Digital marketing and eCommerce strategies

A couple of days ago I met with a senior marketing executive working for a very large multinational. Their loyalty scheme was under-performing and wanted to see what could be done.

It didn’t take too long to recognise the old, familiar story….the scheme wasn’t fully purposed, it was orphaned long ago and now..well it was a cost centre that the CFO wanted justification for. It was a problem that the marketing executive inherited and he wasn’t sure what to do. My impression was that he preferred it went away, but after a lot of investment, didn’t want to abandon it as there were thousands of customers involved. Hmm. I love this problem, seen it often.

Digital marketing and eCommerce are like an ocean, deep, complex, with strong undercurrents, whilst appearing sedate and benign at the same time. So many companies and professionals have been lost in these deep waters and there is nothing better than helping them. We love it, I love it. In digital and eCommerce we are in our element, not only surfing the top, but diving deep in the depths to get things right. It is such a 3 dimensional 360 degree environment.

Lets start at the bit so many ignore…the strategy. Like any journey you need to decide where you want to travel. Yes, there are many frothy souls who venture into digital and eCommerce with rudimentary skills and no direction..consuming money, reputation and customer patience as they go. These we cannot save, because they adopt a divine belief that whatever metric they achieve, it’s all good. It’s rubbish, but we can’t afford to care. What we can do is work with people and businesses who want yields and returns consistent with the opportunity. True venturers who have a goal and an expected return on investment. With these we work on plans, strategies, IMC’s and of course monetary flows. Freemium to premium is straightforward, but not easy and so many sink before they leave harbour.

I am always unnerved by people who make little contribution to planning and have little understanding of the range of options which exist. Preferences for an approach, be it email, social media, platform or portal seem to be preconditioned…why? Often, when we set out the options landscape they backfill their knowledge..I guess its an education thing, but presumption is a pain and no, we are not trying to take your job…we are the external expert here to help you. We spend countless hours looking at the changes, applications and techniques business are trying and we look at success rates. That’s our job. Of course we are supposed to know more than you. Otherwise you don’t need us, it isn’t a competition, trust me.

Whether the strategy is best delivered via physical media, visual, digital or a blend depends on the strategy. It is the customer preferences that determine the approach, whether it be physical or digital delivery. We work in both.

Customer preferences and the customer journey are crucial and mapping them is an essential element of the strategy. It informs the IMC…the integrated marketing communications plan, so it is done at the beginning. It may be simple, but needs, wants, demands, they work. It’s preferences baby, not yours, the customers!

As this post is about digital and eCommerce, I will set aside physical media in my comments. Sometimes called ‘traditional’ by professionals older than the internet, in reality, they are all techniques and tools to be used appropriately and effectively. We need to blend it like Beckham.

One of the challenges in digital is its agility and dynamism…it is an oceanic whirlpool of innovation, all pulling down in the same general direction, but this vortex is full of eddy’s, undercurrents and oceanic white noise that distract and dis-empower…great for meditation and peaceful reflection, but terrible in terms of performance and delivery.

So, whether you use merchant, membership, bill to use, advertising, community, marketplace models, disintermediation, remediation or hypermediation, affiliate or multi-level techniques, you do so knowing why, knowing the metrics being applied and the KPI’s you need. This said, all these are simply discrete forms of digital models, they are not the definitive choices, the customer makes these for you.

Having identified candidate models which are preferenced by customers, whether in reality or predictively, the priority becomes the ‘SLA’. I do not care…I still do not care..unless a provider enters into an SLA it’s reckless, foolhardy and full of latent risk to choose them. Yes, I know some are major global providers with Fortune 500 clients, I still don’t care. Simply put, past performance does not guarantee future returns. You have to have an SLA – A service level agreement, otherwise you have obligations against which you have no measurable return. That’s just crackers.

This is as true for in-house models such as your own website, platforms and portals as it is for outsourced ones. It is a disturbing reality that the SEO audits we do show substantial failings in URL canonicalization, keywords, microdata, headings and links. Essentially, whilst nice to look at, these sites are underpowered from the start, meaning that organic  and owned search is under-optimised requiring much more SEM…search engine marketing, than would otherwise be required. It’s like a badly built boat needing more engine power, fuel and costs to travel the oceans, than a well built one.

Ironically, these are inexpensive fixes which are not done, because so few have their site audited. We do many of these audits and the simple improvements are so easy to make. If you know what you are doing, that is.

In the age of cloud, where ‘as a service’ offerings for infrastructure, platforms, software, storage, security, data, desktop, backend, API and even product testing are available, the movement from capital expenditure to operational /consumption expenditure creates a tsunami of opportunities. No longer do the constraints of bespoke and in-house solutions/IT teams operate. Agility, crowd-sourcing and choice mean that businesses have power, but only through the SLA. There are new companies being set up every day..what you want is contracted performance, not woohoo it exists, lets buy it!!

Ownership and security of data are, of course, critical, both as an asset, management function and liability to customers. But time and again, the gathering of data, its segmentation and use is poorly thought through. To be crystal clear, data is only data when it can be managed, interrogated, packaged, used and re-purposed, otherwise its just stuff, ocean bed mud…a costly oceanic detritus. You need to be able to filter, sort, preference and use. Business is at the top of the food chain, your service providers are the plankton. What I mean is that you need to be able to reach your customers by segmentation and targeting, because you are not a filter feeder, that’s your service providers job. How well they do this and how well they serve you is determined by the SLA.

Having understood this and secured the best providers, it becomes about journeys. Increasingly digital and eCommerce are being blended intelligently. Activations, on-boarding, calls to action, impulses, in-bound and push messaging are not the only tools to engage. Hiring a host of highline celebrities has its place, but so too have affiliate and multi-level marketing, using the customer.

To be clear, we don’t go wild on discounting…and have strongly opposed discount selling on many occasions. On too many occasions it has been a loss leading to a loss, whereas discounting is about a loss leading to a profit. Depressingly, it has hollowed out brand power and accelerated commoditisation.. like brands but less, indeed.

What we do support is co-branding, co-association, emotional intelligence, enabling customers, rewarding performance with experiences, higher level offerings and access. Loyalty is best rewarded by resonance, engagement and incorporation – recognise the customers contribution to your success, they are your fans dammit. Unless of course you want to appear on ‘extreme couponing’. Do you? Seriously???

There is no doubt that digital marketing and eCommerce are powerful trends embraced by customers. The agility and dynamism is compelling, many are drawn to it, as they are drawn to the ocean.

My post here is nothing more than a flotsam on these tides…but I hope my central message is clear. Navigating these waters needs consideration, professionalism and skills. That’s what we offer.