Digital Essay: Why some digital marketers will remain single by Fadi Khater & Michael Maksoudian

This article is inspired by true events. Some of the characters, names, incidents and events have been fictionalised for dramatic effect. Any resemblance to the writer, or the writers’ heirs or successors, pets or a cloud formation, irrespective of whether this came to them during a vision quest, a spiritual awakening or an ayahuasca trip, is purely coincidental and unintentional.

by Fadi Khater, founder and managing partner and Michael Maksoudian, managing partner, Netizency.Recently a potential client drove all the way across the country to give us a brief, and when we asked about their objectives for their digital campaign, they said: “Impressions, reach, clicks, likes, comments, shares, and lead generation.” This is a typical example of how marketers lust after digital, without thinking about how to use it as a tool that can help serve their marketing objectives.

There are many reasons for the above, including inadequate knowledge, the egos of non-digital practitioners, and the industry trend of throwing around irrelevant metrics; however, identifying the cause for this is not the objective of this essay. The next few paragraphs are intended to showcase the most common examples of how marketers forget marketing when it comes to digital marketing.

Many clients are very eager to have a digital or social presence and they rush into it, only to realise a few months down the line that their actions are not as effective as they expected.

To help make this more relatable and anecdotal we will be using an analogy from the most basic human instinct – the pursuit of love. Throughout this essay we will refer to the analogy of Sarah (who will represent the digital marketing client), who is looking for a relationship (the end result from the digital marketing campaign).

Defining clear objectives: 
Many digital marketers still come to us with the objectives of “increasing followers” and “getting likes”. These have become vanity metrics that are sought-after by a few CMOs, sometimes passed on from their CEOs, in order to bolster their egos and claim fame for their brands. These metrics are thrown around in board meetings and dinner conversations with statements such as “we are killing it on social media with 200,000 followers”, or “the ‘have a good weekend’ post did extremely well with 50 likes”.

Let us take the example of Sarah here; in order for her to be in a relationship she needs to start by determining what type of relationship she is looking for – not what car she wants to be picked up in. Her relationship objective should lie within the spectrum of having a fling to getting married, as opposed to getting picked up in a Toyota versus getting picked up in a Ferrari.

When developing a digital marketing campaign or even a strategy, marketers need to have a clear end objective; and the objective should be marketing-led. The more accurate the objectives are, the better the campaigns are likely to be. Generic marketing objectives like “generating countrywide awareness” are not the most effective use of digital, because they essentially treat digital media as an outdoor billboard.

Nowadays, digital media allows us to optimise content and ads to meet very specific marketing objectives including physical location visits, online (or even offline) sales, leads, calls or views.

So, your first question as a marketer should be: “What do I really want to achieve?”

Predetermining number of posts:
Another example of a non-marketing-relevant digital marketing requirement is defining the number of posts required, before even identifying the actual marketing messages and content strategy.
This usually goes something like: “we need to create 30 posts per month and we can decide on the topics later”.

This is like Sarah deciding that she wants to have 200 conversations with her partner over the next eight weeks, instead of identifying what meaningful conversations she would like to have to get to know her partner better.

Now why would you decide how many times you want to talk, without knowing yet what you want to say?

Level of awareness or share-of-voice is a marketing objective, but number of posts is not only an irrelevant criterion, it is also a destructive one because it forces useless conversation.

The need to be on all platforms:
Marketer: “I want to be on Snapchat.”
Agency: “Who’s your target audience?”
Marketer: “I want to be seen on Snapchat.”
Agency: “I understand, but what do you sell?”
Marketer: “I’m in the steel business for construction companies.”
Agency: “Did you consider Twitter or Linkedin?”
Marketer: “But everyone is talking about Snapchat now”.
Agency: *facepalm*

This is similar to Sarah going on Tinder and expecting to find the love of her life in pursuit of marriage. She may succeed, but the failure rate would be much higher. Sarah needs to choose the medium that is most relevant to her objective. She should pursue the above if she is looking for a fling; however, a marriage objective may require a different approach: friend recommendations, dinner dates or interest-based experiences.

This is a very common occurrence in our industry. Every so often there comes a new platform or a new feature within an existing platform, which generates hype. As a marketer, you need to make sure not to be blinded by the hype; to keep following your North Star and stay true to what you are trying to achieve in business terms. Not all social platforms are created equal, and more importantly you don’t need to be on every platform. Not being on particular platforms does not lessen the value (or importance) of your business. The starting point shouldn’t be “what are the most popular platforms?”, but rather “what are the most important platforms that target my audience and help me achieve my business objectives?”. Don’t let peer pressure dilute your focus.

Expecting instant results:
We’ve had a mind-numbing number of calls from marketers complaining about creative quality because the ad or campaign they launched two hours ago still hasn’t generated any leads.

This is equivalent to Sarah blaming her hairdresser because her partner did not say “I love you” within the first week of their relationship. Granted, her hair and beauty may play a role in the relationship and its evolution, but love cannot be rushed.

Similarly, you can launch a digital campaign in less than five minutes, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into getting results within the same timeframe.

Digital is a double-edged sword where, on the one hand, it has helped us become more efficient, while on the other hand it is also the main contributor to our lack of patience. Once a campaign is launched on digital, we need to give the platform some breathing time to start serving the campaign to the right target, and for the agency to work on the optimisation. Timing is of the utmost importance but rushing or expecting results immediately is a sure-fire path to disappointment.

The need to get a report on every available metric:
We need a detailed report on every piece of content – who saw it, what time it was viewed, what location it was viewed from, what platform it was viewed on, and how many engagements it got, only to determine reach.

By the same token, distance between Sarah’s partner’s house and an ATM, along with hair length, ankle circumference, resting heart rate and toilet visit frequency are all measurable; but are they required or relevant? And do you think she should check and report on them on a weekly basis?

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” In our digital era, there is much truth in his statement – the first part in particular.

Just because you can measure everything in digital does not mean you have to.

This is one of the earliest symptoms of a very common condition amongst marketers called “paralysis by analysis”. The good news is that there is a remedy. Focus on the key metrics that are relevant to your main objective and that can result in an actionable insight. If your campaign’s objective is to drive awareness, then you should be looking at metrics such as reach, impressions and brand-lift; and not engagements, likes, reactions, comments or even clicks. If your campaign’s objective is to generate video views, then you should be looking at metrics such as video views or number of users viewing a certain percentage of the video.

Less is more, even in digital.

This may seem extremely basic and rhetorical, but someone has to say it: What you need to do is marketing, not digital. You need to market your brand, product or service, and use digital as a part of your marketing mix instead of a replacement for it. In summary, marketers should not forget the ‘marketing’ part of digital marketing.

Or, in Sarah’s case, don’t just do it for ‘gram.