January 2008 - Online Strategies

Online Marketing’s Top 10 Challenges for 2008

By Aaron Kahlow

The top 10 challenges facing the interactive marketing community in 2008 mirror, in many ways, those facing the marketing community at large. It only makes sense, considering that almost every marketer today must address the interactive medium. Having spent the last two years traveling the world for the Online Marketing Summit events, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with thousands of people from all areas of marketing. When asked about top challenges, many say things like “social media” or “search engine optimization” or “integrating online and offline.”

But I think they are much more fundamental. Here are my top 10:

10 Time. “I have to get this eNewsletter out tomorrow, can we talk about our landing page strategy next week?” As marketers, we are all stretched way too thin. With time, it’s not so much a lack thereof, but a matter of prioritization. We can do whatever we want, it just depends on what we decide to do first. As it applies to online marketing, we get so caught up in the day-to-day execution of existing campaigns, and we never allocate enough time to ask, “What can I do that will have the greatest impact on my marketing goals?” I’d argue that researching what your customers do online and where they spend their time would be of utmost importance.

Recommendation: Read up on website usability and start testing or learning from others who have.

9 Saying no. “I just read about a blog that the Starbucks CEO does-we need to do that!” Have the courage to ask for the research, the case studies and the plan for execution first before taking on activities that are “hot” or sound cool, but may have very low utility. An example would be saying no to building a blog until you have mapped out the audience, the time it takes to maintain and what the desired outcome would be.

Recommendation: Write down your list of marketing goals for the year and if this new idea does not further one of them, then put it in the idea box for next year.

8 Getting involved. “Facebook is for kids. I don’t really see why I’d want to join. Plus, who has the time for that?” One of my favorite conversations involves social media. Most marketing professionals over the age of 30 are skeptical when it comes to networks like Facebook. The reason usually is, they’ve never taken the time to explore the medium. The psychological elements inherent can’t be explained; they must be experienced.

Recommendation: Join Facebook. It’s not going to be of huge utility at first, but put in some time and poke around, and you’ll begin to see the potential. I’d be happy to be your first friend and connect you to hundreds of marketing leaders across the U.S.

7 Unifying stakeholders. “IT doesn’t think we need it, the boss is too busy for it and the marketing department has all sorts of opinions.” Everybody has opinions on what’s best as it relates to online marketing. IT feels they can create everything, your executives are not willing to spend time thinking about it because they are too busy, and your own peers have certain opinions based on what they read and see. Your annual budget and your marketing strategies seem to default to the loudest voice and biggest ego in the room.

Recommendation: Spend a day learning best practices together as a team. Have a consultant or advisor come in and share what’s happening in the marketplace and why successful companies are excelling.

6 Budgeting. “Got shot down again on getting a budget for a new analytics tool. I’m not going there again.” Most still have the same formula for allocating a marketing budget. I’d guess the majority of marketing departments simply take a look at last year’s budget and tweak it.

Recommendation: Take out a blank sheet of paper, write down 10 things your target customer does with their time on a daily basis and the top three places they will search for your offerings. Then start talking about where to spend your money.

5 Evaluating communication channels. “If 92 percent of people use the web to evaluate purchase options, why do we only spend 20 percent of our budget on our website?” Most don’t realize that all of our marketing efforts flow through our website at one time or another. Whether customers learn about you from a search campaign that links to the website or a print ad that features your URL, no one today picks up the phone to ask a salesperson to explain the product or service. They find that information on your site. So, to get that right is critical.

Recommendation: Do some usability testing. Have five random people go to your site and watch over their shoulders (no guiding).

4 Removing ROI. “What’s the ROI going to be for this new forum we are going to create for customers?” ROI is mission critical in business, but if a company were to base every decision on guaranteed ROI, well, that company would not have gotten off the ground in the first place. Much of marketing is testing, research and learning how best to communicate to the customer, so we must dedicate a budget to do that, or we will never see incrementally better results.

Recommendation: Allocate a portion of your budget to R&D, giving staff the freedom to discover the next killer campaign or marketing idea.

3 Willingness to take risk. “We’ve never really done much in SEO because there are no guarantees and we know nothing about it.” Today, technology and marketing are intertwined. As marketers, we are often uncomfortable with the technology side of the equation, so we shy away from what we don’t know because it’s a big risk for us. We must get out there and educate ourselves and get over the fear, because it’s costing us big time on the opportunity front.

Recommendation: Find your most feared technology element and search for a consultant or for education material, then decide on the next step.

2 Education. “We really need help on how to proceed with next year’s planning, but we don’t know where to start.” This ties nicely into No. 3, as we need to seek education before we make decisions. Online marketing is ever changing. If we don’t take the time to educate our teams, our bosses, our agencies and ourselves, then we will be stuck with half-baked opinions instead of ones based on research and established best practices.
Recommendation: Find an educational event on the online marketing areas of greatest interest and take a retreat with key stakeholders to attend and learn from the experts.

1 Understanding human behavior. “Why would anyone want to go to a website and read the user reviews or ratings on our product or service when they can just call us?” It may seem strange, but human behavior is what drives all marketing. It’s the understanding of how your customers behave that drives what communication channel you choose to spend your money on. It is the behavior of your customers that drives your messaging so that it resonates with them. Human behavior is changing. The preferred method of communication is e-mail. The preferred information source is online. The preferred pre-purchase research channel is Google. So, we must go back to studying human behavior as we did in the ’50s with the onset of TV, and plan our marketing efforts around it.

Recommendation: Observe and learn from your customers’ behavior.

Aaron Kahlow is managing partner of BusinessOnLine and chairman of the Online Marketing Summit. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].


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