Why Digital Marketing Requires a Learning Organization

desks-learning-classroomI have been thinking a lot about learning and social media marketing lately (I am working on a series of white papers on this subject with some colleagues from P&G).

Today, marketers and ad agencies don’t have to stay on top of dramatically changing mediums to be successful.  The key to success in most traditional advertising is understanding the consumer and having great creative based on meaningful insights.  Let’s face it – the formula for great TV hasn’t changed much in a long time.

In digital, the key to success is different.  It changes.  All the time.  What worked today might not work tomorrow.  Unless you are immersed in the medium you won’t be successful.  Reading a few trade publications won’t really help either.

Search Changed

Initially, you could easily game search by stuffing key words on your site and joining link exchanges or buying links.  If you use those tactics today, they just won’t work.  Google got smarter and changed it’s algorithms making them more complicated and harder to game.

Today, many search firms are relying on social (and creating great content) to drive links and long-tail search traffic to their sites.  Today, google is harder to game (although I’m sure some SEO types will disagree).  Even if you can game it, your success may be short lived once google catches on.

At Pubcon South Guy Kawasaki said in a keynote that SEO was witchcraft and the key to good search results is to create great content.

Twitter Changed

Two years ago, nobody was even talking about twitter.  In the early days of twitter, you could win by showing up, and contests from brands were embraced and rewarded (that is what Zappos did).  The rules were different.  Auto-follow and DM Spam didn’t exist, and there were relatively few players, so it was easy for brands to stand out.

Now, it is much more difficult for brands to connect on twitter.

FaceBook Changed (again and again and again)

It seems that every week Facebook is changing something.  They changed Groups vs. Fan Pages.  They change how your news updates and status feeds work.  They add new features all the time.  They made apps (when I first joined there were no FaceBook apps).  They changed privacy settings.  They change the rules for brands.  They added FaceBook ads.

MySpace Became Irrelevant Before Most Brands Got On-Board.

A few years ago EVERYONE was talking about MySpace… today nobody does.  Sites can rise and fall quicker than you can create accounts, making it more important to stay up to speed.  Remember a few years ago when people were investing in Second Life?

These are just a few examples of how digital quickly the rules and success criteria change in digital marketing.  If your organization is not continuously learning, you’ll quickly be out of the game.

The second major trend it that…

Feedback Cycles are Shorter with Digital

feedback_form_excellentWith digital marketing results are almost instant.  This means that marketers and agencies can get results from their campaigns relatively quickly.  For example, with paper coupons it takes almost a year from the time the coupon is created to when complete redemption data is available.  With Mobile Coupons the data is instant.  You can view and adjust in real time based on results.  When placing online display ads you can instantly see the clicks (and subsequent results) vs. waiting over a year to get (questionably accurate) marketing mix data back.

It isn’t just that the feedback cycles are shorter, but also that the ability to adjust is instant.  Bad TV copy may never go off the air – either you realize it is bad only after sales suffer, or it is too expensive to change.  Bad digital marketing has much lower production costs, and small changes can usually be made quickly.

Social Media (and digital marketing) Require Continuous Learning

It can be overwhelming, but the reality is that if you want to stay competitive in the digital environment you must have a continuous learning environment.  The rules for TV and Print and how they are consumed has been relatively static for decades.

Digital changes every day.  With this faster rate of change organizations must adopt a learning strategy.  Marketers and agencies will have to learn quicker to stay relevant.

How do you stay up to speed on changes?


  1. Krista–well written post.

    You asked: “How do you stay up to speed on changes?”

    One of the ways I stay up to speed is by visiting AllTop.com and quickly scanning the blog post titles of the thought leaders in the topics I need to stay up to speed on. If a title catches my eye, I’ll click through to the blog to read the full post.

    – Nick Wright

  2. You make a great point–digital changes overnight, seemingly every night. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep up, and as much as I LOVE the fast-paced excitement and endless opportunites, it’s starting to get a little overwhelming.

