Posted by Nicole Hambleton / Article /

It’s 2013, a new year, new possibilities! We’re excited about all the new ideas, innovations and technologies that this year will expose us to and we feel that 2013 is going to be the year of digital development for a lot of agencies who have not yet fully delved into this area. We’re not even a few weeks into the year and the ideas and the innovation coming from agencies is inspiring!

Driven mostly by consumers and their love of being connected, the digital world has opened up a world of marketing, sales and public relations opportunities but it has also left a huge disconnect within the industry itself. A study, documented in a 2012 edition of BRW found that 41% of Australian companies spend 25% or more of their budgets on digital marketing ( BRW, Nov 2012). 

Just like any advertising medium, digital is now an area of expertise in its own right. A medium that needs to be researched, implemented and measured against the overall marketing goals of a company. Digital has already proven it can propel and promote brands across a variety of demographics and be a very efficient way to educate, promote and sell a product or service.

Digital is a growing and rewarding marketing discipline but it needs to be approached with the same accountability and understanding as you would TV, radio or print. Marketers and their clients need to ensure that they are achieving solid ROIs from their investment in a variety of digital mediums. This is where digital strategy comes into it’s own. 

What is a digital strategy

The term digital has gone well beyond having a web presence and maybe a Facebook page. Companies need to investigate the need for a digital strategy with every campaign they launch, every rebrand they undertake and every product they release. The consumer expects a digital strategy, even if they don’t know what one looks like and the onus is on the communications agency to provide one, based on consumer research.

The objective of the digital strategy is to understand what technologies the audience is likely to use and measure the ROI of any mix of the available technologies to see how they fit the overall marketing and business strategy of a client. The digital strategy should cover these areas:

  1. Identify the company's values, vision, mission and what they hope to acheive from the digital marketing strategy, taking into account other marketing strategies they are currently employing. 
  2. Create a proposal that outlines the objectives and technologies that will be used, how they will be implemented and measured. 
  3. Digitally produce the strategy, often in stages relevant to the digital channels or technologies. 
  4. Measure the outcomes against the objectives. 

Some of the digital technologies that may form part of the marketing mix:

  • Social Media
  • Websites – CMS driven or static
  • Micro-sites
  • Mobile Applications
  • Mobile Web (not the same as applications)
  • Interactive Games (mobile, tablet, Facebook)
  • Custom applications for training, product launch or education
  • eVouchers and Coupons
  • Near Field Communications (NFC) including eWallet
  • QR Codes
  • Augmented Reality such as virtual shopping experiences
  • POS systems
  • SmartTV apps
  • OOH Advertising (digital billboards, interactive displays)

The important thing to remember is that the digital world is there to accentuate existing marketing and branding initiatives, not compete with them. The goals and objectives of a digital strategy should be an extension of existing branding and marketing strategies that support the overall outcomes of the business. The digital strategy should look at utilising both online and other digital technologies to drive the business outcomes.

The role of a Digital Strategist

It’s tempting for an agency that has worked primarily in print, TV, radio, POS and branding to limit their digital strategy to the technologies they have available to them in house. It’s hard to sell and pitch a service that is as new and dynamic as the digital sphere without a dedicated strategist to guide you. However every year companies are committing more and more of their marketing budgets to digital and they are looking for the expertise to effectively manage this medium. This is where the innovative, tech savvy skills of a strategist really shine.

The objective of a comprehensive digital strategy is to identify and utilise the right mix of technologies to solve a business or marketing problem for the client to ensure the highest return on investment. A digital strategy is more than a list of technologies, it is a business case, a pitch to the client telling them why and how they need to enlist additional technologies in their marketing plan. Giving the client a clear list of the technologies they need, before they think of it or see someone else using it, is key. A digital strategy should have objectives that are measurable with a clear link to the company's own corporate goals, vision and values.

The skills gap

Why does a skills gap exist? The industry is moving faster than most marketing professionals are able to keep up with. In Australia with a relatively small population and an industry that requires a dynamic group of innovators to stay abreast of new technologies it is hard to find the right talent for every job and retain them when the skills are not in constant need. 

While the industry is getting more diverse by the day, it is also becoming much more specialised. Once it was fine to have a couple of developers in house, working on websites and tackling the odd Facebook site or trying their hand at some more complex PHP. Now the type of digital outcomes that are being touted require specialisation, ongoing training and sometimes even certifications. The right person for the right job, is getting increasingly important to maximise efficiency and increase return on investment.

Disconnect between the Advertising and Web Industry

For years the web industry has been operating as a standalone industry, as a nice to have feature or additional service to the advertising marketing mix. The smartphone and mobile revolution is in part responsible for changing this attitude among consumers.  Most companies now expect digital strategy to be as integral in a marketing campaign to grab their customers attention as television, radio or print.

The industry itself however has to change behaviours they have come to accept and understand for nearly two decades. The idea that the web developer sits on their own and codes up sites and applications with little involvement in the overall marketing strategy and dynamics no longer holds true. However both web developers themselves and advertising account managers can often find their objectives and values differ from each other as to what they want to achieve and how.

This isn’t to say they can start working as an integrated team with common values and goals but this can take time, time that the public or client has no interest in providing.

Digital strategists help to bridge this disconnect by incorporating the digital strategy right from the start, making it part of the overall marketing mix before lines are drawn. The idea is that the strategy comes first, decides what technologies exist, how they can meet the client needs and then roll them out by employing the right technical expertise as and when they are needed.

Digitally driven firms have already employed this approach and think digital first when designing campaigns and marketing plans, but for some full service agencies who also have other marketing mediums to consider, digital might not yet have a dedicated strategist, in house or often consultancy based. This is where having a digital strategist to guide and direct the digital component of the business proves invaluable.

Technical expertise

In the US and the UK there is a strong trend towards digital specialisation now. Recent reports indicate that most agencies now outsource part or all of their digital work with mobile being one of the most commonly outsourced skills.

Risk management is a key reason most agencies outsource. Internal teams require large overheads, constant retraining and an ability to predict which direction digital will take in any given year. From our own experiences with agencies, digital trends can be very unpredictable. One fiscal quarter can yield an incredibly high number of Facebook applications then the following quarter it drops off in favour of eDM work and microsites. Digital work can be very seasonal as well, with promotional work being big certain times of the year and corporate web work being big at other times.

Full Service Digital or Digital Development companies often use a mix of in-house and specialist teams to great effect, but the most successful companies still rely on the services of digital strategists. It is that person that drives the business, technologies or ideas regardless of whether they choose to use their internal or external teams.

Traditional Agency v Digital Agency

Digital is growing, there is no doubt about that but a traditional agency isn’t just about the mediums it uses, it’s about creative, industry experience, brand development, awareness and business strategy. Digital agencies often focus most of their expertise on digital delivery and strategies that encompass this medium. Regardless of which direction an agency takes its a medium, a direction that marketing and advertising is taking but digital is a technical discipline, there is still a huge human element to the advertising world. It’s this human element coupled with digital that provides the best value to the client.

If you feel having a digital strategist in your corner would help you win those pitches over your competitors then we can help you discuss a range of options. While most agencies don't yet require the services of a full time digital strategist, it is cost effective to have one consult for an agency or on a pitch by pitch basis to get the client over the line and win the deal. If you are looking for more digital direction in your marketing strategies and want to move more into the digital world, then we're here to help you. We can get you started by helping you to investigate what the client might be looking for in a digital strategy so you have a basis for your pitch. 

_________________ (Nassim Khadem, BRW, Nov 2012)