They decide they need to "get on Facebook" or other social networks, or launch a blog, or an online video channel, or something with mobile or apps, or maybe a wiki or a private community. Or they get caught in this week's latest buzz about new technologies: location check-ins, QR codes, augmented reality apps, or Google+. But simply jumping on the latest trend, or copying the tactical approach of another company, is a surefire way to waste your time and marketing resources.
The first step to developing an effective digital strategy to fit your business is to know what your objectives are. Are you trying to reach new customers? Drive sales to current customers? Reduce your operating costs? Or introduce a breakthrough product or service? Today's digital tools can be used for a wide variety of marketing objectives.
Here are 14 digital marketing objectives, with case examples, to jump start your own thinking:
1. Increase brand awareness. When Ford was preparing to launch its Fiesta in the U.S., it enlisted 100 social media savvy volunteers to drive the car for 6 months (for free) and share their unedited experiences online, generating tremendous buzz and a 38% brand awareness pre-launch among the target audience.
2. Improve brand perceptions. The American Express OPEN Forum acts both as an online magazine for small business owners (with great content on everything from marketing to franchise management), and as a powerful branding opportunity for Amex. Procter & Gamble's Old Spice campaign on YouTube helped cement the new image for an old fashioned brand turned hip and relevant to young consumers.
3. Influence key stakeholders. Business blogs that demonstrate thought leadership in a subject area are commonly used to influence key industry leaders. G.E. Reports and Cisco's news site "The Network" (where I also write) offer industry analysts a broader array of content than a single blog.
4. Generate new customer leads. Many Facebook campaigns are built around attracting new "fans" and virally reaching their friends, in order to find new customer leads. IBM has built an interactive videogame that has become the number one lead generator for its leading business software product.
5. Increase customer retention. The SAP Community Network bring together 2.5 million partners, employees, and customers in an online forum where the sharing of insights and expertise adds great value for SAP customers, thus increasing their incentives to continue to invest in the company's software.
6. Drive retail purchase. Kraft built its iFood Assistant mobile app to help busy grocery shoppers plan meals on the go, and direct them to recipes that called for Kraft brand ingredients. Home Depot's YouTube channel has given millions of viewers the instructions for simple projects around their home, and the motivation to stop by Home Depot for the materials required.
7. Drive digital purchase. Twitter has been used by Dell to advertise and sell excess inventory. Luxury brands like Bulgari are driving e-commerce sales through tantalizing product displays on Facebook. E-tailers like Net-a-Porter are using catalog apps for the iPad to entice shoppers with a new browsing experience.
8. Differentiate your products. Online customization tools allow Nike to offer customers the chance to design and wear their own unique Nike ID shoes and clothing. And of course, digital innovation is at the heart of new product competition in categories like smartphones, and gaming consoles.
9. Differentiate your services. Retail banks like Bank of America are competing on more flexible and ubiquitous service with a variety of online tools and mobile phone apps. Zipcar reinvented the car rental category by connecting its cars to an online network so they don't have to be returned to a lot.
10. Gain customer insight. Drug maker UCB helped launch an online community for epileptics within PatientsLikeMe, in order to gather data about comparative effectiveness of different therapies, understand quality of life for patients, and measure drug safety and side effects.
11. Enhance product innovation. Companies like DuPont and Procter & Gamble work with innovation network Innocentive to tap into the brainpower of 175,000 technically skilled "solvers" around the world, in order to expand their R&D capacity and solve technical product questions their own employees couldn't answer.
12. Enhance business model innovation. Cisco's I-Prize generates new business ventures for the company to invest in by inviting outsiders around the world to compete to develop new business plans. Other forms of Idea markets have been used by Motorola and G.E. with their own employees.
13. Mitigate reputation risks. After complaints about Comcast's customer service went viral online, the company launched an @ComcastCares Twitter channel that turned used rapid-fire, responsive answers to customer questions to help turn around the company's reputation.
14. Reduce costs of customer service. After Intuit built an online community for customers of its QuickÂ¬Books product to interact and answer each other's product-related questions, it was able to slash customer service costs because 90 percent of users were able to get their questions answered successfully by the community rather than calling Intuit's call center.
This list is incomplete, but should give a sense of the range of familiar, old-fashioned marketing objectives which you can consider for your own digital marketing.
Setting Objectives Helps at the Start and the End
Once you know your objectives, you can figure out the right digital strategy to fit. And once you have a strategy in place, you can develop appropriate metrics to see if you are achieving those objectives.
Without a clear vision for how your digital strategy will affect the business's bottom line, any efforts will become unfocused, lack impact, and be impossible to measure. But setting business objectives at the start will ensure the time you spend on digital media is delivering real value to your business.
David Rogers presents over 100 cases and a practical framework for planning and implementing digital strategies in his new book, "The Network Is Your Customer: Five Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age." He teaches Digital Marketing Strategy at Columbia Business School, where he is Executive Director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership. Rogers has advised and developed marketing and digital strategies for numerous companies such as SAP, Eli Lilly, and Visa. Find him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/david_rogers