Ever wondered how the Roman Empire would be marketed as a business today? No? Well, buckle in folks, because we’re about to do a deep dive into the importance of holistic digital strategy when your complex business has activated expansion mode.
Your business may be complex for a number of reasons. Perhaps you can’t decide between prioritising plumbing services (Aquaducts) or promoting your retail arm (togas), or maybe your ads just aren’t quite hitting the mark. Either way, one thing is for certain, getting your ducks in a row with your strategy is a must before throwing them in the bathtub/flooded Colosseum.
Rome, Roma, Caput Mundi, The Eternal City…National Office, the centre of it all. In a fast-paced world filled with expanding “empires”, it’s never been more important to nail your digital strategy in order to stay at the top of your game. But before we get into the nitty gritties, let’s set the scene.
In the year 27 BC the Roman Republic went through a major rebrand. With the ascension into leadership of Julius Caesar's adopted son, Augustus né Octavian, a new and more unified brand emerged; the Roman Empire. Things were looking good. Civil wars between departments were over, workplace culture was #thriving and global expansion was afoot. What more could a “Republic” want?
Too much apparently. By 476 AD, the Empire collapsed after years of inefficient military spending, inflexible approaches and ultimately not really knowing their core customer.
So, what could we in the 21st century learn from this? And what were the key pain points?
Look, doing a retro of what went wrong isn’t a time for egos, so Nero, Caligula and Caesar are all banned from the boardroom on this one. Recognising past failings or slight misses is extremely helpful in avoiding them going forward. Sure, they had some stellar market penetration, but should they have ensured there was a sustainable futureproofing strategy in place? You bet your bottom denarius, they should’ve. And did “National Office” aka Rome really need 123 days of gladiatorial games at a huge cost to the business? Sounds like a casual bit of wanton spending to us. There’s a lot to unpack but here are some of the main doozies.
At Reason, we love ambition, but growth without a plan can be dicey at best. Without updating their strategy and following the same formula of “smash and grab” for hundreds of years, the Roman approach to global expansion ultimately failed. Reduced to defending territory and retreating from some markets, it was clear the empire lacked the infrastructure and resources to sustain the kind of growth they were after. Good market penetration = Yes, love to see it…No sustainable growth and retention strategy = yeah, we’ve got problems.
Which brings us to KPIs and measurement. For any kind of growth plan, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what success looks like from the moment Caesar says “Nice territory, I’ll take it”. Of course, you can throw around some big budgets but spend without measurement won’t get you far in the long run. Not to mention, not having a phased growth/market retention plan in place.
You know it, we know it, and Rome knows it. The empire likes a diverse portfolio, but one of their major oversights was not really taking the time to understand their “customers”. Did the Gauls really want Latin to be their new language and give their gold over to pay Roman debts? Probably not, but that didn’t stop the Empire from slithering on in without doing their audience research first.
What works for the goose, doesn’t necessarily work for the gander, and Rome’s strategy of, let’s call it “How to lose friends and alienate people” didn’t exactly hit the mark with a number of territories. We’d refer to this as being internally driven (driven by what Rome thinks is best) as opposed to having a customer-centric focus (putting customer needs at the forefront).
Finding a way to align Rome's business goals with a customer need eg. (technological and building improvements or even togas) will be key to a successful long-term strategy for entering the market and for a better overall customer experience.
Now Rome was, let’s face it, a complex beast. From culture, to clothing, to tech, the spread of their offering was wide. It’s no wonder they couldn’t sustain their market monopoly. One of the essential rules when establishing your digital marketing strategy is having a very clear understanding of your audience, the customer journey and exactly what you’re offering. The way you talk about selling togas and who your audience is will be quite different from the way you talk about your plumbing services…Those improvements to water hygiene though really were *chef’s kiss*.
Being clear about your products and services, who they’re for, and your goals will ultimately trickle down into things like your content strategy, how you allocate channel splits on budgets, what keywords you’ll target; the list goes on. Get the foundations right and you’ll have yourself a well-oiled machine for future campaigns.
So we have a pretty clear idea of where some of the bottlenecks were for the Romans. Inflexible strategies, hostile competitors and internal dysfunction all played a role in their downfall. Maybe if they’d reviewed things more holistically, really broken down each part of their “business” and how it feeds into the wider KPIs, they may have had more success. Guess we’ll never know.
For the sake of this hypothetical exercise though, how would we approach marketing the Roman Empire in the 21st century?
Let’s break it down into parts.
What are their business goals and how does the Empire run? With any new strategy, a good first step is having a discovery session or at least getting reacquainted with the goals. What do we know about the business? What works? What doesn’t? Do we really need a wall across ol’ Britannia? Where are the gaps? Do we know our audiences?
Even though the Empire does have an extremely broad range of products and services, many of them do correspond with a reasonably universal market need. For instance, everyone loves a robe (toga) and if you don’t, then questionable life choices. Either way, it’s a desirable product across multiple markets. And that’s not even getting into their tech wing.
So, let’s say we’re going to focus on togas and the e-commerce branch of the business. What do we know about our current business model for pushing retail? A few things.
Listen closely. You hear that? Yep, that’s a smooth beats of Morcheeba’s ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. Songs, sayings, numbers even…ladies and gentlemen we have ourselves some STRONG brand recall. Definitely a plus when you’re kicking off a digital strategy. Having an established brand means you can reduce the amount of activity in the awareness layers of your campaigns. Do most people know of the Roman Empire? Sure. Do they know about the exclusive line of stacked togas launched during the late 2nd century? Arguably no. For the sake of this experiment, a key recommendation here then would be to launch the new toga line with strong brand associated messaging.
