October 7th, 2013
Tips, Tools and Tutorials
When trying to manage an Internet marketing campaign, it’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of efficiency. Not that efficiency is a bad thing–quite the contrary–it is a goal that all marketers should strive for. I wouldn’t be so obsessed with Microsoft Excel if I didn’t care so much about being as efficient as humanly possible. However, if a focus on efficiency results in a loss of focus on effectiveness, you might find yourself going against your primary focus: efficiency. That’s not to say that efficiency has to come at the cost of efficacy, or the other way around. Just that prioritizing efficiency over effectiveness can sometimes be counterproductive.
Whether it’s taking shortcuts that lead down the wrong path, or skipping steps that end up requiring more steps to compensate, or just not emphasizing quality in the first place only to end up having to redo everything, it isn’t always effective (or efficient) to try to take the “quickest” route, even if it seems more “efficient.” Theoretically, efficiency would account for effectiveness, but in the real world this doesn’t always happen. All it takes is the misconception and mislabeling of a shortcut as a “more efficient way” of doing something for an efficient plan to turn over on its side. As I like to say: efficiency without effectiveness is an exercise in futility.
If you haven’t watched the famous TED presentation by Simon Sinek, you really should (imho). However, just watching the presentation isn’t enough. Yes, for some people it can be very insightful and perhaps even epiphany-inducing, and that’s great! Knowing why your company is in business or why your client is in business is important to developing a strategy, managing the implementation of that strategy, and ensuring that the implementation of said strategy is done as effectively and as efficiently as possible.
However, as GI Joe used to say “knowing is half the battle.” Knowing the why is only half the battle; you still need to know the how in order to develop a solid battle plan around the why. That’s not to say that the how is better than the why, but that no matter how awesome the why is, if the how isn’t executed well, it won’t help the why, and vice versa. If you have an efficient process that works well but for the wrong purpose, it is just pointless. In order to have a well-functioning marketing machine, you need to have a synergy of excellent strategy, management, and implementation.
Here’s an example: if you’re a choreographer with an awesome dance routine but your dancers can’t perform the movements correctly, you can’t expect to get a lot of people lining up to watch the performance. Conversely, you could be the world’s greatest dancer but without a good routine to highlight your talents accordingly, you may not get your chance to shine. Even if you have a great routine and the best dancers, if the routine isn’t properly managed you could end up having dancers in the wrong place at the wrong time, which not only causes the dance routine to go astray, but could also lead to injury for the dancers.
When trying to develop a strategy, manage, or implement an Internet marketing campaign, it’s important not to limit your focal length to just the “high-level” or “low-level” details. In order to make a sound strategy, you need to know what your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats/obstacles (SWOT) are. (Lauren Burgoni wrote a post to give you an refresher course on SWOT analysis). The problem is that in order to truly understand each of these components, you need to not limit yourself to just being able to see things from a short focal length.
Seeing things clearly up close but not far away or far away but not up close is a sign of having a short focal length. In photography, this is known as depth of field. When shooting with a lower aperture diameter (thus increasing your f-number), you can pick up a deeper range in the focus of your image, thus allowing you to be able to clearly see your foreground and background. Though there are applications for blurring the foreground or background for artistic effect, the point is to be able to have that wide range available to you and not be stuck at the same shallow focal depth.
Not knowing how things are implemented while trying to develop a strategy can blur out important details that might affect your strategy. On the other hand, not understanding the purpose behind implementation can prevent obstacles from being properly identified, which can put a monkey wrench in the whole strategy (among other things). Managing the communication between the strategy and implementation is equally as important since this bridges both strategy and implementation while also trying to keep things from getting out of hand. Constraints–the budget for example–are just as much of a concern for the strategist and the implementer, not just the manager. These sorts of obstacles may seem small at first, but could end up being a big problem if they’re not evaded properly.
