Marketing in the Digital Era

I have just finished reading a new book I’d like to recommend to those who want to increase their chances of success in today’s marketing world: Marketing in the Round: How to Develop an Integrated Marketing Campaign in the Digital Era by Gini Dietrich and Geoff Livingston.

The book starts with the premise that companies must break down the silos that separate the key marketing disciplines—which the authors identify as advertising, public relations, corporate communication, Web/digital, search engine optimization, content, direct mail, social media, and search engine marketing. Only when these disciplines work together smoothly without the hindrance of silos, the authors say, can a company achieve its marketing and business goals and work toward achieving its vision.

This premise makes sense to me.

The authors recognize that breaking down the silos is difficult, and they offer some tips for doing it. From my experience, however, demolishing silos is much harder than Dietrich and Livingston seem to acknowledge in their book.

I’ve worked in companies where the marketing and communications silos were so high and thick they were like fortresses. Little coordination of activities or sharing of responsibilities occurred, but open warfare occasionally flared. Years later, I hear that the silos still remain; although, they’re weakening.

I doubt my experience is unique.

But while I may see the breaking down of these silos as a more difficult task than the authors see it, I strongly agree with them that it’s necessary for accomplishing more of the company’s goals, with greater efficiency and better results. That’s why I suggest the reader start this book by accepting at face value the authors’ belief that the silos somehow must come down—even if the CEO needs to proclaim an edict to make it happen.

Early in the book, Dietrich and Livingston explain “marketing in the round” as a hub-and-spoke concept in which the marketing function sits in the center of a round wheel and each of the nine disciplines radiate like a spoke out
the center. The idea, of course, is that all of these disciplines are tied together, and each must play its specific role—but  each must do so only in an integrated, closely coordinated effort with the others.

To help the reader understand what’s needed to set up his/her own marketing round and to get the disciplines synced and working together, the authors have divided the book into three sections focusing on specific aspects of the marketing round and its success. Each section comprises a number of chapters, and every chapter ends with one or more exercises to further assist the reader. The sections are:

  • Understanding the Marketing Round and Develop Your Strategy,
  • Four Marketing Round Approaches, and
  • Measurement, Refinement, and Improvement.

I found the second section to be the most informative and helpful, and to be the heart of the book.

At the beginning of this section, the authors state, “Marketing strategy can be compared to military strategy.” Then they refer throughout the section to the 17th century Japanese samurai Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings, showing how using his approach to war can help the marketing round communicate the company’s message and achieve victory in the marketplace.

Specifically, they present Musashi’s  “five primary approaches to strategic engagement” as four approaches that can be applied to marketing: direct (renamed from “middle”), top down (from “above”), groundswell (from “bottom up”) and flanking (a combination of Musashi’s “left” and “right”). Whether used independently or sequenced, the authors state, these directional “approaches form a baseline to approaching marketing strategies.”

In 65 pages or so, they go into detail about all four marketing round approaches. They provide details for determining when to implement each one and lay out its particular strengths and weaknesses.

In the authors’ opinion, the direct approach—interacting directly with primary stakeholders—is the best tactic. “Done well,” they say,” it’s one-to-one marketing at its best.”

The top-down approach—using media to inform the marketplace about new products is “deployed to reach stakeholders that direct marketing cannot [reach], or is launched to complement a direct marketing effort,” the authors say. They add that companies will want to use this approach as their primary tactic only if they dominate their markets or are unable to “engage directly with a large community.”

Groundswell is the bottom-up approach through which the marketing round encourages “word-of-mouth by seeding conversations.”  Through these conversations, the marketing round encourages influencers—among them, “customers, the media, bloggers, newsgroups, and ranking agencies—to share their unbiased opinions” about the company’s products and services.

The flanking approach is the fallback tactic, called upon when various obstacles prevent the use of a direct, top-down, or groundswell approach. Its primary methods are advertising, content marketing, and search engine optimization.

Dietrich and Livingston give an entire chapter to each approach, looking at its primary marketing methods and discussing the benefits and risks of each method.

