That “marketing has gone digital” is pretty much a platitude by 2022. Yes, there still exists “traditional” marketing, especially “word of mouth,” and to a greatly diminished extent since the Pandemic, trade shows. But traditional print media – magazines, trade press, and daily newspapers… are all but extinct, reaching only the most “traditional” and “elderly” of consumers. Billboards? OK, yes, they still exist. Direct mail – not dead (yet), and so on and so forth. Some of the traditional venues and methodologies are “hanging on” but they’re more like a 99 year old woman in a nursing home, than a young vibrant lad of just 16.
If you’re a young person looking for a “career in marketing” or perhaps a person “already out in the field” doing marketing, you probably already know: you MUST master the in’s and out’s of “digital marketing” to be effective in the 80% or more of your job that is now online. In this post, I want to explore some of the “big picture” elements of success in marketing and how your “education” (whether or not you have formal training in marketing) may need to be supplemented with news skills and a new “attitude” towards being an effective marketer.
#1 – STRATEGY NEVER DIES
Marketing, in my mind, can be succinctly defined as: “Building your brand to sell more stuff.” I know, I know, there are many fancy “academic” definitions. There are the four P’s. There are very broad, academic definitions about “social marketing,” “stakeholders,” and lots of concepts and ideas that get you far afield of what most marketers do in most companies on a daily basis. What most marketers do is strategize (and implement) how to build a BRAND that (ultimately) leads to SELLING more stuff. This hasn’t changed. To be an effective marketer, means you need to know some strategy and some basic concepts, such as:
BRANDS – you need to know, conceptually, what a “brand” is (i.e., that warm, fuzzy feeling that hopefully pops into your head when I say “Toyota,” or “All State Insurance,” or “Whole Foods Marketplace”). Related to this, you need to know how to define your own brand, build out your brand iconography and messaging to “stay on brand,” and so on and so forth. My view is that every entity – whether a business, a government agency, a nonprofit, or even a public person (and aren’t we all, more or less, “public persons” nowadays?) – has a brand. It might be a pretty invisible brand. It might be a negative brand. It might be an incoherent brand, but brands we are and brands we must be.
After brands, I would strongly emphasize writing a BUSINESS VALUE PROPOSITION (what do you sell?) as well as a POSITIONING STATEMENT (how is your company / product / service / offer different from the competition?) and then zero in on your BUYER PERSONAS. Here, demographics, psychographics, and situational factors define the “persons” who “want” what you offer. Brand identity helps them understand that you have “what they want.” Again, this isn’t changing – this is basic marketing. Of course, there are other traditional / academic marketing concepts like the four P’s, like positioning, like market research… and even like “social responsibility” that remain important. I’m not going to go into them here.
I just emphasize that “strategy never dies” and you – as the marketer – must understand WHAT YOU SELL, WHO WANTS IT, and how your BRAND IDENTITY connects “what you sell” with “who wants it” in a winning proposition that ultimately makes you money.
#2 SKILLS – THE SKILLS ARE NEW FOR DIGITAL MARKETING
Gather round children, gather round. I’m old enough to remember the days before the Internet – the days before the Internet went public in 1994. Then, a marketer could create a print ad or a TV commercial and “buy some space.” That “ad” could be slapped into a trade magazine or newspaper, popped onto television or radio… or even put onto a billboard. Lots of marketing was about advertising, and lots of advertising was about “creative.” About creating ads and then, after a little market research, popping those ads into the right TV show, the right newspaper or magazine, the right trade press and so on and so forth. Marketers didn’t need to know much about CONTENT MARKETING, and even PR (Public Relations) was more about schmoozing journalists and pitching story ideas than about creating that content oneself. Marketing was pretty passive back then, and the options – shall we say – were limited.
The Internet changed EVERYTHING, and social media changed EVERYTHING even more. The Internet gave rise to new models, and it merged activities that had previously been separate. In a phrase, I would argue that we are ALL PUBLISHERS NOW. Whether it’s your website, your YouTube channel, your Twitter account, your LinkedIn page… your Facebook this or META that… you (as a marketer) are now a publisher. You are a CONTENT MARKETER and thus a new skill – CONTENT MARKETING has come to the fore for everyone.
CONTENT MARKETING is the fuel that propels your brand, its relationship to your buyers, and creates the warm and fuzzy that builds that brand and sells more stuff. But content marketing means you have to understand both the STRATEGY of CONTENT MARKETING and the PRODUCTION of that content in a rather technical sense and then the PROMOTION of that content via online media. Take video as an example. First, the “old rules” of marketing apply – how does a video (directly or indirectly), build your brand to sell more stuff? Second, you have to aspects of “good storytelling,” that is, you as the video producer have to understand the basics of how to tell a story (not dissimilar to old-school TV ads, though today there are many more opportunities and varieties). But, third, and this is very new – you have to understand how to do the TECHNICAL aspects of video production from shooting the video, editing the video, and then uploading it (correctly) to the desired platform – whether that’s YouTube, TikTok, Instagram Reels, etc. #1 hasn’t changed, #2 has evolved, and #3 – knowing the technical aspects (or hiring someone who does) is entirely new to the new marketing. And #4, now you have to understand both the free “organic” elements of content promotion and the paid “advertising “elements, not to mention measuring whether all of this is building your brand to sell more stuff.
