Consumers are far ahead of digital marketing, which is still in its infancy and somewhat of a trial-and-error stage. Digital marketing is about transforming marketing as a whole, not just planting discrete digital touchpoints.

Adults in the United States spend 14 hours per week online on average. People in Japan log on for 18 hours per week, while people in China’s significant cities log on for a whopping 20 hours per week. When we include the time we spend on the mobile Internet via smartphones, the numbers become even higher. The amount of time we spend online is enormous, equaling or exceeding the amount of time we spend watching television or reading newspapers.

Digital marketing is still in its early stages. —the trial-and-error stage—but customers are way ahead of you, expecting genuine and relevant interactions.

A closer examination reveals a more significant change. Up to 60% of us are multitasking while watching television, using computers, tablets, or smartphones to browse the Web, check email, or visit social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook. The digital devices that facilitate this shift create a new dependency. Actually, 66 percent of individuals in the UK are psychologically reliant on their mobile devices, causing illnesses like nomophobia (the dread of being separated from your cellular device), according to a new research in the UK (short for no-mobile phobia). We have a tremendous need to feel connected.

What does this mean in terms of marketing? We notice two prominent elements:

  • Touchpoints are crucial. Interacting with customers necessitates a 360-degree view of touchpoints, including all of a customer’s interactions with a company, such as ads, websites, salespeople, and stores. Customers form opinions about the company and the brand at each touchpoint. Digital touchpoints transform all other media. Customers are online almost always through smartphones, tablets, connected TV, and online radio, so online and offline are not mutually exclusive.
  • Consumer participation is critical. Consumer engagement refers to customer interactions with a brand over time that results in a long-term bond. A successful marketing strategy does more than raise brand awareness; it interacts and connects emotionally to form a bond, leave a lasting impression, and establish a long-term relationship. Consumers, on the other hand, are no longer static targets to be bombarded with marketing messages. Digital marketing meets them where they are, changing the way we think about brand communication. It establishes new standards for relevance, transparency, honesty, commitment, trust, and relationships. Successful brands act in the same way that real people do.

The paradox is that while digital marketing is still in its infancy—a stage of trial and error—consumers are far ahead, expecting genuine and relevant interactions. Whereas much has been published about the components of digital marketing like Foursquare and Gowalla, little has been written about marketing transformation. There are also many other social networking applications. Marketing is no longer just about how we promote a brand. It is about how we as brand persons inspire, serve, and live with the citizen-consumer.

Transforming the marketing forest to fit in with today’s digital world is a complex but necessary task for businesses seeking immediate impact and long-term growth.

The brand experience and storytelling

People have always enjoyed stories, from ancient oral traditions to today’s digital formats. And storytelling is an integral part of brand marketing. For the past 40 years, stories in the form of advertising have been communicated via a single primary touchpoint: television. This was good but not great: the medium is naturally short and limited due to its rigidity and lack of touch and feels capabilities.

We can now tell stories in much richer ways. A TV commercial can be combined with a YouTube video to generate excitement and announce something more significant. Subsequent episodes of the story can then occur at other online locations or at a POS, where the brand experience will be enhanced. Consider the Dodge scavenger hunt from 2011. Viewers were directed to YouTube by Dodge Journey television commercials to find clues first for hidden cars and then for real cars. Dodge then uploaded videos of the car winners to YouTube. DreamWorks Animation promoted the film MegaMind through various channels, including TV commercials and the online game MegaFarm with Zynga’s FarmVille.

The brand-consumer communication cycle is divided into three stages: pre-reveal, reveal, and post-reveal. Each phase serves a purpose and includes relevant touchpoints and content. Storytelling, brand experience, and consumer engagement must be planned from the start, with a 360-degree perspective, to ensure that each touchpoint serves a purpose with appropriate content and timing. Arranging a pre-reveal phase in a launch cycle, in particular, necessitates significant anticipation and alignment on the part of the marketing organization, agencies, and, in some cases, retailers. This is fundamentally different from what typically occurs: a significant investment at the reveal stage with little happening before and after.

This cycle influences how we consider each touchpoint and its return on investment (ROI). A TV spot today is very different from a traditional television commercial. It is no longer intended to inform, educate, or create brand preference, and it is no longer a critical component of the communication strategy. It is only one of many components. The consumer engagement strategy is established as the foundation.

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Volkswagen’s “The Dog Strikes Back” Super Bowl ad from 2012 is an excellent example of this. The TV commercial features an overweight dog who yearns to chase cars and is inspired to exercise by a passing Volkswagen Beetle. The ad focuses on telling a story rather than the car’s features. It’s a sort of follow-up to the company’s 2011 Super Bowl ad “The Force,” which featured a young boy dressed as Darth Vader. The 2012 commercial ends with a surprise jump from the slimmed-down, car-chasing dog to an alien sports bar where a group of Star Wars characters, including Darth Vader, are watching the commercial. Volkswagen’s campaign included videos on ESPN Mobile and YouTube as well.

A multifaceted consumer engagement strategy entices viewers and piques their interest, directing them to additional touchpoints. YouTube and Facebook, for example, are global platforms that, unlike television, incorporate social elements by encouraging viewers to like, share, or create their videos.

On the ROI front, determining the true impact of a TV commercial will necessitate actual engagement online and at the point of sale. Linking TV media spend to gross rating points (GRPs), and sales growth will be obsolete. To be successful, all investments—TV, online, and others—must be linked to consumer engagement, and then consumer engagement must be linked to sales and loyalty.

Advertising agility and speed are also becoming increasingly essential differentiators. And we’re not talking about cramming months into weeks here; we’re talking about cramming days into hours—real-time when Beyonce announced her pregnancy during MTV’s 2011 Video Music Awards, brands with something to say about pregnancy needed to respond immediately, not days later.

This type of marketing has significant implications for situations where the entrepreneurial spirit exists on paper but does not translate in real-time. Most businesses are not prepared for this from an organizational standpoint. We have silos in which traditional marketing deals with traditional media before adding a vertical digital function.

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