For example, the direct approach has the following marketing methods: direct mail, email, social media, mobile, and events. Among social media’s benefits are that it bolsters brand loyalty through conversations and by fostering word-of-mouth marketing. Its risks, on the other hand, include (1) time investments—both manpower and long-term cultivation—that do not lend themselves to fast results, and (2) the concern that customers, through their conversations, might be distributing negative information about your brand that could have adverse affects on the company.

The marketing round will want to consider each of these directional approaches, determining whether to use one, two, three, or all of them. While keeping in mind that these tactics work best when integrated into a holistic campaign, the marketing round should choose to implement those that best meet the company’s needs and the marketing program’s degree of sophistication.

Marketing in the Round is an intense book, providing enough information to overwhelm those who are not already marketing experts and well into developing their own integrated marketing campaigns. It is, I assume, aimed at large companies that have many experienced people working in the nine disciplines that make up the marketing round, people who together can build a successful marketing round team and implement all of the great ideas laid out by the authors.

But for those who work in small- or medium-sized companies, the book also offers an array of ideas to be considered, scrutinized, and used as the jumping off point for learning how they, too, can successfully conduct marketing in the digital era.

Quote from Frank Partnoy

Email, social media and the 24-hour news cycle are informational amphetamines, a cocktail of pills that we pop at an increasingly fast pace—and that lead us to make mistaken split-second decisions.

Frank Partnoy, author of Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, made this statement in a recent New York Times article about the need to slow down and think before we do something that may be wrong and may make us look silly, such as announcing the incorrect Supreme Court decision about the Affordable Health Care Act, as CNN and other news outlets did.

Social Media and Leadership Stagnation

Thomas L. Friedman’s New York Times column yesterday posed a question about social media’s effect on political leaders that made me wonder how these tools might be affecting our business leaders, as well.

Friedman questioned whether the diminished number of successful political leaders in the world today is one result of too many people voicing their opinions on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media that give them a means of instantly commenting on everything leaders do and say, or perhaps are even thinking about doing or saying. He adds:

The wiring of the world through social media and Web-enabled cellphones is changing the nature of conversations between leaders and the led everywhere. We’re going from largely one-way conversations—top-down—to overwhelmingly two-way conversations—bottom-up and top-town.

He notes that we derive some benefits from this new communications norm. But he asks, “Can there be such a thing as too much participation—leaders listening to so many voices all the time and tracking the trends that they become prisoners of them?”

As in politics and elsewhere, we in PR have seen the rapid and intense rise of social media within our own more immediate world of employee communications, an area that heated up even more today when Microsoft announced it is paying a premium $1.2 billion for Yammer, a four-year old enterprise social network service used by businesses to create private networks for employee project collaboration and information sharing. Besides Yammer, companies are implementing internal podcasts, video programs, Twitter-like applications, and other social media. And employees are demanding a voice for everyone who wants a say in how the company goes about its business and presents itself and its products to stakeholders. Corporate communicators, who now love being on the forefront of internal social media and the opportunities for comment these tools offer, are delighted to grant this demand. C-suite executives are reluctantly giving in to it.

This communication a good thing.

For too long employees had no (or only a very quiet) voice. They were communicated at, not with, by leaders and many in corporate communications who thought they knew what employees needed to know and were highly reluctant to listen to employee opinions.

Finally, their voices are being heard.

Could it be possible, though, that the proliferation of criticism and comment on our internal social media is starting to cause leadership stagnation within companies around the world, companies whose leaders (like their political counterparts) are being second-guessed so often that they’re waiting to move forward until they get a greater consensus from those who are loudly and persistently speaking out?

Many have noted the increase in ever-delayed product launches, the decline of innovation, and the hording of large stashes of cash within today’s companies. I don’t know that it’s true, but perhaps, these situations result, at least in part, from leaders’ fear of making decisions that few within their organizations (not to mention outside stakeholders who also grasp an understanding of social media’s power) would find acceptable.

We hope our leaders are listening to a wide range of opinions, opinions that coincide with their own and those that conflict directly with them. Nothing should block the upward flow of comments, and nothing should filter out the controversial. We hope, too, that our leaders have the skills to listen thoroughly and to then quickly make decisions that benefit not only their companies, but also their stockholders, employees, and other stakeholders.