Dusty But Digital

A friend, who works in online marketing at a Fortune 100, recently asked me how does she increase subscribers to her company’s website? Specifically, what can be done with external platforms (Instagrams, Groupons, other sites) and social media sites (Quora, FB, Twitter, etc etc) to drive subscriptions?

My first response was breathe, think broad. Digital is like a chess match. With the marginal cost of distribution and replication of digital goods approaching zero, there is no excuse not to think creatively. And if you cannot think outside the box, just make the box bigger. There was a time pre-internet, when each grain was too small to affect the entire shape of a beach. Not anymore. Through the sharing, connectedness and collaboration of Web 2.0 and the halo effect of IPOS like Facebook, we should think of digital as a core business function like finance, operations, and strategy, not just a cool add-on to marketing and channel mix.

The buzz around digital strategy is often relegated to media ad spends on alternate mobile and web channels. For example, there was a recent forecast by Bloomberg LP, which expects social media ad spend to jump to $9.8 B by 2016 (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-15/social-media-ad-spending-to-jump-to-9-8-billion-in-2016.html.) The question in Adage and other media rags is always how do brands keep up with where the eyeballs are and sell a product? But I would reframe the problem statement as how do you increase customer’s willingness -to-pay for your product/service? How do you outsource marketing to your customers in a way that shrinks SG&A? How do you move away from playing musical chairs with discretionary dollars to strategic thinking and increasing gross margins?

Some ideas I have come across in my career are the following:

1. Video integration is not going anywhere. Video is the most powerful form to convey a message and connect to your audience. Ask Justin Bieber. There would be no Beliebers if he did not post videos of himself playing guitar and singing on YouTube, before the major record deals. Blend as much video into your interactive-marketing strategy as possible.

2. RSS push technology. This lowers customer acquisition costs, i.e. getting visitors to your site with zero marginal cost. By pushing syndicated content through a user’s browser you make it easier for them to opt-in to content or learn more about subscription deals. This seems like old hat but look for an evolution in Web 3.0.

3. Mobile marketing messages received through handsets have the highest relevancy to consumers. Smartphones are extensions of artificial intelligence offering location based services, customer analytics, personalization and digital interactions like no other platform can.

4. Start with a community strategy over a promotional application. Many brands just focus on building the killer app, when they need to develop a strong social strategy. Empower your customers to become evangelist and outsource your marketing overhead, increasing your gross margins. Social gaming platforms like Zynga are good sources of inspiration. For example Clorox with CloroxConnects uses incentives borrowed from gaming to incubate ideas for new products. People who post answers or add rating comments are awarded points. Like Lord of the Rings, there is a circle of trust amongst those who participate and contributors who demonstrate expertise can advance to problems of greater difficulty and involvement. The best contributors win recognition, making participation rewarding and sticky.

The possibilities are infinite in the digital world. The convergence of personalization, social and mobility have increased the stakes for gaining market share for brands. Every customer counts in the long tail. Whatever you do start small with a pilot program and demonstrate goodness, then roll it out enterprise wide. Not only will you drive subscriptions and ROI you will differentiate your brand as digital leader because you are leveraging it like a chess master.