The Four Faces of Digital Marketing

David Aaker
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways

What? Digital marketing must offer an augmented, value-added experience.

So what? Brand building in the digital space offers an opportunity for differentiation.

Now what? Digital must be delegated adequate resources and seasoned leadership to fully realize its potential.​

Digital marketing has four distinct marketing objectives. Failing to recognize these differences will lead to ineffective and suboptimal digital effort. 

The four digital program types vary in terms of how connected they are to the offering—from augmenting the offering, to supporting the offering, to amplifying marketing programs for the offering to being unconnected to the offering. They also will vary in terms of what aspects of digital are being employed. I’ll explore each objective.

1. Augmenting or enabling the offering by extending its value proposition. 

Starbucks has an app that allows a speedy purchase, the ability to tip, earn stars to redeem rewards, find stores, find personalized offers and more. Competitors without such an augmentation will be at a disadvantage. When the augmentation is significant, a new subcategory can be created that renders competitors who lack that augmentation irrelevant. 

Offering augmentation can create unique “must haves” that define new subcategories. The result can be strategic, proving a sustainable advantage in the future that will need to be nurtured through ongoing innovation and an aggressive branding strategy with supporting brand-building programs. Augmentation can also be defensive, responding to the innovation of competitors to keep the offering relevant. In either case the staff involved in creating and improving the offering—from R&D, design, manufacturing and marketing—will need to partner with the digital team.

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2. Supporting the offering and its use. 

This is accomplished by providing information about its benefits, how it provides value, the applications and how to obtain it. For some offerings or segments the digital route will be a primary go-to source of learning about the offering and a place to engage in interactive dialogue about the offering, its value and its use. 

For others, digital can enable a brand to provide customer validation to the offering. Walt Disney World’s Moms Panel, for example, answers questions about the Disney vacation that does not come with any commercial bias. Real moms provide information based on real experiences.  

For still others, digital can engage the customer in product development and evaluation. There is a win-win opportunity to get customers to both provide and evaluate ideas.  MyStarbucksIdea, started in 2008, has provided Starbucks with the ideas for the splash sticks that protect customers from hot drink spills, mobile payments, new flavors including skinny beverages and cake pop treats.   

Creating effective digital programs that will support the offering and its use will involve understanding the relationships of the target segment to the offering and proactively generating digitally driven solutions to issues and problems. Is the offering limited because of issues with visibility, perceptions, credibility or loyalty? Are there weaknesses or problems with the important customer touchpoints? Where there is a brand performance gap or weakness, how can digital play a role? In developing programs, the digital team needs to work with business and marketing units to generate ideas. Digital cannot simply “be there” in reactive mode.  

3. Amplifying other brand-building platforms by providing more depth, exposure and involvement. 

A program such as a World Cup sponsorship can only get so far with conventional media and attendance. Digital can create a website plus apps that will add value to the event with schedules, news and insights providing an interactive experience. A successful advertisement or video can have an extended life through social networks and outlets like YouTube. Brand building home runs rarely happen without digital amplification. 

Digital amplification will be maximized when two things happen: first, when digital works with each of the marketing programs during the plan and design phase, not after; second, priorities should be established across marketing programs so that digital programs that show the most promise are fast-tracked. 

4. Creating customer “sweet spot” brand-building platforms, centered on a customer’s “sweet spot” (interests and activities about which customers are intensely involved), in which the brand is an active partner. 

These sweet-spot programs are designed to create relationships and equity rather than support the offering. Although digital does not have to be involved in such programs, many are viable only because digital technology enables or drives them.  

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Sweet-spot programs are based on the observation that customers are rarely interested in your offering, your brand or your firm. They are interested in what they are passionate about. It makes sense to attempt to reach them where they are instead of where you are. Digital can help a brand become a partner or companion in that interest.    

Consider Sephora’s “BeautyTalk,” for example, which offers “real-time answers, expert advice, access to a community and your fix to all things beauty,” is made possible because of website technology and other digital technologies around mobile and social media. Nature Valley’s Trail Views provide “street-views” of trails in national parks that, for some, are close to actually experiencing the hikes. 

The feasibility and success of digitally driven, sweet-spot program should be tested with three questions. First, is there a need for a new sweet-spot programs? Is there a real demand with a worthwhile audience in terms of size and quality? And is there an opening for a new program or have others already gained a dominant presence? Second, can the firm deliver? Can it deliver a program with real substance that is in some way unique? This is more likely if the program is built on existing firm capabilities and assets. Third, can the program get traction and be linked to the brand? Will the proposed sweet-spot program get enough visibility, relevance and credibility to be considered by target group members?  Does it fit the brand?

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The strategic role of digital is too often neglected, and usually related to a tactical role. But the first and last roles, in particular, can create a long-term asset that can meaningfully affect the brand vision, the brand-customer relationship and competitive advantage. It can even create a “must have” that defines a new subcategory that some will insist on. Recognizing that a digital program is strategic affects its organizational position, its resourcing and its management over time. In particular, there should be a broadly experienced senior person involved in creating digital programs, a person with breadth of capability and a link to the business strategy so that the strategic role of digital will be on the table. A stand-alone tactical team, no matter how good, will not be adequate.

Author Bio:

David Aaker
David Aaker is vice chairman of San Francisco-based marketing consultancy Prophet and author of Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles That Drive Success.
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