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Digital Marketing:
Don’t Miss the Forest
for the Trees
Digital marketing is less about planting discrete
digital touch points (the trees) than it is about
transforming marketing as a whole (the forest).
Digital Marketing: Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees
Adults in the United States spend an average of 14 hours a week online. In Japan, people log on
for 18 hours each week, and in China’s metropolitan areas, people spend a whopping 20 hours a
week online. Add in the time we spend on the mobile Internet with devices such as smartphones,
and those numbers are even higher. The amount of time we spend online is enormous, equal to
or more than the time chalked up to watching television or reading newspapers (see figure 1).
Digital marketing is still in its infancy—
the trial-and-error stage—but consumers
are way ahead, expecting real and relevant
A closer look reveals a more significant shift. While watching television, up to 60 percent of us
are multitasking—using computers, tablets, or smartphones to browse the Web, check email,
or visit social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook. The digital devices that support that
shift generate a new dependency. In fact, a recent study in the United Kingdom reveals that 66
percent of people have become psychologically dependent on their mobile devices, giving rise
to disorders such as nomophobia—the fear of being separated from your mobile device (short
for no-mobile phobia). Clearly, our need to feel connected is powerful.
While television's total advertising market share is still healthy with a 3 percent increase between
2006 and 2010, the attention we pay to traditional channels such as television, and especially to
traditional advertising on television, has shrunk dramatically. To keep up with these trends, companies are reaching out to consumers on more modern channels. We call this digital marketing,
and it is no longer an option but a necessity (see sidebar: Defining Digital Marketing on page 3).
Figure 1
How much time do people spend online compared with other media?
Hours per week
South Korea
United States
Using the Internet
Using mobile Internet
Playing video games
Listening to the radio
Watching TV
Reading newspapers
Notes: Figures are for adults 18 and older. Findings for Latin America, India, and China are based on metropolitan areas.
Source: Technographics Benchmark Surveys, 2011
Digital Marketing: Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees
What does this mean for marketing? We see two dominant elements:
• Touch points are crucial. To interact with consumers requires a 360-degree perspective on
touch points, which encompass all of a customer’s interactions with a company, including ads,
websites, salespeople, and stores. Through each touch point, customers form perceptions
about the company and the brand. Digital touch points transform all other media. Online and
offline are not one-or-the-other propositions—customers are online almost all the time through
smartphones, tablets, connected TV, and online radio.
• Consumer engagement is essential. Consumer engagement encompasses customer interactions with a brand over time that create a long-term connection. A successful marketing
strategy does more than raise brand awareness—it interacts and connects emotionally to
create a bond, leave a lasting impact, and build an enduring relationship. But consumers are
no longer static targets to be inundated with marketing messages. Digital marketing meets
them where they are, transforming the way we think about communicating with brands. It
creates new expectations about relevancy, transparency, honesty, commitment, trust, and
relationships. Successful brands behave as real people do.
The paradox is that while digital marketing is still in its infancy—at somewhat of a trial-and-error
stage—consumers are way ahead, expecting real and relevant interactions. While much is being
written about aspects of digital marketing such as location-based social networking apps like
Foursquare and Gowalla, not much is being said about a marketing transformation. Marketing is
no longer simply about how we market a brand. It is about how we inspire, serve, and live with
the citizen-consumer as a brand-person.
Transforming the marketing forest to blend in with today’s digital world is a challenging but
necessary undertaking for companies that want immediate impact and long-term growth.
Storytelling and the Brand Experience
From age-old oral traditions to today’s digital formats, people have always liked stories. And
storytelling is an essential component of brand marketing. For the past 40 years, stories in the
form of advertising have been conveyed through one primary touch point: television. This was
good but not great: The medium is short by nature and limited because it is rigid and lacks
touch and feel capabilities. Television also assumes that the same story appeals to everyone
(see sidebar: We Are Social Animals on page 4).
Defining Digital Marketing
The standard definition of digital
marketing is digital activities in
the marketing space. This is
different from e-commerce,
which covers all business
conducted electronically.
Digital marketing encompasses
the following areas:
•Developing content for digital
touch points, such as minivideos, games, brand-created
content, and consumercreated content
•Building campaign websites
and updating brand websites
•Driving traffic to digital touch
points, including planning and
buying digital media
•Fostering engagement and
interactions in social networks
(managing communities)
However, defining digital
marketing through digital
activities is too narrow. A better
definition is marketing in the
digital age. This is significantly
different, from both a scope and
an integration standpoint. There
are many facets of marketing in
the digital age, but at the core
of each is one goal: capturing
the attention of the consumer.
