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Local online marketing industry needs strategic approach

A review conducted on local businesses highlights common weaknesses in digital marketing approaches. Common issues identified in online marketing campaigns are the lack of a strategic approach, a frequent inability to create a competitive advantage from new trends and a weak customer experience design.

We find that often customer experience design is managed by the programmers themselves as part of the website implementation process, leaving success to chance.

In the local context, few are the organisations that design their online customer experience through rigorous research even though customer experience is a decisive factor in the success of online commerce.

It is therefore no wonder that many local businesses have failed to become sustainable online or are unable to identify a valid competitive advantage over their international competitors. Online success for organisations goes beyond creating a web page and a Facebook profile.

The following are the most common issues observed behind organisations’ struggle to compete online.

Handling digital marketing with a trial-and-error approach: Just as it is impossible to calculate statistics without learning maths, or to perform surgery withouttraining in surgery, managing digital marketing without training is like leaving the success of investment to chance. The field is becoming more complex and underestimating the task is a high risk for those lacking the awareness of what they do not know.

Lack of investment: Some organisations are fine investing six- or seven-digit figures in furnishing a retail outlet but would struggle to value a website costing four digits even though they are aware that most traffic is generated online rather than offline. More challenging is investing in designing the online customer experience – something that may be looked upon by the inexperienced online investor as an expense rather than an investment.

Few are the organisations that design their online customer experience through rigorous research

A lack of a long-term strategic plan for online presence: This is fundamental to guide the selection of actions from a wide-ranging set of tools, channels and tactics. Some investments, such as advertising, can have an immediate impact on business performance, while others such as content marketing and search engine optimisation may provide a longer-term investment.

Having a one-man-band approach: As competing online is becoming more complex and competitive, specialisation is becoming the norm. No matter how competent your IT person is, creating a website once a year, it is unlikely that the result can be better than that of an expert who builds websites in your industry every day, all year round for years on end.

Most importantly, investing in strategic leaders who lead teams while having a broad understanding of ‘digital’ across marketing, design and technology.

Some businesses are opting for a DIY approach on the lines of ‘if a kid can use Facebook, then using social media for my business should be a piece of cake’. In most cases, the management of digital marketing campaigns is done through a trial-and-error approach.

While this might work for the small corner shop that has a handful of customers, strong campaigns necessitate specialised training in areas such as statistics for the optimisation of programmatic advertising, the ability to conduct experiments for field-testing content and many similar activities that go beyond gambling a fiver on a naïve Facebook boost. Acquiring these skills through experiences and without training not only extends the learning curve but is also likely to provoke failures which, in some industries, is not an option.

Other organisations opt to outsource their digital marketing department. This presents a number of advantages, such as the ability to get up and running fast and the ability to make use of on-demand experts who, at worst, have experience in a similar industry.

The downside of outsourcing is that the organisation sometimes risks becoming dumber as the core data insight of how to generate leads is taken outside of the organisation. Organisations that realise how core digital marketing is for their continuity are opting to build an academically-trained, in-house team with interdisciplinary competencies around online content creation, testing and optimisation through data analytics and strategy building. In this light, as from October, the University of Malta is launching a new MSc in Strategic Management and Digital Marketing.

This new MSc is designed to prepare next generation leaders in digital marketing by integrating a strong management component. This approach transforms candidates into leaders who have a broad understanding of digital marketing opportunities and will design data-driven actions to lead teams and create impact.

Students are equipped to be effective in their roles by understanding success cases and pushing boundaries by engaging cutting-edge tools and techniques. This MSc empowers students to build knowledge and skills that employers are demanding from the new generation of marketing managers within the digital economy.

Students completing this programme take forward the latest marketing and leadership concepts such as digital marketing channels, performance metrics, digital advertising, decision modelling, data analytics and content production theories and applications. For more information, one may visit  https://www.um.edu.mt/courses/overview/PMSCSMNDMKFTT8-2018-9-O .

Franco Curmi is coordinator, MSc in Strategic Management and Digital Marketing.

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