Aaron Shapiro

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Don't Just Launch Manage

Originally published by Think With Google, May, 2012

In the mythical 1960s, marketers had it much easier: If you had a product to sell, you hired Don Draper to create an advertisement. Dad would see the ad while reading the newspaper. Mom and the kids would gather around the family TV, see the spot, get excited, and buy the product on their next trip to the store. The job of the marketing executive was mostly to buy advertising, and they got very good at it. By the 1990s, the best marketers in the world had become experts at launching ad campaign after ad campaign, driving the growth of global brands like Nike and Coca-Cola.

Today, marketers have a very different—and much more difficult—job. Being an effective marketer today is not just about launching brands and products, it’s about managing them. And that’s a fundamentally different mindset, requiring an enormous shift in the way companies are run and structured, who they hire, where they spend their money, and how they approach digital marketing.

Today’s most effective marketing initiatives generally follow a similar formula: A company creates a digital experience for consumers that in some way improves their lives and, in doing so, connects them with a brand. That experience is designed to be easy and attractive to share, so that consumers learn about it from each other, too. Advertising – TV, outdoor, search, social, display – is used to drive consumers to the digital experience. Initiatives like Pepsi’s Refresh Project, the Old Spice Man, and Nike+ are good examples of high-profile campaigns that fit this model. But this approach could work for any company with a mobile app, an e-commerce site or a social media presence.

For marketers, the critical takeaway is that the types of digital experiences that are successful – that are worth using and sharing – aren’t microsites or one-off campaign applications that you just create, launch and watch. Successful experiences are platforms and experiences that users interact with 24/7, whether there’s a campaign "in flight" or not. In marketing speak, they’re platforms for ongoing engagement. In more practical terms, they’re digital properties that require constant management, no different than, say, Google, The Huffington Post or Amazon. And they must be run and managed with the same level of resources, care and dedication that underlies every successful digital business.

Successful websites and apps aren’t just launched, they’re actively managed. They’re rigorously maintained and improved. Dedicated teams constantly evolve, tweak and change them. They explore what works and what doesn’t; respond actively to user feedback; and steadily evolve based on real-time consumer inputs.

Instagram didn’t become a billion-dollar application overnight; it evolved over 21⁄2 years of tweaking what was originally a completely different product , called Burbn. If marketers want to create similar types of engagement and value for their companies, they must embrace a similar mentality. No digital experience will be perfect out of the gate. The best digital experiences emerge from cycles of iterative improvements based on actual usage. Getting to a truly great experience means getting better step by step, and usage patterns develop over that same cycle.

Most marketers are not set up to manage and evolve the digital experiences they create. Instead, they’re stuck in a perennial campaign-launch mentality. Once an initiative is launched, they forget about it, move on to the next thing, and wonder why no one is using the application. Corporate budgets often exacerbate the problem—there is money to launch that cool new thing, but none to spend on operating or improving it. The lack of product improvement is made even worse by a lack of ongoing product support. Advertising rolls out at launch, but little is done to promote the product down the line. It’s a vicious cycle, where lack of engagement with mediocre digital products then discourages future investment.

Whether they know it or not, marketers are now competing against startups that are gunning for their business by effectively changing consumer behaviors. Established companies have the resources and incentive to be just as imaginative and creative in the ways they use digital technology to connect with consumers and modify behaviors as well. To get there, however, they must first embrace a similar product development ethos. Yes, launch a great new digital experience as part of your next campaign—but plan your budgets and manage your team in a way that allows the experience to evolve over time. Digital experience-based campaigns are only truly successful when the underlying digital experience is carefully managed – and has the ongoing support – to transform into the kind of experience consumers readily and repeatedly want to engage with.