The same goes for EACH PLATFORM. This could be your website and its SEO (Search Engine Optimization), where you – as a marketer – have to understand not only the basic mechanics of how to build a website, but also know enough about SEO (the art and science of getting a website, company, product, service… to the top of Google, Amazon, VRBO, Yelp or other “search engine) to either do it yourself or manage a team / outside vendor. Unlike in the old days, you have to be at least a “savvy consumer” or you’ll lose your shirt as thieves, scoundrels, and incompetence abound. This is also true for social media marketing (as a whole) as in Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and TikTok as well as any other “niche” or “new” social media platforms that arise. You – as a NEW DIGITAL MARKETER – have to understand how to create engaging CONTENT and then publish this content effectively according to the Zeitgeist of each platform. It’s as if in the old days you were not just the producer of a TV ad, but you conceptualized the program, wrote the script, hired the actors, filmed the show, edited the show, incorporated your ads or product placements in the show, and then promoted the show. You’re pretty much doing everything, or nearly everything nowadays.
And beyond ORGANIC SEO and ORGANIC SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING there is the rise of the NEW ADVERTISING. Here, again, you have to know how to create (or pay to create) effective ad content and then be able to manage the technical details of launching it on Google (via Google ads), YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram… etc. Ads are in and of themselves becoming “self service.” Gone are the days of just slapping ads into random magazines or trade shows. Almost every platform is increasingly technical and increasingly self-service and this even goes for TV with the rise of YouTube TV, Hulu, Roku, and other TV-on-demand platforms.
In summary, here in the NEW DIGITAL MARKETING world, marketers have to know the basics of “traditional” marketing plus the new ideas of “content marketing” and then all the technical in’s and out’s of production, posting, and promotion to each platform. It’s the best of times to be a marketer (because we have so many choices and opportunities!) and it’s the worst of times to be a marketer (because we have so many choices and opportunities!).
# 3 – ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING
Attitude, as they say, is everything. Just ask KID PRESIDENT and watch his inspirational video. First and foremost, today’s young marketers and marketers-in-the-field have to have a GOOD ATTITUDE. We live in the best, most exciting, most wonderful, most full-of-opportunities time to be a marketer. So many choices! So many NEW ways to reach our customers and excited them about our brands! I live through the 1970s and 1980s – it sucked. Marketing then was boring and easy; everybody did about the same, except for the ginormous brands with zillions of dollars. Today, even small brands can make big things happen. So #1 – keep that good attitude, of NEVER STOP LEARNING. Learn / do / measure / rinse and repeat.
As marketing educators, however, we could do better. Here’s a model that I think is intriguing: medicine. Have you ever heard the adage that doctors just “practice” medicine? Or that medicine is as much art as science. But what do medical schools do? First they teach doctors in the classroom – the strategy, concepts, scientific facts and figures… and then they send them out to the field as APPRENTICE DOCTORS working alongside more seasoned doc’s. They combine classroom knowledge with practical, in-the-field knowledge. So, if you’re a young marketers, my advice is to DO MARKETING. Find a company – like a small business owned by a parent, relative, friend… or a nonprofit that your passionate about, and “volunteer” to do their digital marketing. You cannot replace the LEARN BY DOING aspect of the new digital marketing. You can’t master it solely in a classroom setting. You have to DO IT just as doctors have to DO medicine to learn medicine, or CAKE BAKERS have to bake cakes to learn how to bake cakes. Book learning only gets you so far, and less far I would argue today than in the past.
Second, there’s what I call IF YOU KNOW THE QUESTION you can FIND THE (TECHNICAL ANSWER). Marketing today is no longer just abstract concepts, and easy “creative” work. It – like medicine or cake-baking – increasingly combines theory and practice. Or is it “praxis?” I’ve never understood that word, other than Marxists use it and it sounds way cooler than “practice.” But praxis or practice, whatever it is called… if you know the question as in (What is a hashtag? What is a branded hashtag? How does ‘check in’ work on Facebook? Or what is a “card” on a YouTube video? Or what’s the difference between exact match on Google ads and phrase match)… if you KNOW the (technical) question, you can GOOGLE or YOUTUBE the answer. This skill of not “knowing” the answer but “knowing the question” is the ONLY way any of us can survive in this new environment. We have to teach marketers how to be better as asking questions and then finding the answers (on the fly, on the job, in the flow of work) for them to succeed. And this continues to measuring the results. You have to know GOOGLE ANALYTICS exists (first) and then know that you need to master it SECOND and then know you want to know something like “How many website visits ended in a purchase” to know how to configure conversion tracking, and so on and so forth. Thus, the new marketing equation is:
- STRATEGY / CONCEPT > CONTENT PRODUCTION > DEPLOYMENT > PROMOTION > MEASUREMENT
and we all need to know this at both the strategic and technical level. And #1 the only way to master the technical is to do it (and know as you’re doing it that you’re attempting to do it), and #2 knowing the idea of “knowing the question” (first) to “find the answer” (second).
We live in this glorious, wonderful time to be marketers and to train the next generation of marketers. As “Kid President” says, “Let’s be AWESOME,” or as Karl Marx might have said, the point isn’t just to understand marketing. It’s to do marketing… and to do marketing in this new, digital environment we have to roll up our sleeves, take our academic concepts into this new, digital self-service and technical environment and do marketing.