Digital Marketing Life Lessons: Tactics Vs. Strategy

Ann VanHeest
Digital Marketing Manager, Symposia Labs

I’m new to the agency side of this industry, but I’ve held various marketing positions over the last several years as the world of new media has grown up around me. In fact, I have vivid memories of starting the first Facebook page for my non-profit employer and taking the steps to work with Facebook to claim our (trademarked) organizational URL from a personal page connected to a similarly-named organization. That was my first foray into what evolved into today’s digital marketing climate. A lot has changed!

Back then, there were only vague pronouncements about the importance of organizations having a social media presence. Today, social media has grown from platforms for personal use to an essential part of brand and organizational identity, as well as an important tool to generate leads and drive conversions. It’s now crucial for an organization to have their digital goals built into every single piece of their marketing plan.

Neglecting a digital marketing strategy means you aren’t meeting your audience where they are. The average person spends more than two hours a day on social media, but less than twenty minutes reading! Social media spending is projected to reach $36 billion globally this year, so treating digital marketing as an afterthought is no longer an option for your organization. (Source.)

Here are a few problems I ran into during previous marketing positions, and a few comments about solutions – either how we worked it out, or how we could have worked it out!


1.    Problem: My Company Acts like Print Is Still King

Print media is still an important channel for most companies and organizations to reach their audiences, and it will always have some relevance to most audiences. However, failing to integrate print campaigns with your digital efforts leaves your audience without important information, and makes your organization look distant and disconnected.

Put your print piece online. Is a print piece (like an annual catalog) still front and center in your marketing plan? It’s imperative that a digital link is not an afterthought. Many printing companies or designers will supply online hosting for your catalog or print piece. (Avoid creating a simple PDF. Instead, provide your audience with a fully interactive version of your piece, with clickable links and page-turning capabilities!) A quick internet search will reveal several other hosting options if you want to upload it yourself. Make sure a working link to the piece is front and center on your website, shared frequently on your social media channels, and included in your email newsletters.

Ask for email addresses upfront. By gating the content behind a sign-up form, you can collect valuable information about your audience and even learn what content they find most valuable.

Track your readers. You may have some demographic info about your print audience, but you don’t really know who is picking up your piece, what content they love, or even why were drawn to it in the first place. Correctly deploying a digital marketing strategy can help you figure out the future of your print pieces!


2.   Problem: My Content Isn’t Pretty, and My Budget is Small!

Creating visually appealing pieces is just as important in the digital sphere as it is for print pieces. Don’t let digital design fall through the cracks! Some of my previous experiences were so dedicated to choosing the cheapest path that they overlooked the opportunities that had a financial cost associated with them.

Invest in quality. Just as you wouldn’t want an unlicensed contractor to build your house, you shouldn’t expect the free photographer or on-the-side designer to be able to present high-level work worthy of a marketing campaign or ad buy that costs tens of thousands of dollars. Design still matters, and as the digital marketing field gets more crowded, good design becomes more valuable than ever before. It cost someone their valuable time to learn how to create! Be mindful that good work isn’t free, and sometimes the cost is even greater to not employ the professional.


3.   Problem: I went to a conference – now I want to take the next step.

Education and progress don’t happen in a vacuum. If you send your staff members to a conference, be sure to then give them the time and opportunity to implement new tools and shape the next steps. Top-down leadership can impede organizational growth if your staff is only halfway empowered to achieve progress or not given time to focus and implement what they have learned.

Make the time. After spending money and time attending training courses through a former employer, I returned to work just to plunge into a busy season. Stacks of notes and new ideas were pushed aside until the “time was right.” Of course, that time was never right! Achieving growth needs a buy-in from everyone involved, and sometimes it needs to be driven by lots of baby steps. Plan these steps out and work with your team to implement them.


4.   Problem: We don’t know what to do with the data we do have

Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, the Facebook Pixel? While working for a small organization with a small budget, we didn’t have a depth of knowledge to handle all the data that was flowing in or the time to learn how to execute the lessons from the data.

Consider your outsourcing options. We wanted to find out where our leads were coming from, and what impact our digital marketing efforts were having on our growth, but we didn’t do more than skim Facebook’s weekly statistics updates.

Instead of getting by with basic data that didn’t show the full picture or drowning in complicated CSV files, another option was left untapped. Our organization outsourced web development, IT, and other services to partners who did have digital experts on staff. We could have leaned on their expertise and learned how to tweak our digital marketing strategy to maximize impact. By reaching out to these providers (even at an additional cost for their time or expertise!), we could have leveraged their knowledge to answer questions or develop focused strategy for employing digital marketing growth.

There is a lot of data out there, and it’s not necessary to use every piece of it for successful marketing. Your partners and vendors are a key piece of the puzzle and a great resource for most organizations! It can be overwhelming to learn how to strategically deploy number-heavy data, so figure out the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that would be most beneficial to you, and ask your partners to help you mine the data for the right information. Learn how to run the reports that have your data, and move your strategy forward with confidence.

These lessons and much more were foundational in my winding career path to a full-fledged digital marketer. (I’m happy to share the things I’ve learned about fetching coffee, walking dogs, and the Haitian police, but we can talk about that another time!) Finally, some of the most endearing lessons I’ve learned on this road aren’t digital at all, but they are the most important: be kind, be thorough, and learn everything you can along the way.

Timothy Haines