Successful digital strategies are increasingly serving as the common denominator between marketplace winners and losers. At the same time, because this sector continues to advance at warp speed, confusion reigns and has made it difficult for management teams to agree on digital strategies.

Having worked inside the digital ecosystem now for more than a dozen years – with globally recognizable brands, bootstrapped startups, and every type of organization in between – we’ve seen digital strategies change companies’ fortunes, for better and worse. The following are common roadblocks to digital strategy advancement we’ve encountered, and ideas for finding ways to work around them.

“Our competitors have huge budgets for digital investments and we don’t.”

Most large companies have meaningful if not necessarily finely-tuned digital marketing operations up-and-running by now. Formal planning cycles, sizable and discretionary budgets, and tolerance for testing new techniques translate to significant competitive advantage for big organizations when it comes to digital marketing. They can throw a lot of money at websites, search marketing, social media, and the like. This can be intimidating to small and mid-sized companies when considered in aggregate terms, and serve as a nonstarter for any digital marketing movement at all.
Workaround:Develop a cost-per-acquisition and cost-per-lead model for the company. Chances are, the organization is already investing meaningfully in offline activities around business development – in the form of advertising, direct mail, and salespeople. Once the model is in place, run the offline numbers up against digital marketing estimates, and see how they compare.

Digital marketing is rarely more expensive than alternatives, especially if the organization hasn’t historically been active in online marketing.

“No one does business with us because of our website.”

This is frequently heard at B2B companies, and it’s true. Unlike at B2C companies, where online success can be clearly measured in purchases, digital success at B2B companies is less obvious – and can even be viewed as a vanity project. A B2B website’s most apparent contribution to the company is in a sales support role, although it can and should be a lead generator as well. But the reality is that digital marketing investments remain a low priority for many senior executives who control budgets at B2B companies, because measuring ROI can be tricky.

Workaround: Run a controlled, paid listings program with a modest budget for a few weeks. In short order, you’ll find out exactly how much relevant activity there is going on in the search engines, and you might even draw in a prospective new customer, partner, or press mention in the process. Present findings in concise presentation filled with data and figures – such as search engine results page (SERP) screen shots – at the next sales and marketing meeting to initiate discussion.
“We do most of our digital marketing with internal resources.”

An unintended consequence of aggressive marketing from companies like Hubspot, Constant Contact, Verizon – and even IBM and Microsoft – has left many executives with the impression that digital marketing is free and/or easy.
While the digital marketing tools market has swelled over the past decade, making everything from web content management to analytics dramatically easier, the digital consulting market has expanded in lockstep, and with good reason: as stakes have risen, so has marketplace interest, activity, and complexity.
However, just because you can do something yourself doesn’t necessarily mean that you should — whether it’s cutting your own hair, changing the oil in your car, managing your retirement investments, or pulling a tooth. Some things are best left to specialists. 

Workaround: The cost of doing something once cannot only be pricey, but can also quickly spiral out-of-control. This is especially true for most types of digital tactics: websites, online advertising, analytics, and especially custom digital initiatives. There are a variety of moving parts that must work together for a successful program, thereby creating many potential points of failure.

Digital planning teams have two options in addressing this issue:

1) Solicit interest from vendors and let them know the situation upfront; many vendors will jump at the opportunity to try to convince an organization that hiring them is a superior solution to insourcing, and will deliver a presentation that outlines process and cost, which can be insightful.

2) Engage with a nonpartisan consultant that has multi-vendor experience and no financial ties to a specific vendor to help with the planning and technology selection process.

“We’re going to hold off on investing in digital marketing initiatives until we have a new website in place.”

This approach is rarely a good idea. New websites can take anywhere from six weeks to six months to complete, and a lot of opportunities can be missed during such a timeframe. One of the most appealing aspects of digital marketing is speed-to-market and flexibility, and specific point solutions can be erected in days or sometimes hours, which allows companies to launch and demolish digital marketing tactics in short order.
Workaround: Introduce the ‘microsite’ as an option to serve as a bridge between the existing, possibly unacceptable website and the eventual new, comprehensive one. This will accommodate search, email and content marketing efforts in the short term, and will also serve as a planning tool for the site overhaul initiative.

“We’d like to get a [Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook] program up-and-running as soon as possible.”

This is also known as the “shiny new object syndrome”, and is something that affects every organization occasionally. Its impact in digital marketing circles is particularly acute these days because of all the fanfare around companies like Facebook, Google and Apple.

In practice, many digital tactics can be pursued independent of a corporate digital ecosystem and function successfully, if designed properly. But you don’t want to be using social media or search marketing to promote underwhelming or dated digital properties such as an old website.

Workaround:Develop a one-page planning document that explicitly identifies the program process and goals. If someone suggests launching a Twitter campaign, for example, document the following: program theme, owner/author, primary goals (promotion, thought leadership, site traffic), and target outcomes. With platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, programs are easy to launch but difficult to manage; and there’s no room for error, because anything published on the internet will last forever. Getting the team involved in all aspects of the program will help educate everyone about requirements and implications. 

Jennifer Simonson contributed to this article.