Digital Marketing: Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees
Today, we can tell stories in much richer ways. A TV spot can be partnered with a YouTube video
to create excitement and announce something bigger. Subsequent episodes of the story can then
take place at other online locations or at a point of sale (POS) where the brand experience will be
deeper. Consider, for example, the 2011 Dodge scavenger hunt. Dodge Journey television ads sent
viewers to YouTube to find clues first for hidden cars and then for real cars. Dodge then posted
YouTube videos of the car winners. DreamWorks Animation used multiple channels to promote the
movie MegaMind, including TV ads and the online game MegaFarm with Zynga’s FarmVille.
The communication cycle between brand and consumer has three phases: pre-reveal, reveal,
and post-reveal. Each phase has a purpose with appropriate touch points and content.
Storytelling, brand experience, and consumer engagement must be designed up front, with
a 360-degree view, ensuring each touch point has a purpose with appropriate content and
timing. In particular, articulating a pre-reveal phase in a launch cycle requires significant
anticipation and alignment between the marketing organization and agencies, and often
retailers, too. This is fundamentally different from what usually happens: a huge investment
at the reveal stage, but little happening before and after.
This cycle affects how we think about each touch point and its return on investment (ROI).
A TV spot today has very different features than a traditional television ad. It is not meant to
inform, educate, or create brand preference, and it is no longer the key to the communication
strategy. It is just one component among many. The consumer engagement strategy
becomes the cornerstone.
We Are Social Animals
The digital world is transforming how we do the things that
we have been doing throughout
history. Mass media has existed
for less than a century. Radio,
movies, and television were all
created in the 20th century. But
social networks—places where
people meet, interact, and share
information—have existed for
thousands of years in the forms of
families, tribes, friends, neighborhoods, and marketplaces.
The time that the average adult
spends online should not be
a surprise. It reflects basic
human behavior, for which
socializing is key. It is more
natural for us to interact with
other people than to watch
television for hours. The
domination of mass media can
be seen as a short parenthesis
in human history, following
centuries of social networking
in small physical groups and
preceding future centuries
of social networking with new
digital tools. The same applies
to games: The best sellers have
always been social games.
This has been true with Hasbro’s
Monopoly game since the
mid-1930s, and it applies today
to Zynga, a leading provider
of digital social games such
as FarmVille.
People today are increasingly
meeting, interacting, and
sharing in a digital version
of social networks. In fact,
the division between offline
and online is artificial and
shortsighted. Most consumers
are no longer simply online or off;
they are increasingly connected
24/7 via mobile devices.
is what did not exist before us.
For our grandparents, television
was technology. For most of us,
the Internet is technology. For
our children, the Internet is no
longer technology.
A closer look reveals insightful
patterns. The digital world allows
people to interact in new ways,
but it does not fundamentally
change our human socializing
patterns with friends, relatives,
and our other networks.
Over the past 15 years, cynics
have said that new generations
are more individualistic and care
less about society. We disagree.
New generations do care; they
just express it in different ways.
Further, technology is a relative
term: Defined as the application
of scientific knowledge for
practical purposes, technology
Digital Marketing: Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees
A good example of this is Volkswagen’s 2012 Super Bowl ad, “The Dog Strikes Back.” The TV spot
features an overweight dog that longs to chase cars and becomes inspired to get into shape by
a passing Volkswagen Beetle. The ad does not focus on the car’s features but on telling a story.
In fact, it is somewhat of a sequel to the company’s 2011 Super Bowl ad “The Force,” which
featured a boy dressed as Darth Vader. The surprise ending in the 2012 ad is that it jumps from
the slimmed-down, car-chasing dog to an alien sports bar where a group of Star Wars
characters, including Darth Vader, are watching the commercial. Volkswagen’s campaign also
included videos on ESPN Mobile and YouTube.
A multifaceted consumer engagement strategy engages viewers and piques their curiosity,
nudging them toward other touch points. For example, YouTube and Facebook are global, and
unlike television, they incorporate social elements by asking viewers to like, share, or create
their own videos.
