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How do you persuade big company executives that digital marketing is important?

Many of you no longer face this problem within your company, which is great. Some of you are increasing spending on digital and reaping the rewards, but not all. Some B2C companies spend the lion’s share of their marketing budget on traditional marketing, even though the digital is highly effective, and so should get a bigger slice of the pie. Worse, I still work with B2B clients who not only do not understand the value of digital marketing, but they don’t even understand the value of any marketing at all. Marketing is considered a cost center and gets as little investment as they think they can get away with. What can help these executives see the light?

You might at first think that it should be easy. After all, if the numbers show that digital marketing is working, why not spend more on it? There are a few reasons:

  • Inertia. It is harder to get execs to do something new than to keep up the old. If the company is plugging along, why change? Change is risky and invites criticism, so why chance it?
  • Lack of analyticsB2C companies sometimes can show the value of digital marketing tactics in ways that they can’t duplicate for B2B. Because they can’t compare, they are reluctant to shift spending. Similarly, some B2B companies have so little spending going on that their analytics aren’t even trustworthy. They don’t spend, so they don’t measure, so they can’t prove they should spend.
  • History. What worked for these execs when they cut their teeth in the business is good enough for them today. B2B execs learned that marketing was a low-level low-value area, so they haven’t kept up with how digital has completely changed the game. B2C execs have an unshakable belief in traditional marketing and are reluctant to reduce its investment for this new unproven alternative.

So, if analytics won’t persuade them, what do you do? Show them the competition. One thing you should know about executives is that they are fiercely competitive. That’s how they rose to the top of heap in their own company. They certainly don’t want to be in second-place as a company. But how do you show them what competitors are doing?

  • Show them the pundits. Dig up the consulting studies on how customer behavior is changing to require reaching them in digital channels.
  • Show them how companies in their industry are adapting. Show them how the world has changed from what they knew. Show them how investment in marketing (especially digital marketing) is correlated to improved revenue and profit growth.
  • Show them the numbers. Yeah, I know I just said that it can be hard to get numbers, but there are numbers out there. If your competitors are public companies, you can pull their annual reports and SEC filings and get numbers on how much they spend on marketing. You might be surprised to see that in the same industry, some companies spend 10 times what others do.

Don’t sit idly by while your competitors are running digital rings around you. Eventually that doesn’t work out for you personally, because some new exec will show up that thinks you were asleep at the switch. Make it your business to persuade your execs of what is really needed. If you can’t maybe you need to find someone new to work for, because your job at that company is a lot less stable than you think.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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Discussion

  1. Avatar Dan Harris

    Hi Mike,
    Great article but I must say that I couldn’t disagree more. As a marketer myself, if I find C-level managers (or owners) who don’t yet see the value of digital marketing, I chalk it up to them being hopelessly out-of-touch. With so many in our potential audience, I simply can’t justify the time trying to convince. As the old marketing adage goes “you can’t say the right thing, to the wrong person”.

    1. Avatar Mike Moran

      Thanks, Dan. We’ll agree to disagree. Several of my best clients needed help persuading people in their organization that this was the right thing to invest in. You can say they are hopelessly out of touch, but the fact that I took the time to persuade them and succeeded meant they weren’t hopeless at all. They just needed someone to take the time to help them through a blind spot. I have my own blind spots and I appreciate when people help me through them. And it’s perfectly OK that you don’t want to take this on–it’s not for everyone. Thanks for the kind words about the article and thanks for taking the time to comment.

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