    I try to stay on top of things w/the usual suspects (RSS, Twitter, alerts, bookmarking), but it takes so long to get through my RSS feeds, I can never really keep up with my Twitter feed, and half the articles I bookmark w/Evernote & Instapaper don’t get read. I’ve had this discussion with many others who feel the same.

    On the other hand, there’s definitely a market for a product/service that curates content according to really specific individual preferences, something much more refined than a rudimentary keyword search. If you know of anything, please share!

  3. Hmm, need to pay more attention to my HTML tags…

  4. If you want to stay current, you have GOT to put the work in. Reading, trying new experiments, and honing your methods…these are the only ways to stay on top. You just can’t fake it in an age of google analytics!

    What we try to do is keep our customer service at the top of our priorities, engage the customers personally, give them a reason to choose us, make a good product, and stand behind the good product (which is easy to do if your product is good!)

    I’m trying to get a foothold in the digital marketing arena without learning too much about traditional marketing. Do you think this is a mistake?

  5. @Nick – I haven’t thought of using Alltop in that way. Great suggestion – thanks for sharing!

    @Tamia – Great comment. I have an increasingly difficult time staying on top of my RSS feeds and twitter. I think that Nicks Alltop suggestion is good. Perhaps we need a meme site or Digg for the social media marketing community…..

  6. @Will – Honestly, I think that traditional marketing is still extremely important in the age of digital marketing. Basic marketing and brand strategy, targeting, understanding your audience and equity – all of these things still matter.

    It sounds like you probably are doing some of these things and already understand them without “formally” trying to.

    I think that especially in the early stages of a start-up customer service is EXTREMELY important. Not just because there are hiccups, but also because it helps you to really understand your customers and how they view your product.

    Sounds like you are on the right track already 🙂 What is your company?

  7. I’ve worked for a few companies in an advertising capacity due to my experience with Google Ads and Analytics and SEO (a truly dead art, but you used to be able to game the system)

    Recently, I’m working with a few blogs, and some fashion companies like Fedaboa USA and Titan Luggage USA. I am really interested in the new style of engagement and participatory marketing that seems to be sweeping the online world, as I feel its miles above the traditional “lets see what I can hammer into someone’s subconscious via endless zombie brain creating repetition.” So, I’ve been trying my hand at participating in the revolution that I hope will one day bring about the end of marketing as we know it. My passion is to see targetted and personal advertising take over completely from the broadcast and program paradigm we’ve seen until now. I really do think that it will make the world a better place! Blogs like yours are a good source of information for me, because you are able to sit on both the traditional side and the “new online” side and that gives me a lot of perspective without having to read a purely traditional marketing blog that, to me, is hopefully a footnote in history!

  8. Hey Tamia!

    I have found this overload to be GREATLY lessened by getting together with a group of people and distributing coverage of readership. When I can find friends to say “you know, I will take care of keeping you guys up on web design trends” and another to say “I’ll make sure everyone knows the latest stuff in SEO” then you’ve got a network of friends who can all use, for example, Google Reader, and can share items they find interesting. You can subscribe to whatever subjects/people you like, and spend a lot less time digging and skipping, and a lot more time learning. This requires a really dedicated and communicative team, but it can definitely be done. Crowdsource your news!!

    You may also want to try reddit, they have “sub reddits” for almost anything, and if you don’t find what you like, MAKE one. People will start participating and you’ll not only get a highly efficient ranking mechanism for news, but also some very interesting comments and a great sense of community.

    My website is listed here, you can “find” me via that, if you’d like to be part of my circle. We tend to sway heavily to the technical and creative sides of technology, but I, for one, would absolutely LOVE to have someone around to toss marketing ideas and articles around with.

  9. @Tamia

    One more thing! Delicious.com, a social bookmarking tool, is a really great resource as well, since it supports easy tagging and sending of links!

    In the end though, the tool is almost meaningless, as we use everything from delicious to friendfeed to facebook to pingbacks to communicate…the biggest thing is just finding interesting people that you can trust to have great taste. I love finding people via blog comments, social site comments, forums, and weirdly enough file sharing and social music stuff like last.fm!

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