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The top 10 challenges facing the interactive marketing community are very much the same as those facing the entire marketing community... in that almost every marketing professional must address the interactive/online marketing medium.

Having spent the last two years traveling the world for the Online Marketing Summit events (more the United States, but you get the point), educating marketers on the best practices of online marketing, I've had a chance to interact with thousands from all areas of marketing.

When they are asked about top challenges, many marketers say things like "social media" or "search engine optimization" or "integrating online and offline." But I think the challenges are much more fundamental to the individual and the organization.

Here's my list of the top challenges, and my recommendations for dealing with them.

No. 10: Time

"I have to get this e-newsletter out tomorrow; can we talk about our landing page strategy next week?"

As marketers, especially online marketers, we are all stretched way too thin. So, I put time at No. 10 because it's never really about a lack of time—it's about prioritizing time. Right? We can do whatever we want; it just depends on what we decide to do first.

As it applies to online marketing, we get so caught up in the day-to-day execution of existing campaigns that we never take the right amount of time each week, month, or year to say, "What can I do that will have the largest impact on my marketing goals?"

I'd argue taking the time to properly research what your customers do online and where they spend their time would be paramount, but rarely do we do our homework.

Recommendation: Familiarize yourself with "Web site usability" and start testing or learning from others who have already done so.

No. 9: Saying No (to Client, Agency, Boss)

"I just read about a blog that the Starbucks CEO does... we need to do that!"

This ties in with the issue of time. Saying no to the thousands of ideas that are out there is imperative, regardless of whether it's a request from your boss, client, or agency. Have the courage to ask for the research, the case studies, and the plan for execution first, before taking on activities that are hot or sound cool but, in the final analysis, have very low utility.

An example would be saying no to building a blog until you have mapped out the audience, the time it takes to maintain it, and what the desired outcome would be.

Recommendation: Write down your list of priorities for the year, and if the new idea does not help one of these, put it in the idea box for next year.

No. 8: Getting Involved

"Facebook is for kids. I don't really see why I'd want to join, plus who has the time for that?!"

One of my favorite conversations focuses on social media and social networking. Most marketing professionals over age 30 are skeptical about social networks like Facebook—the reason being that they've never taken the time to explore the medium. The psychological impediments inherent here cannot be explained away; people must experience the medium, only then can they judge.

Recommendation: Join Facebook. It's not going to be of huge utility at first, but put in some time and poke around; you'll then see some possibilities. To encourage you further, I'd be happy to be your first friend and connect you to hundreds of marketing leaders across the United States.

No. 7: Unifying Stakeholders

"IT doesn't think we need it, boss-man/woman is too busy for it, and the marketing department has all sorts of opinions."

Many people these days have opinions on what's best as it relates to online marketing. IT professionals feel they can create everything; your executives are not willing to spend time thinking about it because they are too busy; and your peers have certain opinions based on what they read and see. Your annual budget and strategy meetings seem to default to whoever has the loudest voice or the biggest ego.

Recommendation: Spend a day learning best-practices together as a team. Have an executive briefing (a consultant or adviser who will share what's happening in the marketplace and why companies are successful).

No. 6: Budgeting

"Got shot down again on getting budget for a new analytics tool; not going there again."

Most companies still have the same formula for allocation of marketing budget that they've had for years. In fact, I'd say the majority of marketing departments take a look at last year's budget and tweak it, taking some dollars here and placing some there. I bet if you were able to find your company's marketing budget from 20 years ago, you'd see the same layout.

Recommendation: Take out a blank sheet of paper, write down top 10 things your target customers do with their time on a daily basis and the top three places they will search for your offerings, and then start talking about where to spend your money.

No. 5: Evaluating Communication Channels

"If 92% of people use the Web to evaluate purchase options, why do we spend only 20% of our budget on our Web site?"

Most people don't realize that all of our marketing efforts flow through our Web site at one time or another. Whether it is a search campaign, which obviously starts the buying cycle by linking to the Web site, or whether it's a print ad that has the URL, no one today will pick up the phone and ask your sales people to explain the product or service; they will find that information on your Web site. So, to get that right is critical!

Recommendation: Build some real-world user personas and use cases observing how easy it is to find your product/services (as if you are that customer); or, better yet, have five random people go to your Web site and watch them (no guiding).

No. 4: Removing ROI

"What will be the new ROI?"

ROI is absolute, but if a company based all decisions on guaranteed ROI, that company would not have started in the first place. Much of marketing is testing, research, and learning how to effectively communicate with our customers. So our budget must reflect this, or our company will never see incrementally better results.

Recommendation: Fight for R&D in your budget so you will have the latitude to discover the one killer campaign or marketing idea.

No. 3: Willingness to Take Risk

"We never really did much for SEO, because there are no guarantees and we know nothing about it."

Today's technology is intertwined into marketing (CRM software, Web analytics and important elements like search engine optimization). As marketing executives, we tend not to be so comfortable with the technology side of the equation, so we shy away from what we don't know because it bodes a risk for us. So, we must go out there and talk to those who do know; otherwise, it is a massive opportunity lost. We must educate ourselves and get over the fear (as FDR said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself").

Recommendation: Find your most feared technology element and search for a consultant or education material to just educate you first; and only then decide what your next step will be.

No. 2: Education

"We really need help on how to proceed with next year's planning... We don't really know where to start."

This one ties nicely into No. 3 as we need to first seek the education before we make decisions. Online marketing is so new and constantly changing that if we don't take the time to educate ourselves (team, boss, and agency), we will be stuck with half-baked opinions vs. hard-and-true, fact-based best-practices with which to drive our efforts.

Recommendation: Find an educational event on the online marketing areas of greatest interest and treat your key stakeholders: Go to this event and learn from the experts.

No. 1: Understanding Human Behavior

"Why would anyone want to go to a Web site and read the user reviews or ratings on our product/service when they can just call us?"

It may seem strange, but human behavior is what drives all marketing. It's the understanding of how your customers behave that drives which communication channel (TV/radio/print/online) you chose to spend money in. It is the behavior of your customers that drives your messaging to resonate with them. And now, human behavior has changed forever. The preferred method of communicating is electronic (e.g., email); the preferred information source is online (e.g., RSS); the preferred pre-purchase research channel is Google.

So, we must go back to human behavior again—as in the 1950s with TV—and understand what it takes today to get the message out, loudly and clearly, forever embedded in the memory of our customers/clients.

Recommendation: Watch and observe your customers' behaviors.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aaron Kahlow is founder and executive director of the Online Marketing Summit (www.onlinemarketingsummit.com) and the Online Marketing for Marketers blog (blog.onlinemarketingconnect.com).