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Listen Learn Change Grow

Posted on Nov 28th, 2008
Written by Lee Odden
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    internet marketing strategyThe thing about internet marketing is that there is no “one right way” to solve a single problem. So much of the advice and commentary about content optimization for search engines at conferences and on blogs is tactical. Five tips for this and 10 ways to do that. We do it too, because people that are new or just dipping their toe into the stream of internet marketing knowledge need information packaged in an easy to understand and actionable format.

    Between the changes and improvements that happen on search engines, adoption of new web technologies/applications and changes in the way people use search, tactical advice can get outdated pretty quickly.  

    I’ve been thinking lately about how managing long term search marketing programs can be tricky with all that change, but a strategy that focuses on a model of “Listen, Learn, Change and Grow” can make a big difference between long term success or failure.

    1. Listen: The very first thing a marketer needs to do with a new internet marketing project (especially SEO and social media marketing) is to listen. Depending on your perspective (agency or client side) it will be critical to perform discovery tasks and probe for realistic goals, target audience characteristics, competitive landscape and messaging guidelines.  

    The trick is that while many people looking for help with improving search based lead generation and sales will tell you about their situation, goals and challenges, it takes an experienced marketer with excellent listening skills to decipher what that information means and to ask questions in order to construct a strategy.

    A basic example is when someone asks for specific services like SEO or social media marketing. It’s the responsible thing for the marketer listen and pick up on the motivators to be so specific and also to ask, why? Why SEO, why social media? What are the specific goals and how will you measure them? What is the time frame, what are the resources available to reach those goals? Who are the influencers within the organization that you’ll need to win over for proper implementation and what is the reporting structure upstream in order to evangelize and promote success within the organization?

    Listening is key to discovering the viability and relevance of a particular marketing channel as well as the resources to ensure it’s success. Too many SEO consultants take on projects believing the client knows what’s best for themselves. The reason to hire a consultant is that they bring expertise and an outside perspective to the situation and challenge existing processes to reach goals. If current processes and knowledge worked so well, there would be little reason to bring in an outside consultant.

    2. Learn: A natural progression of listening is to learn about the uniqueness of the situation and what that means for constructing a strategy. Learning about the situation to be solved for a search based marketing effort involves everything from an audit of the web site: keyword use,  code/server issues, internal and inbound links compared to the market, industry and competitors.

    Reporting mechanisms need to be clearly defined for the scope of the program and it is absolutely critical to take benchmark measurements as soon as possible. Even in somewhat ambiguous situations, it’s important to have measurement and data collection in progress. That translates into web analytics, social media monitoring, sales channel analytics and anything that works as a proxy to desired outcomes like web traffic, RSS subscribers, white paper downloads, webinar sign ups, etc.

    • Phase 1 learning covers the discovery process of understanding the project situation, competitors and resources to make it happen. Getting up to speed quickly on a client, industry, competitors and resources shortens the time to start seeing results.
    • Phase 2 learning is ongoing and helps determine how effective marketing efforts are as well as determining seasonality, patterns or cycles to audience “buying” behavior.  Sharing this knowledge is also important for content and promotion scheduling.
    • Phase 3 learning emphasizes client side education on how to best take advantage of insights from the consultant. Client education and training is critical for proper implementation and communication. With our digital marketing consulting practice, we spend as much time training clients as we do on consulting. Helping clients develop these skills makes the overall program more effective by more involvement of the right people with the right skills for implementation. It also frees up consulting time to be spent on more strategic efforts with greater impact.

    I call these “phases” but all of them should start on day one of an internet marketing program. 

    3. Change: Internet marketing exists in part, because of the constant change and newness of the web. Companies need help navigating and adapting to that change.   Each day there’s an abundance of new content being published, new users and ways to use the web and of course, changes in how search engines do what they do. Innovation is synonymous with doing business online. That means change.

    Companies hiring outside consultants will expect, for the most part, to receive recommendations that mean changes in strategy, tactics and processes. In order to take full advantage of the marketing and customer communication opportunities that the web affords, organizations need to embrace change. Consultants that have really “been there, done that” with numerouse clients can be relied upon to facilitate the strategic and tatical changes necessary for a succesful program. 

    For example, if a company wants to increase sales via online channels but doesn’t want to change existing sales channel tracking in order to effectively track web sales, then it’s incumbent upon the agency/consultant to provide a compelling arguement or even a business case to make that change. Otherwise, the program is doomed for failure – not because tactics fail, but because the client stands in their own way for success.

    4. Grow: Marketing programs should be self funding, ongoing efforts. Successful programs will grow and scaling efforts to increase customer acquisition and sales should be inevitable.  For search marketing, particularly SEO, it’s ongoing content creation, promotion and social engagement that grows an organization’s footprint on the web.

    More web pages, inbound links and social networking connections mean more opportunities to engage customers. It also means, to some degree, displacement of the competition: in the search results and with mindshare for a category.

    Many companies look at internet marketing as a start stop campaign because that’s how their budgeting processes are structured and because that’s how they’ve always done it. However, doing so with the social web is like trying to start/stop growing a plant or a relationship.

    Organic growth of content, links and social connections on the web result in a compounding effect that persists and grows as long as you “feed” it. Growing these online marketing efforts is an ongoing effort and simple to budget for as a flat rate cost. You can scale results by increasing these efforts and corresponding consulting costs, but time is also a factor with scaling organic growth.  

    Even online advertisers are realizing the campaign perspective towards marketing isn’t very effiecient when a social aspect can be leveraged long after the initial start/stop dates have passed. Whether it’s asking viewers for feedback on an ad or offering a link to a forum/social community, the life a successful ad campaign creates can be extended.  Success measurements change from direct sales off an ad to the kinds of metrics associated with social media ROI.  Additionally, digital assets from interactive advertising campaigns can be optimized for organic search in order to grow the reach and continue to provide value from a SEO perspective.

    Rounding up the Listen Learn Change Grow.  

    Tactical expertise with search and social marketing is abundant. However, there is a huge advantage when you can combine practical internet marketing experience with social and organizational experience. It’s just not enough to create a plan to improve online sales through specific channels. Companies should expect their digital marketing agencies to help them grow through better listening, facilitating learning, encouraging change and understanding the long term benefits of growing online marketing efforts.