Turn to Digital in a Down Turn
A shortened version of this post originally appeared in Dr Ian Fenwick’s guest column in The Brief, the magazine of the British Chamber of Commerce in Thailand.
The deepest downturn since the great depression, with a potential pandemic hovering: a time of crisis. The Chinese for ‘crisis’ (weji) apparently combines characters for danger and opportunity: every crisis contains obvious dangers and hidden opportunities. Of all the opportunities our current crisis conceals, I want to focus on one: the potential of digital marketing. Why is digimarketing (digital marketing) such an opportunity?
1) Digital is underspent.
There has been a sea-change in how we spend our time; how we get information; and where we turn for entertainment. Audiences are forsaking traditional media for digital media.
The biggest digital medium, the internet, is truly global with over 1.4 billion users, 40% of them in Asia. Internet usage in the world’s top 10 emerging markets (Brazil, Russia, India, China, Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, Iran, Poland and Saudi Arabia) has already exceeded usage in the top 10 developed markets (USA, Japan, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Spain, Canada, S Korea, and Australia) . See Mary Meeker’s presentation at Web 2.0 Summit, Nov 5 2008. The entire presentation, which includes much more food for thought is here.
According to InternetWorldStats, Thailand has about 13 million internet users, 20% of the population. We are a top-20 fastest growing internet market. A recent survey by market researchers Synovate, looked at ‘upmarket adults in Bangkok’ (roughly the top 25% of the Bangkok population). This group spends about 19 hours a week in front of the TV and about 14 hours a week on the internet (excluding email usage).
If we drill down to younger (25-34 year-old) upmarket adults in Bangkok, the TV hours fall to about 17, and the internet hours increase to almost 17. TV and internet for younger upmarket adults in Bangkok are already neck-and-neck.
So what about marketing spend? Globally estimates put digital media spending as no more than 12% of total marketing. And in Thailand? Just 1.1% of marketing expenditures go on the internet. Five times as much goes in cinema ads; 6 times as much on billboards; 16 times as much on newspapers; and almost 50 times as much goes on TV.
Marketers are lagging well behind their markets. Those who wake up first have the chance of a big impact for relatively small investment.
2) Digital is the Future
While we can debate consumers’ exact TV usage relative to their computer usage (and remember, digital is not just computers: we have mobile phones, video games and digital billboard as well). I have never heard anyone doubt that usage of digital media will continue to grow.
The diehard fans of print believe that nothing will totally replace the feel of a book in the hand; the fight to read a newspaper in the wind; or the grubby stains of ink on the fingers! But even the most fervent supporters accept that traditional media’s future role will be more niche than mainstream.
That we will use digital media in our marketing is inevitable. That to use digital media well requires building new relationships and acquiring new skills is indisputable. So why not take the first steps now: while stakes are small and competitors are slow? Then in the next boom you will be practiced, and ready to make major digimarketing investments.
3) Repair, re-use, re-cycle
In digital less is more. Improving your website almost certainly means reducing it. On the web speed is king. Your competitors are a click away. If users don’t see what they want in the first few seconds on your site, they will go elsewhere.
User-testing is easy and inexpensive. And it isn’t testing by your IT people or even by your marketers! It’s having real people—your target users—use the site. Give them tasks to perform (e.g. how to fix a specific customer problem; or how to file a complaint). How many clicks does it take? Debrief them: how could you improve the site. This isn’t rocket science. It’s commonsense.
Consider the language of your site. If your site is multi-lingual, is it all in all the languages? There is nothing more annoying than getting lured into a site which suddenly lapses into a language you can’t read. And have native speakers check each page.
Consider the tone of your site. Is it authentic? Or is it flagrant hype? Is it on-brand (does it reflect what you want people to think of your company)? Again, decisions on which you need users’ opinions, not those of anally retentive professional writers and editors.
Does your site work in all browsers? Not just Internet Explorer, but Firefox (20% use it), Safari (8%, the Apple freaks), Chrome (1%), and Opera (<1%) and even Netscape diehards. If your site isn’t usable in the customer’s favorite browser, you are neglecting that customer.
Don’t forget mobile devices (those things once called phones). Many websites use graphics and/or flash that make them inaccessible to mobiles. Get your web design people to fix your site, or serve a different version to mobile devices.
Remember that frequently updated, newsy sites are more fun, and more attractive to search engines. But these resource intensive sites are like elephants: they are great to look at and very effective…but they do need feeding every day. Build updating mechanisms into the site and into your org structure. A site with “News” where the latest item is a week old is worse than a site with no news. Digital marketing needs planning. Don’t build site features without building the systems to maintain them.
4) Develop a Search Strategy
One surprise for traditional marketers entering digital is that they don’t have to beat the bushes to find customers. In the digital world customers find (or try to find) you!
