Companies are facing a dilemma when it comes to the creation and implementation of digital strategies. Kevin Lourens, Chief Growth Officer at NATIVE, one of South Africa's largest fully-integrated digital agencies, believes the key challenge for brand owners and marketers is to pick the correct partner to navigate marketing and advertising in the digital age.
"As the demand for skills and a diversity of digital services grows, choosing the most appropriate digital partner is becoming more challenging. Although business leaders agree that the growth of digital technology represents opportunity, few are comfortable with implementing holistic digital strategies that may seem risky or counter- productive," says Lourens.
As with the Innovator's Dilemma, a phrase coined in the Harvard Business Schools, Clayton M. Christensen's book by the same title1, Lourens explains that the shifting marketing landscape challenges conventional thinking and partnerships. At the heart of the innovators dilemma, is the choice to stick with what has historically worked, like traditional ABL advertising that will sustain the communication between brands and their consumers, or to choose something new like digital marketing that has the potential to disrupt existing communication patterns and reach new audiences.
He says that although there is no doubt that digital marketing, in all its flavours of mobile, i.e. search, social, web, etc., is a disruptive force representing industry wide change, many organisations still have digital marketing low on the priority list.
"Digital marketing currently receives limited attention and budget when compared to the traditional media channels which are believed to have greater reach and influence. The paradigm, which is the classic innovators dilemma, is when to shift to new channels that have different success metrics and demand new techniques and understanding."
Lourens explains that the entry level for digital marketing is typically accessible to businesses of all sizes and is very cost effective. There are many free tools available that allow anyone to get a campaign up and running in hours. This creates the perception that digital campaigns are quick and cheap. The challenge comes in when working out how to unify campaigns across the digital channels. What works for a small business with a singular product offering is not adequate for larger corporate entities.
"The solution is to approach digital marketing strategically rather than tactically," says Lourens. "I still encounter many marketers that start a conversation with 'I need to be on Facebook/Twitter/etc' as their opening brief. However, a discussion about digital technology should be led by thinking relating to how digital technology can be used to better reach and service customers in a way that is more convenient and engaging for the customer. Innovation and differentiation lies at the intersection of customer need and the many possibilities digital interaction creates."
He emphasises that managers need to leave room for experimentation in their planning, and that they need to be willing to invest in what may well be a potentially disruptive technology. This requires that the organisation itself be willing to leave room for experimentation, and should failure occur, use the lessons from the experience as preparation for the next opportunity.
For Lourens, digital strategy is not only essential for innovation, it is essential for future growth and competitiveness. "The arrival of digital technology has in essence changed the very nature of customer engagement and to truly engage customers, companies need to become marketing vehicles. The marketing organisation itself needs to become the customer-engagement engine responsible for establishing priorities and stimulating dialogue throughout the organisation as it seeks to design, build, operate and renew cutting-edge customer engagement approaches. There is a real urgency for action now, as innovation is inextricably linked to productivity2," he urges.
"You never know where a great idea or thought can come from - but you have to allow for it to be possible. And now, more than ever, business leaders need to start answering the questions they never thought to ask. Only through implementing comprehensive and holistic digital strategies that allow for fast iteration and learning can companies truly transform and be effective in the new and ever-changing digital age," concludes Lourens.
1 The Innovator's Dilemma, Clayton M. Christensen, HarperCollins Publishers, 2003
2 We're all marketers now, Marketing and Sales Practice, Tom French, Laura LaBerge, and Paul Magill, July 2011.