the user feedback we received on the earlier stages made further development much more informed.

So instead of launching a massive six month or year long project, you are almost always better off breaking it into smaller pieces (a few months at most) and then building it out in iterations.

Be Transparent and Understandable to Stakeholders

Like any other kind of activity, digital strategy needs to be understood by the people who are supposed to benefit from it.  If they don’t get it, then either you are not meeting their needs or your organization isn’t ready to do whatever it is you’re planning on doing.

Again, you need to start with objectives.  If you are planning to drive transactions, your sales team needs to be on board.  If you want to interact with the consumer, the brand manager should be the #1 cheerleader.  If the major stakeholders aren’t completely enthusiastic about what you’re doing, you will most probably fail.

Good digital strategy starts and ends with good sense.

Perpetual Beta

I spent a few weeks in Silicon Valley a while back and got hooked on a term they seem to love to use out there: Perpetual Beta. The beta phase, for those who speak only colloquial English, is when software is launched but still being tested and improved.  Therefore, a product “in beta” considered unfinished.

Perpetual Beta, therefore, is a product that will continue to be considered unfinished for years after it has been launched.  Gmail, for instance, was still in beta five years after it appeared.  It had already become the most successful e-mail service in the world and was still considered unfinished.

Compare that to the typical brand manager who considers her digital project complete after a few months.  Is it any wonder that most digital marketing isn’t very effective?

Get a Sense of Perspective

Although you might feel like your falling behind, you’re probably not doing as bad as you think.  Just because there are a bunch of weirdoes running around speaking in tongues doesn’t mean that everything that has a neologism attached is really important.

The truth is that we are still in the beginning of it all.  We’re on the ground floor.  Digital marketing, in effect, is still “in beta.”  It’s okay to mess up, as long as you manage to do it cheaply and quickly.  The only real sin is to value “knowing” over thinking and learning.

We all still have a long time to learn and there are still a lot of exciting things to come.

– Greg

10 Responses leave one →
  1. August 5, 2010


    I was JUST having a conversation about this with a colleague about this. From where I sit I think that many folks aren’t even really taking a CLEAR look at what digitial media is/can be, then looking at what value their product/service is offering, THEN figuring out the relationship between the two. Looking at it from this perspective I think what can begin to unfold is a strategy in perpetual beta that will allow you to fail quicker and faster, which will then increase the velocity in which you are able to reach your goals.


  2. August 6, 2010

    Absolutely, Rasul! I think the biggest problem is that managers need to learn the value of “I don’t know” And stop looking for ready made solutions.

    – Greg

  3. August 6, 2010

    Hi Greg,

    I like that term “perpetual beta”. From one perspective, as you point out, it sounds like the product is never finished. Yet on the other hand, how humbling to use such a term to describe a product that is continually evolving and improving for maximum effectiveness. However, the managers who don’t recognize the value of the term “I don’t know” would not be too keen on using the term to describe their projects.

    “I want to do social media,” reminds me of an email I received on one of the networking sites I belong to from a gentleman with the following question: “How much would it cost me to have you do some marketing for me”. In all fairness to this gentleman, he did preface his question with “I realize this is a rather broad question”. My response was something along the lines of “that is quite an understatement”. This gentleman actually did become a client and is a really great guy and we have laughed about his first email.

    Your analysis of how some people are so quick to jump on the bandwagon epitomizes my take on the business world today. Everyone is either looking for that get rich quick scheme or doing something because everyone else is. There are new social networks popping up all over at an alarming rate and I see people running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to keep up with the latest and the greatest. When I first started, I have to admit that I found myself joining every site people asked me to join (I felt that if someone I had developed an online relationship with sent me a personal invite that I should join). It didn’t take too long or a rocket scientist mentality to realize that there is no way to belong to oodles of sites and do any of them justice. I have since directed my focus only to those that offer me the most value. Linkedin alone has so many groups and so many discussions going on at once, often duplicate ones on different sites. One can literally get dizzy trying to keep up.

    Your conclusion is liberating and sums up the Digital Marketing Race perfectly: “The truth is that we are still in the beginning of it all. We’re on the ground floor. Digital marketing, in effect, is still “in beta.” It’s okay to mess up, as long as you manage to do it cheaply and quickly. The only real sin is to value “knowing” over thinking and learning.

    We all still have a long time to learn and there are still a lot of exciting things to come.”

    Thanks for sharing your insights,

  4. August 6, 2010


    Thanks for such a great comment. I would like to add something, but it’s too perfect:-)

    – Greg

  5. August 8, 2010

    Wow Greg – I have never gotten a response like THAT before – thanks LOL. But don’t tell my children. They are always saying I think I am “so perfect” which is ridiculous because in reality, the truth is about 99% the opposite.

  6. August 8, 2010

    Anyway, it was a very good comment:-)

    – Greg

  7. Zahid Hussain permalink
    August 9, 2010

    Hi Greg

    Thanks for the tips for digital success. My comments are from the receiving end.

    The social media is expanding at an astonishing speed. There was a time when the knowledge seekers used to spend most of the free time in libraries to read whatever of interest or need was available to them. Now all of a sudden so much information is coming to a person through internet that, like Julie has mentioned, people feel tempted to join every site they are asked to join. The point is that a single site does not offer everything that a person needs. So his quest to look for more is understandable. But that leads him to nowhere becuase ultimately he has to realize that he has to retain the best and drop the rest. Yes, it takes a little time to get organized but ultimately a wayout comes into sight.

    Usability First is very painful for a person who works very hard remain updated. When he reads the newspapers, magazines and watches TV news and views, it dawns on him that most of what he is reading, listening or wathcing is not neither new nor well researched. So prefers to stick to his computer screen to know what is going on and why.

    Regarding LinkedIn. Julie, It is platform that provides an opportunity to acquire knowledge and to pass it on. It is like seeing a blind man looking for direction. You just hold his hand help him crossing the road and then go on. For example, I keep all of Greg’s articles in a folder to read them carefully when I have time. There is a discussion on ROI in one of my professional groups and I have four articles by Greg and a few by others. I shared the links of articles by Greg with my discussion collegues and it was very pleasant for me to know that everybody liked the articles. I owe Greg thanks for that.

    A little more sharing and we will be on our way.

    Best regards

  8. August 9, 2010

    Thanks for all the support Zahid!

    – Greg

  9. August 15, 2010

    Hi Greg– Happy Birthday Digital Tonto!

    I have enjoyed reading and following your knowledge sharing very much. It inspires me to keep my digital scene happening. Some thoughts on the topic at hand:

    We’ve made the strategic decision to use digital (social) media as our primary method for building credibility around our our particular expertise. Like anything else with a low barrier to entry, there are a multitude of participants and the whole thing is a gigantic slush pile. As you correctly state in your article, having clarity on what you want to build before you start using a particular tool is imperative for effective participation.

    Here’s our strategy in a nutshell:
    “share what matters to you and serves the good of others”

    We simply focus our attention on creating value for our client side colleagues in ways that matter to them, rather than direct promotional solicitations to do business with us. We are on the learning curve for sure, but we make our goals for success modest and incremental… from a comment on our site, to a new subscriber, it all adds up over time. We simply want to contribute. Digital media is a powerful tool if the vibe of what your doing is authentic and useful.

    Your growing blog is a case in point!

    Thanks for sharing the love,
    Thomson Dawson

  10. August 15, 2010

    Thanks Thompson. Best of luck with

    – Greg

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