Why enterprises fail at digital marketing

I’m a digital marketer for one of the largest tech companies on the planet. Our scale is at a level few marketers can even imagine. Just my team’s pipeline contribution alone is, to be vague but clear, ginormous (sorry, can’t divulge company secrets.) You would think that with an engine like ours, everything comes easy. Well, it doesn’t. Digital marketing is hard. Enterprise digital marketing is harder, and it’s fraught with perilous traps. We are in a constant state of transformation. Yet, I’m amazed at how nimble we can be at times.

Simply put, digital marketing is the promotion of products and services using electronic devices, systems and activities. Over the years, the term has morphed a bit. Event marketing was never considered digital, but then came the introduction of the webcast and event digitization tactics. Where does the event discipline fit now?

There’s also the added complexity of inbound vs outbound marketing. Digital marketing activities can fall on both sides of the debate. An enterprise worth it’s salt will have a balanced strategy for both inbound and outbound (read the @HeinzMarketing take on “allbound”), seeking ways for one approach to help the other. Sprinkle in POE (Paid, Owned, Earned for the uninitiated), content marketing, and mobile and you have the makings of a strategy as complex as a recipe for perfect macarons (hint: macarons are very difficult to make with lots of twists and turns in the recipe — done right, though, and WOW!!)

With all of the various moving parts in digital marketing, including long term investments in infrastructure, tools and complex processes, there’s a lot that can go wrong when large enterprises attempt to bolster their digital marketing activities. Here are a few common challenges.

1) Poor inbound / outbound balance

Inbound marketing, while not necessarily “new”, might be fairly new to large organizations who have been doing outbound marketing for decades.

Enterprises that have invested heavily over the years on their outbound engines will have a difficult time rebalancing to inbound models. It’s not as simple as making a decision and going for it. There are corporate politics at play, leaders protecting their turf and budgets, lack of skilled resources in key areas, existing business to protect, and entrenched tools, systems and processes. The “catch 22″ is that enterprises must make the shift to compete, but are fearful of losing business if they do.

Solution: Lead with vision, prove with data. Most outbound oriented marketing teams can be easily convinced to employ new models if you hit them where it matters most — pipeline contribution. To do this, introduce a vision for a complete inbound and outbound model where they are involved in the success of the whole program. (Larry Kim describes these models quite well.) Then, prove the value of the vision with metrics, data and research (data courtesy of HubSpot). Show them how their pipeline contribution will be positively impacted by these new fangled activities and you’ll win a comrade for life.

2) Wrong people in the wrong places

Chances are, if you’re a big organization, you have some small, obscure digital marketing team somewhere in the corner of your organization doing amazing things that nobody knows about. Find those people and elevate their voice — find them NOW! If your executive team doesn’t have practical digital expertise (I’m looking at you, too, Mr. EVP), then ensure they (you) are surrounded by digital experts and that those fabulous marketers of yours are heard clearly by the rest of the organization. Secretly and illegally clone them if you must.

Did you know that there is a digital marketing skills talent gap, aptly described by @MeganLeap? Yep, that’s right. If you think you’re going to be able to hire digital talent off the street, think again. The best ones are already snatched up. So, if you have them in your organization now, make them happy or, well, someone else will.

Solution: Snatch up anyone with digital skills, particularly on the inbound side. Surround yourself with digital talent. Become a digital expert yourself. Use your digital talent to help drive the vision, set strategy and formulate best practices.

3) Your digital engine sucks

Can your systems really scale to support inbound marketing? Think about that for a minute. You’re cruising along at an industry average 2.8% click rate on your email campaigns. All of a sudden some bright digital marketer introduces a new content marketing campaign optimized for search and supported with a PPC program. WHAM! You’re hit with response rates you’ve never seen before. All of a sudden, you have a problem — you have more responses coming in than your follow-up engine can handle. And here, you thought you were using enterprise grade tools!

Well, the problem isn’t just with the tools. It’s with the entire process. Your digital engine sucks!

Solution: You need to architect new ways of managing success. Large enterprises can’t handle surprises well — negative or positive. Architecting flexibility into your processes and systems is a must. Invest in the tools your teams need, pay special attention to the connection points between sales and marketing, deploy predictive capabilities (more on this at another time) and ensure you can report at the operational level (versus the all-too-common executive level) to monitor how you’re doing. Let your teams experiment with new ways of working and give them a pass if they fail … there’s a lot to learn in this transformation process.

4) Failing to connect

I have colleagues I work with from whom I learn something new with every conversation. I spoke to one of those colleagues (Ken Robertson) briefly about “the philosophy” of marketing. A large enterprise can easily get so caught up in the nuts and bolts of marketing, that they lose sight of the purpose of marketing — to connect with stakeholders. Digital marketing today has the ability to connect your organization with your customers, prospects, investors and any other stakeholder group like no other technology before. Companies that lose sight of that fundamental principle will, inevitably, churn out stale content through stale activities on stale timelines.

Solution: Make it the point of your organization to passionately and compulsively connect with your audience. When your marketers do this, digital activities will become the engine for making those connections. You’ll increase engagement between your teams and the market. Great content will be delivered to the right conversations at the perfect moments. In everything you do, look to connect with your audience and shun those activities that no longer provide those connection points. Even best practices for face-to-face connections have validity in today’s social media centric world.

I could go on and on and on. Digital marketing is hard to implement for any company, much less large behemoths with dedicated investments in infrastructure and strategies that reached their peak a decade ago. But, articulate the digital vision, prove its value, surround yourself with digital savvy people, upgrade your marketing engine and connect with your audience to reach levels of engagement and value that will set you apart from everyone else.