Are You An Exec With ‘Digital’ In Your Title? Good Luck

adamheimlich“Data Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Adam Heimlich, Consultant & Former Razorfish Client Partner.

Big business first started to take digital seriously when, about five years ago, companies hired their first directors of digital marketing. Now there’s a trend toward hiring VPs of digital marketing or of digital strategy. These new hires deserve our sympathy, because the skills that got them where they are and their focus on achievement won’t serve them as VP. Mission failure is written into their job description.

Why digital can’t succeed in a silo is not a philosophical question. Turf war is a reality at every corporation, and the stuff of digital marketing is every other department’s turf. Sales. Technology. Customer service. Creative. Strategic partnerships. Financial forecasting. The counter-incentives to intramural VP collaboration aren’t going away by themselves. And consumer expectation for service and experience obviously can’t be met by a siloed organization.

Therefore, now would be a good time to abolish digital departments and distribute know-how at every communications touch point. Instead, those at the C level are mainly choosing to elevate the digital silo rather than to reorganize around the consumer a choice that, to my mind, reflects a bit of cynicism. Intended or not, this amounts to a classic set-up-to-fail scenario.

I speak from experience: Corporate digital silo heads were my clients for seven years at Razorfish, where I worked as a team lead until recently. Like me, they got where they are by putting a microscope on clickable and viewable assets. That used to be good enough. But today, consumers are so connected that, without influence on how a company operates offline how it creates ads, uses customer data, buys placements and predicts revenue a director or VP of digital marketing job amounts to delivering the message of disconnection to the masses.

There’s something maddening about hundreds of talented firms planning but utterly failing to adapt. Still, it’s understandable. While the digital silo is easy proof of weak intent, it’s not easy to figure out how to reorganize in a way that would better position companies for overall success. So it’s likely that digital VPs will be stuck in their silos for a while. For them, I’ll share the best advice I’ve managed to accrue for VPs of Digital bold enough to work toward transformation yet cautious enough to perceive how the deck is stacked.

Beat The Odds

To reach the goal of fluid, timely, helpful consumer communications, you need to be able to check two boxes: the content of all those messages, and the means to deliver the right ones to the right people at the right time.

The solution to the first is a unified, cross-channel brand strategy that’s modern enough for digital channels. That’s beyond the scope of any digital job. Meanwhile, the second challenge requires a unified approach to data. A digital VP won’t own enough data to easily meet this challenge on his or her own, but technology has advanced enough that it’s now possible.

It makes sense to prioritize data because aside from its ultimate value in message delivery it also has a more immediately useful power: prediction. If anything can bring a change that transcends organizational boundaries, it’s a credible forecast of more money to be made. And it’s not really risky to expect forecasts of cross-channel behavior to be more accurate than siloed DR plans. Even though enterprises treat DM, TV and digital audiences as independent, they’re definitely the same people, and digital truly does help consumers connect the dots.

To a new digital VP, I’d say getting off that conveyor belt to Failuretown depends on your ability to amass as complete and accessible a data set as possible. The better your data, the more organizational clout you’ll gradually amass. Here’s how to get started.

First Steps

First, visit all your partners and find out what company data they’ve been storing, where, and for how long. Access to client data is key for professional services firms, but the corporate instinct is to hoard it. In my experience, most enterprises don’t even combine their own Web analytics data with their SEM and ad-server data. Do that, if none of your agencies already have.

Next, you’ll need to work around the problem of not owning CRM or customer service data. The best route could be through email marketing. If your company is like most, email is part of online acquisition, and the messaging is wildly out of step with CRM goals. The same could be said of social marketing. Avoid tweaking these little catastrophes and go for the bigger fix: Stitch any customer data you have to your acquisition impressions, clicks and conversions, plus your Web analytics visits and views. All these records together constitute real consumer journeys, and you want them in a custom database, hosted in the cloud, where they can be quickly refreshed with new events and always accessible for analysis.

No one needs to know, but what you’re trying to do is blaze a trail to data-powered growth. It will cut across many silos, as digital should. And keeping track of consumer journeys in one accessible database is a crucial step. You can truthfully claim you need the information for better social media performance.

Expect your optimal partner in this effort to be an agency or ad-tech provider. Don’t count on your IT department to help you. Remember that IT’s mandate is to complete projects on time and under budget, using proven technology, so it’s entirely reasonable for the department to regard your newfangled and open-ended plan with suspicion.  A third party will have more experience building custom databases as well as an incentive to see you succeed. Find someone impressive, because no matter how worried IT is about putting customer data in the cloud, legal will be more so.

By starting to unify your company’s data, you’ll have done it a huge service. Embedded in all those journeys, you’ll have thousands of potential signals of the optimal routes to low-, medium- and high-value customers. Until you can make predictions, though, the project will mostly look like a huge compliance risk. And your predictive power will probably remain puny until you can get your traditional-media counterpart to play in your DMP sandbox.

The Middlegame

After sifting through journeys to identify the factors that predict value, you’ll end up with something that amounts to an audience segmentation. To avoid too-soon comparisons of marcom’s market segmentation and the real-time, predictive audience segmentation you’re working on, call it something else. Act as if you’re talking about online audiences only, and design your pilot to appear as non-threatening as possible.

You’ll know if you’re far enough under the radar when you’re permitted to commission online-specific creative to test in a segment or two. Pick at least one prospect segment and at least one customer segment, and prove you can lift profits. This step which I’d expect to happen six to 12 months after starting this process will provide an initial blueprint for doing acquisition and social/CRM in online and in traditional channels together.

If you get this far, you’ll have done your own IT, some forecasting, plus miniature marcom, creative and CRM. While you’re focused on consumer journeys, you’ll be praised and chastised regularly about online “performance,” which is certain to be volatile in a silo. Delegate that work and don’t get caught up in its ups and downs. Once you’re armed with a string of promising segment test results, it will be easier to challenge assumptions about how the company should grow.

Having unified data with a custom segmentation can set the stage for a unified approach to an audience. It’s only after everybody’s looking at the same truth, manifested in end-to-end journeys, that the question of messaging consistency becomes ripe for discussion.

If your first year goes as outlined above, your second should bring a chance to sit down with finance and determine how predictive results per audience segment could best impact earnings. And once you’re hitched to that pony, you’ll no longer have to be the solicitous partner in every internal collaboration.

Offline-media data will belong in the DMP because it improves forecasting. You’ll belong in the creative process because the company will be aiming for persuasion per segment, across channels. You’ll have effectively broken out of your silo. The inevitable title change will follow.


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