How does Digital Marketing Affect Web Sustainability?

In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a fusion between traditional marketing, and web technology, increasingly called “Digital Marketing.” It’s time to consider this so-hot-right-now “big idea” in terms of its effect on web sustainability.

Why is Online Marketing Relevant to Web Design?

When we go from Marketing to Digital Marketing (DM), we immediately include features of websites and apps which impact sustainability. In particular, new-era DM includes extensive Search Engine Optimization (SEO), as well as Web Performance Optimization (WPO). In addition, paid keywords which tend to match user searches with relevant products increase the sustainability of the overall system via Ux. Of course, all these methods can be used for ill (e.g. Black SEO) but let’s assume for the following discussion that marketers actually have our best interests at heart.

So, what is Digital Marketing (DM)?

1. Well, we start with a product or service to promote. Then, build a landing website and apply Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and social network optimization (e.g. Facebook Open Graph and Twitter Cards). Ensure the site loads quickly via Web Performance Optimization (WPO) and host on a cloud service for rapid scaling.

2. Figure out features of your audience, in particular what kind of content they like and what search terms they type into Google and elsewhere to find it. Set up a Search Marketing strategy, and buy popular user keywords instead of doing traditional banner ads. Make sure the SEO of your sites match the keywords you bought. If you can’t afford to buy, conform your site’s content to match commonly used keywords in search engines. It’s a special kind of User Experience (Ux) analysis focused on search behavior.

3. Stir into the mix Content Marketing, which is the art of constantly writing about the product and service in a way that is not simply ad shill. Post repeatedly to the blogosphere and social networks, and blur the line between information and advertising. “Leak” exciting information about your product or entertainment. Fold in those purchased keywords into everything you write. Try to make the content interesting enough that ordinary Internet users will share with their friends, and “influencers” on Twitter and elsewhere recommend to their followers. Find the biggest influencers and try to court them to distribute more content for you as an unpaid marketing force.

3a. If you can’t write, get someone to write in a SEO-friendly way for you.

4. Have a physical event, a.k.a. “event marketing” or “experiential marketing.” This can range from a product demonstration to a flash mob to kiosks which allow unusual groups of people to interact. Use the same keywords and information as online, but do something that requires interaction in the real world. The key is to include more senses than sight and hearing in the event. Due to its small size, outrageous things may be tried at the event, matching the cat playing the piano nature of Internet Pop Culture.

5. Since the event will only reach small groups, make sure you record and upload everything. More Content Marketing! Generate “rich media” – from the “experiential” event. – Snap photos of the event and push up to Pinterest. Make a professional video (this time with a plot, lights, and storytelling) and upload to YouTube and Vimeo. But the goal is not to get the audience to “watch” for hours, like old-school film. Instead, make your video short and bursty, with the goal of short bursts of sharing.

5a. The digital audience can only see and hear, but show people at the event having a multi-sense experience of your product. Build something parallel online. For example, at the event, people might play a physical game of basketball (wearing the right tennis shoes, of course), but the digital audience plays a virtual game. At the physical event, a kiosk might “dance” with a visitor, but online you let people write about their experience with standard vending machines. In some cases, you may be able to talk the web audience into doing something physical. In experiential marketing theory, even getting them to stand up and clap their hands or give a secret salute to friends magnifies the effect, since more senses were included.

6. Follow up with email. Don’t spam, but add”opt-in” buttons right into distributed content. If spam is sent, try to send based on customer profiles (see the next step). Use the email to “remind” consumers later that they still might be interested. Add buttons to the email that takes them right back out to the content or shopping site.

7. Mobile strategies require different methods. On mobile, the Web doesn’t appear to be a big single interconnected thing, like it does on desktops. Instead, consumers access “vertical” narrow-focus content via specific “apps.” The solution? Write an app for your product and service organizing all your content, and reduce search to consumers finding and downloading said app.

8. Spy on your audience with a software tool (typically online). Have Google Analytics or another application grab all the data from websites, blogs, and social networks. Grab data from all the popular online services, including things like reviews and surveys. Apply “big data” analytics to the mix using online tools, and generate numbers which determine how well your marketing strategy really works. Integrate e-commerce or physical sales to develop a Return on Investment (ROI) calculation.

9. Report to the suits on the upper floors. Make an online “dashboard” which reports analytics and decision options, giving the execs the feeling they are driving a race car instead of selling soap.

