Most companies I’ve ever worked with have no semblance of a digital marketing plan. (Many have a great digital marketing plan, but I haven’t necessarily been fortunate enough to work there as of yet.) In a way, this makes sense: a CMO would have the most theoretical ‘ownership’ over a digital marketing plan, and there’s documented research that most CMOs have no idea about digital marketing. (Probably doesn’t help the CMO cause that media darling Slack got to a $1 billion valuation in two years without a CMO.)
In the places I’ve worked and observed, there’s one major deterrent to a good digital marketing plan. Namely: the traditional marketing plays are making money. Who’s going to change an approach rooted in trade shows and publishing if that stuff is bringing in revenue? For most people, “revenue” and “growth” are the goals. Phrased differently: The Spreadsheet Mentality.
It’s hard to embrace a digital marketing plan if the ROI seems unclear, especially if your traditional stuff is working. It’s asinine that ‘digital’ is still considered ‘its own silo’ when there are more phones on Earth than people, but many things about silos don’t make much sense.
There might be a path through the weeds to a solid digital marketing plan, though.
A digital marketing plan and … Sun Tzu
I think any business discussion about The Art of War is fairly gag-inducing. But lo and behold, I’m going to do the same right now! I was reading an article about marketing transformations at Domino’s Pizza and their U.S. president says this:
I don’t know if you ever read The Art of War, but [Sun Tzu] talks about how do you win a war if it’s fought on an island? The answer is, you blow up the bridge. You blow up the bridge so your people can’t retreat, and if they can’t retreat, they fight to the death.
Here’s your path to a digital marketing plan that makes sense.
Unpacking The Art of War in the context of your digital marketing plan
How do you win a war if it’s fought on an island?
The “island” in this case can refer to the silo’ed mentality of most companies, or the “island” can refer to market share if you want. I’m good either way. But what needs to be done?
You need to blow up the bridge.
Because then people have no choice but to fight.
Blow up the bridge. Remove the excuses. Try to “get it” about digital marketing.
Blow up the bridge. Bash the silos. Link digital and traditional, and make money.
Blow up the bridge. Realize why your digital strategy sucks. Set about fixing it.
The dirty little crutch and your digital marketing plan
Here’s two spoonfuls of truth for you. In most companies, the people with the most authority care about and prioritize the things that make the most money.
With a few exceptions, that still isn’t “digital marketing” for many existing companies.
As a result, the senior-most people aren’t focusing on digital. They’re lip-servicing it. They’re mentioning it at meetings but they could care less. Maybe their daughter has a Snapchat and they know what it is. But it’s not about to pad their pockets. And that’s what matters.
This essentially creates the massive priority vacuum at most companies. We claim A-Z elements are important, but only A and B — making money and making more money — are truly important. Everyone working on C-Z is an also-ran to the executives.
Those people putting together your digital marketing plan? Between C and Z, they’re somewhere around S. To many, it’s not something that matters.
Because of this, we often put clueless idiots in charge of it too. I worked with a lady once who ‘owned’ social and couldn’t schedule a tweet. I worked with one who owned email marketing and didn’t know what an open rate was.
How do you get a better digital marketing plan?
Like most things in life, you start by caring. In the case of digital marketing, it probably involves some degree of change management for your organization. Roles and people might need to shift/adjust, and that often worries people. So it’s a hurdle.
The second step is figuring out what the point of a digital marketing plan would be. How can it tie to business goals?
The third step is determining how to align the strategy with the day-to-day execution.
Those are three steps, but they’re by no means easy. In fact, they’re nearly impossible for many companies to even begin.
Change your structure. Define your value. Set your processes. These tie back to lessons about digital marketing 101.
A funny digital marketing plan story
I’ve told elements of this story before, so apologies if you’ve read it somewhere else here. My last gig up-sold me on the idea that they cared about digital marketing. (They do not.) I moved vertically down the country to work for them as a result. I was canned 17.5 months into it. It was a fun arc of time for me!
About 4–5 months later, I find out that my job was replaced by a magazine writer (traditional marketing) who’s good friends with my old boss (logical). This all goes to what I’m saying above: the digital marketing plan never mattered. No one ever remotely cared. If they cared, they would have brought in someone with way more skill than me — many of those people exist! — to actually craft a digital marketing plan. But naw, it didn’t matter. It never did, and that’s the dirty little secret. People want like-minded individuals working on tasks that the in-group perceive as important. It’s not rocket science.
If you want a digital marketing plan that’s not held together with glue and tears, then, blow up the bridge. Take a risk. Push it forward.