It used to be that marketing was relatively straightforward: to sell a product, you run an ad campaign; to build a brand, you run an ad campaign.
By the 1990s, marketers had not only become obsessed with buying advertising, they had gotten very good at it, and used it well to build global brands like Marlboro and Coca-Cola.
But today, the web has infiltrated our daily lives, leaving marketers with a very different and much more difficult job.
Being an effective marketer is now not just about launching brands and products, generating awareness, it’s about managing them.
This requires an altogether new mindset and a significant shift in the way companies are run and structured; who and what they invest in, and how they approach digital.
Today’s most effective marketers are creating a connection between their brand and the consumer by building digital experiences that improve the lives of the people that use them.
That experience is the core, with advertising - TV, outdoor, search, social, display - all helping to support and create user bases for their digital properties.
Successful campaigns that fit this model include communities such as Pepsi’s Refresh Project and the addictive activity tracker Nike+, but this approach works for any company with a presence on the Web, whether that’s an e-commerce site, or a Twitter account.
The most successful digital experiences are those that users want to share and use, day in, day out. A microsite may entertain for one visit, but something the user can engage with on an ongoing basis, that requires management in the same way as the Guardian, YouTube and Amazon, has a real impact on the brand reputation.
The resources and dedication required to run and manage these successful businesses online cannot be underestimated.
The challenge for marketers is that to be successful in digital, you can’t just create and launch a website or an application and be done.
Unlike an ad campaign, where the marketer’s work is done after the creative is finished and the buy is made, digital experiences require dedicated teams to manage them, market them, and ensure they are constantly evolving and improving, tweaked according to user feedback.
Too often, marketers fall victim to the assumption that "we built it, now they come," expecting the digital assets they have invested in to become successful just by existing.
Many marketers pay to create applications or websites, move on to the next thing on the list, and then wonder why their digital investments aren’t working.
To learn how to create a digital product for your brand, consider Instagram, the wildly popular photo sharing application recently acquired by Facebook. Many have speculated as to why a large brand like Kodak couldn’t have created an Instagram-like product to help evolve and save its business.
But Instagram took much more time and investment to create than the kinds of low cost digital campaign extensions or gimmicky apps created for PR purposes.
Instead, Instagram, which was originally a product called Burbn, was the result of more than two and a half years of constant evolution, iterated based on user data to the point where it was simply the best, and most popular application around for its purpose. To have the same type of success, brands need to embrace the same mentality.
Engaging products require real investment, dedicated teams, and cycles of improvements based on lengthy user testing.
Today, brands face competition from nimble startups with free reign, looking to disrupt big businesses or make them irrelevant by creating new consumer behaviour. But brands also have enormous opportunities as well as the resources and incentive to be just as creative in the ways they use digital technology.
To get there, however, they must first embrace a similar product development ethos; consider putting together a small team with direct access to senior management to push things forward.
Yes, launch a great new digital experience as part of your next campaign, but plan your budgets and manage your team to ensure the experience is sustainable.
Careful management is required to transform your experience into a product consumers want - and need - to engage with again and again.