When 1+2 = Digital Marketing #Marketing101

Apr 6, 2015Marketing Strategy


What is “digital marketing”?

Like many semi-subjective terms out there, for almost every individual you’ll get a unique answer. But I’d like to take a different approach to defining what the term “digital marketing” is. I’d like to take a mathematical approach this time around.I live digital media and marketing every single day in my career. I talk about it every day. I think about it every day. I even dream about it sometimes at night! I think I’ve come up with a formula that gets beyond the components of digital marketing, such as social media, websites, mobile, pay-per-click, SEO, digital video and what we in marketing call channels or tactics, and gets into the essence of what it actually takes to be successful in digital.

Digital Marketing = 50% Critical Thought + 30% Tools + 15% Trial & Error + 15% Passion

Like any math equation, we can step through the above statement and examine what makes up digital marketing as a whole. My first “ah ha” moment came to me last month. I had a lightbulb moment when I realized that at least half of digital marketing is actually just basic critical thought. Let’s start there.

50% of Digital Marketing is Basic Critical Thought

I’m not sure if this is revolutionary, but it was definitely an enlightening moment for me. I was having a conversation with a team member at work, discussing career paths and growth. I like it when others are interested in growing their careers and knowledge within digital, and we were talking through how to go about doing that.

The team member asked me (paraphrasing), “What do you think is the most important skill to have in our field?

I took a minute and put some thought into it. Digital marketing encompasses so many areas, as I briefly mentioned at the opening of this post. There are an abundance of skill words out there in digital:

  • User Experience (UX) Design
  • Mobile Marketing
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Search Engine Marketing / Pay-Per-Click (PPC)
  • Email Marketing
  • In-bound / Content Marketing / Brand Journalism

It was at that moment that I realized one could become an expert in all of the above, but that wouldn’t necessarily equip them to be a great digital marketer. What would set them apart and make them successful in nearly every real-life marketing scenario is to think critically and ask the right questions.

No two companies are the same. No two digital marketing projects would ever be the same, either. The ability to adapt to the needs of the consumer, the organization, the technologies available at the time and, of course, the budget and timeline is critical. The ability to apply critical thought, to ask the right questions at the right time and to adapt to change in all digital projects is at least half the battle.

30% of Digital Marketing is the Tools

The remainder of the equation of what defines “digital marketing” are split fairly evenly in my opinion. Most people think the tools used are the most important part. Some digital marketers go as far as defining themselves by their tools. Don’t get me wrong, choosing the right tool for the job is important, but most of the time, for most businesses, it’s not a make or break situation. Let me explain.

If you’re a small business, for example, consider the notion of Email marketing as a piece of your digital strategy. There are dozens (if not more) tools out there to market via email. From basic mail merge functionality included in our office applications to tools like MailChimp, Constant Contact or Exact Target that provide varying but similar functionalities.

I would argue that for most companies, the most important factor is that you are email marketing, not what you’re using to send & track those emails.

In more competitive industries and markets, where marketing requires a more advanced approach, the tools become increasingly more important. As more and more companies and industries mature their digital efforts, the tools they use will become more important as well.

What’s the bottom line? Choosing the right tools can mean a competitive advantage (or disadvantage if you choose the wrong tools), but for most companies, the first step is to just do it.

15% of Digital Marketing is Trial and Error

Again, this may vary by company or industry, but the use of trial and error and learning, first-hand, what works and what doesn’t work is a critical part of digital marketing. The web has a wealth of best practices, but not every situation has a clear cut path to success. Sometimes you just have to figure it out on your own!

Don’t be afraid to test tactics in your efforts. Don’t be afraid to experiment with technologies. We use the term “pilot” a lot in my industry. We do a lot of pilots throughout the year to see if something is going to work. Sure, we’ve researched the tool or tactic to see how others have done with it, but our experience will still be unique. We start out small and measure along the way. If we’re seeing value, a return or progress toward our goal then we continue. If we don’t, we cancel the pilot and try something new.

15% of Digital Marketing is the Passion

Like a lot of careers, the more passion you have the greater likelihood you’ll be successful. Your passion doesn’t have to be marketing – it can be your industry or your cause or your customer. But the passion has to be there.

Digital marketing requires passion because we’re still pioneers in many respects. Digital is maturing, but there are so many companies and industries that are still just dabbling in digital. You have to have the vision to keep going, think critically, invest in tools and experiment with your tactics to continue to mature.

Lastly, if you’re checking my math, digital marketing requires 110%. If you don’t have that “something extra” in this industry you’re going to get left behind.

What do you think? Are my numbers off? How would your digital marketing equation read?

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please leave a comment below or feel free to contact me with your thoughts.

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