Marketing Grounded on the Runway

This article was originally appeared in the October 2012 edition of the Marketing GPS Newsletter.

Getting stuck on the runway in a broken plane with no Net access isn’t how I wanted to end a recent business trip. While the pilot and ground crew spent hours trying to decide how to handle the situation (find a spare part and repair it now, or cancel the flight and repair it later?), I thought about how indecision can affect a campaign on the “marketing runway.”

Preventing marketing indecision is a vital feature of any marketing strategy. Even the greatest online technology in the world can’t help you if you don’t implement it. So, on my extended trip home, I explored the many stalled-on-the-tarmac marketing plans I have seen over the years, and came up with five “preflight checkpoints” to help ensure a smooth, decisive take-off for your next marketing campaign.

Stuck In a Holding Pattern

The senior staff of a large, name-brand organization with multiple website properties planned a massive redesign campaign that would unify branding, centralize content, and broaden its community in one grand lift-off. But three years into the project the many stakeholders have not been able to reach the necessary consensus to move the project forward; the budget for the website is being sequestered against the eventual update; and the executive in charge of web properties has been left with no funds to make even incremental changes to keep the current site updated.

What can we learn to help marketing plans achieve lift-off?

  • Preflight Checkpoint #1: Carefully Plan Phased Implementation: Web properties are quite different from print properties, but sometimes we still apply the all-or-nothing tactics used when we had to generate a final product for the printer. The streaming nature of online properties will often allow you to postpone a few elements without compromising the entire project. Instead of working towards a single big event, plan incremental releases and launches (online press releases, Facebook contests, etc.). Even in singular projects such as a website redesign, you can choose to break it into manageable pieces by updating graphics and colors now, expanding content later, etc. This maintains your marketing momentum and affords the flexibility you need to complete a complex task. Waiting for the “perfect time,” just keeps everybody waiting around.
  • Preflight Checkpoint #2: Get Everyone Onboard Before You Roll Back from the Gate:Hundreds of decisions go into any new campaign, so projects must be actively managed. Form a team to plan and execute improvements, but also make certain that resources (including talent, time and budget) are in place to keep your current properties running as though they will never be obsolete. Empowering team members to make decisions will increase project momentum and enable the team to meet deadlines without extended, unnecessary delays.
  • Preflight Checkpoint #3: Empower the Ground Crew: Make sure the people who work day-to-day with your existing online properties—your best link to your sponsors and end-users—have substantial input into the changes and timetables proposed. A breakdown in communication here makes you and your outcomes even further removed from your audiences’ goals.

Pay Attention to Traffic Controllers

Can you have a too-successful take-off? If you don’t pay attention to traffic, the answer is “Yes!”

A large organization with a venerable Google “authority site” realized that promoting a consumer-friendly companion site could disseminate scientific and technical information in a more palatable way. The team executed a well-planned consumer site design that soon began attracting traffic alongside the more established technical site. Internal excitement over the consumer site soon eclipsed interest in the technical site, resulting in a diversion of resources through benign neglect. Inevitably, the older site began to lose visibility on search engines, due to a lack of fresh content. Even though the consumer site received a fraction of the older site’s traffic, a subtle “sunsetting” of the more dominate site had begun.

Had the traffic erosion gone unchecked, it would have been easy to assume the technical site’s content was no longer much in demand. Had this happened, there could have been a precipitous and unnecessary decline in visibility, all because the baseline and benchmarks were not established in the context of the organization’s entire online presence.

  • Preflight Checkpoint #4: Develop a Coordinated Content Plan for ALL of Your Properties: The online world is powered by content, so determine in advance your content strategy. Include elements like your message points, content assessment and inventory, editorial calendar, workflow and even crisis prevention. And remember: each property needs your attention just as each plane on the runway deserves attention from the controllers. If a controller gets distracted by the fanciest jet on the tarmac it increases the likelihood of traffic problems, and the same is true of your web properties.
  • Preflight Checkpoint #5: Chart Your Course By the Numbers: Marketing is a process of defining, testing and measuring, so don’t let untested assumptions send you flying in the wrong direction. All team members should be aware of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the entire portfolio of properties, whether page views, open rates, visibility, revenue or other metrics. Only by setting and understanding KPIs can you assess a new campaign is headed, relative to where you’ve been.

My flight was postponed to the next day, when all finally went smoothly and as it should have the first day. I arrived home with this takeaway: next time you discuss a campaign launch, keep in mind all the elements it takes to get a flight off the ground!

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A digital marketing company with almost two decades of experience, NSI Partners helps clients achieve robust results in search marketing, social media, and other digital marketing spaces.

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