No one can argue that the Empire doesn’t have reach or a decent SoV. Just Google “aquaducts”, the first three results mention Rome. That’s some strong authority right there. Having this established organic search presence will also help inform how much budget we’d need to put into paid search ads as well as how we might approach our Search Market Analysis or SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) recommendations.
O oh, are the Barbarians bidding on your brand terms? Or are you unsure whether it’s worth putting your budget into branded keywords like ‘Rome’? Why not do a brand uplift test and know for sure where to put your spend? That should give you a fair idea about how you should weight your spend vs whether it’s possibly more worthwhile focusing your efforts on SEO.
With an empire like that, you just know the outgoings and maintenance is high, but the ROI is also pretty healthy. You can’t put all your gold in one toga pocket though and Rome has been known to rely rather heavily on agricultural taxation. (Very naughty when you have some fantastic trade opportunities from your range of products and services.)
We know that the Empire has some decent budgets but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be smart about how we spend them on marketing. When we launch the new toga line, we need to be sure that the budget is used in the most efficient way possible and that means, analysing previous purchase trends and benchmarks to forecast potential campaign performance, and also further inform budget splits.
Doing the groundwork early and getting everyone on the same page avoids disasters like that time Caligula wanted to make his horse a consul in the Senate…Yikes.
So we have our product focus, we know the previous errors Rome has made and we have a good brand foundation. What next?
“All roads lead to Rome” heard that one before. Replace the word “roads” with “channels” and you’re talking about your digital marketing ecosystem. How do we ensure that channels are being leveraged in a way that feeds into the overarching goals? By nailing audience segments on a channel-by-channel basis and understanding the importance of platform-optimised content.
With the digital landscape constantly changing, it’s important to keep your customers engaged and at the forefront of your thinking. No more one Roman size fits all, with GA4 coming onto the scene, gone are the days of relying on 3rd party data and remarketing, now comes the era of 1st party data strategies and personalised advertising. “Eme togas nostras, aut te invademus” isn’t exactly as inviting as “Hey Brian, in need of a new toga? Shop the look below and get 15% off at checkout. ✌️”
With agility and GA4 in mind, we’d recommend a solid review of lead generation activities across the business, email flows and how the Empire is incorporating these shifts in the digital space across their expansion pushes.
As we mentioned earlier, what works for the goose doesn’t necessarily work for the gander which leads us to platform-optimised content and personalised comms.
So you want to launch your new toga line into Gaul territory? Wanna trade in some cloth for gold? Well, you better know how to talk to your audience. For instance, the Gauls are quite comfortable with their trousers, so how are you going to convince them that togas are the way to go?
A layer of education may be required on the benefits of toga life. “Ideal for a dinner out with the Gals/Gauls.”
We’ve established that they may need an education/awareness layer before factoring in conversion activity (buying dem togas). That means using the correct channels to achieve this as well as ensuring your content is optimised for the channel. This looks like platform native creative, best practice caption lengths, correct use of buttons and more. You can still keep to a cohesive look and feel for your brand and campaign but make sure that it’s translated across platforms. For instance, when running an awareness layer, salience is key, which is why we’d recommend a strong creative look for the launch. Perfect for grabbing attention with a new line of togas on the loose.
You wouldn’t invade Scotland in winter? So why would you try putting a horizontal video on TikTok? Platform optimisation is about practicality at its core. Understand the territory and you have a better chance of grabbing a chunk of it in market.
Top Tip: Make sure you’re keeping platform optimisations in mind when coming up with the creative concept. Will it work in both horizontal and vertical ads? Does it work as clean artwork without text? Will it work in video form?
“Veni, vidi, vici” – I came, I saw, I conquered. Yeah you did Rome, and then oopsie, didn’t have a sustainable business plan, did ya? Don’t worry, we’ll do better this time around. So we have a pretty solid idea of a key product, we’ve covered the importance of a holistic approach to your digital strategy and customer journey but what would an actual campaign for the Roman Empire look like in action?
Come on, let’s give it a quick Rosetta stone rundown, don’t worry, this won’t be translated into Greek and Hieroglyphs.
By the time the campaign wraps up, we will have gained some juicy Gaul insights, shifted some stock and be in a good position to ask ourselves, who should we invade (sell togas to) next?
We’ve said a few times above, the key to success when it comes to your digital strategy is coming at it from a holistic angle. Think of it like a big centurion spider sitting in the middle of a big ol’ Roman web. Every string on that web should feed back into the centre, and the spider itself should be able to pull all the individual strands when it needs to.
So would our toga campaign work? Yes! Sure, it’s hypothetical but at Reason, we know digital. We’re always hunting for the edge with every client, even the Roman Empire, and we do it for “the glory of Rome!”...and your business.
At the end of the day, every business is different, just like every potential customer is different; digital marketing isn’t a one size fits all situation. Embrace those differences, know your business and audience and you’re on your way to a solid digital empire.
If you’re looking for Maximum F**king Impact or a more tailored solution to selling togas to the Gauls, we’ve got you covered. Check out our services or better yet, touch base…Carpe Diem!
Written by: Caitlin Grover - Content Lead