Nick Fawbert
Oct 19, 2012

OPINION: Digital strategy...or media 'cargo cult'?

How is a digital strategy based on search, social, display and mobile similar to a group of Pacific islanders expecting modern technology to drop from the skies? Nick Fawbert, chief executive officer of Third Space Academy, explains.

OPINION: Digital strategy...or media 'cargo cult'?

At the Third Space Academy we’re frequently challenged regarding the structure of our digital media courses, in particular how we can get through the first 50 per cent of the workshops without addressing search, social, display or mobile.

It’s counterintuitive (not to mention shocking), delegates explain: Surely these channels are the very foundation of digital marketing? They’re certainly the most visible manifestation of the medium. CRM, we are told, is really the domain of the techies and various other departments, and web design is the realm of visual artists and programmers.

It’s a challenge the industry frequently faces, especially amongst brands with limited digital resources or a very traditional view of media communications. In their simplest form, legacy media strategies for traditional outlets may become a one dimensional list defining which executions run on which TV channels or newspapers with what frequency. Transpose this to digital, and we get a list of search keyphrases and household-name websites.

In response to this, a colleague recently christened it a ‘cargo cult’ strategy.

A cargo cult, is a quasi-religious movement that started to appear among some Pacific islanders around a century ago with the advent of serious international trade in the region. It reached a peak after the Second World War, when the islands had become saturated with the foot soldiers of various warring nations.

The technologies islanders were exposed to were so far beyond their experience (particularly those delivered by aircraft) that the locals decided they must be of divine provenance as a reward for good behaviour. They also became somewhat tetchy that these assets seemed to be hoovered up by foreign forces, and came to the conclusion that this must be down to the particular forms of worship they engaged in.

Post-conflict, these regular cargo deliveries quickly ground to a halt, and the foreign forces departed, leaving behind a local population now hooked on tinned spam and socket sets.

To attract the deliveries back once more, islanders determined to emulate the foreign religion, and built runways, airports, and control towers out of straw and bamboo. One even went so far as to fashion a headset complete with ariels of bamboo for the ground crew. They developed rituals that entailed copying military routines like square bashing, and painted US flags on their bodies in all the appropriate places.

Thus the ‘cargo’ cults were born.

They were, of course, despite their comprehensive recreation of the airport experience, totally useless.

So what’s the link with digital media and the skills necessary to carry it out successfully?

Well it’s this: A digital strategy based on search, social, display and mobile is a media cargo cult.

Superficially all seems good, but it lacks underlying substance. It’s like trying to create an effective communications strategy by emulating the outward manifestations of successful campaigns, but without understanding the infrastructure and ecosystem that are necessary to support it.

At the root of it all is the work that goes into establishing a unique digital value proposition—recognition of the contribution interactive assets can make at all levels of a company from research and design through manufacturing, distribution, retail and customer service.

Lest we forget, some of the most successful digital campaigns of recent years, such as Dell Storm, are those that have integrated the customer into the creation and sales process through dialogue and crowdsourcing.

Those relationships are business critical. Good customer relationships improve business performance by enhancing customer satisfaction and driving up customer loyalty. This increases frequency and value of purchases.

The telecom industry sees a 10 per cent increase in customer satisfaction generating a 2 per cent rise in customer retention and a 3 per cent rise in revenues. Volvo discovered that a one-point increase in customer satisfaction results in a 4 per cent increase in dealer profitability, because they don’t have to work so hard to make the next sale. Lexus calculated that each ‘delighted’ customer (their metric) makes them an average of S$1.2 million in sales recommendations.

Let’s be clear, CRM isn’t a tech solution to an operational problem. It speaks to the very heart of business profitability, defines digital media, and provides the entire agenda for traditional media communications.

We have CRM as a strategic tool, creating a customer-centric business. It offers operational tools to enhance processes and dialogues through automation, analytical tools in terms of identifying and segmenting customers, and collaborative tools that cross organisational boundaries.

As Francis Buttle put it: “CRM is THE core business strategy that integrates internal processes and functions, and external networks, to create and deliver value to targeted customers at a profit. It is grounded on high-quality, customer-related data and enabled by information technology.”

In this context, the CRM system is vital for sustaining relevant dialogue and customer profiles. It needs to feed into a digital platform designed for flexibility, timeliness and content relevance rather than sparkling brochure snaps and tedious animated introductions. Without your CRM system in place, your site feels like a demented air steward with a goldfish memory: "Good morning, good morning, good morning, goo...."

With a content strategy driven by CRM and supported by dynamic editorial approaches, your search campaigns are so much cheaper and more effective, social media has actually got something to talk about, and new customers acquired through amplification strategies like digital display and mobile are likely to stick around and generate the lifetime value that pays for the whole strategy.

So next time you get that brief to buy banners and search terms, push the boat out a bit. Tell them about cargo cults, and ask them if you can take off your bamboo headset.

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