This post originally appeared on the MITX blog on 5/1/12.

Historical Perspective

Fifty years ago, life was relatively simple for marketers. They had to worry about billboards, newspapers and magazines, direct mail, radio spots, brochures, and maybe TV ads. The late nineties introduced new marketing vehicles like websites, online banners, e-mail, search engine marketing, and instant messaging. Fast forward 15 years to 2012 and now CMOs not only have to worry about everything the last five generations of marketers had to worry about but throw in twenty plus new channels including podcasts, blogs, online video, location-based applications, and new social networks, the latter of which easily account for north of a billion users.

With so many new marketing outlets to worry about, how can one possibly keep up? For starters, it’s helpful to steer clear of shiny object syndrome or the desire to chase the new app/network that all the cool kids in the blogosphere are ranting about. That doesn’t mean that marketers shouldn’t pay attention to what’s new and test and learn to ensure they are ready when the next Google, Facebook or Twitter comes along (hint: Pinterest had 104.4 million visits in March). However, it does mean that some discipline should be applied and in particular, observing these five rules when it comes to determining where time, effort, and dollars should be spent.

Five Rules for evaluating new online opportunities:

  1. Does new channel X align with your companies goals? Does it align with your key performance indicators? Will it help you and your team come bonus time? If the answer to these is no, you might want to think long and hard about whether you allocate resources to it.
  2. Are your customers using it? Will they be? If so, does it replace another activity? E.g. reading blogs versus reading magazines?
  3. Is there critical mass? Will there be? If the answer is, “maybe,” it might be a good idea to look at how they integrate with bigger social networks like Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Photo sharing sites like Instagram and Pinterest have benefited greatly from their wide and deep integration into bigger social networks; especially with Facebook, which boasts more than 900 million members.
  4. Never EVER fall into the “my CEO wants it so I’m going to do it” trap. While the CEO’s opinion is arguably one of the most important (if not THE most important) in the company, that doesn’t mean that it’s always right. In fact, when it comes to new social and digital channels, there is a good chance that the CEO’s interest in a new social network may have come from a Wall Street Journal article she or he just read or maybe a trend she has noticed with her kid’s friends. There may be some “there” there but if her latest interest doesn’t align with that of the company’s, find a way to walk away.
  5. Can you measure it? Don’t minimize the importance of this and how it ties back to rule number one. This doesn’t mean that everything you measure has to have hard ROI attached to it but it should mean that you can tell if you’re moving the needle and ultimately, if the time and effort you are investing is paying off.

Everything in moderation, including moderation

Now that you know the five rules, be prepared to ignore the five rules. Well, not really. But it is key to remember that sometimes it does pay to follow a hunch. The way I’ve learned to look at opportunity is as part of a risk portfolio. With everything you do from a marketing standpoint, there should be a balance. That means taking bigger risks with bigger payoffs but mitigating those with smaller risks likely to deliver equally big payoffs. While, as the saying goes, “nobody gets fired for hiring IBM,” the owners of Instagram never would have made $1 billion by selling to Facebook had they not taken some early risks (like launching on iPhone only).

So what are your rules? Please share them in the comments for others to benefit.