3 Ways to Gain and Maintain a Competitive Advantage in the Digital Age

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Loni Stark, Adobe Systems Inc.
Loni Stark, Adobe Systems Inc.

It's time to rethink digital marketing, not as an expense, but as opportunity to boost the bottom line. This was the advice Loni Stark began our conversation with when we spoke this morning about digital marketing trends. Stark, director, product and industry marketing, at Adobe Systems, added that marketers need to start by asking themselves how they can use digital marketing to be effective against competitors over the long term.

What's a marketing fad versus trend? How many social sites should we participate in? How many mobile formats do we need to use? These are questions marketers are asking. The most important consideration, according to Stark: What do customers want?

Stark cited three trends marketers should act on to deliver what customers want, where and when they want it—and gain a sustainable competitive advantage as a result.

Trend 1: As content and gadgets explode, customer attention becomes scarcer

It's clear to marketers that there's a content and gadget explosion, and along with it a growing scarcity of customer attention. Marketers also know that they have to have content out there on different devices. Mobile is only the tip of iceberg when looking at the device explosion and resulting fragmentation.

Addressing this requires a content-first, not devise-first approach. Digital marketers need to determine their core content and brand message and then distribute it across channels as appropriate. “Don't start with a channel-first view,” Stark warns. “Don't build just an iPhone app. It's not sustainable to create something for just one channel. Customers are using multiple devices.”

In other words, optimize your digital marketing and content strategy to caption customers' attention across channels and devices.

Trend2: Deeper customer engagement leads to organic growth

According to Stark, the average online ad spend per user is increasing, which makes sense considering the continual growth in the number of Internet user. But what does that shift in spending mean? In some cases the growth comes from brands moving their offline budgets to online ad spend. Adobe, for example, spends about 70% of its marketing budget on digital. But if companies are spending more online per user, then they have to earn more per user, too.

This means that marketers need to be smarter about where they're advertising. Marketers need to optimize their ad spend because, as Stark pointed out, “paid acquisition of all customers is not sustainable.” Consider online ads in places that not only get prospects' attention, but also help foster a deeper level of customer engagement and loyalty with the goal of building organic growth through such areas as repurchase and referrals.

Trend 3: Customer context, not “location, location, location”

Marketers need to understand that location is not everything. Even for businesses where physical location can deliver a significant competitive advantage, digital integration has become an imperative. Stark cited Starbucks as an example, for its innovations around digital payments and digital experiences like Wi-Fi and charging stations.

“A business's location will matter less; customers' location will matter more,” Stark said. Digital devices and apps will prompt customers to visit a specific retail location. Krispy Kreme's Hot Light app is an example of this. It alerts customers when fresh donuts are available at a nearby location.

Location is about context, as well. So don't send a mobile ad to a customer for a weekend sale a retail store in New York when all their online behavioral cues show that they're sport fishing in the Florida Keys.

“People use technology to eliminate barriers and limitations,” Stark said. “The digital age has give this to customers. ‘Location is where I am, now. Not where the company is.'”

Stark added that by eliminating location as a barrier to doing business, companies can focus on customers' time, which is still scarce. Assets like online or mobile banking, for example, are ways brands can capture customers' attention by giving them time back in their day or shortening the time needed to make a purchase or complete some other type of transaction.

So how do you get there?

Stark cited three ways:

Be useful: Be a “content magnet” by using content to solve customer problems and educate customers every day. It needs to be a habit.

Be different. Reinforce and extend the brand beyond the physical product. A brand image needs to be as strong online as offline. “You can't talk digital without talking about Nike,” Stark noted.

Be convenient. Design for your laziest customers, and then all of your customers will find it easy to do business with you.

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