Still Waiting To Commit To A Strategy? You’re Going To Lose.

Mitch Joel has a fantastic post communications professionals should read asking 6 key questions you must address to win 2011. Question 1 is really the most important and defines the difference between companies that will actually see a results vs. those still stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide:

Are you committed to a real strategy? Sadly, most businesses get tactical and caught in the weeds. They hop on Twitter because their competitors are there, but they have no strategy in place. Think about why you need the digital channels, and develop a holistic view of the digital marketing landscape. Figure out how the digital channels can best serve your brand. The net result should be a focused strategy that is based on your overall business objectives, economic value to the organization and a tactical plan.

Indeed. Either you devote resources, develop and execute on a holistic digital marketing strategy or you don’t. It’s cut and dry – and it’s surprising that in 2011 Mitch has to write such a post. But he’s right.

I wrote about the divide in digital influence in 2009 and it just keeps growing. If your company is on the wrong side of this divide, still wondering why you need to participate and not yet committed to a real strategy, you’re in a lot of trouble. If the conversation at your company or agency is still “wondering why we should even market digitally” it’s time to get with it, fast or be forever dominated by the competition. If your competitors aren’t here yet either – pounce now or regret it when they wake up and trounce you.

Rand Fishkin at SEOmoz noted what’s happening with those who are savvy – basically, the rich are getting richer:

The email marketer with a giant email list has much greater leverage to add 100 new subscriptions through the power of their existing influence than their new competitor, just starting out with those first dozen email addresses. The website ranking in position #1 for a high volume search query likely earns a few, natural, reference links each day, while a struggling competitor, even one who might have better prices, quality, value or content, must struggle out of obscurity before any of those “links via discovery” come their way.

This principle applies cross-channel equally well.

High search rankings can earn you lots of visitors who might subscribe to an email list. Thousands of Twitter followers can mean direct SEO benefit and second-order effects like more links and branding. A popular LinkedIn group can drive traffic that turn into more RSS subscribers, getting you noticed by industry lists, which then feed into more media attention and links, which delivers higher rankings. It’s a virtuous circle — unless you’re sitting on the sidelines.

…Overtaking a competitor or earning your way into a crowded field with strong existing players isn’t just hard, it’s getting harder, at a faster pace, every day.

In working with companies at all areas in the spectrum of digital sophistication the difference in the conversation is clear. Those who have embraced the web and executed on an effective strategy are interested in how to effectively spend more on digital and continue to shift their budgets away from what they have traditionally done.

It’s obvious why: more accountability, efficiency, results and ultimately they want to continue to dominate their less sophisticated competitors. They’re not just a little, they are way ahead and want to keep it that way. That’s the savvy side of the conversation – while the side who has never tried is barely willing to execute tactics. I’ve experienced this time and time again with companies willing to embrace digital marketing vs. those who aren’t. The results of both efforts are, of course, how you’d expect.

Really none of this stuff is new. At this point, companies have to either “get” that modern society communicates using the web or they truly have the drapes to the outside world shut.

To marketers who aren’t fluent in digital: do you think print is making a comeback? Is TV where you’re still throwing your money? Radio? Sure about that?

To management teams still tentative about allocating resources to modern communications channels – time to get comfortable with digital or be left in the dust by competitors with more relevant approaches.

The good news is it’s not too late – but as Rand points out above with the runner analogy, waiting will cost you everything.