How Large Brands are Tackling Some of Today’s Biggest Digital Challenges

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Large companies have unique challenges when faced with the fast-moving nature of digital marketing. With a big enterprise comes more resources—but also inevitably more divisions, silos, bureaucracy, politics, and ground to cover. Like a massive ship steaming ahead, the momentum of big business makes changing course and nimbly dodging obstacles difficult.

Complicating the problem are the widely differing demands of these digital challenges that all require a unique approach. Some are perpetual, ongoing digital endeavors that will never truly end. Others come and go with business cycles or seasons. Still some are massive projects that require the coordination of a great deal of resources over a set period of time.

But if they hope to hold or improve their position on the Fortune 1000 list over the coming decade, they’ll have to find a way. And some successful brands are already well on their way to handling some of those hurdles and preparing for a digital future.

Making More of Mobile

The need to transition to a mobile-friendly web presence shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. It’s something that forward-looking marketers have been preaching for years. Yet the rate of change and abruptness of the transition have nevertheless found many companies of all sizes unprepared over the last few years.

In April, a study on TechCrunch found that barely half of Fortune 500s passed the (relatively easy) mobile-friendly Google search test.

mobile staffing chart

image from TechCrunch

And that’s just the most basic, fundamental foundation of surviving in a world where mobile devices now outnumber humans. We’re quickly moving beyond “simple” mobile web to apps, augmented reality, wearables and more.

It’s a daunting task, especially for a large organization that may have built innumerable thousands of online pages and accounts and systems over many years. Retroactively updating legacy web properties to modern standards while also preparing for the future is not a simple assignment. It’s the kind of initiative that requires exceptional planning and just the right technical and creative expertise to manage.

Of all organizations trying to keep up with mobile, few have more challenges (and more opportunity) than huge publishers and media companies.

CNN is one of those companies who had huge mobile hurdles to overcome, but eventually was able to provide a product appropriate for today’s mobile user. They had two back-to-back mobile updates for their site, first to responsive, then to adaptive.

“It was the worst and best project I’ve ever worked on. The entire project took close to two years; there were several times where we scrapped it and started over. We would get down a certain path and had certain ideas about how it would work. And then we basically had to rebuild our content management system so it could handle these elements and editors could put them where they wanted to be,” Cathy Farr, Director of Project Management, shared with MarketPro in an interview.

It was a massive undertaking that lasted many months. During that time CNN had to handle a surge in tech and development demands while still maintaining normal production and operations. For projects like this, bringing on a lot of full-time staff to handle the extra work isn’t always feasible. Contractors and consultants can be viable ways to get access to flexible capacity for frequently-changing tasks without increasing headcount or overspending with an agency.

social media recruiting mobile

“We had a core team of people we pulled off of what they were doing and assigned them to this project. And then we went with some [contracted] resources, mainly on the development and QA side,” Farr said.

For large organizations, it’s important to find flexible digital talent resources that you can access quickly and make use of without having to wait through a long training and onboarding period. High quality mobile staffing isn’t always easy to come by, though, and big brands should choose who they work with carefully.

“We really wanted people who wouldn’t need much ramp up time. Fortunately, since we were building something new we didn’t have this big legacy system for them to learn. And we were looking for contractors who could handle a project that could constantly change,” Farr explained.

Engaging Global Communities on Social

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For many enterprises of all sizes, social media has been a Wild West of uncertain ROI and unfulfilled expectations. For every brand hitting social home runs, there’s a handful that are still striking out.

In fact, about 100 of the Fortune 500 don’t even have a meaningful presence on social media. That’s mind-boggling in this age. Even if those businesses wouldn’t benefit from marketing on social networks, a robust social strategy has so much utility to offer for Public Relations, employee engagement, analytics, customer service and more.

Doing social right takes serious commitment, and not just financially. The days of handing a college intern the keys to the social accounts and saying “go” are long gone, at least for big businesses. It requires buy-in from a lot of key players, careful social media recruiting, a long-term mindset and a shift in your corporate culture. If you just set up obligatory official accounts but inconsistently use them, you may as well not even bother.

