Branding is not enough - 8 points for digital marketing engagement

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed December 5, 2014
digital marketers are under pressure to improve ROI
CMOS and marketing executives gathered in Boston to share field lessons8 takeaways from the event shed light on progress made and obstacles ahead

Yesterday I dug into the problem of scaling customer experience, with fresh content from the Argyle Executive Forum's digital marketing leadership event in Boston, which included an on-site podcast. But customer experience was not the only issue in play.

Taking in the presentations and mingling with some of the 200+ marketing executives (see the day's agenda here), I got a picture of digital opportunities tempered by fiscal realities. Marketers are sparked by digital change, but under budget pressure to prove the ROI of their ventures and establish strategic relevance.

The days of proud/meaningless "We're on Facebook" proclamations are over, replaced by talk of leveraging the social graph, and what it takes to turn that insight into something with more bottom line impact than a +1.

Here's my top takeaways/challenges from the event.

1, Go where your customers are, even if that means sacrificing traffic on your own site. Too many brands are still determined to push people into consuming content on their own web properties. But that mistake can hurt you. Celtics executive Peter Stringer took a different approach. Embedding videos into Facebook caused a surge in video views. As Stringer told me by email:

In the past, we’d post links back on our website to drive video views, and that typically generated 2-3k video views on This August we made a strategic shift to directly embed the videos themselves into Facebook, we’re seeing 60-100k video views consistently on those posts. Embedding the video on Facebook is the key to generating that reach. And that obviously sacrifices referral traffic to our website from Facebook (at least on videos; we still promote articles on Facebook with links back to

Stringer's success also flies in the face of many (including myself) who have warned that organic reach for brands on Facebook is a pursuit of diminishing returns. Not so for the Celtics. As Stringer said to me:

We’ve never spent a dime to boost those video posts. Facebook’s algorithm seems to be featuring that content and were seeing huge reach on video content, and all of it is organic, not paid.

Stringer tells me that the Celtics have experimented a bit with paid placement for ticket promotions, but for them, it's the organic traction of video that is making a difference. Where those viewers watch the videos pales in comparison to winning bigger audiences.  As Stringer put it, and I paraphrase, "I don't care if my own web site traffic goes down, as long as I keep my audience."

2. Branding is falling short as a marketing goal, supplanted by a view of improving the "customer journey" with measurable data to prove it.  For the marketers assembled, branding as a goal was low on the priority list. The conference survey of marketing goals for 2015 had branding in dead last with only 3 percent citing it as a priority when I took my screen shot. In first place? "Better leveraging data to understand your customer" at a whopping 64 percent.

But the end goal isn't just understanding the customer - it's about using that data to provide a higher caliber of experience. During my podcast with SDL's Howard Beader, he put it this way:

Customer experience is really about how customers are creating relationships with their customers. How they're able to help their customers move from anonymous to known, known to customer and ultimately customer to advocate throughout that customer journey.

3. Mobile is non-negotiable, and now includes the complete transaction. Now that mobile is becoming a dominant platform, not just for Facebooking but for completing transactions, the stakes of the mobile experience are much higher.  During a presentation titled "Why mobile matters more than your web site," IBM Canada's Warren Tomlin shared the latest Black Friday mobile stats, including:

  • Users on Apple iOS accounted for 21.9 percent of all Black Friday sales
  • Mobile web traffic exceeded PC web traffic on Thanksgiving Day
  • The average smart phone user checks their phone 150 times a day

Tomlin's most persuasive comment, however, was: "Two of the banks we work with the closest care more about whether their mobile platform goes down than their own web site." The Celtics' Peter Stringer shared plans to emphasize mobile streaming and video, given that smart phones are now getting larger and more tablet-like with every release.

4. Even companies in regulated industries can re-invent marketing with the right content and social guidelines. One of the more memorable sessions of the day was the first, a "Fireside chat" with two executives from State Street Corporation. Despite operating in a heavily-regulated financial services industry, State Street found a way to help turn its employees into public advocates and succeed with ventures on LinkedIn (75,000 followers), YouTube, and Facebook. They also launched their own Ted talk partnership, Ted@StateStreet, with significant views driven by employee presentations.