When you do a Google search for the word campaign, what keeps popping up (and no, not the Will Ferrel/Zach Galifianakis movie)? There are different types of campaigns, but the first definition that pops up (for the noun) is Wikipedia’s definition for campaign: “a series of military operations intended to achieve a particular objective, confined to a particular area, or involving a specified type of fighting.” When coordinating an Internet marketing campaign, the concepts are very similar as launching a military campaign, only you’re not using physical force (or at least I’d hope you weren’t) to achieve your objective.
Imagine your marketing campaign as though it were a military campaign. You have a start, a goal, obstacles, and a strategy. In order to effectively (and efficiently) achieve your goal (whatever it may be), you need to be aware of what your current assets are (or at least identify what you will need in order to reach your objective), what obstacles stand in your way, and what your landscape is like (since this can be either an obstacle or an opportunity). If you’re familiar with Napoleon’s unsuccessful invasion of Russia in 1812, you can understand the effect that a landscape or season plays on the effectiveness of a campaign.
Though you (or your client) may not be up against the Russian Winter as Napoleon’s Grande Armée was, it is a lesson that can also be applied to an Internet marketing campaign. Though the Russians had no control over meteorology and geology, their climate ended up being one of their strengths, while simultaneously being the weakness of their rivals (the French). What may be your competitor’s weakness could be your company’s (or your client’s) strength. That is where utilizing SWOT analysis can help you find overlaps in what you (or your client) is standing up against.
Imagine you (or your client) is represented in red and your (or your client’s) competitor is listed in blue. What may be your strength could be the competitor’s weakness and vice versa. Knowing this may not seem important at first, but when it comes to identifying where you have an advantage (or disadvantage) over your competitor can help you devise not only your strategy but the individual tactics you employ as part of your strategy.
Going back to the point about making parallels with a military campaign, it’s important to also remember that the landscape (area of operation) will likely be in flux. In some cases, you might have enough room to dodge obstacles with a wide berth. Other times, you may have to hit them straight on. Sometimes, you may not even see the obstacles ahead of time, making it harder to develop your strategy around dodging or overcoming them. For this, your operations team will need a solid mission support staff to help guide them as well as equip them with the tools and resources needed to get the job done.
On that note, it’s important to give your operations staff the right tools for the job from the start. Giving a soldier shoddy body armor and sending them to a fire fight is reckless and disrespectful to their safety. Given them shoddy armor and deceptively convincing them that it’s good is just sending them to their deaths. Sure, in a marketing campaign, it’s not nearly the sort of life-and-death situation as it is with combat, but that doesn’t make it okay to give your operations team shoddy resources. To get the job done right (the first time) and fastidiously, you need to give them the right tools (more about that later).
Also, when it comes to your goals, you may find that each goal is just part of the strategy for a bigger goal (a goal within a goal). When this occurs, every wasted resource, asset, or effort in each strategy needs to be totaled with the amount of wasted resources, assets, and efforts of other strategies, whether they’re running simultaneously or sequentially. So, even if you only see a small amount of wastefulness, when you add it up, it may become significant in the long run, so don’t let the neglected small stuff eat away at your goals. Remember it’s not just about winning the battle, it’s about winning the war.
Whether your goal is to take over a different territory or defending your own, you’re going to need to be willing to pay attention to details that you may not want to. It’s exhausting, which is why communication is so important. Generals can’t let some of the small details distract them from making important strategic decisions and infantry can’t be worrying about the 8th step in a 20-step process if they’re stuck overcoming an obstacle at step 2. This is where your chiefs (chief master sergeant, chief petty officer, sergeant majors, etc.) will be worth their salt.
These chiefs have to earn the respect of their team, subordinates, and superordinates alike. They’re on the front lines and have to make decisions pertaining to day-to-day operations and, most importantly, they have their team members’ backs. If their subordinates need more time or resources, the chief helps get them what they need. But they also serve as mentors for both enlisted and junior officers, and at times serve as advisors to higher-ranking officers.
And of course, when you need to call in the big guns, that’s where your spec ops comes into play. Having an elite force that’s ready to be dispatched at any time, during any crisis, can help you get the job done when you don’t have the luxury of time. Though some may be glory hounds, others are committed to being the quiet professional. Either way, these teams can help diffuse tense situations before they become problems or even help give support to an overwhelming obstacle when needed on the fly.
