This is one of those times of the year when I really, really love my job. When you’re an analyst who covers digital marketing, and focuses on emerging trends, you can excuse your download of the NCAA March Madness mobile app, and the watching of live basketball on your phone, as “research”. By engaging with the app, I’m party to a consumer experience that will certainly, at a macro level, influence how consumers will expect to engage digitally going forward. Right? Right?
I remember when live streaming of NCAA March Madness games first became a reality in 2006. I was working with a company whose technology helped make the live streaming possible. As you can imagine, I watched a lot of basketball online that year that I billed to “end user testing.” No question: it was a game changer. And while most of us won’t face such opportunities in the way we bring our products to market, in the digital world, we’re challenged every day to consider new, better ways of telling our story and connecting with our audience. Vendors come and talk to us about new ad targeting techniques. Planners present the case for the latest Facebook-killing social network. Promotional companies make their pitch to get us to deploy the latest and greatest discount and offer tactics. And then there’s all of the things we could do with our mobile program…
It’s hard to know what emerging trends and technologies to take seriously when you’re a digital marketer. There are few digital natives in our midst, and few well traveled roads, and so the “next big thing” is hard to predict. The space changes so quickly, it seems like “test and learn” opportunities and “fail fast” stories inevitably outnumber “tried and true” tactics. How do you know when to push forward with something, and when you – or your vendor or channel partner – are just not ready?
First of all, embrace an attitude that you should always be testing something. Regardless of budget levels, you should carve off a pocket of funds that are going to be used to explore the outer bounds of your program. If emerging tactics are consistently given space in every program or plan, the risk associated with engaging feels far smaller. It also reduces the fear of choosing a dance partner. You’re going to pick some winners, you’re going to pick some losers. But you’re going to learn something either way – about your choice of vendors, about the tactic itself, and most importantly, about your audience. You will be a better digital marketer on your next outing as a result.
Consider this: digital marketing was once the outer bound tactic. You don’t have to look far in the rearview mirror to see the years when organizations were listing paid search under their “test and learn” column. Emerging tactics are the name of the game in digital marketing. Embrace them as if they are just “tactics,” with a measured approach and balanced expectations, and perhaps the unexplored frontier will be less scary.
Go forth and explore, fellow marketers.
And, GO DUKE!