With the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’s latest Bellwether report highlighting that UK marketers’ digital budgets have increased at their highest rate in a decade, this blog analyses the trend and raises a word of caution about the increasing momentum of this communications channel to the detriment of others.
The perennial boardroom challenge to marketers has always been demonstrating how marketing directly correlates to a positive sales impact. Marketers have always struggled to demonstrate this link, with many in business quoting John Wanamaker infamous quip that half the money he spent on advertising was wasted, but that he didn’t know which half. However, the advent of digital marketing has altered perceptions amongst some. It is now possible to track a consumer from an initial paid click through to the completion of an online sale. To many in the C-suite, this is the ultimate indicator in judging the success of the marketing team and the return on investment from their budget. CFO’s now claim an understanding of the, perceived, linear consumer journey through the sales funnel and therefore are able to justify the marketing investment. Their perception is that the internal justification for the marketing budget just got infinitely easier.
However, there is a serious issue associated with this. By investing so heavily in digital a business is effectively ensuring that the brand is readily available which, of course, is vital. However, if a business takes its eye off the health of the brand and consistently prioritises online availability to the detriment of the brand’s appeal, perceptions etc. then problems will appear down the line.
As soon as the product becomes solely focused on availability and price, it becomes commoditised, eradicating any brand loyalty. If the brand continues investing at a consistently high-level comparative to the category and its competitors the potential long-term brand health issues will remain hidden. However, the business landscape is constantly evolving and inevitably at some stage, due to internal or external influences, real term and/or comparative marketing spend will fall. At this point, if the brand’s performance has been completely dependent on being at the top of the first page of Google results, when it drops to the second page sales will plummet and competitors will exploit the space that the brand used to occupy. The only way to guard against this is to continue nurturing and building consumer loyalty and advocacy through all communication channels so that consumers continue to seek out the brand irrespective of its digital ranking.
As a result, its vitally important to ensure that brands do not take their eye off the necessity of long term brand building. It is worth noting at this stage that we are not attempting to rubbish the importance of digital marketing, clearly it is a highly influential and vital communications channel. However, we are trying to demonstrate that digital is not the sole solution and must not come to the detriment of other, more traditional, channels.
This presents an even greater challenge to marketers as they now have to make an even stronger case for long term brand building as CFO’s may believe that digital is the ultimate marketing ROI solution. So, whilst the long-term trend of ever increasing digital marketing budgets is set to continue we would urge caution to brand marketers who turn a blind eye to the traditional channels in order to remain focused on the path of least boardroom resistance.