Ya-Yung Cheng, who goes by YY, is the Senior Director of Digital Marketing and Platforms at Sylvan Learning, the leading provider of K through 12 tutoring and supplemental education services in North America. YY brings almost 20 years of marketing experience to the role, with positions at American Express, Ingenio and Yahoo along the way. YY is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and has an MBA from UC Berkeley. She joins us from Baltimore, Maryland to discuss the role of the digital strategist in integrated marketing. You can hear our conversation in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud or below now.
Integrated marketing has changed. While it remains all about coordination of efforts (a challenge as organizations get larger), it is more challenging than ever with the increased importance of digital media. Now integrated marketing is also about ‘making sure we leverage each channel for its intended purpose…setting appropriate goals for each channel and measuring performance…it’s like a puzzle’. The key to success in integrated marketing is to achieve a ‘seamless user experience and contextual usefulness’ for the consumer. Examples of where this is done well are Express, a clothing company that has unified the online and in-store experiences by crafting and delivering highly personalizing digital messages to you from the moment you step into the stores and all the way through the customer lifecycle, and Disney, whose app is a seamless companion whose purpose is to enhance the overall theme park experience and takes into account your precise location and needs at that moment, from understanding wait times to where to take the perfect photo. These brands understand that success is about more than ‘checking the digital box’ but rather about ‘integrating digital into the product experience’.
This omnichannel experience is what Sylvan Learning is striving for, an objective that is complicated by a franchise structure. This structure requires coordination to ensure that the local operators are in sync with corporate in terms of marketing efforts, but as YY points out, this is not out of line with any brand that has international operations.
It is this coordination that forms the core of YY’s role at Sylvan, where she is tasked with leading a team of digital specialists focused on raising awareness, acquiring leads and building brand advocacy. They achieve this through paid digital media (SEM, display, social), organic efforts (SEO, social, online reputation, business listings) and CRM efforts (email and direct mail). This translates to responsibility of the consumer facing digital ecosystem including the website, landing page infrastructure and IVR and making sure it all ties together to create a seamless user experience.
To achieve this, the digital strategist works as a ‘music conductor, orchestrating everything to ensure the end product is where it needs to be’. This typically requires ‘lots of planning and developing the vision…thinking about the end result…how are we going to get from point A to B’. Further, once the strategy is launched, it is the role of the strategist to ‘listen and figure out what’s working and isn’t’ and in doing so to ‘manage expectations, course correcting along the way based on goals and needs’.
YY didn’t start out as a strategist, but rather grew into the role. Coming into her first job, she said that she had originally felt prepared by working hard in college and asking the right questions in the interview, but realized after starting that she ‘was utterly unprepared for what was to come’. She spent the first few months understanding the ‘what’ to the role. It took a couple of weeks to realize that her job was to create and send junk mail, approximately 8 million pieces of mail a month. Looking back, she believes this was one of the ‘best things that could have happened to me, I learned how to balance messaging and analytics, measuring results and that combination of science and art. How a strategy is helping or not to hit the numbers – set goals and measure against it’.
This ‘tedious’ early stage of the career is necessary in YY’s opinion since it is where you learn the ‘what’ of the job. As you master that, you get to move to ‘why’ and then finally ‘how’. She acknowledges that this can be a shock but advises those entering the industry to not ‘be afraid of the what, it might sound tedious because out of college you go from writing very thoughtful pieces and class projects that ask you how do you change the world and then when you go to your first job you realize ‘wow, this is what I do?!?’. But there is something to that madness, there is a process about learning the what, then you ask the why, then as you lead teams, you start focusing on the how’. And this is ultimately when you becomes a digital strategist in integrated marketing, deciding ‘how we pull this all together’.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.