How to fail at digital marketing… The best ways to ensure failure.

Many articles talk about how to succeed at digital marketing, with titles such as “Top 10 tips to get ahead in 2020”. Instead, I’m going to tell you how to fail, seeing as statistics show us that most companies fail within the first few years of business.

Much like a company is only as good as it’s employees and its employees are only as good as it’s leader, marketing is only a good as the company that it is for.

During the past ten years, we’ve had some really great clients, but we’ve had some shockers too! This is why we have become more selective. Now we work with companies that turnover at least £1m per annum, or less if it’s a project. We work with companies where we don’t liaise with the business owner (they are too busy), and we have a requirement that clients agree to act on our advice: We want them to choose to work with us a partner, rather than simply a company that they outsource to. We also make sure that they have a proportion of funds to invest in new ideas and innovation.

Novi.Digital isn’t your standard digital agency. If we were part of the education process then we would be your University of SEO and PPC, a highly-specialised level of learning that requires you to have already learned the basics.

As in life, generally speaking, what is worth having isn’t easily acquired. 

I read what some might consider a lot of business books (although not as many as I would like to) and many of them focus on how doing a certain technique will help your business to grow. Unfortunately, in business, as with digital marketing, it isn’t all that simple. I’m not suggesting that there is a need to over complicate matters – as with Ockham’s Razor, the simplest solution is often the best one. Rather, it is a multitude of factors that culminate to achieve success.  

There a number of precursors required to achieve success with digital marketing. These aren’t necessarily restricted to simply SEO or PPC; these principles can extend to social media, email marketing, even offline marketing. I mention these, as although it does seem that businesses, business-owners and decision-makers are evolving their approaches and the way that they think about digital marketing, there have been situations whereby business owners expect more than can realistically be expected from digital marketing. Here’s one such story…

Getting kicked-out of a meeting

A number of years ago, when I was presenting to a potential client opportunity, they clapped their hands together, stating “I think we are done here” and promptly brought the meeting to a close. I remember this meeting well, as it didn’t go quite as I expected! Looking back, this was an opportunity for me to reevaluate my approach. Although I haven’t encountered this issue again (more than likely due to a revised approach), I learned more than simply the importance of delivering the message in the right way.

I often use the drive back to the office following a meeting to collect my thoughts and on this one occasion, I had one of those important realisation moments:

The reason that the client had this response is because they asked me: “How can you get us to number 1 on Google for “random search term?”. Fundamentally, this is a flawed question and this is what I explained in my response. I replied in two parts: “Firstly, this isn’t how SEO works, you cannot aim to be number one for a particular search term, it is more complex than this”. I wasn’t avoiding the question, but teeing up the response to be one of explanation rather than a simple answer. I wanted to tell them that the aim isn’t to sit at number 1, it’s a consequence. Besides, you cannot be number 1 on Google for a search term, as it depends on location, search history and algorithms that change constantly. This is why Google organic search metrics in the Google Search Console only ever give you an average position. Google Ads have even removed position entirely from their dashboard – thus it is irrelevant!

Following this, I responded with “Secondly, I’ll ask you a question to help to answer your query. Why do you deserve to be number one?”. These days (with the help of Simon Sinek’s – Start With Why), we encourage clients to think of the why, before they ask how. This particular business didn’t answer the question. Instead, they chose to make the aforementioned statement and ended the meeting. Although I was shocked, in hindsight, I am not surprised. They had just recently rebranded with a new design and spent some time on this. A brand isn’t simply a case of designing a new logo, but they were clearly insulted.

This is just one example of many that showcases that businesses do not always think about digital marketing as a holistic approach, but rather as something that operates in isolation. Nothing operates in isolation. People have to communicate in order to achieve collaboration, which in turn achieves success. ‘United we stand, divided we fall’ – is just one example of this.

Barriers to Entry

When we work with businesses today we have a number of barriers put in place to ensure that clients prove their commitment to investing in digital marketing before we enter discussions. First and foremost, this is because we respect and protect our client’s business interests. By this, I mean that we only encourage them to proceed if they are ready, willing and able to do so.

In recent years, I have since changed the way that I deliver such messages by tailoring the approach depending upon the audience, but fundamentally the message remains the same: You cannot expect a digital agency to make you a market leader if you don’t already have the makings of a market-leading company!

Examples of similar scenarios include:

Sportsperson: “I want to be an Olympic champion by the end of this year, you are the coach… I’m paying you to make it happen”

Candidate: “In my next role, I want to be CEO of a FTSE 250 company”. Recruiter: “…but you have no experience as a CEO in any company.”

Employee: “I think I deserve more money because my cost of living has increased” Employer: “What will you do differently?”. Employee: “…nothing”. – True story!

Before commencing with a digital marketing campaign, you must first have the business basics in place.

  • Know your figures and financials.
  • Have a strong and unique brand.
  • Possess clear USPs that prevent others from doing the same as you.
  • Know your target audience and buyer personas.
  • Ensure that you know your market positioning.
  • Ensure that there is a clear demand for your products or services.

Many clients come to us without knowing these. We ask many questions to all of our clients in order to better understand from outset.

Common issues that we have experienced are:

  • The Client does not provide us with access to their website.
  • Our client contact avoids providing us with any financial information, either because they are not aware of the figures, because they deem them irrelevant, or because ‘this is too difficult to calculate’.
  • The Client or their developer neglects to add us to their existing Google Analytics account.
  • The client tells us that it is our responsibility to figure out the answer to all of these questions independently.

As you can see, the relationship is a two-way responsibility. In nearly every situation that you pay for a service, the clearer the information that you provide, the better the outcome.

So now it’s clear how businesses fail, let’s focus on how to avoid failing at digital marketing. Firstly, you must have everything in place before you press ‘go’. By this, I do mean ensuring that you have all of the aforementioned in place, but you also need to ensure that your website is perfect!

What’s needed to ensure that your digital marketing campaigns don’t fail?

  • Make sure that your website is responsive and presents correctly on all devices. Having a mobile-version and a desktop-version alone is not sufficient.
  • Make sure that visitors can get in touch with you in every possible way, from LiveChat, to email and from phone to WhatsApp. Give your visitors options!
  • Make sure that your offering is clear. What do potential customers get for the amount they pay?
  • Outline the benefits, not just the features.
  • Be visual. People often need to see something to believe it.
  • Innovate constantly, whether this is marketing automation, videos or animations, functionality such as calculators or otherwise.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from the article…

Rather than saying “I want to be number 1 on Google, how are you going to get us there?” and avoiding the answer of “Every other company in the top 10 has a globally-recognised brand and has annual revenues of 50 x your revenue. There are 10,000 other companies competing for this position, what makes you deserve it?”, instead, ask the question: “What do we need to do to get our business to be a market leader in the eyes of the customer?”.