A survival guide for the era of Digital Darwinism

As the esteemed American marketer, Brian Solis, recently pointed out, we are entering an era of ‘Digital Darwinism’. That is: “the evolution of consumer behaviour when society and technology evolve faster than our ability to adapt”. With the digital landscape developing at such a dynamic pace, it’s no wonder some companies are nervous about taking that bold but crucial decision to go truly digital.

Gartner research predicts that by 2015, 50% of traffic and orders to retailer websites will be from social media and mobile. So it could be argued that to undervalue digital is to severely compromise future revenue flows. Yet, some companies are alarmingly slow to adapt. They may have a basic e-commerce strategy in place. But it is really integrated? Is it mobile-friendly? Does it use social media to maximum effect?

I previously managed social media on an in-house basis for “the nation’s favourite retailer”, John Lewis. Although the brand was a late entrant into social media, its well-conceived digital strategies have turned the retailer into one of the UK’s top ten brands within it. John Lewis has now accrued 262,000 Facebook fans and 14,785 Twitter followers; they’ve also clocked-up a staggering 5.3 million YouTube video views. Proof, if proof were needed, that it’s never too late to get digital. But the prospect can be daunting. So here are a few basic guidelines:

1. Go Channel-Hopping: It’s essential to think of an overall multichannel strategy. You must incorporate web, mobile and social into your wider proposition. And it’s vital to create a synergy between all channels by promoting your social media campaigns in all customer touchpoints. Capitalise on the opportunity for cross-media promotions by making sure digital messages are pushed in non-digital spaces like shops.

2. Get Mobile: And do it before it’s too late. The priority must be to develop a mobile optimised site. Then build an app that operates across all systems to help showcase your optimised site and your brand’s lifestyle in the way you want it to be seen. Of course, ‘getting mobile’ doesn’t just apply to design… it also means advertising across other mobile sites. Make sure your digital marketing agency has a comprehensive mobile PPC (pay per click) marketing campaign in place.

3. Be Sociable: Social media is much more than the latest digital fad. It’s an incredibly powerful tool that allows you access into the inner-minds of your consumers. Social media organically reveals the types of insights that, once upon a time, would only have been available through extensive, costly and timely third party research. The key to social success is to monitor what’s being said about your brand. Listen to conversations on social networking platforms… hear what they’re saying and work out who is saying what. Do they prefer the competition? If so, why? What are customers’ gripes with your business?

4. Get Analytical: Don’t just ‘do’ social media; analyse it. Evaluate how your social media campaigns are impacting on overall company performance: what affect is social media having in terms of website visits, bookings, orders and – ultimately – the bottom line? Analysing the impact of digital and social media campaigns can help in assessing effectiveness… and therefore ROI. This will help justify costs associated with development, internal resource and external agencies.

5. Listen Up: The whole company’s mindset should be about nurturing and protecting lifetime relationships with customers; a principle that stretches well beyond the marketing department. Listening carefully and really tuning into what your customers are saying on social networks, gives you an opportunity to be responsive and excel in customer service.

6. Open Up: Social media should be discussed in terms of leadership, not ownership. Don’t rely on one discrete department to take charge. Social media has given power to the people, so follow this principle by opening up strategy to those staffers within the company who ‘get it’ and use it. If your office isn’t a natural environment for these types of people, hire ‘em in. Likewise, invite customers in and ask them what they really want from your business. Creating a genuine dialogue is a sure fire route to becoming a truly social business.

Perhaps the most important point, though, is that you have to embrace digital and social with open arms. Don’t just dip a toe – go for it. It takes time, money and resource… perhaps even a little restructuring. But it’s a worthwhile investment. The rise and rise of the mobile web and social media is bringing about massive change; change so immense that, although it already feels radical, it has only really just begun. People are sharing their experiences and if they are not happy with the status quo they will go elsewhere. Just ask Borders or Blockbusters.

Jonny Rosemont is head of social media at DBD Media.