The Growing Gap Between Digital Opportunity and Operational Sophistication

As a modern digital agency it’s often our task to guide the brands we work with into digital maturity. You might be surprised how many strong, successful brands have not yet ironed out a digital strategy. You would probably be even more surprised by the volume of brands that are not incorporating digital channels into the marketing mix at all.

It’s easy for the digital intelligencia to stare gapping-mouthed at this seemingly mystifying behavior. Why would a brand with a respectable marketing budget and strong customer base not cast their sails to the digital winds and head off into the sunset? It’s not for lack of desire. I’ve worked with well-meaning CMOs at companies of every size who have a vision for incorporating or increasing their use of digital channels to drive business results. Startlingly, businesses are either transitioning traditional marketing dollars to digital or adding incremental budget for digital, all the while admitting in industry surveys that they still are not certain how to manage or measure these efforts.

What stops organizations from capitalizing on digital is, more often than not, a lack of operational sophistication capable of matching pace with the technology behind digital commerce and marketing.

In past weeks we’ve been diving deep into social listening platforms, from enterprise solutions that churn through millions of social interactions minute by minute to homegrown SaaS platforms that simply re-envision Google Analytics. Features and pricing vary greatly across these products, but what doesn’t vary — at all — is the volume of custom reports each of them will generate. Many of them, especially the larger ones, will not only auto-generate a custom report that is sometimes 30 pages long but also produce the report at a pre-scheduled time and automatically email it your client. No pesky human interaction required.

Once while working on-site in a client’s office I happened to notice a large stack of paper on the marketing director’s desk. She told me it was the monthly report she receives from their social media vendor.  She handed it to me and I thumbed through. It was very thorough. Stats and charts abounded, covering everything from engagement lift to attributed site traffic to fan count. It was 20 pages long. I asked her if she ever read it. She said, “I use it to prop up my monitor.”

Another client was recently sharing a monthly report from her list data provider who also (curiously) sends and reports on the approximately 1MM emails they send per week. Having had reviewed the report I asked her if she was happy with what was being delivered, if it was helpful and actionable. She said “not really. They put recommendations at the end of each report, but they’re always the same recommendations.”

All this brings into sharp relief the growing divide between digital marketing and commerce — with its promise of technology, data, and real-time customer engagement — and the sophistication of common business systems and structures.

The truth of the matter is that the technology and science around digital delivery has long since outpaced a typical organization’s ability to fully utilize it. Take Mutual Mind’s social command center, for example. If you haven’t seen it, you should take a look. That is some serious real-time data visualization. Now picture your average senior marketing director with a 3 person marketing team responsible for an 800 unit brick and mortar retailer. Can you imagine a world in which that individual would have the time or brainpower to even consider what real time sentiment data might mean, much less have the resources to take action?

Sadly it’s this kind of overwhelming data and technology that scare a lot of business away from embracing digital channels. They look at the pile of things they have to do between 8 and 5 every day, and the last thing they want to do is add reams of paper to their pile. And that’s a shame, because executed correctly, in ways that truly fit the organization’s particular needs and goals, digital channels can, of course, but tremendously effective.

So I’d like to offer a solution for those of us living in the bit stream every day. Let’s reach for simplicity. Let’s reach for immediately actionable data, in bite sized chunks, expressed in words and measurements the uninitiated can understand and relay to the rest of the organization. We don’t have to give up those sophisticated platforms, the beautiful data visualization, the emerging technology. Just put a simplified face on it for our clients. Use the tools to guide clients in the right direction, to prove our efforts and find where to go next.

Next time you craft a report for a client with GA data, email performance, social engagement, or media metrics, rather than sending a 3,000 line CSV file or a 20 page PDF, try summarizing everything in one page. What happened, why it’s good or bad, and what we’re going to do next week to make it better. If your client wants the details, they are obviously available at the flip of a switch. It’s much easier to go from simple to complex than it is to do the opposite.