On the ROI side, evaluating the real impact of a TV trailer will require actual engagement online
and at the point of sale. Linking TV media spend with gross rating points (GRPs) and sales uplift
will no longer be relevant. Success will require linking all investments—TV, online, and others—
to consumer engagement and then linking consumer engagement with sales and loyalty.
Advertising agility and speed are also increasingly becoming key differentiators. And this is not
about squeezing months into weeks; it is about squeezing days into hours—real time. When
singer Beyoncé announced her pregnancy during MTV’s 2011 Video Music Awards, brands that
have something to say about pregnancy needed to react in real time, not days later.
This type of marketing has deep implications for situations in which the entrepreneurial spirit
may exist on paper but doesn’t translate in real time. From an organizational standpoint, most
companies are not ready for this. We have silos where traditional marketing deals with traditional media and then adds a vertical digital function.
Creating a Sense of Purpose
Increasingly, brands must provide a compelling sense of purpose—to instill the notion in
customers that they can do something to change their lives and improve society. Developing
a brand with a sense of purpose requires three components: a powerful idea (ideal),
a persuasive moving story, and empowered customers.
Let’s look at how these components work together. First, a powerful idea is more a big ideal than
the classic big idea in advertising. For example, Axe, the personal care brand from Unilever, is
marketed not just as a deodorant but as the ideal that gives men an edge in the mating game.
Axe is portrayed as more powerful and appealing than other brands because those who use it
are cool and fashionable. The story is persuasive because an Axe user is depicted as being able
to seduce anyone. And the customer empowerment component is humor: Axe ads trigger
a positive reaction from viewers, who not only quietly chuckle at the story when alone, but
also laugh about it together. An engaged customer is in a relationship with the brand.
Some believe the sense of purpose is equivalent to corporate social responsibility (CSR). We
believe that although the two are linked, they are different concepts. A CSR initiative often
includes a sense of purpose, but it does not necessarily provide a clear purpose. Only a handful
of companies are able to deliver both. Procter & Gamble, for example, has spent years developing
a compelling sense of purpose in its brand of baby products “caring for the happy and healthy
Digital Marketing: Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees
development of all babies around the world.” Its Pampers diaper brand is also involved
in CSR initiatives, which include teaming up with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
to vaccinate women and children around the world against maternal and neonatal tetanus. P&G
has created a meaningful link between a brand purpose and corporate social responsibility.
Understanding People (Not Just Their Needs)
Until a few years ago, marketers relied on market research teams to assess the potential and
dynamics of their markets by category. Market research was renamed “consumer and shopper
insight” with the intent of digging deeper to reveal buyers’ needs and behaviors.
This was a big improvement in product development and retail category management. But
it wasn’t enough. The same reasons for brands to have a sense of purpose require that we go
deeper into consumers’ minds to connect and engage. Like an iceberg, the real connection
takes place well below the surface. What are customers’ desires, aspirations, underlying
beliefs, and sense of purpose as individuals? The same is true for brands and products. The
trick is moving beyond developing functional products to portray a product’s underlying
emotional attributes, and then going even deeper to develop its personality and compelling
sense of purpose.
Brands must provide a compelling sense of purpose—to instill the notion in customers that they
can do something to change their lives and improve society.
Imagine a couple having dinner on Valentine’s Day. The wife says, “Honey, I appreciate the
diamond earrings, but I feel like you don’t know me anymore. You talk to me as if I’m one of your
clients.” And he says, “I know you inside and out, sweetie. You are 42. You’re married with two
children, one dog, and two cats. You own a home and like to garden, go to yoga class, and shop
at the mall at least once a week.”
Most marketers hardly know more than this about their target customers. One could argue it’s
already a wealth of information—but it’s not enough to truly engage. It’s not about knowing
something personal and confidential about Mr. and Mrs. Smith; it’s about knowing why people
need what they need and behave as they behave.
Determining why people do what they do is not easy because we humans are not always
honest. For example, someone’s Facebook profile might say he loves exercise and always eats
healthy food. But in his photos, he’s eating cake and ice cream. What is more insightful: stated
interest or actual behavior? Both may be relevant. He loves sugary foods and wants to stay fit,
and he can do both if he exercises to work off the extra calories. Well-targeted advertising for
this consumer will address not only food, but also a healthy life style.
Understanding shared passions has always been important in order for people to make connections with one another. The same applies to the relationship between people and their brands,
and digital marketing enables new ways for people and brands to interact.
