Rob is Vector Media’s Director of Research and Strategy Integration.

The near-ubiquitous availability and always-on nature of the Internet has changed how consumers learn about, consider and make decisions regarding almost everything: purchases, politics and even the causes they support.  We live in a world where Marshall McLuhan’s prophetic claim that “the medium is the message” is true – in ways even he might not have considered (See: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man; 1964). Ironically, while the proliferation of paid, owned and shared media channels has created limitless opportunities for innovation, marketers still drag old school errors into this brave new world.  In our media practice, we see five old school mistakes creeping into digital and social media planning.  These are avoidable, costly mistakes.

Here’s our top five list of old school mistakes creeping into the digital and social media arena, and some ideas on how to avoid them:

No 1.  Failing to Fully Understand The Customer Decision Journey

Many marketers still use the traditional purchase “funnel” (a linear customer journey starting with consideration of numerous brands, narrowing down to a set of fewer options, and ending with purchase).  While parts of this journey are still relevant – such as the idea of a consideration set, research strongly suggests (Edelman: Branding in the Digital Age; Harvard Business Review) that once an initial brand set is developed, consumers spend far more time in evaluating a smaller brand set, and do so in an iterative fashion (including much peer and digital reference), and continue to do so even after purchase.  In some product categories there is actually more discussion about brands after a purchase!  If this shift is missed, a marketer might set unrealistic objectives or expectations for his communication strategy.  For example, not allocating enough resources to help consumers “spread the word” versus simply evaluating a set of brands.  More on this issue in mistake No. 2.

No. 2: Inappropriate Media Objectives and Measures

This mistake comes in two variants, and follows closely on the heels of No. 1.  Mistake 2A is to equate business objectives with communication objectives, thereby setting inappropriate measures.  Unless your business is a pure online, direct response, long tail, niche play with unassailable patent locks and a killer value-prop, your media or advertising objectives should not be sales, profit or market share.  Those are business or marketing objectives.  There’s a BIG difference.  There are too many mitigating variables (product, price, customer experience, etc.) that make it unreasonable to hold advertising or communication responsible for final sales numbers.  Your advertising or communication objectives are about knowledge and behaviour:  what you want your customers to know about your brand, how it fits into their consideration set, how they should feel about your brand, and finally, how you would like them to act.  Mistake 2B, flows from No.1 above.  If your customer journey is not well understood, it is likely you will set inappropriate objectives, such as “building awareness” when in fact the objective should be to “draw visitors to x product review sites or to amazon.com”, or to join a community of advocates.

No.3 The Trap of Patterned, Conservative Thinking

This trap gets in the way of profit and innovation. Patterned thinking allocates resources (i.e. budget, people, time) based on unnecessarily conservative decision-making and a reliance on misleading indicators such as prior industry patterns.  For example: “In our business, social media never works”, or entrenched ideas like “At ACME Inc. we’ve always used sales flyers”.  Patterned thinking is very costly.  A study in The Journal of Advertising Research (June 2011) suggests that in a variety of industries, profitability could be increased an average of 14% through improved spending allocation, simply by avoiding decisions fueled by false pre-conditions such as habit, and fear of change or disruption to an existing marketing eco-system.  Marketers in relatively new industries, who actively seek new insight, are less likely to be trapped by these harmful patterns.

No.4: Failing to Evaluate Competitive Proposals / Multiple Vendors

When viewed through the media planning and implementation lens, we see poor business practices translate to media mistakes.  The most prevalent is the “all in” strategy (working strictly with one vendor or publisher) at the cost of reduced audience reach and impact.  While one can often save time and effort by dealing with one publisher or vendor, there’s a lot to be said for good old competition.  Unless a media vehicle or channel has a 100% reach of your target audience, and touches them at the perfect point in their decision journey, with the right brand environment and with reasonable cost efficiency (see Mistake No. 5), alternatives should always be considered.  We’ve seen advertisers fail to reach their target audience effectively because of they’ve committed their resources to one vendor in a market served by many.   We’re not advocating an adversarial relationship with the media – simply one based on comparative values and knowledge gained through due diligence.

No. 5: Selecting and Buying Media on Price Alone – or by “unit” Price

It’s been our experience that negotiating media campaigns for the lowest CPM or cheapest rate compromises other critical elements of media planning, including creativity and innovation.  Media vendors who give up reasonable profit margins in negotiation are not inclined to collaborate with a marketer seeking added value or media innovation.  Rather than leading with a low cost focus, share your campaign objectives and insights with the media, and encourage them to consider a range of criteria (that includes but is not limited to cost efficiency) in developing a media solution best suited to your needs and objectives.  Invite your vendors to become partners in creating a media solution that leverages the strengths of their properties, while recognizing the value of your message and audience.  We believe that the true measure of a media strategy should be value, not cost.  There is more to gain from a cohesive media buy that addresses specific communications objectives and is not driven by price alone.