The inexorable shift in the marketing function to digital is a largely consumer-driven phenomenon, as digital technologies like the Internet, social media, and mobile devices have empowered consumers to demand more out of brands and marketers. For today's tech-savvy consumers, simplicity, convenience, and highly personalized omnichannel experiences are root expectations. Marketers, whether or not they like it or are prepared, have been thrust into this digital maelstrom, and must engage in ever-more granular consumer interactions in an attempt to foster long-term relationships with highly varied - and sometimes highly disparate - consumer segments. Moreover, marketers are expected to deftly mine vast troves of data to constantly measure the effectiveness of their initiatives and ensure sufficient ROI is generated from their efforts.
Despite (and partly, because of) these challenges, I believe it is a jolly good time to be a digital marketer.
The Rise of the Digital Marketing Function
In a broader sense, it's a good time to be a marketer too, although, as digital technology expands into all aspects of the marketing function, the distinction between marketer and digital marketer is beginning to lose its meaning. Data from the 2015 Digital Trends Report put out by Adobe and Econsultancy bears out this notion.
The report, which surveyed over 6,000 business executives from all corners of the globe, asked respondents to comment on the extent to which digital permeates their own organizations' marketing activities. Only 20% stated that digital marketing was a totally separate function. The remainder of respondents said that digital permeates either most (43%) or all (14%) of their marketing programs. Some (14%) even went as far as to classify their companies as digital-first organizations. Moreover, fully 69% of respondents said they would be "experimenting heavily" with digital in 2015.
In an attempt to better understand what this means, the report prepared a word cloud of the most frequently cited terms used to describe where organizations plan on focusing their digital experimentation. Social, mobile, content, and personalization were most used terms, followed closely by video, data, and customer experience (CX). This should come as no surprise when you consider that it is an unwritten mandate of digital marketers to leverage data-driven social and mobile technologies and content media to create highly relevant, and highly personalized, customer experiences.
In fact, survey respondents cited customer experience as the single most exciting marketing opportunity for 2015; moreover, nearly half (44%) listed CX as the primary way their organization will seek to differentiate itself from competitors moving forward.
CX: Easier Said than Done
However, creating relevant, personalized customer experiences in the digital age is often easier said than done. It requires the seamless integration of online, mobile, social, content, and data, all working in concert to produce the omnichannel experiences that today's sophisticated consumers have come to expect and demand. It requires an organization-wide commitment to digital integration and transformation that must transcend departmental siloes and long-held hierarchical modalities; it requires current employees to experiment with (and ultimately become proficient in) new technologies and mindsets that will doubtless seem foreign and dislocating to many. Perhaps most importantly, the commitment to providing truly omnichannel customer experiences is long-term; it is a marathon, not a sprint.
The proliferation of digitally enabled consumer channels, and the subsequent battle for consumer mindshare, has led to a great increase in worldwide marketing spend in recent years. According to a recent article in McKinsey and Company, marketing expenditures now total as much as $1 trillion globally.
The infusion of digital technologies has significantly altered the very nature of the marketing function. As the aforementioned McKinsey article relates, marketing is becoming more of a science:
Advances in data, modeling, and automated analysis are creating ever more refined ways of targeting and measuring the returns on marketing investments...long gone is spending guided mostly by intuition and focus groups. Instead, organizations are seeking greater precision by measuring and managing the consumer decision points where well-timed outlays can make the biggest difference.
Digital is putting the marketing function in general and CMOs in particular in the organizational driver's seat:
As more advanced marketing science and analytics take hold, they are making it increasingly natural for marketing to go beyond messaging and to shape the substance of the business...armed with information about customers and a company's relationships with them, the CMO is well-positioned to help differentiate its products, services, and experiences.
Moreover, the frenetic pace of the emerging global digital culture is making speed itself a strategic imperative for organizations. In this culture of urgency, heavy pressure is placed on marketers to operate with uncharacteristic agility to enable real-time engagement with always-on consumers, and to design and implement increasingly complex marketing initiatives on strict budgets and ever-tightening timelines. Recognizing that complexity is the enemy of speed, marketers are turning to digital technologies to reduce complexity and increase efficiency.
The Digital Skills Gap
Exacerbating these challenges is the ever-looming digital skills gap. According to data from a2014 post in the Guardian, by 2018 the U.S. is predicted to lack around 1.5 million managers and analysts with sufficient technical and digital know-how to make effective decisions. The article relates how big data, web analytics, mobile, content marketing and social media are the future of marketing but they are also the most difficult skills for which to recruit. This presents a challenge for both marketing employers and educators.
Almost two years ago to the day, I wrote about the greater need for digital marketers. Here's a salient excerpt from the article:
The complexity of the emerging digital marketing landscape requires a new set of interdisciplinary skills that are hard to find...This skills gap has led to an interesting paradox: many companies are reluctant to invest in digital marketing because they lack the human capital to maximize the value of the investment. Indeed, the pace of change in various digital marketing technologies is likely exacerbating this trend.
On a practical level, highly complex and fully integrated digital marketing campaigns require adaptable personalities who perform well in environments of constant change, uncertainty, and downright chaos.
From my experience in the digital marketing trenches, the best teams are made up of cross-functional individuals, each with some combination of the following attributes or skills:
Creativity (perhaps more important than ever); excellent verbal/writing skills; graphic design; web development and front-end design; statistics and data analytics; project/process management; digital proclivity; critical thinking; intuition and perspective.
I still stand by this analysis. If anything, the situation has become more acute in the two years since I wrote it.
So where does that leave us? I suppose it depends on whether you're a glass half full or half empty sort of person. To the eternal optimists, I would encourage you to press ahead and initiate or expand digital marketing initiatives, always making sure to reflect on new ways you can leverage digital for competitive advantage. To the pessimists I would say that, even though the sky would seem to be falling, you still have time to acknowledge digital as a strategic imperative and adopt the digital mindset (and employ concomitant strategies and tactics) necessary to initiate the sometimes long but always worthwhile process of organization-wide digital integration and transformation.
Regardless of which side of the digital divide you find yourself on, one thing is for certain: it's getting harder to dismiss the transformative impact of digital technologies on business and society.
And that is why it's a good time to be a digital marketer.