The complexity of today’s marketing ecosystem can be overwhelming considering the various components, the fact that each is vying for limited marketing dollars and that ROI on those dollars is never guaranteed (and often hard to predict). When developing a strategy, the 2016 brand executive has to balance what history has proven effective, how consumers are behaving in the present and predict how advancements in channels will shape the future. Oh, and they need to be brilliantly creative while they’re at it.

Developing a digital-specific marketing strategy adds even more complexity because it’s a relatively new arrival. According to Smart Insights and TFM&A, 50% of companies utilize digital marketing but do not have a plan. It’s difficult for many brands to figure out how to invest in this channel—and even for executives to perceive the need to. Most often it just comes down to not wanting a marketing endeavor in an emerging channel to flop and cause damage to the brand.

With proper planning, however, these concerns don’t need to stop brand executives from launching into digital marketing campaigns. Realistically speaking, digital consistently comes in as the least expensive option for keeping costs down while blanketing the largest target population with your brand’s messaging.

Where to Start With Digital
As with any channel begging for investment, digital must be approached in terms of what you want to accomplish. Once you define the objectives, you will have a lot more clarity in deciding what aspect of digital will best support your larger marketing efforts.

Digital marketing is often split between three main channels: owned media (website, social media and email), paid media (digital advertising), and earned media (mentions from influencers and journalists).

When you try to solve the statement, “I want to accomplish X objective,” each of these channels has a very different solution. Here’s how you can think about it:

Owned Media
– Builds credibility with brand loyalists
– Develops an ongoing relationship with customers
– Keeps the brand top of mind all the way to point of purchase

Paid Media
– Builds brand awareness
– Drives trial
– Gets stuff sold

Earned Media
– Builds credibility among brand agnostics
– Amplifies unique brand message
– Augments digital assets from owned media

Close the Digital Loop
Once you identify your objectives and tie them with the proper channel, it’s important to measure the effectiveness of each dollar spent on the campaign. This is called closing the loop: every dollar can be attributed to an action the target audience was supposed to take to make your campaign a success. These days the loop can be closed for just about any brand, regardless of the campaign, whether it’s across the owned, paid or earned media channel (or a combination of all three).

CPG brands face some of the most difficult attribution challenges when it comes to digital. Since many purchases take place in a brick-and-mortar location and not online, the point of purchase has been a black box for most digital analytics tools. Accordingly, the bottom line question executives usually face is: How can we tie what we launched online with exactly what happened in the store?

For paid media, answering this question is particularly straightforward. Many ad platforms now have geo-location layered on top of mobile ads so when a customer sees an ad and then enters a store location, that movement is tracked on their mobile phone and attributed to a sales transaction.

In terms of social media, often the most concerning of all digital channels, all major social media platforms have coupon and offer features that can help you measure how engaged your audience is with your product(s). Facebook offers are a great example of this tactic. It’s possible to post and advertise a Facebook-only coupon that is visible to your page’s Facebook fans. Facebook analytics then tell you how many people redeemed the offer and you can see from your trade promotion reports how many of those redeemed offers translated into sales at the register.

How Digital Channels Support Each Other
No digital channel needs to be siloed in its role to drive objectives, nor should it be. Instead, owned, paid and earned media can all support each other interdependently so that if they need to function on their own, they can but increase their effectiveness by working together.

Paid media is probably the best way to support the other two channels. For instance, CPG brands can advertise to visitors who have trafficked their site at some point in the past, whether from an owned channel or an earned media mention, that resulted in a website visit.

This ad technology is called “retargeting” and e-commerce websites have been using it for years. However, it can now be used by brands selling products in brick and mortar locations. Take this example from Volkswagen.

passat image

They are happy you’re interested in a used Passat, but they’d rather have you buy a brand new car. And there’s a good chance the ad for the Bug showed up because you had already visited the VW website and checked out some models.

Retargeted ads can show up just about anywhere to help the brand stay top-of-mind with customers. Display advertising is a popular subchannel for retargeting, but it’s very expensive. However, text-based ads in Google are also eligible as retargeting mechanisms.

Owned media can also support the work of other channels and subchannels. Do you have a large email list? Chances are, most of those email addresses are tied to a Facebook user and Facebook will allow you to create an advertising list of just those people. This way, you can efficiently use your digital ad dollars to produce sales and engagement among shoppers who are already loyal to your brand.

When properly planned and executed, digital marketing campaigns can deliver results. And this is not only the case when digital channels are looked at individually, but even more so when they are part of an interdependent strategy with clear objectives and measures.