Just as Napoleon was limited in the number of troops he had to fight with, chances are you (or your client) may be limited on resources as well. Though you aren’t dealing with life-and-death situations (hopefully) to the degree that Empereur Bonaparte had, you still need to operate within the constraints that you’re given, and that requires flexibility and adaptability. If you can dodge a wrench, well, then you can avoid bruises from Patches O’Houlihan at least. In some cases, obstacles can become opportunities depending upon how you handle them.
Take the recent move from Google to encrypt all searches that will eliminate organic keyword data in Google Analytics. Though this would be considered the bane of SEOs, it actually might help keep SEOs in high demand since it will require a different set of skills to try to manage a campaign without that data.
However, when you put that in perspective with the recent Hummingbird update that rolled out about a month ago, which is aimed to help improve the speed in query results (which would also greatly improve the speed of conversational search queries), you may see the benefit of not being “distracted” by those shorter-tail keywords and moving toward long-tail phrases that are geared more toward answering questions, not just querying a single keyword. These longer-tail keywords and natural phrases are the wave of the future as Google becomes “smarter” about mapping relationships between phrases.
As Danny Sullivan so eloquently put it, “Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query–the whole sentence or conversation or meaning–is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.” In a nutshell, the Hummingbird update shouldn’t have any negative impact on your site as it stands right now. However, it does represent a shift toward semantic search and although there has been a lot of talk about how this is the future of search, many have doubted whether this could be done effectively. We’ll just have to wait and see whether this really is the case, but that shouldn’t stop you from evolving your processes to accommodate a richer content marketing strategy around this. This also carries over into social media marketing strategy as well, which brings me to my next point.
Sure, there are some techniques that are likely to work across the board, like having original, high-quality content on your site. Does that mean you need to tweet more? Does that mean you need to create more pages on your website? Does that mean you need to blog more? There are so many avenues you could go down to try to stick to the good ol’ adage “create high-quality, unique content” and hope that the Big G will look upon you favorably and reward you with improved rankings (and hopefully traffic and conversions). There is no one answer that works for everyone so it’s important to be flexible and willing to adapt. Try new things or new approaches–be creative! Most importantly, don’t lose sight of your visitors. They’re the ones who are bringing you traffic and conversions.
If reaching your customers through organic search results isn’t cutting it, perhaps you should focus more on your social media marketing efforts. Don’t be afraid to try a more mobile-centric approach to social media (as some might refer to as SoLoMo) or even add video, if it applies of course. Don’t be afraid to try some alternative PPC tactics as well, like display ads, or if you’re running an e-commerce site, some PLAs. You don’t necessarily want to take a spray-and-pray marketing approach but you also don’t want to keep slamming into brick walls over and over again–that’s just insane.
Just as you wouldn’t send your army to a naval battle or use your jungle-modified APCs to fight in the desert, you shouldn’t expect to find a one-size-fits-all solution to your marketing strategies. You can’t take the spray-and-pray approach when you’re working with limited resources (whether that is trained staff, budget, or other assets) so it’s important that once you’ve narrowed down what your goal is, you find the most efficient and effective strategy to get you there.
You wouldn’t use a screwdriver to hammer in a nail, nor would you want to use a hammer in place of a screwdriver. Although you could still manage to get the nail “hammered” in with a screwdriver, and you may be able to hammer a screw into place, it’s a poor substitute. “But if the nail/screw is where I want it to be, then what’s the problem?” Well, for one, the screw probably won’t hold as well as it was intended to, the nail might not be hammered in flush, and it probably resulted in a lot of wasteful effort.
Realistically, you’re going to have several goals running simultaneously, which puts a lot of pressure on finding efficient and effective management techniques as well. If you have a creative mind, an adaptive spirit, and an aversion to taking counterproductive shortcuts, you’re definitely on the right track. Keep fighting the good fight!
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