For a great example of an online Digital Marketing dashboard running in real time, check out the following:

This, in a nutshell, is Digital Marketing. It integrates some things which were done outside the web (e.g. event marketing) with online marketing techniques, folding in a sales strategy and “big data.”

Why does sustainability factor into Digital Marketing? Because by its nature, Digital Marketing tries to streamline and optimize the loop between producer and consumer, between product and buyer. It does so by trying to create “game trails” through search engines they can follow. It uses rich media to speed up consumer choice. It also includes Customer Relationship Management (CRM) thinking and personalization of of content for individuals, for re-marketing, which is more efficient than first-time marketing.

Since this blog is dedicated to the notion that sustainability requires more than efficiency – WPO – anything that changes user behavior is fair game for sustainability. If users waste time reacting to Digital Marketing, it makes the Internet less effective at serving its users. If the marketing locks out some people, it affects the “inclusiveness” clause found in most sustainable design theory. So let’s consider the pros and cons of Digital Marketing as a sustainable strategy, and develop some rules of thumb for what makes it sustainable.

Digital Marketing Features that Might Improve Web Sustainability

  • Boosting sales for products that benefit consumers and society
  • Boosting the “findability” of products and services by consumers, reducing search load
  • Converting customers into easy to access “relations” (read accounts) to reduce re-marketing costs later on
  • Providing non-marketing shill in content allowing faster decisions by users
  • Including customers into co-marketing, which makes the message more believable (and decidable)
  • Linking customer experience to steps in the marketing, AND analyzing the resource and energy costs for each step relative to Ux.

Digital Marketing Features that Might Reduce Web Sustainability

  • Encouraging people to something physical which also damages the physical environment
  • Selling an unsustainable product or service, or one which increases damage to the physical environment
  • Getting people involved in essentially useless searches or onsite interactions, wasting their time and reducing the efficiency of the Internet “marketing channel”
  • Needless “quant” analytics of big data which actually tells a simple story, or no story at all
  • Creating dashboards that give the illusion of control, when no control of the process is actually possible.
  • Using analytics tools to monitor Flash-based ads and animation, extending the life of these energy-hog apps. The problem is especially acute for mobile marketing, where Flash can put a real drain on battery life relative to HTML5/JavaScript methods.
  • Useless monitoring of apps and sites, resulting in the waste of “vampire power” by the apps and sites. This is also a big problem on mobiles, where many apps continue to draw power for tracking even when not being used.

With this in mind, let’s classify some ways that Digital Marketing could be included as part of a larger sustainability plan for a site.

  1. Demonstrate that the connections to a site are “broken” – users can’t find the content
  2. Demonstrate via keyword research that consumers are looking for the content the site provides.
  3. Sites that work best with long-term users would benefit from marketing which reduces re-marketing expense.
  4. Dashboards that allow actual decisions to be made (e.g. to add new paid keywords) are sustainable, while those that make managers feel good are just wasting power.
  5. Echoing a physical “experiential” event online may save time and resources, relative to working entirely through physical event marketing
  6. Metrics which demonstrate that the customer experience is better after the DM are more sustainable, compared to those that just count page visits or sales. In other words, custom analytics are more interesting than generic statistics.

Custom DM Analytics and Sustainability

In this light, the company Mixpanel ( is extremely interesting. Their interface allows construction of custom analytics via a GUI tool for making database queries. Definitely better than no analytics, or “canned” analytics offered by some other companies.

Two features of Mixpanel leap out:

  1. Ability to “fire” a specific event in JavaScript, and have it tracked by Mixpanel
  2. The ability to create a custom query of data (something like the conditional tools in Excel) using a GUI instead of code interface

The second aspect is especially interesting, as it allows constructing very specific analytics without having to write code. So, one could in theory compare the increase in Ux quality to blobs of expensive code and jumbo assets, and determine if they have a positive effect.

Now, you can do this in Google Analytics as well…

However, Mixpanel combines the events with an easy way to set up queries on the data. Compared to some of the other systems, I found their method fairly intuitive and encouraging exploration. One can imagine smaller PR and DM firms using this tool to generate more meaningful custom queries for their clients, without having to have a hardcore coder on the payroll. This is better for DM sustainability, and the sustainability of the web in general.

In the future, DM is likely to be part of most new site strategies, and the increasing analytic component means that once again, we are seeing merging of jobs, and a need for hybrids – this time, designer-developer-marketers. Unicorns ahoy!

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