All too often I hear brand managers talk about digital strategy like it’s separate from what’s happening in other channels. In many ways this can be forgiven, many brands do not make their revenue through digital yet and so they focus on how they’ve done business over their histories and try to justify investments in digital little by little. But we’re almost in 2020, and while our cars don’t fly yet, digital is everywhere. It is no longer a valid business strategy to partition digital off into its own space. Digital needs to be infused throughout your greater business strategy.
Strategy is as much about what you choose not to do as what you choose to do, and many brands forget this. Managers who rose the ranks before digital was a thing look at what everyone else is doing and try to copy it. That approach of “spray and see what sticks” was justified when no one was sure where we were all headed. Now that digital has matured, its time to take the same approach to classic business – do what you do well and don’t get bogged down in trying to do something else.
The other thing that needs to be clarified – because I still hear it very often – digital is so much more than social networks. It’s not ‘opening an Instagram account’ that counts as having a digital strategy. Instagram can be an integral part of your digital strategy, but it is not a strategy in itself.
So what is a digital strategy then? The easiest way to define strategy is by understanding who you are, how people find out about you, and how people transact with you – i.e. buy your products. If this sounds reductive then maybe you’re ahead of the curve, but if you want to have a coherent strategy you need to pay attention to all of these three parts. I define them as content, amplification, and transaction.
Digital content follows different rules than other types of content, but the rule is the same: the content you produce is who you are, it’s how people think and feel about you.
If you want to bring your brand to a new level, your content is where you start. Your content needs to reflect not who you are now, but who you want to be.
I’ve written extensively about different formats, like vertical video, as well as new realities of how people consume content. One thing is startlingly clear: content is the most important part of your strategy.
The studies vary. Google says that content is responsible for 50% of consumer actions. Vizeum – a media agency – has a study claiming that that can be up to 80%. That makes sense. Content is how you present your brand and how you present your products. In today’s Instagram world, people jump from product to product independently of the brand. Brand loyalty is on the decline since upstarts can seduce new customers with awesome products in powerful content formats that attract attention.
Sure, if the brand’s identity is empty, many people will question the quality of the product. But that only applies to products above a certain price point. Google shopping lets us examine everything based on price, and we all know that Amazon usually wins that battle. Content can offset the price battle by creating desire.
Many more businesses today are employing brand content managers with dedicated budgets in order to adapt to the demands of digital ecosystems. But even the best content in the world won’t matter if no one sees it.
Which brings me to part two of digital strategy, amplification. Let’s update the old question: if content is posted to the web, does anyone see it?
Gone are the days when posting disruptive content would get your hundreds of thousands of shares. It has been ages since content by itself went viral. Certain cultural things have gone viral, like the 10 year challenge, viral videos like ‘Charlie Bit Me’ might hit the front page of reddit or Imgur, but branded content does not.
Side note: if your social media manager says that your brand is going to produce a viral video, fire him or her right then and there.
Why? There is just too much stuff. Every brand is producing content, and every individual is producing content too. Influencers, celebrities, thought leaders, and your grandma are all choking the digital channels so that your brand has only one choice: it needs to amplify its content.
Amplification can take many forms. The most common is shelling out cash to boost your posts or to create media campaigns that make sure you reach a certain audience. Amplification can come from working with influencers or partnerships with media outlets in the form of advertorials. You can also pitch journalists and writers to share your content if there is a unique angle and something newsworthy.
Let’s take a look at the outdated model of owned, earned, and paid. Owned content is what you give to your fans. Earned is what other people say about you without you paying them, like fans sharing your latest video. Paid is when you pay for amplification. I argue that today, in March 2019, there is no such thing as earned anymore. People understand that sharing your content is doing you a favor, so unless you’re a charity, no one is going to share your content. And considering the restriction of organic reach on social networks, owned is basically useless (except during tried and true methods like email for CRM programs). That leaves paid.
Don’t believe me? Of course there are exceptions, but these exceptions are unpredictable. A strategy is based on using learnings to understand what you can expect from your investment. You cannot then base your strategy on a statistical long shot.
Investing in Instagram just to grow your audience is a bad strategy. You would be much better to use your money in driving people to your website where you seduce them and where there is the possibility of making a purchase.
Instagram is rolling out more shopping features, including shopping in Stories, but people are not yet ready to pull out their credit card and buy there.
Amplifying your content is only a solid investment when it is followed by a push to purchase. If you don’t have an e-commerce angle, there are many other things you can do. Drive people to a sign up so you can communicate with them and send them deals. Provide a click through to a store locator so that people immediately know where to go if they want to see or try your product. Give them an extra incentive, like a drive-to-store offer, so that you maximize their chances of completing a purchase.
Whatever you do, don’t let them get away without getting something from them. In today’s attention economy even getting them to take an action counts as a transaction in my book.
You cannot have a digital strategy without having a way to amplify your content, and if that’s where your customer path ends, you are doing yourself a disservice.
Once you’ve worked so hard to create something that merits attention, and you’ve found a way to get that attention, make sure you get something in return. It’s only then that you can confidently say that you have a digital strategy in place.
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