Optimize Your Digital Marketing Investment:
Start Small, Keep it Simple & Focus on Your Users.

May 30th, 2014  |  No Comments

When it comes to digital marketing, participation is not an option. Failure, however, is.


Because there are so many factors that influence the outcome of digital marketing projects. How you navigate the complexities, inherent risks, and traps of a design and development project will determine what option you choose– success or failure.

Common Mistakes
Even the most savvy marketers encounter problems that can adversely affect project results. Let’s take a look at some of the more common ones associated with digital marketing:

  • Asking for the wrong project
    Some companies simply ask for the wrong project. Instead of pursuing a project that is aligned with increasing sales or attracting customers, for example, they can fall victim to their own ideas and ask for things that may seem logical, but that ultimately don’t make sense for the user. In other words, they spend a lot of time and money on a product that people won’t use, download or otherwise convert.
  • Understanding the project scope
    It’s easy for a marketing team to kick out a project overview of what they are looking for an application, tool, or website, but the reality is that this vision and amount of work involved will often change. If this fact is ignored during the statement of work and proposal, problems will result. The scope of nearly all projects are inherently mercurial. It is critical that both the client and the agency understand this.
  • Not focusing on users
    When egos get involved—and this problem happens on both sides—the project can easily get lost in ideas. As this process plays out, the single most important factor gets lost: the end user! By the time everyone is finished talking about their ideas, both sides have failed to step back, pay attention to the user data they have on hand, and determine the best method to engage their customer. In the end, it’s not about what the business wants, what seems cool, or what the agency thinks would look good in its portfolio–it’s about the user. All involved must not lose site of this!
  • Ignoring your best friend: simplicity
    One of the most common errors seen in the digital industry is reluctance to simplify and launch a basic or stripped-down version of the website, app, or whatever is being built. The knowledge gained from your users by having a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in place will far outweigh the time and cost associated with launching a project with every feature on that fleeting target date that has already passed. By simplifying, launching sooner than later, and adjusting as you go, this customer and data-centric approach can reduce timeline and cost significantly when the process is executed correctly.
  • Including “everything” in launch
    If the client isn’t ready for a MVP approach, or the product doesn’t support this type of strategy, there are still ways to scale back on those features that will be ready for launch. Even reducing a handful of lower-priority features for launch can have a significant impact on information gained from the product’s initial use and overall user behavior.
  • Misaligning budget with scope
    Though self-explanatory, this one should not be overlooked. Every business wants to save money, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. However, the consequences of trying to eke out too much work from a digital team can undermine the creative process and turn the relationship into a contentious one. As with any relationship, both parties must benefit. If both sides take care of each other, creativity and good things will result.
  • Understand who you are hiring and for what purpose.
    Attention all marketing directors, CTOs, CEOs, and other decision makers: If you want a designer, hire a designer. If you just need coders, hire a couple of developers. If you need a team of developers and want to cap your costs, there are some very good overseas options available to you. However, if you are looking for thought leadership – a team that thinks on its feet, can bring their experience to the table, and contributes to the success of your digital marketing efforts and overall direction of your business, then hire an agency. An agency should be hired to debate, offer counter-points, and push for directions that make the most sense for your customers. Giving these creative thinkers room to work, you’ll have a legitimate team at your side that will benefit your business.
  • Discounting the unforeseen
    How many seasoned project managers can say that their original Statement of Work didn’t change from its original inception? Everyone from the CEO to the marketing director to developers and designers must understand this very basic concept: the scope and nature of the project will change—no doubt about it. Many of these changes come from subjective requests regarding functionality or design; however, a lot of them are attributed to foundational changes that need to be in place. For instance, in the middle of a build you realize your app doesn’t work with an updated version of a mobile operating system. It (shi#t) happens. Don’t forget this. ☺
  • Setting an unrealistic timeline
    Everything looks pretty good on paper when the project has been outlined, resources are in place, and the deposit check is in the mail. What could possibly go wrong? How about the marketing director having to tend to a sick child for a couple weeks, then Product Marketing comes down and says they’ve pushed back their launch date by 3 months—and thus, the campaign you are developing is now on the shelf. Then, during this lull, the agency brings on a new big client to fill gaps in its pipeline. Blam! That three-month project just turned into six plus months. Being able to adapt to updated timelines or restructuring the project and deliverables mid-flight are examples of ways that you can inject flexibility into a project and maintain good relations with your agency team. Both sides must work together here!

I’ve seen all too often so many companies come to the table with small budgets and tight schedules with a few delusions of grandeur in tow. For example, building a comprehensive social network for less than $20,000, or launching a fully functional, multi-phased web application in 30 days. The stories are endless, but there is hope!

Adopting the “Lean Startup” Methodology
Similar to a business venture—or anything else that requires effort, money, and time to build—a digital marketing project requires thoughtful planning and, perhaps more important, tempered execution.

Marketers would be wise to steal from the wisdom of entrepreneur Eric Ries, who developed the “Lean Startup” methodology for developing businesses and products.

Essentially, this philosophy seeks to eliminate wasteful activity and increase value-producing practices during the development phase, to provide a better chance of success without requiring large sums of money, elaborate plans, or the perfect product right out of the gates.

Customers—and Simplicity—First
One of the more critical elements to lean startup is ensuring that marketers and developers do not invest resources in features that customers don’t want, nor launch an overly functional product. By releasing a MVP that may not yet be finalized, you can leverage customer feedback and other key performance indicators to further develop and refine the product to specific user needs. This type of continuous development, progressive enhancement, and frequent course-correction can help significantly reduce effort, cost, and time—not to mention headaches—of a design and development project.

When in Doubt, Start Simple
If you are considering a large project with an agency, here is a piece of advice that will help you tremendously. It’s the equivalent of going on a date (or two) before you “pop the question”, and it’s an extremely simple concept: hire the agency to do a few small tasks for you. Have them update your site. Heck, pay them for a few consulting hours to simply critique your site or app and offer a few recommendations. Do anything that allows you to start small. The rewards of this are significant and will increase the chances of a lasting relationship.

Bottom Line
Too many digital marketing projects fail because marketers and developers do not understand the wants of their target customers, and because they focus too much time and energy on having the “perfect” product launch. This, combined with the fact that most decisions are being made by people sitting in a meeting room, guided by their own whims and subjective points of view, leads to extended timelines, costs and bloated projects. By starting with users in mind, launching a simplified scope sooner than later, and adjusting along the way, you’ll dramatically increase your chance of success with your next digital marketing project.

Isn’t that a better option?

Would love to hear your thoughts.

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