Social Networks and Community Management
A communication cycle with pre-reveal, reveal, and post-reveal stages is better and more
powerful than just a reveal stage; and it might fit the need to support new brand or product
launches. But it does not address the opportunities to nurture a consumer relationship with
Digital Marketing: Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees
a brand. Launch cycles alone are good for category or brand discovery; they can create
a relationship with the brand. But they often fail to generate commitment and strong bonds,
not to mention advocacy. These are the true drivers of customer value over time.
So how do you create strong bonds between consumers and brands? Strong human bonds exist
only between individuals and members of small groups who share the same passion. A brand
that creates strong bonds will be a relevant part of these inner circles—acting discreetly,
sincerely, and preemptively.
The notion that anyone can deeply influence millions of people for a long period of time is false.
When it works, it rarely lasts more than a few years, and only then because the team revolves
around the presence of a charismatic leader. When the leader leaves or loses credibility, the
light goes out, and there is no more team.
The same applies with massive influencers, such as pop stars, actors, or top models who
are leveraged through public relations and advertising to influence customers. What impact
do they have? Do they create a true bond with the brand, foster their own community, or fuel
a solar team where they and the brand have a link with customers but there is no glue to
create a real community?
There is no easy answer. Certainly, group bonds are strong when all members are linked and
have something to share. For example, BMW drivers share something about the pleasure they
find in driving. A community is by definition a group of people with something to share, not just
something to look at. Community management is the art and science of fostering quality
relationships within a community.
Sociological research tells us there are four stages in community management (see figure 2):
Figure 2
Community management is often the weak point in digital marketing
Components of
digital marketing
Familiarize and listen
Command and control
Defined roles and
Integrated roles and
Content and
Formal and structured
Some usergenerated content
Integrated, formal,
and user generated
Policies and
No guidelines
Consumer tools
used by individuals
Consumer and
self-service tools
Mix of consumer and
enterprise tools
Social functionality is
integrated throughout
Activity tracking
Activities and content
Behaviors and
Source: The Community Roundtable, 2011
Digital Marketing: Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees
Hierarchy. Familiarize-and-listen strategy; command-and-control leadership; reactive culture;
a lack of community management; formal and structured content programming, reactive
culture, consumer tools used by individuals, and no community management
Emergent community. Consensus-based leadership, some user-generated content,
consumer and self-service tools, and informal community management
Community. Collaboration, community-created content, consumer and enterprise tools,
organized community management
Network. Distributed leadership, integrated formal and user-generated content, often activist
in nature, and high emotional attachment among members
The Community Roundtable, a U.S.-based information-services organization, characterizes
these four stages along eight dimensions in what they call a community maturity model. In 2011,
findings from its study of community management suggest that there is an execution paradox
in the market.1 While social marketing generates enthusiasm and cautious optimism (or at least
interest) among most executives, not everyone is open to sharing information, and a significant
number of executives are not comfortable using unofficial, user-generated content (see figure 3).
Here’s a quiz: What percentage of content about the Coca-Cola brand is generated by users?
Answer: More than 80 percent. For many brands, that number is below 20 percent. Good or
bad is not the point; it is hard to compare across categories. However, this is an indication of the
kind of consumer engagement and community excitement Coca-Cola has created.
Figure 3
Many executives remain uncomfortable with user-generated content and social marketing
% of executives
Content and programming
How does your organization
feel about social marketing
What is your organization’s view
on information sharing?
How comfortable is your
organization with using unofficial,
user-generated content?
Not comfortable
Only if we lack the
bandwidth to do it
Somewhat comfortable
Very comfortable
Cautiously optimistic
Commitee- or
Source: The Community Roundtable, 2011
The Community Roundtable. The 2011 State of Community Management: Best Practices from Community, Social Media,
& Social Business Practitioners
Digital Marketing: Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees
Community management is likely to remain the toughest challenge for marketers because
it combines challenges to develop new skills, new cycles (beyond launches), new contentcreation models, new measurements of outcomes, and new risk and reward approaches.
The Transformation Path
Players that flourish in this marketing transformation will be the fast movers that completely
alter their marketing concepts. Although there is no one right way to succeed, it is important
to recognize and develop certain capabilities throughout the transformation in order to come
out on top.
Based on our experience with various clients, we see three stages in a marketing transformation
(see figure 4).
Brands must provide a compelling
sense of purpose—to instill the notion
in customers that they can do something
to change their lives and improve society.
