Modern marketers know that cross-channel campaigns are required to compete for consumers’ attention. But with branded content running the gamut from traditional advertisements to social media posts, digital marketing can get noisy. To stand out, brands have to think about strategy before they think about channels and make data-driven decisions along every step of the customer journey. Linda Popky, author of Marketing Above the Noise, shared her advice for achieving a strategic advantage with Associate Editor Maria Minsker.
CRM: In the book, you say that marketing has gotten too noisy. How can marketers overcome the noise?
Linda Popky: I’ve been around marketing for a long time, and because of the growth of digital marketing, things are getting more and more chaotic. The good news about the Web is that more people can get their message out there, but that also means there’s a lot more noise. So now, the challenge isn’t about content distribution or campaign reach. It’s about getting heard. What I realized was that the brands that were being heard were not necessarily the noisiest. Rather, they were the ones stepping back to say, “What do we need to do from a strategic standpoint?” As much as marketing has changed in many ways, there are some things that haven’t changed at all, like the core pieces of marketing that are fundamental to all content, regardless of the channel. That’s what brands need to get back to thinking about.
CRM: How should marketers balance the fundamental principles of marketing, which you call the “Dynamic Market Leverage Factors,” with the demands of digital content generation?
Popky: The first thing you should always think about is strategy, and that’s why it’s the first Dynamic Market Leverage Factor. You need to know where you are and where you’re going. This hasn’t changed. What has changed is our understanding of what strategy is. People talk about social strategy and digital strategy, but what they really need to do is determine strategy on a deeper, more foundational level. The brand itself is another Leverage Factor, and there are ways that the brand is impacted today that weren’t applicable in the past. Because of social, marketers can’t control the brand image as much. They can manage it, but consumers will still be talking freely about the brand. The only thing marketers can do here is constantly monitor and respond, and stay on top of the image.
CRM: How have some of the changes that you mentioned transformed the role of the marketer?
Popky: Marketers can’t act unilaterally anymore. They have to be in tune with the rest of the company. It’s crucial to work together with sales and customer service teams, but perhaps the biggest change is having to work with IT to better use all the data that’s available. There are so many data analytics tools out there, but the problem is that when marketers don’t know how to deal with data, they can drown in it. Working with data and analytics has been a big leap for a lot of marketers, and the key is to make sure that they’re focusing on the right data and using the right tools to close the loop and get valuable results.
CRM: You warn marketers about betting too heavily on up-and-coming channels, such as some of the newer social platforms. Why should they be wary?
Popky: Marketers tend to get excited by shiny new tools. My advice goes back to knowing your customers, knowing your brand, and having a strategy. As far as new channels go, you have to determine if they’re the right thing for the brand, because sometimes they might not be. Often, a channel is too new, and it’s worth watching it and seeing how it evolves. Rather than being driven by something that’s new and shiny, it’s better to step back, think for a moment, and ask: “Where is this useful for us and how is it going to impact us as a brand?” You really have to think it through.
CRM: What are some examples of brands that are marketing above the noise?
Popky: I love to talk about Zillow because when they were starting out, there wasn’t really an online real estate marketplace. It was during the recession, and people weren’t really shopping for houses at that point. So they created a different market. They noticed that there was no real unbiased source for information in the real estate market, so they just became a content provider. But as the market recovered, they started building out their business to become a service that matches realtors with consumers. Instead of pushing their way into a market that was really in trouble at the time, they created a new market for themselves and got above the noise.