5 facts I’ve learned from teaching digital marketing

By Valentina Borbone as published in the ADMA blog

I’ve been teaching digital marketing courses since 2007 and in 2013 alone, I personally taught more than 500 marketing professionals across every industry you can poke a stick at. Whilst my students are constantly changing, there are five facts about marketing that have remained constant.

Agile sounds ideal, but largely a pipedream for many

All things digital are moving at a rate of knots – think data creation, storage & use; devices being developed, technologies changing customer behaviour, media options, social platforms, personalised conversations, wearables and quantified self. We want to keep up the pace in relation to our customers, but in reality, not many are. We want to be agile, however, the infrastructure and silos of the majority of businesses simply won’t allow for an agile approach.

I find the healthcare industry one of the biggest laggards, yet one with the most opportunity to get it right. In all seriousness, how can we expect this industry to meet the technology revolution when strategies are still trying to get HCPs into a walled garden? The moment I watched a doctor Google something in front of me was the moment all respect for walled gardens went out the window. Multi-channel strategies are being “explored” yet the globals need 3-5 years to deploy change management. Not quite agile is it.

Business can’t just talk about their investment in the future they actually have to roll it out, with all its associated risk and undefined budgets. If they don’t, they ultimately stand the chance of being redundant, quickly. Just ask Kodak.

Marketers aren’t spending their time marketing

It’s fascinating (and quite sad) to hear about the challenges for marketers in 2014. The resourcing allocated to the role hasn’t increased and support roles can be few and far between. The silos make relationships work against each other and more than ever before, marketers have enormous expectations of output landing on their shoulders.

Marketing and technology lines have also blurred, yet it seems that marketing is taking on the fight on everyone’s behalf – for stakeholder management, for the budget to implement automation and single customer view technologies, for the roll out of legislative requirements including the Spam and Privacy Acts, for the development of analytics, measurements and reporting and in some cases, understanding how to code basic HTML. Sure, digital marketing is just another channel, but it’s one hell of a complicated one:  customer behaviour & insights, content, data, paid media, websites, mobile, apps, email, social, SEM, SEO and analytics. Compare that to radio: AM, FM and Digital; or TV: free to air, digital free to air and FOXTEL.

How can a marketer illustrate effectiveness when many are still trying to “add digital marketing” to the mix? Is it any wonder the share of the digital marketing budget is still low compared to other channels? When are marketers meant to include campaign planning? Where should they squeeze in the opportunity to review the success of their work before forcing the next campaign out the door to meet its unrealistic (and usually unnecessary) time line? Today one of my students used this video to demonstrate the complexities for marketers from planning to measuring success, thanks Nick Barnett from Westpac for permission to include:

Feeling tired already?

Don’t forget that many marketing responsibilities that used to sit in agency-world are now being undertaken in-house, such as managing the SEM campaign work. OMG – ask any marketing director if they even know what they’re looking at in a SEM campaign and I’d be surprised if they could effectively answer the question. It’s so easy to spend a big bag of money on SEM and get zero result from the activity if it’s not managed properly. So why on earth would any marketer try and spend a huge chunk of their time on trying to make SEM massively successful when they don’t have the tools, knowledge or time to do so? It’s a real science of data manipulation – so let the geniuses take care of it for goodness sake so marketers can get back to marketing.

Hands on experience beats all

Every few weeks I’m approached for advice on how marketers can effectively make the leap with their digital marketing knowledge. Most marketing roles now include digital marketing experience as a standard requirement (and so it should). Sure, attending a course is one thing, but the education can only take you part of the way. Marketers need to be doing digital things, including reading and learning from a hands-on approach, which means they will learn – and during this process, they will also fail. But failing is ok – as long as we learn from it.

Making small changes on a consistent basis is a tried and tested approach. You don’t need to change the universe you work in to see a different result, you just have to be brave enough to take the risk – and relish in its success or acknowledge that your test didn’t work. Small tweaks can have a great impact on the bottom line, and lots of small tweaks can collectively change the way business is done. Part of your hands on experience needs to include an optimisation plan, prioritising what needs to be tested and improved on, one micro-conversion at a time.

Tactics are not strategy

Strategy appears to be a confusing word for many marketers. It’s confusing because everyone seems to interpret it differently, but I can categorically tell you that tactics in marketing are NOT STRATEGY. Yes, I am shouting.  The reason most strategies fail is because they are not strategies to begin with. The tactics may fail, but that’s also ok, because you can change tactics based on success metrics. As long as the tactics are focused on the delivery of the strategy and the key business objectives, then you’re still moving in the right direction.

At the beginning of a course I’m running, I’ll ask “who here has a clear digital marketing strategy for their business which has identified the right channels to be active in, the content for those channels and a structure for all digital elements in achieving the business goals?”  That’s when the tumbleweeds start rolling by. I’m lucky to have one hand raised in a room of 25.

Cross Industry challenges are the same

Yep, you’re not alone. All of these themes are things I’ve heard within some of the most amazingly advanced businesses:  major banking institutions, liquor distributors, property & real estate, healthcare & pharmaceutical, travel & leisure, retail, FMCG and professional services. Have you ever heard of a marketer working alone and being responsible for 400 brands? I have.

The role of the modern marketer has changed. Businesses haven’t changed the expectations or resourcing of the role. That’s a pretty big gap that’s come about and it’s not too late to change. Upskilling your awesome marketing team will go a long way to bridging the gap and giving them the confidence to test, learn, fail and optimise. And it needs to come from you, the CMOs, the Marketing Directors and Heads of Marketing. Empower your teams to strive for digital marketing excellence in our diverse customer-centric, consumer-engaging and story-digesting digital ecosystem.

Mike Zeederberg
Mike Zeederberg
Mike Zeederberg is the Managing Director and joint owner of Zuni and oversees the development and delivery of most client strategic work.

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