Who owns digital marketing?

By Kevin Lourens

I have been following the series of Direct Marketing articles by Kieth Wiser published on Marketing Web with interest. I have noticed with particular interest, some defensive views from the Above The Line (ATL) crowd who are laying claim to the digital marketing crown. As an outsider to the both ATL and direct marketing, the argument is reminiscent of a biblical king and two mothers claiming a shiny new infant, with both parties arguing the merits of the happy homes they offer. Viewed from this perspective, both sides will argue strongly for the case of having the best home.

Clients, swayed by mounting evidence of the cost efficiency, effectiveness, reach, interactivity and measurability of digital marketing are redirecting large chunks of budget to digital marketing. With digital budgets increasing swiftly, logic dictates people will follow the money, agency sustainability depends on it and the imperative to get involved is therefore fundamentally economically driven. Threaten potential cash streams and people will get cranky and uppity.

Agencies (both ATL and direct) will lay claim to a digital project on the basis of an existing client relationship. Briefs are generally generated by marketers, and marketers pass the brief onto their existing agency. In some cases, particularly with global accounts, the agency has to get the work! Martin Sorrell and his team of merry legals say so, regardless of whether the agency is competent to execute the brief.

I am not ignoring the fact that a lot of ATL disciplines and traditional marketing skills are involved in online marketing, what I am stating is that digital marketing belongs to the experts that live it and understand the technology and environment that drive it. It is a specialist skill just as traditional marketing is, and treating it as a campaign afterthought results in missed opportunities, wasted budgets and mediocre outcomes.

If agencies have clients’ best interests at heart, they will involve reputable partners who can add value to the overall campaign by delivering the digital components. Project partnering allows best of breed partners to cooperate to deliver the best return on marketing spend. An agency would use a skilled and reputable research house to do pre-launch research on a major brand, so why would they not use an online specialist to help them run an online campaign?

The following checklist is useful to establish if your integrated campaign is off to a good start.

The brief — getting off to a good start
The digital brief is actually much like any other brief, although many agencies lament they have more chance of spotting a flock of flying dodo’s then seeing a digital brief. Target audiences are a start. Campaign goals help. An understanding of challenges is also good. Seeing what the competition are up to online is a relatively simple thing to find out, I mean we are talking about a measurable medium here. It is essential to include those responsible for digital at campaign in the brief. If you buy the view that integrated campaigns are the most effective, it makes sense to include those responsible for the digital component from the outset. This will allow media, digital and creative to all get working on their respective arts from the get go.

The creative concept — buying into one idea
Agencies are great at campaign concepts and ideas. I have seen very little evidence of an astute ability to appropriately translate concepts that work well across traditional media into the online environment. That’s where specialists come in. Almost daily, more digital media spaces are created and it is the digital agencies task to select the optimal mix from a growing list. From campaign websites to Google Adwords, to Facebook to blogging to Reddit to Digg to email to mobile and many other options, the selection task is more complicated than it may seem. Once the ideal opportunities have been identified, the creative concept has to be appropriately adapted to exploit each opportunity.

The interface — it is not print
Web design is not print design. While agencies set the overall look and feel, designing digital interfaces is a specialist skill.

Technology — looks are not enough
The technology is crucial to digital marketing. Content management, email marketing, mobile applications all require proven technical skills to implement and support. We see so much marketing budget being allocated to cobbling together inadequate and unstable technology platforms that simply don’t work. No wonder there have been a lot of disappointing campaigns out there. Technical track records count.

Measurement — performance counts
Digital campaigns should be delivering more than shiny birds from Margate. With digital marketing, creative is one aspect of a complex mix of disciplines. Business is about results and digital marketing provides more opportunity for objective assessment and undisputable results than any other medium. Marketers now have the opportunity to prove results with data that even the most jaundiced bean counter can appreciate.

So, ultimately, my short term view is that both ATL and direct agencies will win digital projects because of existing client relationships. Furthermore, both ATL and direct agencies will continue to chase digital work because it represents a new and growing revenue stream and finally, campaign results will improve if a traditional agencies partner with digital specialist

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