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The Zen of Digital Marketing Strategy

Zen of digital marketingFast Company has an interesting take on the growth of fast, cheap, easy services like 99designs,, and, particularly for non-profits. Of course, their argument holds equally true for small businesses. As Fast Company states:

“Technology is indeed empowering those with mini budgets to create mightily. On the flip side, it’s also producing a surplus of uninspired websites, flatlining brands, and cookie cutter approaches to communications. While moving fast and free, nonprofits are trading originality, vision, and identity for templates, plug-ins, and off the shelf solutions.”

But, they’re not necessarily fans:

“It’s not a question of whether you can get quality design from cheap (or free) apps and services. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. The real question is a fundamental one: Do you have a strategy for what you’re creating?”

It’s not that they’re opposed to these services. It’s that crowdsourcing a logo or building a cheap website on WordPress (or Weebly, Squarespace, what-have-you) isn’t the whole answer.

As the article notes:

“Technology can’t help you. Fast, cheap, and easy can’t help you. Strategy can.”

Now, as someone who regularly touts the benefit of these services (and, actually, is a 99designs customer), I wanted to point out the importance of Fast Company’s point. They’re absolutely right.

Here’s a crazy thought: What if you didn’t have a website? What if you didn’t have a logo? An email list? A phone number?

As hard as it is to fathom, I know of successful businesses that sacrifice one or more of these things yet still delight their existing customers and attract new ones. In an era where your local travel agents struggle to make ends meet (or long ago shuttered their offices) Bill Fischer Travel doesn’t have a web presence or a listed phone number, charges $100,000 for the privilege of letting him book your reservations, and yet actually grew his business during the downturn of the last few years (with the help of his daughter, who’s now running the agency). Despite the decline in print media, multiple newspapers have found ways of reinventing their business models, increasing their subscribers, and, astonishingly, growing their revenues.

Are these models that work for everyone? Do I think you should cancel your phone service or shut down your website? Of course not. That’s not the point. But neither is falling prey to “shiny object syndrome,” trying new social networks, group sales sites, promotional opportunities, or what-have-you without first thinking about how those tools help your customer.

Fischer Travel, The Naples Daily News, and others like them have succeeded because they focus on their customers’ wants, needs, desires, and then use technology (or not), as appropriate to help deliver on those wants, needs, and desires.

For many businesses, a website (whether created for $100 or $100,000), matters. It’s why I talk about them so often. And a good website should contribute to your brand’s overall web presence.

But, as Fast Company rightly highlights, just having a website isn’t enough. You need to think through your company’s strategy, then produce a clear, consistent brand story that works regardless of the channels you use to tell that story.

Technology is a tool. An important one, sure, but just a tool. Your strategy, on the other hand, is what separates you from your competition and makes you important to your customers, whether you have a website, a logo, or a listed phone number. Focus on building the right strategy first, then look at the tools that will help your strategy reach the the world.

Interested in more? Sign up for our free newsletter and get more information on how to build your social, local, mobile marketing strategy. And check out our past coverage of web strategy and tactics:

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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