“We’re ​working with our brand teams and our marketing ​partners to help them get comfortable with the reality that the traditional notion of campaigns that are only live for a handful of weeks broken up by periods of going dark–​that’s really not the ​ideal ​business model of the future and certainly ​isn’t one that works well from a social perspective. You don’t want to be going heavy for 8-12 weeks and then essentially silent for 2-3 months. It’s just not the way to maintain a conversation or keep a discussion going,​” Nick Ayres shared with us.

Ayres is Global Director of Social Marketing at InterContinental Hotels Group. IHG has some interesting challenges as a brand. Its business and marketing are affected heavily by seasonality, and as a global hospitality company it has a broad spectrum of diverse markets to engage.

IHG social media strategy handles those challenges several different ways. The first is organizationally: the company has a centralized, dedicated team for the global brand. But social efforts are supported by other internal teams like Customer Care and regional social talent that reports to their respective leadership team.

“There are folks in each of the regions that have social responsibility and accountability that aren’t part of my team directly. We certainly work closely and work with them. The social marketing lead in Europe, for example, reports to the leadership team in Europe, not into the global social team,” Ayres said.

Effective organization goes a long way toward executing any major digital challenge. No matter how many talented people you have, they’ll only get you so far if they’re not working with the right team or have access to the right resources. Organization determines how well a digital team can interact with the rest of the company and how much flexibility it has to react to market forces.

social media recruiting organization

During high-demand times that result from seasonal rushes or coincide with big campaigns, IHG’s social team is able to draw on both internal and external resources to deliver.

“When we think about large-scale seasonal campaigns, a lot of the extra workload will be handled by agency partners and internal creative teams,” he said.

Great agencies usually don’t come cheaply, but a partnership with a good one can be very valuable. They’re incredibly diverse these days—there are dedicated agencies for almost every digital niche you can think of, which can be a great way to shore up a weakness in your strategy. But while it’s easy to find an agency with a given expertise, it’s not always as as simple to find one that also aligns with your core philosophy and strategy.

“The biggest thing for us is finding an agency that’s willing to learn and bring our brands to life,” Ayres said. “We want folks who can be our partners, not just someone who we can plug-and-play and swap out interchangeably.”

Agency or contract staffing: which is right for you? Use our simple chart to help you decide.

Waging the Endless SEO War

Despite the monthly obituaries declaring SEO to be dead, the discipline remains as lively and important as ever.  Web users still rely on organic search results for about half of their page visits; far too much potential traffic to ignore.

image from Search Engine Land

But SEO has gotten exponentially more complex over the last few years, and the fight to stay on the front page for even a moderately competitive keyword is a never-ending battle. Modern SEO now includes social media, content marketing, relationship building, user experience, mobile optimization and more. Falling behind on just one crucial pillar can mean a precipitous drop in rankings.

Luckily for Fortune 500s, Google search results tend to favor well-established brands. However, they also tend to face the greatest competition if they operate in a market with other big companies.

Not all big businesses have an established SEO strategy. Of those that do, some outsource the work to an agency while others build an in-house team to handle it (or both).

Home Depot is one of those that opted for an in-house driven solution. But as Sean Kainec, the company’s Head of SEO explained to us about SEO staffing, it’s not always easy to find the right people to run it:

“It’s hard, because SEO has grown to be something that it used to not be. Anybody could put in a bunch of keywords and win, or they could spam, those kinds of things. Google has become a lot smarter. When we’re looking at talent now, we don’t just look for people that have SEO all over their resume. We want people who are marketers, digital marketers who have done this for a considerable amount of time, especially if they’re going to be in the management ranks. They also need to understand business, analytics, those kinds of broader methodologies to be able to put everything together. It’s not as simple as being able to add a title tag and meta description.”

And as with most aspects of digital marketing these days, it’s not enough to just have practical knowledge or theoretical understanding of the work. Members of digital teams like this need to be able to look “under the hood” and understand the technical foundation of what they’re working with.

“You need to know about code and schema, how to actually build a site, databases, infrastructures, web design, usability, content marketing and so much more,” Kainec said. “That part is an entirely different skillset. It’s very hard to find people like that.”


Editor’s Note: HUGE thanks to Cathy FarrNick Ayres, and Sean Kainec for taking the time to speak with us.  Their insights were incredibly valuable!

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