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Guest Post

MSPs can combine traditional, digital marketing tactics

MSP marketing strategies may benefit from tactics drawn from both traditional and digital marketing. MSP Radio's Dave Sobel explores this approach.

Dave Sobel is host of the podcast The Business of Tech and co-host of the podcast Killing IT. In addition, he wrote Virtualization: Defined. Sobel is regarded as a leading expert in the delivery of technology services, with broad experience in both technology and business.

In this video, Sobel discusses marketing approaches with Bill Durrant, president of Exversus Media Inc. and author of Digital Stone Age: How the World's Most Successful Advertisers Use Traditional Thinking and Innovation to Drive Growth. Durrant explains the benefits of marketing strategies that combine traditional and digital tactics.

Transcript follows below.

Dave Sobel: You got my attention over the book Digital Stone Age. Before we dive into that, tell me about how you got here. Tell me about your background and how you got to giving advice around marketing.

Bill Durrant: Yeah. I have a marketing and advertising background. I started off my career as a consultant for Fox and MGM, the movie studios, in Australia. That was about 20 years ago when digital was still very nascent. So, I've kind of grown up alongside the proliferation of digital, the digitization of media and advertising. And my career really started to center and focus around this world of media and advertising -- the business [and], in many cases, the more technical and analytical side of what's normally considered to be a very creative field. In doing that and learning from working with some of the biggest brands in the country, eventually I started my own agency and started my own team.

When we did that, all these new learnings really came to light. They were all problems that never really occur for smaller brands or for smaller advertisers in organizations, that occur for the larger ones, and vice versa. So, what we were finding was a whole new set of problems for brands that were really in this kind of growth stage, and, in many cases, trying to establish what their identity and their marketing strategy were.

In doing that is when all the research came about that I ultimately ended up incorporating into Digital Stone Age and really led to where we are today, which is having a very clear point of view on what this new age in marketing and media really is all about and how to translate that for businesses of all sizes.

Tradition vs. digital marketing strategies

Sobel: I love the title, Digital Stone Age. So, I don't want to sum it down because I know there's more to it than this, but this is essentially your guidance here: that you're doing both [digital and traditional marketing]. What's the real guidance you're trying to convey?

Durrant: Yeah. The title came about because we work with some smaller, very consumer- and, in some cases, business-to-business-oriented brands. And in some of their cases, they leaned right into digital. And so, 'We have a certain budget, [and] it's somewhat limited. We see our competitors in the world and outdoor, in television and radio. We can't afford that. So, what do we do? We want to do digital.'

And the result of this kind of misconception [was] that in order to be perceived as a modern marketer, so to speak, you had to be as digital as possible in your marketing mix. And what we saw was that they were actually missing the benefit in their cases of utilizing traditional tactics, utilizing things that had been working for decades and still worked, albeit a little bit differently, here in what we call the modern era of the last of the last 10 or 15 years.

So, what we really wanted to do was initiate a dialogue around, 'Hey, if you're over-digitized or you have this misconception about traditional tactics, let's see where the truth really lies and what's most effective.' And similarly, if you've been utilizing the same tactics for a long time and perhaps you're overly traditional, or you're based off of non-digital marketing tactics, let's see where, again, the truth is in terms of what's most effective. Because you both have something to learn from one another and the power really is in the combination.

Brand messaging vs. lead generation

Sobel: Does this apply both to brand messaging and lead generation, or are they different strategies in your mind? How do the two fit together?

Durrant: Very often our industry likes to take those two ideas of a brand message -- Think of something that's a little bit less specific around features, specs, 'buy now' messages. We're thinking about 'Just do it' in the case of Nike -- and they like to separate that out from messages that are more 'buy now' focused or what we call lower [sales] funnel.

And ultimately, whether you see a banner ad that tells you to buy the pair of Nike socks that you were surfing and checking out earlier in the week, or you see the 'Just do it' message, the idea is that, ultimately, they work best together. And so, what we really want to do is make sure that we're combining not just the channels or the tactics that we're utilizing for best effect, but also the messaging that we share with consumers or with the people that are going to be buying from us in our particular field.

How to combine traditional, digital marketing tactics

Sobel: So, how do you mix digital and traditional marketing? Is the idea [to make] the messages the same? Is there some formula to it? How do you effectively mix both digital and traditional, in your mind?

Durrant: Yeah, it's a great question, and, fortunately, there's some science that can help us answer that. What science has shown through a meta-analysis of campaigns, I think over a thousand different campaigns, was that a message that was about 60% focused towards that idea of broader awareness of a brand message, typically something that might, at least in the past, have utilized more traditional channels. In our case for a bigger brand, that would mean television. For a smaller brand, that might mean local radio or something like that. Sixty percent of your investment there and 40% of your investment in messages that say, 'buy now,' 'take this action,' 'click to get this white paper,' if you have more of a lead-gen-based type of company, that's the general rule of thumb.

