Digital Marketing

The Alarming Truth About Digital Marketing’s Imperfections

A One Legged Stool

My Job, Pre InternetThere’s no question the Internet has been good to me. The last two jobs I had before getting involved in Internet marketing in 1994 were spokesman for the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections (prison tours), and marketing director for Waste Management (landfill tours). I prefer this gig as it is smell and horror-free.

I’ve been doing the Internet thing long enough, however, that my hype detector is finely honed (when I hear the words “designer dog” my nose runs). And lately, the more I read about this new online boom, the more Kleenex I grab.

No question, online marketing has many enticing characteristics like trackability, ease of implementation, and targeting (all of which I’ve chronicled in these pages). But I’ve witnessed more than a handful of conversations recently where clients and even agencies have pondered “maybe we should only do online?”

The Internet Isn’t Magic

That chalk mark on the ground? That’s the line between enthusiasm and crazy, and you just crossed it. People are being lured into an illusory sense that just because it’s digital, it defies the laws of marketing. That just because a trial campaign was boffo, a 400% increase in budget should yield a commensurate increase in results.

There are a few, highly targeted businesses – especially those that operate only online – that can succeed with a purely digital marketing approach. But for most real world companies, online-only (or even online dominant) marketing will not succeed.

The Difference Between Demand Creation, and Demand Fulfillment

Why? Because at its very core, digital marketing fulfills demand much better than it creates it. The digital tactics that work best (email to current customers, search marketing, highly targeted banners, social media) work because they reach an audience that is either already aware of your company, or susceptible to your charms based on their needs and lifestyle.

At any moment in time, there are a finite number of prospective customers that are aware of your service, interested in your service, and online. Thus, there is a ceiling on the effectiveness and size of any winning digital campaign. Approximately 100 people will search today for “RV rentals.” And not much can be done online to increase that number. You can do everything possible to maximize your exposure to those 100 searchers, but that’s the size of the potential customer pool via search at present.

To grow the pool of people who are clearly interested in RV rentals (as evidenced by their search query), you have to use the much maligned and uncool world of traditional marketing. By using print, broadcast, direct mail, event sponsorship, and public relations you can grow the awareness and demand for your product or service, and PRESTO that demand will show up online.

Learn From Cupcakes

For example, an examination of historical search volume for “cupcakes” shows a consistent, slightly increasing number of daily searches from 2004 through 2006. Beginning in 2007, when the media began running frequent stories about the new gourmet cupcake trend (no doubt prodded by professional PR practitioners), search volume for “cupcakes” spiked, with a 300% increase.

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At Off Madison Ave, (where I handle strategic planning) we often engage in a tactic called “Media Isolation” to measure this effect and produce efficient media plans. Try it for yourself.

Take a two to four week period and run only PPC and SEO. No other outbound efforts. Then, keep the search campaign up, and add offline tactics. Reexamine results of the search program. Then, take down the traditional campaign, and continue running the search campaign.

What you’ll find in essentially every case is that the initial online campaign produces results that increase by 50-100% when traditional media is added. But most interestingly, the search campaign continues to perform better than it did initially, even when traditional media ceases. Why? Because the traditional program increased demand, and then the online tactics fulfill that demand.

This concept that offline marketing improves online marketing is powerful, but it can sometimes take a while to prove, when you consider that search latency (the time lag between when a consumer first searches for you and when they buy) can be as long as 90 days. Look at your reports in three and six month increments, not just monthly intervals, to help identify these relationships and trends.

From a marketing strategy standpoint, maximizing the effectiveness of your online efforts is a great first step, as the available data and feedback immediacy produce ROI faster than other tactics. But if you want to seriously grow your customer base, you have to put down the black turtleneck and Red Bull and employ a true mix of marketing approaches that work together to increase the number of people that care enough about your product to bother looking for it.

What do you think? Am I being too hard on Internet marketing? Leave a comment

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