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  • Writer's pictureSam Birkett

As long as it's got digital in the title it's good, right?

These days organisations of all sizes are being pounded with the digital transformation spiel. For so many marketers, business advisers and salespeople even mentioning the world digital somehow lifts them to a new level of insightful thinking and effectiveness. Now, I'm not saying digital isn't essential to almost every business, charity or government hoping to connect with an audience in 2019, I'm merely arguing for people not to lose the sense of what they are doing by using the word 'digital'.

Since completing my Digital Marketing Diploma back in 2010 there have been a lot of changes in marketing. I my opinion one of the main changes should have been the need to use digital in front of marketing roles and teams. An organisation truly embracing the digital revolution should have advanced its thinking to the extent that all marketers and marketing inextricably includes digital these days. Whilst the specialisms of SEO, CRM, Website builders and coders naturally have their places justifiably distinguished, using the term digital marketer seems massively outdated to me along with digital marketing in general. It's a bit of a clue that suggests an organisation hasn't got digital at its heart as well. They most likely have an unhealthy dissonance in their thinking around digital and marketing, which doesn't help the 'digital marketers' or 'other marketers', and this leads to unhelpful results both for them and others following their example. Let me explain my thinking...

Having grown up as what might be called a marketing generalist, both I and my teams were expected to have a grasp of lead generation, advertising, PR, CRM strategy, email marketing, website maintenance, SEO, PPC, events, collateral creation, direct mail and so on. In the last five years in particular a few of these channels have declined to almost non-existence or transformed altogether, and digital channels have risen inexorably. However good marketing brains realise that whilst the technology and people's consumption of information have moved on human beings remain largely the same.

You could argue that the rise of the internet of things, social media, voice search, chatbots, virtual reality, AI, augmented reality, marketing automation and machine learning have shifted the ways in which people and organisations interact with each other, and that this change will continue to accelerate, one thing remains, the human brain. The brain is the most wonderful organic computer ever created, but unlike the Samsung Galaxy it doesn't have a new upgrade and product launch each year. Essentially human beings still run on the fundamentals every day that influenced our ancient ancestors, food, warmth, safety, procreation, happiness. In this digital age we are in real danger of arbitrarily attaching the digital label to whatever we do, particularly marketing, and in that we lose the sense of both people and effective use of digital technology.

A digital strategy becomes something which exists in the digital team or with external agencies who can bamboozle in their quarterly reporting (N.B. good agencies never bamboozle!). Other marketing teams and IT departments fail to connect and the digital teams become frustrated that their vision is not being enacted quickly enough, yet there are huge expectations on them. Truly effective organisations have for some time made their digital marketing and use of technology horizontal throughout their value chain. These organisations provide marvellous examples for us all, but the digital tag still remains slightly mythical for most people, especially SMEs, and so often you see job roles and big spending going into digital without the desired results at the end of it.

Don't get me wrong so many organisations are 'doing digital' well, and let's face it so much changes every day that there isn't necessarily a right or wrong way to proceed. However, my thesis is that the more people see the success stories of effective use of digital technology, the more they say 'we've got to do this. Let's invest in latest technology or strategy X'. Whilst the technology might be amazing, and the practitioners they bring in to use it are superb, if it's not connected back to the people at the heart of your audiences you simply won't achieve the hoped for results your strategic objectives demand.

What does this mean for marketers working in, or for organisations then?

If not specialists in a field of digital marketing, they need to understand how all the major moving parts work, or more crucially if they are working well. Effective digital channel specialists also need to be able to help bridge the divide between technology and the team's strategy. The understanding of whether marketing campaigns are truly working well is the key ingredient to any effective marketing naturally. Yet ask most marketers if they have a clear sense of attribution and they'll look at you with a slightly pained expression and usually say something like 'we're getting there' or 'its a bit tricky at the moment'. New marketing automation, CRM systems are immensely helpful in this regard, but there will always be a mysterious blind spot at the centre of every marketing strategy which usually falls under 'awareness raising or profile building activity'.

You can measure what you can measure at the end of the day, and these days you can measure a lot, but are you measuring what actually matters? Should a Twitter strategy look to build 10,000 followers in 6 months or 10 clicks in 6 days? Knowing what to measure will inform everything you do and connect you back to your original objectives, but it's so easy to get lost in the metrics!

Ultimately all marketing has to revolve around the people in your audience who you are trying to establish some form of a relationship with. You need to get the audience's attention first and it doesn't really matter all that much where that first interaction comes, what does matter is how easily you establish the relationship, build on it and add value. Understanding digital trends and using digital tools effectively is immensely important, but when incorporating digital into all our marketing and operations don't let 'digital' be why we do things, but how we do things well.

Let me know if you agree or disagree with my thoughts here, there is no right or wrong answer to all this, jut discussion and thinking...

More thoughts on the way in 'Left and right brained marketing, do the two ever meet?'

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