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Rise above a crowded digital landscape

Any company can hawk its wares digitally. And most do. But to truly stand out as a digital marketing “all-star” also requires cross-channel integration, a splash of bold creativity, and teamwork. Brands that reach all-star status don’t get there simply by using flashy creative or harnessing hot digital trends; instead, they build experiences that are smart, intuitive, and customer-centric.

For businesses, this means not falling under the spell of a single beguiling medium. “The hardest thing to do, but the best place to start is to de-emphasize any single channel,” says Shar VanBoskirk, VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research. “Most companies start off thinking, [they’re] going to use email and blow the socks off of email, and that’s the wrong orientation.”

VanBoskirk identifies four dimensions that brands must conquer to be part of the digital elite: planning, technology, organization, and measurement. “How well you can measure the results of individual programs and how well can you measure the correlation between programs is important,” she says.

And the result of these measurements will often produce new and unconventional insights. Ultimately, marketers need to be open-minded when it comes to assessing their digital campaigns. “You have to change how you evaluate your success. Look not at sales, but at how much more loyal customers are, and be willing to look at how well  mail helped generate a response from other channels and so forth,” VanBoskirk says. This means executing campaigns on the basis of segments—and occasionally even individuals.

Ultimately, successful marketers combine data from all channels to create a comprehensive view of their customers, says Grant Owens, VP of account planning at Razorfish. “The best brands are finding ways to smash their disciplines together that start from a core insight and then drive it out in all channels,” he says. Since marketers often work with multiple agencies for different services—e.g., creative, email, mobile, display, and search—the impetus is on the company to maintain a database, or set of integrated databases, that maintain the flow of cross-channel information.

Unfortunately, siloed data isn’t the only issue when establishing a holistic digital marketing strategy; a disconnect can form among the staff, as well. Marketing teams need to collaborate, share data, and ensure that their strategy is consistent not just among their respective departments, but also with their company’s overarching goals.

This connected approach gives the customer a more personalized experience. With teamwork and data at the core, a little bit of creativity also helps marketers excel. Brands that qualify as digital all-stars have exceptional marketing programs and teams in place, but they’re also willing to try new things. “Great digital marketers need to have their fingers on the pulse of what’s out there and have a healthy amount of curiosity,” Owens adds.

Red Bull, Brooks Sports Inc., and Seventh Generation are three brands whose digital marketing stands out because they take a collaborative, multichannel approach—with a splash of courageous creative.

Red Bull’s icy escapades

The “Red Bull Crashed Ice” Ice Cross Downhill World Championship is one of those extreme sports events Red Bull commonly sponsors that seems more like a dare than an organized sport. It involves athletes padded head to toe in hockey gear, navigating an icy course with bumps, drops, hairpin turns, and other obstructions. To support its sponsorship of the Ice Cross events in Canada in 2011, Red Bull, best known for its energy drinks, launched a multichannel digital marketing campaign.

Red Bull Canada ran a four-week effort in 2011 to promote sign-ups in Quebec City. The effort primarily targeted males interested in winter sports. Red Bull needed a way to drive registration, so it enlisted mobile marketing agency Tagga Media to develop a desktop and mobile registration platform so Red Bull could use the event to build its SMS opt-in list.

“People are drawn into a cross-channel experience where they can register based on [their channel preference],” says Amielle Lake, CMO and founder of Tagga Media. “They had the luxury of opting in to get SMS alerts and the freedom to know that they could interact in the channel that they preferred.”

Red Bull used QR codes, social media outreach, SMS, email campaigns, and display ads that promoted the Crashed Ice events and encouraged users to register for them with calls-to-action like, “Now Drafting Athletes,” “The Ultimate in ICE CROSS Downhill,” and “Think you can make the cut? Register now!”

Registrants were also offered the option to opt-in to the general Red Bull SMS program. Although integrating several channels, Red Bull made a strategic decision to feature mobile because it knew many customers wanted to connect using their phones. “People have to realize that mobile isn’t just a second screen experience, but an entirely new behavior that warrants its own strategy,” says David Nam, digital marketing manager at Red Bull Canada.

More than 10,000 thrill-seekers registered online for the 2011 Quebec City event, 10% of which came from mobile devices. In addition, 27% of the registrants engaged with mobile during the event, and 2,700 people registered to receive SMS updates during the event. The campaign’s mobile ad buy had four million page views, which converted to 8,000 click-throughs. The effort also saw 9% QR code conversion from printed flyers. The campaign drove 39,000 social media impressions; 13% of the campaign shares were on Twitter and 83% on Facebook. And more than 10% of the registrants opted in to receive future communications from Red Bull.

That campaign’s success in Canada led to a global rollout, and Red Bull is using it again for the Crashed Ice events this year. For 2012, it added direct registration from its Facebook page to supplement its mobile and website presence, as well as email opt-in.

