June 2016 | 

Digital Marketing: Stop Playing and Start with a Strategy

Digital Marketing: Stop Playing and Start with a Strategy

An Adobe study of 1,000 U.S. digital marketing executives, aptly titled “Digital Distress,” revealed that more than half of those surveyed lack confidence in their digital ability. Other research, done in conjunction with the MIT Center for Digital Business, found the problem to be global, with over 90 percent of 400 global companies surveyed reporting that they lack digital skills, even though they see those skills as a “key hurdle to digital transformation.” Only 47 percent reported that they are investing in the development of those skills.

“Most companies are aware that they don’t always know what they’re doing in terms of digital marketing,” says Wharton marketing professor David Bell. The developer of Wharton’s first MBA course on digital marketing and online commerce adds that this is especially true for companies that were built to deal only with the non-digital economy. To bring much-needed knowledge and skills to this audience, he is leading a new executive education program, Digital Marketing Strategies for the Digital Economy. The program was designed to help executives advance their abilities to develop, plan, and execute marketing strategy within the digital economy.

Bell says the emphasis on strategy is both critical and unique to Wharton’s offering. “We often find that firms don’t have a strategy; they just start pulling levers and experimenting with various tactics. But just because you have new levers to pull doesn’t mean you should.” He stresses that with new channels appearing constantly, it can get confusing. Instead, the new program focuses first on the fundamentals — the desired consumer behaviors — and then on strategies and tactics required.

To develop a strategy, he says you must understand what digitization means for your current business model. “If you weren’t built to deal with the new economy, you have to integrate, and that can mean making some difficult choices. Understandably, there is often a real reluctance to do that. Think about Tesla and its model of online distribution. There is no way that GM and Ford can do that.” Bell says before they, or other companies in disrupted markets, decide how much to spend on search and display, they need to think about whether they will be doing business as they currently do in five years. “That’s a question people in many industries need to ask,” he notes.

Digital Marketing Strategies for the Digital Economy is a rigorous program built on analytics, empirical data, and current research by Professor Bell and others. Participants will explore the digital transformation and what it means for their own businesses, their industry, and the global economy. Bell will share frameworks to help target the right customers, drive desired behaviors, and hit chosen metrics. “We don’t start with digital tools and technologies,” says Bell. “Some think about digital as only the tools, but they come and go. Today it’s Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, but what new platforms will emerge in the next few months? And who are you engaging when you use these tools? Are you really leveraging connectivity to drive results?”

Bell stresses that tools and tactics are only effective when they are coupled with a deep understanding of the business and its customers. “You need to enter the digital landscape from a strategic perspective first,” he says. “What does it mean for your current business model? Think about the kinds of business model innovations you should be considering in the digital economy. They’re probably not the ones you are currently pursuing.” In other words, digitization has changed everything — and companies need to stop playing in the digital world and start strategizing for it.