Out of the digital darkness

Volume 21 Letter 5

“One half of my marketing dollars are wasted … I just don’t know which half.” 1   That was the complaint of business people worldwide who invested in everything from print advertising to lavish events in an effort to woo customers.  Before digital marketing we could only broadcast a message and hope someone saw it.

With the advent of digital marketing much of that has changed.    Digital marketing still broadcasts a message but what is different is we now know who saw that message, how long they engaged with it and, if done correctly, we know which parts of the message they found most interesting and if they responded to our call to action or made a purchase.

It’s all happened very quickly.  It was only 1993 when Yahoo was launched followed by Google in 1998, and by 2006 internet searches topped 6.4 million per month.  In 2011 web browsing overtook TV viewing and a monumental change came in 2014 when mobile devices (smartphones) became more prolific than desktop and mobile computers combined.   2021 recorded over 2.6 trillion internet searches per year.

Suddenly everyone with a smart phone could be online any time, anywhere, and the reality of social media as a phenomenon took hold.  Opinions and ideas can catch on and go ‘viral’ spreading quickly to interested audiences. Opinion leaders will be the most prolific form of online advertising in 2022.  Today the concept of ‘spray and pray‘ advertising has transformed into an all out effort in digital engagement to create a kind of online intimacy with potential customers.   Let’s take a story from a supplier of hip and knee joints as an example.2

In the past, hip or knee joint replacement surgery done by a surgeon included a short hospital recovery and lots of home physiotherapy.  Today those same operations are done by robots (they still let the surgeon do the cut) and you walk in and out the same day.   For brevity we’ll ignore the brilliant technology and instead follow the conversation from the customers’ point of view and track how digital technology has changed … well … everything.

First big change is word of mouth becomes a juggernaut of advertising. In effect the customers now advertise for you.  In this case patients go online telling their community they’re going in for a joint replacement operation.  Friends respond by wishing them well.  Once the operation is completed the patient again shares their experience, telling their friends and family on Facebook etc. that they had a new joint installed and came home immediately.   Friends reply they are ‘glad the patient is doing well’ however most were expecting a hospital stay so they start asking questions.

Patients actually create a need for the supplier because they’ve started an online conversation about the operation.   Friends /family etc with sore aging knees (or know someone with one) start to inquire about the procedure since their friend had such great success but potential new customers don’t go their physician for information – they go online.  It’s online where potential patients find information about the new procedure and nearby clinics that do it.

Because potential patients are online, company representatives (or chat bots) can engage them in an active conversation directing them to information and answering questions about the procedure.

Finally, as demand for new robotic controlled joint replacement surgery soars, surgeons who are not using robots start to see patient engagement dwindle and pressure their hospital’s to purchase the robot (which of course can only implant the supplier’s joint).  Hospital administrators start looking online for suppliers of these products: By tracking these inquiries sales people can be guided to clinics or hospitals showing high interest.

There is much more to this digital transformation but what are some of the lessons we can learn so far:

  1. Customer are looking for you:  People who need joint replacements are looking online for solutions before seeing their healthcare professional.  Key search words can help direct customers to your information.
  2. Digital marketing is a conversation not a broadcast:  Customers are looking for information and that information can come from your company or from conversations with their friends.
  3. Manage the conversation – don’t try to control it.  Customer are talking with you, with friends and with competitors.   Stayed engaged to present facts and debunk rumours.  Conversation control should remain with the customer.

Digital devices have changed how we conduct business, giving businesses more reach than ever and allowing us to start talking directly with our customers.  Engage with them online and reap the benefits.

  1.  Quote attributed to businessperson John Wanamaker
  2.  Story from former Zimmer-Biomet CEO Canadian, Jamie Williams

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