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Strategic Digital Marketing

By Eric Greenberg and Alexander Kates

(McGraw-Hill Education, 352 pages, $31.95)

If someone has the Amazon Price Check app on their mobile device, they can be in a store and, by scanning the bar code, see whether that item can be obtained more cheaply from Amazon, which offers lures like free shipping. That means that instead of the Internet being used to check prices so someone can determine which store to buy from, shoppers can now be inside a store and use the Internet to determine where else to buy.

The app is not science fiction. It's here. And other apps like it are also shaking up the retail world. "The digital train has already left the station, and we marketers are all running to catch up with it," Eric Greenberg, managing director for the Center for Management Development at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and serial entrepreneur Alexander Kates write in the opening essay of their collection, Strategic Digital Marketing.

They adopt a phrase Google uses, "Zero moments of truth," to describe the critical times when consumers use the Internet to evaluate your offering. It might be the Amazon Price Check. It might be a consumer visiting your website and then plugging into social feedback from Facebook and Twitter. Prospects might scan reviews by recent purchasers. This information can be accessed quickly and could determine whether they will deal with you – now, or forever. "The ability to influence critical moment outcomes will undoubtedly separate brands that will persist into the 2020s from those that will slowly sink into the annals of history," they observe.

But be careful. Leaping whole hog into digital, dumping money and people into digital channels, is not the answer, they advise. "Doing it right and simply doing it are worlds apart, rather than degrees of the same continuum. The most alarming observation is just how few companies are doing it right," they write.

The authors are dismayed by how little attention is paid to return on investment when digital marketing strategies are developed. They believe that less than 10 per cent of large organizations base their digital initiatives on some measure of financial return on investment (ROI). Instead, the talk is of "likes" that might be generated by a Facebook campaign, or the followers and awareness a Twitter initiative might spark.

"If increasing sales is the ultimate goal, shouldn't we always evaluate digital marketing, and all marketing for that matter, through an ROI lens?" the authors ask. In their concluding essay, they offer six habits of highly successful digital firms:

1. Platform convergence, not product conformity

Companies such as Google, Amazon and Facebook are knocking heads, not operating in the separate niches where they started, but fighting to be the go-to platforms for online denizens. "These innovative companies know that the companies who will win in the next decade are the ones that consumers first think of for a particular task, and use their brands as gateways to everything else they do," they write.

2. Big data, not blind deductions

These companies rely heavily on data to drive their decisions, rather than guessing. They also run tests to see what might work, learning early from interaction with real customers. Such "idea-meritocracy," as the authors call it, allows for swift innovation and reduces costly mistakes.

3. Customer experiences, not conventional expectations

The best companies are fiercely focused on customers, relentlessly looking for new ways to refine and improve the customer experience. Companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple have excellent, intuitive interfaces that are operable across multiple devices. They work hard to make the experience seamless, so that switching from one device to another is painless.

4. Networks, not bulwarks

These firms understand the importance of their networks, such as customers and corporate partners. They identify and guide brand influencers into helping them convert fence-sitters into brand loyalists.

5. Top talent, not hired hands

These companies realize the importance of talent, and actively seek the best people they can find.

"Firms like Google and Facebook have amongst the highest starting salaries for young employees, and their jobs are the most sought after by this demographic," they write. "The best firms know that innovation starts with top talent, and no number of employees or policies is going to change that."

6. Innovation, not immediate gratification

These firms invest in products for the future, spending time on things that might not be used for many years. They aren't transfixed by the present. This is a thorough, detailed look at digital marketing, the essays having some intellectual weight.

The book covers the strategic issues you need to grapple with, but also delves into matters such as video marketing, building a website and social media. Various chapters will appeal to different readers depending on their situation, but most will find some helpful information and ideas.


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Walter Friedman, a historian at the Harvard Business School, tells the story of the first U.S. economic forecasters in Fortune Tellers (Princeton, 273 pages, $32).

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter