A while back, our company hired a project manager to oversee the implementation of our clients' web marketing strategies. At the time, it seemed reasonable that a project manager with web development project management experience would be able to jump in and learn the nuances of web marketing, and then take the ball and run with it. We quickly found out that it's not quite as easy as it sounds.
Running web marketing as a project is a recipe for failure. That has little to do with the skills or qualifications of the project manager but more about the execution differences of a project vs., well, something that isn't a project.
So why can't web marketing be managed as any other project? Here are four reasons why:
Web marketing isn't a project, it's a process
By definition, a project has a defined amount of work that must be done before it's considered complete. If you're managing a web development project, the goal is to roll the site out for the world to see. Within that project, there might be several small projects such as wireframes, creating the navigation architecture, building tools, etc., but those mini projects still have an ultimate completion point.
Most businesses don't go into a web development project without a specified completion date. Whether that date is achieved or not, there is still a determined goal for when they want the project finished. Web marketing doesn't quite work the same way. There really is no completion date.
Even in advertising, there are "campaigns" that need to be managed. But even those generally have a very specific run, whether that be time or ad spend. Once each campaign has run its course, it's time to develop a new campaign.
But web marketing is different from both of those. It's more of a process than a project or a campaign. We don't start a web marketing campaign because the client wants keyword research or links, or people to "like" them. That's just part of the process of promoting the website. Nor does the client really want X number of optimized pages. That's just what we do to achieve the ROI goals. Most web marketing tasks are geared toward improving the client's web presence. It's not done in a day, a week or even a year. And even when ROI goals are met, we just set new goals and continue with the process.
Web marketing isn't a discipline, it's all of them
Website design and development is (or at least should be considered) a sub-set of web marketing. Social media marketing, content strategy and conversion optimization can all stand on their own in providing overall web marketing value, but they are still only a part of a complete web marketing campaign (for lack of a better term).
Most projects utilize various skills to see a project through to completion and just need someone who can organize the pieces to be completed. In most cases, very little knowledge is required as long as the project manager has solid organization and relational skills. Their job is to assemble the team that knows what to do, ensure they get the information they need and verify the results.
Web marketing, on the other hand, requires a good deal of knowledge in multiple web marketing disciplines. For the most part, the team members with specific skill sets can provide quality input and feedback in what needs to be done, but the project manager has to be able to put all the pieces together into a complete and unified campaign.
The SEO can optimize pages, but they need to know what pages are going to bring the most value to the business. Analytics can tell you what pages convert best or what pages are driving the most traffic, but that may not be where the best ROI is. The social media strategist can do an excellent job engaging with your audience, but if the messaging isn't unified with the rest of the promotion, there can be serious consistency problems.
The leader of a web marketing campaign needs to be able to lead the marketing strategy, not just oversee the implementation. That is a critical difference. A project manager can oversee that all aspects of web marketing are being done, but they are not necessarily the right person to know what the best overall strategy will be for the client. That takes an intimate understanding of all disciplines, their value and knowing when focusing in one area would be better than another.
The onus is on us, not them
Web development projects are often client-led. That is, the client decides what they want, and the project manager works with the team to make it work. The end result is something much more tangible per the client's specifications.
For web marketing, the client wants something a bit more intangible. They might know they want improvements in certain metrics and have an understanding of terms like SEO and social media marketing, but they won't have the intimate knowledge necessary to decide what will give them the most immediate, long term or consistent benefits.
That means the leader of a web marketing campaign is generally the one telling the client what they want, not the other way around. More to the point, the client tells the web marketing team leader the goals, and the leader is then responsible for crafting the plan to achieve those goals.
We tell the client what we need to do. Rarely will the client dictate how many tweets to send per day, how many pages to optimize or how much time to spend on fixing website architectural problems. That's our job.
ROI can never be satisfied
Web marketing has a forever-moving goal post. Every client wants ROI, but ROI is not enough. Let's say Client X invests in web marketing and makes $2 for every $1 spent. That's a good return on investment. So now the goal might change to $2 for every $0.50 spent. We are not just looking at ROI, we are now looking at improved ROI.
But eventually you run out of room to improve. So the goal will be not necessarily to increase ROI but increase sales while maintaining that ROI. The web marketer now has new goals. And once those goals are satisfied, even newer goals will be established.
Does it really matter?
In a sense, a project manager can successfully oversee a web marketing campaign, but they may not be the best fit for the role. Again, this has nothing to do with the skills of the project manager but the differences between what a project manager does and what a web marketing team leader does. If the leader tries to force web marketing into a project manager's box, failure is imminent.
The lesson we learned is that the web marketing team leader must be a web marketer. In order to lead, they have to have a pretty intimate understanding of all web marketing disciplines. They don't necessarily have to be the best person for each of those jobs, but they need to be able to weigh the value of each. It's not always about knowing what to do, it's knowing when to do it.
Web marketing isn't linear. One month you'll be heavy on social, another heavy on architecture, another heavy on keyword research and then another heavy on architecture again. Linear thinking doesn't work in web marketing. The leader must be fluid and be able to craft a solid web marketing plan for success. They client largely won't understand that plan, but they will like the results!
How do you best handle your web marketing processes? Let us know in the comments.