The Middle Ground

Written by:  Board Member Ben Kirst

As marketers, there is often an overwhelming urge to embrace the latest and greatest tools at our disposal. A new social network that will change how you attract customers, a unique quantitative approach that’s going to reinvent the way you’ve considered ROI, a buzzworthy strategy you want to give a rib-bending embrace… we have all felt that lightheaded desire for new tools with the intensity of a teenage crush.

We pressure ourselves to integrate fresh industry approaches into our workplace and get frustrated when we face opposition. We envision the glory of success, the hearty slaps on our backs, the jealous glares of rivals as our fearless innovation changes the game.

This is fine, by the way. This is not a screed meant to mock people for seeing the value in the constantly changing communication environment (and this is coming from a guy who works at a newspaper, the most notoriously slow-to-change industry in the media world). However, some of the boring stuff in online marketing still works really, really well.

For example, over 59% of respondents to the 2013 Email Marketing Industry Census in a survey of 1,300 British email marketers gave organic search (SEO), email marketing, and paid search ROI scores of “good” or “excellent.” [1]

What’s equally interesting is that these same marketers admitted in fairly significant numbers that they don’t really work that hard to improve their campaigns, despite the solid ROI. My guess is that there is a tendency to cringe at the analytical or developmental grind that will increase organic search results or the suspiciously-like-math work involved in AdWords campaign management.

Mobile marketing, by comparison, feels now, sexy. Social media marketing doesn’t even seem like work. Affiliate marketing looks like a shortcut to a pot of gold. But are the results as apparent? In fact, are you seeing results at all?

Here’s the thing – in the coming weeks and months, we are going to see more and more successful strategies for integrating all of these processes.

Content marketing, social media marketing, email marketing, mobile marketing and display marketing are playing together more and more as savvy companies of all sizes get better at fully integrating campaigns. Check out the way Virgin America rolled out its most recent campaign,[2] which included Richard Branson serving drinks on a coast-to-coast flight, digital billboards in Times Square, and a strong Instagram presence.

Content marketing, mobile marketing, and search marketing are already inextricable. Consider the movement Foursquare has made to integrate these fields in its latest app update[3], where the company is apparently trying to “out-Yelp” their competition by offering improved recommendations and location-based exploration.

Promotions – which Borrell already predicts will dominate local media advertising budgets over the next four years, growing from $32 billion to $80 billion[4] — are going to be increasingly relevant to our work as clients demand more exposure in and around the fragmented digital audience space.

So what’s my point?
There is a middle ground that allows us to satisfy our urges to experiment with emerging technology while cementing the tried-and-true strategies that we know will get results. By remembering that the digital audience still engages deeply with brands via search and email, and using these tactics as foundation pieces in campaigns that branch into social media, promotion, mobile, etc., we will find that we are serving our customers and our audience better – while keeping our own skills sharp and our work engaging.

With rare exceptions, most of us don’t have the resources of Virgin America or Foursquare, but that does not mean we are stuck. When you work on your next project or campaign, consider all of the tools at your disposal, think about how you are using them, and most importantly, if they are working in concert with each other. There’s no need to fight against the work you’re already doing in order to innovate now.