Trial, Tactical or Strategic: How Mature is Your Digital Marketing?

by Karen Talavera on June 29, 2012

The Three Stages of Digital Marketing Maturity

There’s a clear correlation between the stage of your organization’s digital marketing “maturity” and the effectiveness of your online marketing programs.

By “maturity,” I mean the level of your organization’s sophistication in digital marketing. Most organizations fall into one of three distinct stages at any point in time:

1. The Trial Stage
This entry stage is characterized by a scatter-shot approach to beginner use of channels like email, search and social, usually without good consistency or measurement/tracking in place. Companies in this stage typically do not have a strategy, process or orchestrated plan for digital marketing. They are learning and experimenting; trying things out to see which, if any, generate a boost in sales or enough traction to repeat the effort.

While this stage can sometimes be intimidating, it’s usually more exciting than stressful. Because previous commitment or investment has been minimal or nil, it’s exhilarating when efforts go well and easy to bounce back when they don’t.

2. The Tactical/Transition Stage
In this phase companies usually have a fledgling plan and process for deploying digital campaigns within or across channels, but haven’t integrated efforts and often sporadically execute. As a result, both the ability to measure results (what is truly effective), and the results themselves can be sporadic. This “chicken and egg” cycle is an all-too-familiar pain point – “if I can’t measure what’s working, how can I demonstrate enough success to market more consistently and gain more resources?”

Organizations in this stage are transitioning between the Entry/Trial Stage and the Strategic/Optimization Stage. Because a successful transition requires the creation of processes, procedures, and guidelines while simultaneously amplifying the volume of marketing efforts and campaigns, it places intense demand on resources. Resource constraints are what makes this stage particularly frustrating and often painful. Companies in this phase benefit from the wisdom and man-power of external resources like agencies, consultants and coaches who can quickly assess which efforts yield the biggest payoff, what to do next, and provide outsourced help to advance the organization into the final stage.

3. The Strategic/Optimization Stage
The most mature stage is characterized by a well-thought out, intentional digital strategy that includes specific plans, goals and objectives for each channel to be used. Organizations in this stage have developed marketing campaign calendars, customer-lifestage-specific programs for both acquisition and retention marketing (such as lead nurturing, welcome, up-sell and loyalty programs), and have working analytics, performance tracking and accountability systems in place.

They’ve also advanced beyond mastering individual digital channels (such as email) into linking, leveraging and integrating multiple channels together (such as orchestrating email and social connections, or search and content strategies). Furthermore, they’ve established formal processes and guidelines that dictate how digital channels and digital marketing as a whole are used.

Even within the final stage of digital marketing maturity, true mastery is a work in progress. Stage three embodies within it continuous growth and improvement. To use a karate analogy, a novice passes through many belt color levels (white, yellow, green, red, brown, etc.) before finally becoming a black belt, but achievement of black-belt status is far from the end of the road. True mastery then involves progression through ten degrees of black belt. In marketing as in martial arts, achievement of “perfection” is a journey, not a destination.

I encounter and serve organizations at all three stages. More and more, however, companies experiencing prolonged stress in Stage 2 are approaching me. These are almost always organizations with traction and experience in digital marketing that are plateauing or for the first time seeing diminishing returns. They have another thing in common: with fairly minimal mentoring and time investment, they can all make the leap to Stage 3.

An honest assessment of your organization’s digital marketing maturity level is a worthy exercise. The distinction between digital marketing maturity stages is important because organizations in the third phase are twice as likely, when compared to their first-phase counterparts, to find success in using digital marketing to:

  • Drive website traffic
  • Increase lead generation
  • Qualify and nurture leads into customers
  • Increase conversion
  • Improve customer retention
  • Grow sales revenue

At which stage is your organization? (seriously – tell me in comments below) Regardless of your answer, don’t shy away from investing to the best of your ability (remember, so many fabulous digital marketing tools like MailChimp, Hootsuite and Google Analytics are free) in the knowledge, education and resources you’ll need to reach the next stage. At the pace digital marketing moves today, you simply can’t afford not to.

photo by: dincsi

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