Nam says the program lets Red Bull communicate with customers “in a very relevant way and with very relevant content.”

Tagga Media’s Lake adds that Red Bull’s strategy is about creating connections with current and prospective customer and turning it into an ongoing conversation by giving them content that they want to hear about in the channel that they want to use to communicate. “This is where we believe marketing is heading,” Lake says. We think every item in the marketing calendar should be cross-channel and should not be separated into silos.”

Brooks Running sprints toward digital integration

Community is everything for running shoe manufacturer Brooks Sports Inc. The company’s fans are passionate about running and its employees share that passion. Brooks decided to tap into this loyalty and enthusiasm to enhance its digital marketing efforts. The approach includes integrating its social media pages with its email and event marketing efforts. Working with digital marketing services firm ExactTarget, Brooks tracks its customer interactions and uses that data to make them more effective.

“We saw our engagement in social media as a great opportunity to put a face on our brand,” says Joel Ballezza, digital marketing manager at Brooks Sports. “Our tagline is ‘Run Happy,’ and we’re very active at marathons and other running events. We wanted to take the smiles and happy things from these events to the digital space.”

The brand posts videos on YouTube, uses Twitter as an extension of its customer service, and fosters conversations on Facebook. It links all of these communications to its email program and uses insights from each social channel to determine what content it could offer that would be most meaningful to customers. The company uses one central analytics tool to measure the results from separate channels in one place.

For example, the company uses tagging to measure shares on Facebook and retweets on Twitter. Messages that are effective can be repurposed into email content. The company also creates snippets for its customer service team to use to respond to common questions about products. This keeps the message consistent and makes the team able to communicate in an effective way.

“Social is all about being authentic,” says Margaret Francis, VP of social products at ExactTarget. “What Brooks is doing is talking about authentic things that are important to runners and doing it in the channels that consumers want to be communicated with. Consumers expect brand consistency and brand relevancy wherever they encounter the brand, be it email, social, mobile or their website.”

Departmental structure and collaboration is central to Brooks’ success. While marketing and customer service are handled by different teams, these employees work together to ensure that the customer experience is consistent at all points of interaction.

“If our goal is to provide customer service through social media, [and] if there is an email going out, the social monitoring team better know about it because customers might be asking questions about that product,” Ballezza explains.

Because each department has different lead times, it’s necessary to develop creative for the various channels at the same time rather than on a need-based schedule. “When we’re developing creative, we try to think of how it can be used in email, on the homepage, and in social media to try to get more value out of assets we create,” Ballezza says.

Since the company began integrating its online, social, and email channels last year, it has seen Facebook fans grow from 16,000 to more than 218,000 and Twitter increase from 4,000 followers to more than 52,000 followers. In addition, Facebook is now the company’s number one direct referrer to its e-commerce site. Brooks declined to share sales metrics.

Seventh Generation takes an earthy approach

Seventh Generation’s customers are passionate about environmental issues, and social channels offer a great place to facilitate discussions around these topics. So during Earth Month last April, the provider of green household products created two Facebook campaigns and a sweepstakes. Both efforts were tied to the upcoming release of the environmentally-themed movie The Lorax, based on the Dr. Seuss book.

The social ads encouraged consumers to “Like us if you want to change the world;” another ad offered consumers a chance to “Win a trip for 4 to Redwood National Park or a new washer/dryer.” The ads encouraged Facebook likes and were designed to drive traffic to Seventh Generation’s Facebook page. In addition, the sweepstakes linked back to the brand’s homepage.

“Facebook is the largest, most engaged community of real people sharing authentic stories with one another, so we’re able to build deeper relationships with our consumers and drive word of mouth at scale,” explains Reid Greenberg, head of digital strategy at Burlington-VT–based Seventh Generation.

Seventh Generation worked with Compass Labs, whose social media platform is designed to help manage social advertising campaigns to define its audience and then target a specific segment of the population with ads on Facebook. The campaign netted 82,000 new Facebook fans acquired in less than two weeks at a “like rate” of 67%, meaning the percentage of users whose clicks on the ads have resulted in a like. In addition, actively engaged fans spiked with a 364% increase in Facebook’s “people talking about this” metric, which tracks users who have interacted with a brand page within a seven-day period.

Seventh Generation’s efforts during Earth Month is just one example of how it uses cross-channel integration. The company consistently applies learning from different channels—website, email, and social—to inform a comprehensive digital marketing strategy.

“If we relied on a singular platform, we’d miss where our consumers live and conversation opportunities,” Greenberg explains. “We need to ensure that our conversations are reaching [a customer] where she chooses to be, not where we think is best.”

The brand’s “sweet spot,” according to Greenberg, is a customer who is a Facebook fan and a member of the company’s loyalty program. “Studying social helps us create our overall community engagement plan in a way that wasn’t possible in years past,” he adds. “This feeds into online content, print material, insights for our retail and online partners, and even packaging.”

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