Digital Marketing: Time to Play Ball

You're a marketing manager and you need your website(s) to be visible in Google, but how do you do that? Via search engine optimization, right? But SEO is dead (it isn't, so don't believe that for a second) and Google are pushing websites towards pay-per-click advertising, so you'll need an efficient, ROI-producing AdWords account as well. And you'll need to utilize social media to spread the word in real time (it's the future!). And then if you're really serious about making money online, you'll be a fool not to look to improve user experience, as you need to turn clicks into cash, so you'll need conversion rate optimization. And don't forget blogging -- a sound content strategy is imperative.

Digital marketing is a minefield. Getting it right takes investment, time and, most importantly in my opinion, testing. All businesses need to continually invest in all facets of digital marketing in order to compete, so it is vital that research is carried out to determine what will make up that foolproof online business strategy; the only problem here is that there is no such thing. You cannot achieve perfection online; you can only look to make fewer mistakes than your competitors! You can be clever in this sense, by using baseball as an analogy (bear with me) -- and why not as many a boardroom phrase has been borrowed from this erudite of U.S. sports: "ballpark figure", "touch base", "play hardball", "three strikes and you're out", "cover all bases", "curveball", etc. -- we can not only look at sabermetrics (which, ahem, tallies well with web analytics) but at logic also.

I urge any business person -- in fact any person -- to read Moneyball, even if you dislike sports (or at least watch the Moneyball movie starring Brad Pitt, although not as good as the book). Michael Lewis' 2003 book documents the way in which Oakland Athletics' manager Billy Beane -- on a shoe-string budget -- overhauls his player recruitment process in order to compete with their multi-billion dollar Major League competitors, namely the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

Beane -- a highly talented Major League player in his day -- turned to sabermetrics to highlight good performing players in specific disciplines. Rather than looking at top line stats (such as batting averages, home runs, strikeouts), and relying on the age-old methods of Baseball talent-spotting (gut-feel, the look of a player, his marketability) actually digging deeper into the data by looking at more in-depth analysis that actually makes a difference to performance: "your goal shouldn't be to buy players; your goal should be to buy wins."

This was seen as radical in Major League Baseball, with many commentators opining their disregard of statistics over scouting, but Beane's adopted data-driven strategy allowed him to compete with the big boys on his comparatively paltry budget. Oakland Athletics went on a 26 game winning streak and reached the play-offs. Beane was then head-hunted by one of the biggest franchises in Baseball, the Boston Red Sox, to become their general manager, but declined the offer to continue his ethos at the A's.

My point here is that to get ahead online, you must analyze your data and discover weak points that need immediate focus. Only then can you logically determine what areas of your digital marketing mix that you really need to focus on, and then you can set goals and apportion budget. All marketing directors -- especially those inheriting a new position -- will have to deal with areas of their digital marketing that will need improvement: There is no such thing as perfection online -- we're all in the business of making websites less crap!

Data is your most useful weapon: use it wisely and it'll help inform business decisions that matter. Ask Billy Beane!