It's going to be different for different types of businesses. If I'm a direct-to-consumer brand that's sold entirely online, I might have a little bit more weighting towards that lower-funnel message, towards more digital tactics. And if I'm a brand that's extremely well established and available everywhere, I might, of course be more brand-oriented. Different needs for different brands.

So, what we've found is that when you look at how you segment out messaging, there's a great rule of thumb that we can utilize as a brand to begin testing what's most effective and impactful. We've also found that it is, again, within the channels that we use. It's not just the message that we say but the channels that we use. And sometimes for brands, that might even be within a brand that operates entirely within the digital space or entirely outside of the digital space, and segmenting out different tactics and different approaches there, too.

One thing that I've learned, [and it's] my perspective, too -- I'm a small to medium-sized business owner myself, and so, we're always looking at what works for us, too. And so, as I think about [being] in the shoes of the folks who are listening here today, I'm thinking about your perspective, too, of, 'Can I rely on something like referrals?' for instance. 'How am I looking at the marketing tactics that I'm using to get new business?' And while our business has grown tremendously because of referrals and the quality of work that we do and it's always a testament to that, what we found is that by putting ourselves out into the marketplace -- and because of COVID, this had to become entirely digital -- with content, content that we share on platforms like LinkedIn, like our own platforms that we own. But having content that really showcases the areas where we believe we have strong thought leadership has then generated both direct leads and also indirect leads.

The other nice thing that that kind of approach has done, too -- and this is really important as we consider what mix of tactics and approaches we're looking for -- is that some tactics are really good at getting someone to do something right away. Other tactics are really good at getting someone to trust you or to understand who you are and what you do. And you need to have people understand both of those things. They need to do something right away, but it's ideal if in order to get them and compel them to do that, they already trust you. They already know who you are, what you stand for and perhaps even what your point of view is on a really important topic that's interesting to them or solves the problem that they have.

How to measure a marketing campaign's success

Sobel: What are the KPIs that you really rely on to measure that effectiveness? You're talking about a couple of different tactics, and you're talking about a couple different strategies. Obviously, you can always say, 'Well, it results in sales,' but we both know that that's hard to track. How, during that process, do you measure things, and what are the KPIs that you really rely on for that?

Durrant: You can go as broad as understanding impressions -- so, how many people were actually exposed to the work that I do? Impressions are a blunt-force tool in understanding success. But they do help you at least understand the context and the ability to reach enough people. Was that there or not?

And then, of course, you go all the way down to sales, which is the Holy Grail of measurement. If you can accurately and adequately measure sales through what you're doing, fantastic. More power to you. There are some tactics that can help you do that.

But it's the messy middle where I think the most interesting KPIs and results happen. So, if you have the opportunity, if you have a very clear understanding of who your marketplace is, and you have what we call a brand tracker survey that's going out. Understanding if people are even aware of you, understanding if people would consider you, understanding where people are in their relationship with you and how particular marketing tactics have influenced those metrics, is incredibly powerful. It's certainly a little bit complex. And certainly, the broader that your reach is, the more the ability to do something like that exists.

But as we think about the other types of metrics, we're also thinking about -- and certainly this is very true for us -- how many leads are being generated. How are we hitting that point in the middle where someone's not quite a customer, but they're not quite looking or evaluating or seeing us? They've actually actively done something to initiate a conversation with us. [You are] starting to put strong metrics down around those leads and then, ultimately, metrics that you're keeping track of around the sales process. And of course, asking people or using digital tracking to find out how they found out about you or where they came in through is really important in understanding, 'Is the work that I'm doing making an impact? Is one tactic versus another making an impact?'

And then you can ultimately start to do things like little experiments and see [what would happen] if [you] took a specific tactic away. If I'm using Facebook advertising, for instance, do all my leads go away, even though I thought they were all coming through something like search? Because what many people find is that something like LinkedIn or Facebook is driving awareness of who you are. People are then, because of that, searching for you. Or later, when they're searching for a solution in your field, then they find you on search, they click through, and it looks like search is driving everything, but in truth, everything is working together.

So, as you think about how you're constructing KPIs and measuring success, always think about it in the context of how your service or product is sold, is the advice that we give. And get as nitty-gritty as possible in that middle, because it's not always easy to measure sales and it's not always easy to interpret and understand something as broad as, 'This is the number of impressions that I achieved in a marketing campaign.'

Why multiple tactics work

Sobel: In your book, you talk a little bit about the motivations behind those on the either extreme, either those that are 100% traditional or those that are 100% digital. You argue that that both are leaving money on the table. What's the motivation going on there that is holding the end customer back by these kinds of 'all in' [traditional or digital] advertisers?

