Digital performance tips: beware of specialists

June 20, 2012

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Here’s a companion piece to last week’s post about the value of simplicity – this time I want to focus on the importance of generalists.

There’s a quote we used at Tequila which I always liked: “A man with a hammer sees every problem as a nail.”

Digital marketing is full of very smart men with hammers labelled ‘social media’, ‘organic search’, ‘web analytics’ etc. And that’s great, because all these things are really complicated and require a high level of expertise to do right.

So we have a world where all these people successfully bash away at their specialist nails, moving from big nails to little nails to tiny little carpet tacks as they progressively optimise their channels.

They are experts in what they do – but they probably aren’t the people to help you find the really big performance gains within digital. They probably solved the big problems in their area a long time ago and are now productively tinkering away at smaller, less significant tasks.

Meanwhile the bigger questions around digital strategy could be going unanswered.

For instance, a great paid search expert may be able to help you to drive another 5% of value out of her channel. But will she spot that you’re spending 50% too much on paid search? Will they notice that your budget could be better invested in a completely different channel like email marketing?

Actually the big opportunities for performance gains may well lie outside channel strategy altogether. If I was a client, I’d be keen on having a hard look at areas like drive-to-web messaging, landing page optimisation and overall site performance.

In fact, rather than tell my agencies I want to drive more value from channels x or y, I’d pose the question “If I could find another £10k, where would you spend it?”

This is where the much maligned generalist comes in handy. You need someone to look objectively across all activity and work out where the best opportunities lie.

A good place for that person to start would be with a simple measurement model that integrates channel and site performance. That could show you the places where you need to improve. Then armed with that knowledge, you can go looking for specialists to put it right.

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