• Open but skeptical. A senior manager might be open to a digital marketing strategy but still
not directly influenced by his or her environment. The usual reaction is to invest but ask for
the ROI of every digital initiative. This hardly moves the needle because there are few ways
to measure ROI. In stage one, we encourage executives to embrace change and increase
their personal exposure to digital media and marketing. The tactics range from promoting
Figure 4
Three stages in a marketing transformation
Open but skeptical
Passionate but out
of practice
Digital native
Typical profile
• Senior manager open
to digital marketing but
not influenced by digital
• Senior manager influenced
by digital environment
• Young, inexperienced
• Digital natives or nativelike managers immersed
in digital media
• Lack digital exposure
• Desire to know ROI for
every digital initiative
• Lack of knowledge
• Organizational silos
• Lack of momentum in
managing communities
• Organizational silos
• Engage in all things
• Provide proof of return
on investments
• Employ social media
experts to train others
• Instill customer-centric
Source: A.T. Kearney analysis
Digital Marketing: Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees
digital days at work to introducing a recurring digital agenda in meetings. The idea is to get
everyone personally immersed in social networks and digital media. You can’t sell a product
through new channels unless you completely understand the channels.
• Passionate but out of practice. A senior manager might be influenced by his or her
environment or a younger inexperienced marketer. Today, almost everyone has hired
a 20-something social media expert to run their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts,
among other sites. But are these experts sharing their expertise with the firm, or are
they hidden away quietly doing their jobs? Interestingly, social media experts tend
to be introverts, interacting almost exclusively online, so the challenge is using them
to train others on all things social media.
• Digital native. At this stage, there is usually a fluid mix of digital natives and aspiring digital
natives—managers who are immersed in all aspects of social media and have been for a few
years. They have a high degree of autonomy, but there are still some gaps, mostly around
managing the entire social media community. So the transformation continues with investments in streamlining the organization, instilling a consumer-centric versus category-centric
focus, and funneling resources to manage the social community.
Organizing digital marketing activities is only one part of the challenge, but it is an important
one. We see the following digital marketing job evolution (see figure 5):
One job. Digital marketing activities are performed by one person, usually when every
market has some level of digital skills:
• Internet manager. Responsible for major tasks related to digital media buying and digital
content development. Social media is usually outsourced and poorly supervised. Little
energy or talent is put into social networks and community management.
Figure 5
Digital marketing job evolution, positions, and responsibilities
One job
Internet manager
• Traffic
• Media buying
• Content
• Social media
(usually outsourced)
Two jobs
E-marketing manager
• Traffic
• Social media
Content developer
• Content development
by brand or category
Community manager
• Public relations
Community manager
• Public relations by
brand or country
Content manager
• Traffic
• Content delivery
Media buyer
• Traffic by country
or region
Media buyer
• Traffic
• Content delivery
Source: A.T. Kearney analysis
Digital Marketing: Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees 10
Two jobs. Digital marketing activities are divided into multiple jobs, usually starting with two for
a given business unit. Responsibilities can be divided in two ways:
• E-marketing manager and community manager. Dominant when social aspects and public
relations are most important (luxury brands, for example) and where innovation is less intense,
so there is less pressure on content for launch management
• Content manager and media buyer. Dominant in mass-market environments with intense
innovation where content delivery, traffic, and media buying are top priorities. Social media
remains a lower priority.
Three jobs. This is the mature stage in which size and skills drive digital marketing
activities in three areas:
• Content developer. Responsibilities are organized by brand or by category;
offline and online are integrated.
• Community manager. Responsibilities are organized by brand or country, offline, and online.
Community management, whether in-house or outsourced, requires dedicated supervision.
• Media buyer. Responsibilities organized by country or region across brands or business units.
It’s not about knowing something personal
and confidential about Mr. and Mrs. Smith;
it’s knowing why people think and
behave as they do.
The Change Journey
To connect with customers in the digital age, the technology trees must not hide the
marketing forest, where deep and broad transformation challenges reside. Companies that
set their sights on the three most important milestones in the change journey—deeper
consumer insight, a strong sense of purpose centering on improving lives, and integrated
and inclusive use of social networks—and that do so with the full attention and personal
involvement of a forward-thinking CEO, will have the best chance for a successful transformation
with immediate gains and sustained growth.
Eric Gervet, partner, Paris
[email protected]
Matthieu de Chanville, principal, Paris
[email protected]
Digital Marketing: Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees 11
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