The Four Step Digital Marketing Pivot

Digital Pivot Program by Eric Schwartzman

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs says human behavior can be classified based on needs. To achieve our full potential, basic needs must be satisfied before psychological needs, and psychological needs must be satisfied before self-fulfillment can be achieved.

There is a logical order to digital marketing as well. Organizations that implement a digital pivot as a series of steps meet their liquidity needs fastest. But unlike the pattern Maslow mapped, the four steps of pivoting to digital marketing align with organizational growth stages.

Basic Needs 

Food, water, shelter and rest are the most basic of human needs, Maslow said. Until these basic needs are partially satisfied, it is impossible to advance to the next level, which is security and safety. Just as startups must focus on staying alive, the most basic need of any organization pivoting to digital marketing is their owned media presence.

In digital marketing, owned media is digital media that is owned and controlled by the marketer, such as a website or mobile app. The reason owned media is the most basic of needs is because owned media is where organizations acquire customers and generate revenue. 

There’s no shopping cart in a Facebook post, and if someday there is, expect to pay a hefty commission on that sale. Owned media is where organizations convince and convert and leads to revenue in an environment where they control the customer relationship, which is critical to controlling their destiny.

Psychological Needs

Once basic needs are met, the next level is your psychological needs. We are genetically tribal creatures. We want to belong to social groups like associations and religious groups. Organizations searching for a product-market fit – I call them changeups – are searching for the community in which they belong.

Digital marketers who have satisfied their basic needs by activating an owned media presence with accurate measurement, a path to purchase, and content marketing, are ready to connect with their community on social media. Social or shared media is media you share on a social network you don’t own or control. The media you share could be a post, an image, or a video. 

Just as we assess and qualify our friends based on their tribal associations, we use social media to qualify and shortlist organizations we have no experience with by examining their social media follower counts. Shared media is an important benchmark that individuals use to qualify the legitimacy and impact of organizations. It’s also a good way to steer visitors to your website. But unless it’s been optimized to convert visitors into customers, what’s the use? That’s why owned media comes first.

Esteem Needs

There are two levels of esteem. The primal level is the desire for status, fame, and prestige. The more evolved level is the desire for self-respect, self-confidence, and freedom. Once your owned and shared media needs are met and you’re gaining traction, you’re ready to implement earned media outreach. 

This typically occurs when you’ve achieved a product-market fit and are starting to grow, because in order to be seen as newsworthy, you need to demonstrate that someone other than yourself values your contributions. Journalists, editors, or online influencers consult your owned and shared media presence to see if anyone cares about what you have to say. 

If you’re asking them to publish a guest post on their website, you must demonstrate that you’re a good writer, and the best way to do that is with a blog on your own website. While you don’t need tens of thousands of followers on shared media to prove you’re legit, the more you have, the greater confidence they’ll have that your content resonates with audiences.

Self Actualization Needs

The final, and highest level can only be achieved after the needs at the preceding levels have been met. Once your basic and psychological needs are satisfied, you’re ready to focus on self-actualization, which is being the best friend, partner or parent you can be, or developing athletically or creatively. After a startup becomes a changeup, and a changeup becomes a scaleup, scaleups become grownups. This is the final step in the hierarchical ascent.

In digital marketing, once your owned, shared, and earned media needs have been met, you’re ready to focus paid media outreach, which is pay-per-click, social, programmatic, and display advertising. There are some exceptions, but before you start buying traffic to your owned media presence, you need to figure out through trial and error which levers to pull to acquire customers efficiently. Lead acquisition is primary to demand generation. Make sure you’re ready to convert visitors to customers before you drive traffic. Given the nonlinear nature of the digital customer journey, expect visitors to consult your social and earned media presence.

The Digital Pivot Assist

Used to be if you needed a marketing person, you hired someone with experience in your industry. But in digital marketing, the most important goal is being to advance to the next stage of the hierarchy. 

If you’re a startup looking for funding, or a changeup looking for a product-marketing fit, and you hire someone with experience in your trade but at a scale-up or grownup company, they’re going to lack the skills you need to get to the next level. “It’s much better to get someone who’s a great startup marketer who can hopefully learn about your industry,” says Stanford Alum Chris Yeh, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, investor, and coauthor of Blitzscaling with LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman. In digital marketing, growth stage experience supersedes industry experience.

For those outside the tech bubble who are new to digital marketing – particularly small businesses who have had their heads down trying to make ends meet – this hierarchical approach, which puts owned media first, is a practical framework for pivoting. In her book The Three Regrets, buddhist nun Tenzin Kiyosaki writes, “Regrets comes when we realize we should have been paying attention and we didn’t.”  Learning in the trenches takes time. Pay attention to this logical sequence and follow this logical sequence when you pivot to digital marketing.

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