Digital marketing: The gap between hype and real life

Advice on partner selectionCustomer experience. Personalization. Marketing automation. Omnichannel.

These are the current buzzwords in the digital world. Everybody talks about them and there seems to be a huge common interest, especially when the words digital and marketing are in the same sentence. The benefits should be obvious, but reality shows that almost nobody makes full use of these possibilities. At least not yet.

Why is that so?

There seem to be several reasons. Here are some observations:

1. Technology

All the capabilities have been there already for a while. The challenge is rather the breadth of supply. There are several different tools for every need, and the multitude of these tools increases day by day (check for example Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic by Scott Brinker).

It’s really difficult to make the right choices. One tool won’t solve all your problems and, on the other hand, it’s practically impossible to purchase a separate best-of-breed tool for every single need. If you do the latter, you won’t get the best out of these individual tools if the data is isolated within each tool separately. This results in massive integrations and probably customizations to avoid such silos. Sounds difficult and expensive.

It also seems that when organizations select their technologies, it’s easier to lean towards safe choices. They meet current requirements well enough and minimize the feeling of risk. This sounds reasonable, but when you move towards new ways of working, you should invest more boldly in vision and future. Naturally, the selection depends on your ambitions in digital channels, as well as the budget.

2. Vendors and partners

There is no single vendor who is able to successfully implement a digital marketing project alone. Smaller digital agencies are more agile and they often focus on web concepts and user experience. Their approach is predominantly visual, end-user oriented and usually appealing. Bigger IT vendors focus on heavier platforms, have a broader solution and service offering, and are really good with system integrations and architectural design. Their approach is more technical and feature-oriented, and they are usually looking for longer-term relationships.

The truth is that you need both, and even that is not enough.

You also need the business angle. The outcome should serve sales, marketing, customer service and other business processes. In the end, you should either make money or save money. You also need people like web analytics specialists, digital marketing gurus and social media managers.

So in order to succeed, you need to have several vendors/partners and the coordination of this multi-vendor scenario requires effort. Difficult choices yet again.

3. Organization

Whatever the selected technology (or technologies), in the end it’s mostly about people.
Skilled vendors and modern technologies are there to enable what you want and make your everyday life a bit easier, but it’s your own team that matters the most. You need to have the right resources with the right competencies to complement your selected vendors/partners and technologies. Or the other way around.

Either way, you need to invest in your staff and build digital maturity. This requires commitment from the top management. One everlasting question without a correct answer is what to do yourself and what to buy from others. It depends… but one thing is for sure. You need both: your own people and external help.

Be patient, but start immediately

My intention is not to crush your enthusiasm. These are just observations that I’ve made, so they are by no means absolute truths for all scenarios. I’m just saying there’s a long way from good intentions to a good execution, so that’s probably why these digital hype terms are still just buzzwords and so rare in practice.

The trend is evident. The gap is closing and the change is coming. When? is a much more difficult question to organizations. The good thing is that this change isn’t even meant to happen overnight. Don’t eat the elephant all at once, but in small pieces. Start with the first piece as soon as possible, though.

Here’s my advice for consideration:

  • Change the thinking in your organization from single projects to a continuous process. Success will require continuous analysis and optimization. But don’t over-analyze. Act boldly and react quickly if necessary.
  • Try to identify the low hanging fruit that will give you quick wins. Execute, present results and earn trust. Build the awareness and commitment in your own organization little by little.
  • Don’t try to do everything by yourself. Organizations need to focus on their core business. Even though every organization is unique, the wheel has already been invented.

The potential is out there. For both organizations and vendors.

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