By sourcing their own employees for stories and videos, State Street proved the excuse that "content is hard" is weak. It's more about building a culture that supports employee content creation with sensible guidelines - thus eliminating the fear of repercussions. And as State Street joked, "With an advertising budget of 375 dollars, we have to be scrappy."

5. It's all about "programmatic" marketing, delivering personalization at scale. While the presenters did a nice job of avoiding buzzwords-du-jour, the "programmatic" phrase popped up a few times. At some marketing shows, programmatic borders on an obsession. Simply defined, programmatic is the attempt by digital marketers to bake their customer data into algorithms that automatically trigger actions based on pre-definined business rules.

The ultimate goal? Move beyond segmenting groups to segmenting individuals, where each person receives just the promotions and content they need in just the right moment (including real-time geo-locational triggers). The technology to accomplish this type of personalization has improved, but there's a big catch:

6. Personalization across channels won't be possible without an improved marketing-IT relationship. Most of the programmatic success stories I'm hearing about are tied to one software initiative or one channel (such as improving sell-throughs by implementing "abandoned shopping cart" triggers). But the so-called "customer experience" is rarely tied to one channel. Maintaining that level of data visibility across channels remains a very sticky wicket. That means you can't just buy a marketing cloud and start automating web behavior triggers. There needs to be a relationship with IT to pull the channel interactions together.

7. Digital marketing ROI needs big improvement - attribution tracking can help.  Digital analytics are great at measuring clicks, but this does not always translate into a precise trail of the factors that resulted in a purchase. As a result, marketers continue to struggle to demonstrate the ROI of digital ventures. Improving the corporate awareness of the informed buyer and the role of search in purchasing decisions can help, but search is not the only factor.

One possible way forward was presented by Kathy Bachmann of MarketShare. MarketShare is addressing the problem at attribution. Typically, marketers attempt to set up triggers that are influenced by the various "attribution" factors that result in a sale (e.g. email newsletter link, social recommendation, on-site FAQs and product demos).

What MarketShare found, however, is that the amount of digital attribution factors go beyond what marketers typically measure. If they can prove this, they can make a powerful case for an increased digital marketing budget as resources are re-allocated to emphasize the touch points driving sales. Typically, digital marketing is under-attributed by 20-30 percent according to MarketShift's data.  Bachmann shared this slide which shows the range of attribution factors that are factored into their algorithm:

MarketShare attribution


The point of crunching the attribution data is to determine which touch points genuinely result in consumer responses and business outcomes. Taking an algorithmic approach to attribution beats the heck out of the rudimentary means of tracing and weighing attribution many firms use. Bachmann cited Citrix as a customer example that has achieved a five percent lift in sales by utilizing this approach.

8. The battle for attention is not just against your competition, but against any form of consumable entertainment your buyers have access to. To win attention, content doesn't need to have cinematic production qualities, but it does have to be deeply relevant to the target audience - enough to override their endless pings and distractions. As Victor Lee from Hasbro put it in his closing keynote, "I'll be interested - if you'll be interesting."

Final thoughts

This day-long event was a mix of encouraging news and disconcerting problems. The encouraging side was an improved practical approach, driven by data not platitudes about social media miracles. The marketers assembled were keenly aware that social fails without shareable content of value. That doesn't mean content creation is easy when budgets are scrutinized.

The theme of customer experiences driven by data resonated. We all want a more personalized relationship with the companies we do business with, as long as privacy controls are in place and the level of personalization feels helpful and not creepy.

Where the problems come is maintaining this experience across channels. Anecdotes of disconnects between marketing and IT were disconcerting to hear about. Both sides will need to get with the program and find common goals to rally around. If not, customer experience will become another failed mantra on the scrap heap of CRM happy talk.

Image credit: Worried business woman reading news sms on smartphone © pathdoc -

Disclosure: Argyle Executive Forums provided me with free press access to this event. Diginomica covered my own travel and expenses to attend.  I don’t have a financial relationship with SDL at the time of this writing, nor does diginomica (nor have they been a client in the past). I did my best to honor Argyle’s content neutrality policy in this piece by not recommending specific products or solutions.

Update: The first section of this piece was updated on December 8, 2014, 12:50pm US ET to correct inaccuracies in the Celtics' use of Facebook and present a better version of their story.