Search is the highway to websites. A recent study found 85% of business buyers go on-line to find suppliers and of those 70% use search. What’s more, of those that said they didn’t use search—they already knew the vendor’s web address—27% actually typed that address into a search engine. They know the site’s address but put it into a search engine in case they make a spelling mistake. This means savvy search marketers can intercept customers bound for a competitor’s site.
On the left of the search page are ‘organic’ search results: the results delivered as most likely to fit the search phrase used. On the right of the page, are ‘paid’ search results: advertisements which appear when a particular search phrase is used.
Both sides are important. To get to the top of the organic listings (only pedants look beyond the top 5 listed) requires ‘search engine optimization’ (SEO), and a sense of humility. You are very unlikely to be in the top 5 listed sites for a common search phrase. Too many others will be trying for the same slot. Choose phrases more specifically descriptive of your products/services.
To get to the top of the paid search results…well you pay! But again if you don’t want to pay too much choose slightly unusual (but still relevant) phrases. Google tells us that over 20% of searches each day have not been done in the previous 90 days. A lot of searches are unusual. Buy lots and lots of those unusual (but relevant) phrases.
5) Digital Marketing is Trackable
The traditional complaint about advertising is: ‘I know half of it is wasted, but I don’t know which half’. With digital you will know which half! When someone clicks your on-line ad, or the link in an email, or your paid search ad, you can trace them to your site, and see what they do there. As a result you can track return on marketing expenditures.
What’s more digital advertising is often priced on ‘cost per action’ (cpa). The paid search ad is displayed for free: it only costs when someone clicks on it. Again in a downturn this is gold. Place lots of ads, but only get charged if they seduce a click from someone. Traditional media in contrast is usually priced by ‘cost per thousand’ (cpm): you pay for the ad, irrespective of results.
6) Interactions Lead to Transactions
Most marketers are familiar with the ‘sales funnel’. The exact words differ from guru to guru, but the idea is simple: customers pass through awareness, consideration, preference, and (finally) action. The problem in a recession is that the ‘funnel’ narrows. Awareness, consideration and preference are there, but customers become judicious: they are reluctant to act.
One of the major benefits of digital media to judicious consumers is the ease with which they can consult others. On-line reviews are hugely influential. They are the second most important driver of purchase decisions, behind only personal advice from friends, with reviews by users more influential than reviews by experts (see “Web users and web community,” Rubicon Consulting, Inc. October 2008). What’s more (as many of us know to our cost) 70% of those who read reviews inflict share them with friends, family or colleagues (according to Deloitte & Touche, September 2007).
Even if you cut spending this downturn, you should at least be aware of what’s being said about you. How are your products/services being reviewed? There are several free services to monitor consumer comments and reviews. Start with Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts); also try www.monittor.com, www.serph.com, www.blogpulse.com. And there are paid services that are probably a little better.
Monitoring these customer discussions is market research. Some companies use these consumer conversations for new product ideas; or pro-actively monitor for service opportunities. Are customers confused or having problems using your products? The active marketer can gently enter the conversation with words of help, advice, or apology as needed.
7) Creative Use of Digital is Dynamite
One short example:
in January 2009, Tourism Queensland offered AUS$150,000 plus free board and lodging, for someone to spend 6 months as “Caretaker of the Islands”. Aside from living on a beautiful island, the caretaker would write a blog about his/her experiences. Applications took the form of 60-second videos.
Within 7 days the website had 1 million visitors. The contest got column inches, and blog feet, around the world. Within a week one applicant had tattooed her arm with an advertisement for Tourism Queensland. By the entry deadline, 35,000 60-second applications had been received.
What a triumph for a relatively unknown destination, with a small budget, in the midst of a downturn and worries about a flu pandemic.
But…remember what we said about planning?
February 22nd Sydney Morning Herald headline: “World’s Best Job is ‘world’s worst contest’”. They were quoting from a mass email sent out by a disgruntled would-be applicant who was unable to file his video because the contest website collapsed under the pressure of 7,000 last-minute applicants.
Digital marketing brings global reach within the grasp of all. Marketing no longer buys an audience, compelling creative ideas, based on consumer insights, earn that audience. Planning digimarketing is absolutely essential as the upside is so high. You cannot simply take your traditional marketing and slap it into the digital world. You will need to learn new skills. But everyone is in the same boat. Those who practice now, and adapt first, will survive. The downturn is a great time to experiment and learn digital.
Dr. Ian Fenwick is a Founding Partner of digiAindra Co. Ltd., and an Advisor at Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration, Bangkok, Thailand. He recently co-authored DigiMarketing: The Essential Guide to New Media & Digital Marketing (Wiley 2008). Become a DigiAindra fan, follow Ian on Twitter, or see his SlideShows presentations.
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