Durrant: Ultimately, we say you're leaving money on the table because in many cases you're failing to combine multiple tactics. So, one of the simplest ways of increasing the effectiveness of your marketing is combining multiple tactics. It really is. I don't need to say anything else. It's that simple, and there's reasons for it.

But when you think about it, seeing a brand or a service in multiple places, you're more inclined to buy. That always, almost always, bears out in the data. So, as we think about that as a general axiom or idea, then we think about, 'Well, what does the science tell us? Should we be combining digital tactics with traditional tactics?' The answer is overwhelmingly, yes, the two work well on their own but better together.

Then I think about the type of messaging that I've got. What does the science tell us about the messaging that says, 'Please buy now,' 'Please download this white paper and give us your email,' versus talking a little bit more broadly about who you are. Ultimately, [the science] tells us that you need to have both of those approaches, as well.

So, when we think about people who are in a position for marketing their organization and they're saying, 'Well, everything that we do is going to be either 100% digital or 100% about buying now because we really need sales now,' or whatever the case might be, what we're finding is that science is telling us very clearly that they're leaving money on the table. And the psychology behind that is sometimes a little bit more challenging, because a lot of people think if they're all digital, they're thinking, 'I'm a modern marketer. The world is going digital.' And it absolutely is. But what they're missing is that these kinds of what we call 'Stone Age tactics,' [which] they derisively refer to them as, still very much have value and drive deep value in helping their customers make decisions and ultimately make a purchase.

And it's the same thing on the traditional side. If you're thinking, 'Well, what's always worked has always worked,' that very well may be true, but you're leaving money on the table -- again, because you're not doing what works best at driving a consumer or customer sale, which is combining different tactics.

So, it always comes back to, in my humble opinion, an idea of balance. 'Am I taking a balanced approach, or am I doing just what's easy or what solves kind of a psychological need for perception around me and who I am as a marketer?' You want to have that balance. You want to look at the science and let the data and the information there guide you, and let the best practice guide you. And then you want to tailor that to your own organizations' results through measurement as you employ those strategies.

Tips for marketing budgets

Sobel: Gotcha. That makes a lot of sense. But if I'm thinking like some of my listeners who oftentimes feel like they have a very constrained marketing budget, what's your advice for somebody [who is about to spend their] first marketing dollar? Where do you start them? Where is it that you recommend their first marketing dollar go?

Durrant: It's hard to say because that first marketing dollar is not going to work as effectively on its own. But what we've found is that if you're isolating and identifying audiences who are actively searching for more information or for a solution like yours, you want to be in search. Search is a hand-raisers' medium. You're raising your hand, saying, 'I want information on this specifically.' And of course, we can get really, really tailored down to the local level; down to the demographic level in some cases, as well, although some of that's going away; and we can be really specific with who we're communicating with. We're talking [about] what we call an in-market audience.

So, if you really want to know where to put that first dollar, eight to nine times out of 10, I'm going to tell you search. For some folks, they may have a much more involved marketing process, or they may want to know, 'Where do I put that second dollar?' And for them, we're looking at something like if you're doing a B2B type of transaction or relationship with that type of customer, you're really looking at an environment like LinkedIn. 'How can I target people very specifically against where they're located, how big their organization is, what type of organization they're at and get really nitty-gritty?' You can share content and thought leadership with them, things that you've been thinking [about] or writing or developing for your existing client base. You can share that out with them. You can get a little bit fancier and use a landing page and have them submit their email address, and then suddenly you have someone to then remarket to.

Or, you can drive them to your own homepage, and you can use other remarketing tactics. So, this is having those banners that follow you around, Facebook ads that know where you've been. Those exist still. In a large part, they're going to be going away over the next 12 months. But those things still exist.

All of those are ultimately going to work really nicely by themselves in terms of generating leads for you and sales. But they're going to work even better when they combine with that first dollar and we go back to search. People are going to look you up, or they're going to look up your field. They're going to see you. They're going to already know you. They're going to already have a relationship with you and trust you, and they're going to be much more likely [to choose you].

Sobel: Gotcha. That makes perfect sense. So, your book is Digital Stone Age. What's the best way for people to get in touch with you if they're interested in learning more?

Durrant: LinkedIn -- Bill Durrant -- is the best way. And the book is on Amazon and most popular booksellers online. Digital Stone Age.

About the author
Dave Sobel is host of the podcast
The Business of Tech, co-host of the podcast Killing IT and authored the book Virtualization: Defined. Sobel is regarded as a leading expert in the delivery of technology services, with broad experience in both technology and business. He owned and operated an IT solution provider and MSP for more than a decade, and he has worked for vendors such as Level Platforms, GFI, LogicNow and SolarWinds, leading community, event, marketing and product strategies, as well as M&A activities. Sobel has received multiple industry recognitions, including CRN Channel Chief, CRN UK A-List, Channel Futures Circle of Excellence winner, Channel Pro's 20/20 Visionaries and MSPmentor 250.

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