Monday, September 09, 2013

The State of “Our Industry”

Way back in February when we were planning the editorial calendar for this blog, writing about “the state of our industry” for my September post seemed like a good idea.

 If I were writing this 8 years ago, I would have said it was search engine optimization. Three years later, in 2008, I would have said it was search engine marketing.

By 2009 DBE started linking SEO and social media marketing together.  This was because our optimization team had picked up on algorithm shifts that showed the search engines were rewarding websites for brands that were talked about in the social channel with better natural rankings.  I presented an overview with case studies at  at the Custom Content Council’s Media Day in NYC in the summer of 2011.

A year later, Fast Company invited me to write about this trend. A number of optimizers reacted very negatively to the article, saying they just didn't see what my experts were seeing, but quite a few others responded that they, too, were beginning to see proof that social mentions were impacting their websites’ rankings. And now this approach, which was controversial to so many just a year ago, is considered to be SEO best practices today.

But the evolution of “our industry” should not just be viewed in terms of algorithmic changes.

At a future-focused conference for Business Development Institute back in July 2010 I talked about media convergence and how delivery devices were no longer marketing channels.  I showed how the lines were rapidly blurring between television, the Web, print, mobile and social media and that people would “tune into” each according to their needs, and that those needs would be driven by content and engagement preferences. As marketers, I said our job would be to ensure that messaging was found wherever stakeholders congregated on the Web and that a brand’s messaging was relevant wherever it was encountered, “breadcrumbing” stakeholders to other encounter points until they had enough of the pieces of a brand’s story to make a purchase decision.  (And then to stay engaged with the brand for ongoing purchase opportunities.)

During the last few years, DBE’s leadership team has continued to evangelize about this need for true marketing integration, from a planning, execution, and analytics perspective.  Most recently, Marc Engelsman, our director of client strategies and analytics, spoke about this at Integrated Marketing Week 2013 in New York City.  We've shown how brands benefit from an integrated approach that abandons silo-thinking (SEO, PPC, social media, TV, email, etc. as separate, unrelated tactics) and instead markets strategically from the purchaser’s perspective.  When marketers are collaborative with their audiences, engagement rises and sales, along with other business actions, rise along with them.

Integrating all of their owned, earned and paid digital activities with offline marketing to create synchronicity and natural content flow is what marketers are striving for now. Content strategy, planning, and creation are mission critical. So are sparking and facilitating social media conversations around that content and other topics important to brand’s audiences. Every brand is a publisher, and every social media community manager is a reporter, a publicist, and an advocate for the community all rolled into one.

All this leads me to now think of “our industry” as digital marketing—but I only add “digital” as an adjective because DBE’s deliverables tend to be executed in the digital space, even though our value to our clients is coming from the branding and strategy perspectives these days as much as it comes from result-producing executions. In time so much more marketing will be done digitally than is done “traditionally” that it will no longer be necessary to use the adjective “digital.”

In fact, it’s already happening.  A story in The Wall Street Journal reported P&G is shifting even more spend to digital, with 25-35% of its budget in the US going to digital channels like social media and PPC.  What’s more, P&G executives said digital media in many cases is proving to be a faster and cheaper way for P&G's brands to reach consumers, and feedback is also faster. So as a less expensive channel, the emphasis for digital can be stronger while the dollars are proportionately lower than what is spent on more production-intensive television and broadcast and costly print.

So “our industry” really is marketing. And the state of it is that it’s booming, it’s shaking people up, it’s creating new opportunities. Looking forward, it’s going to be less about specialists and more about renaissance thinkers who are creative, innovative, collaborative, analytic and thoughtful. It’s going to require marketers who can leverage technologies and tools to help them think better, smarter, faster and in ways that take marketing to new heights. It’s going to create new avenues to success for those ready to embrace what marketing has always been about: connecting brands with the people who will benefit from them the most.

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