No more ‘digital marketing’ please

September 2017

A month or so back an email dropped into my inbox with the following opening sentence . . .

‘We are writing to advise that we have a few places left on the brand new Modern Apprenticeship in Digital Marketing. These are for 16 to 19 year old employees and enables them to help to grow your company’s brand and reach current and prospective customers, all whilst gaining a qualification!’

I was dismayed. Why? Because there now should be no such thing as ‘digital marketing’ – just ‘marketing’. And it’s an issue because it encourages a tactics-led approach to marketing rather than a strategic one, which is a bad enough problem in modern day marketing anyway, let alone making it almost mandatory for young people entering the profession.

Let’s imagine a scenario: Our young apprentice finishes their training, and armed with their newly-learned skills in social media, mobile apps and programmatic advertising etc. is given the task by their SME employer of coming up with a marketing plan for the launch of a new B2B product. What do you imagine that plan would focus on? My guess would be social media, mobile apps and programmatic advertising etc.

Now let’s imagine a young apprentice whose training was just ‘marketing’ – so all types of the profession. Their start point is not a suite of tactics, but instead a marketing strategy to launch the new product and then, crucially, a list of appropriate tactics to deliver that strategy. Of course some of these tactics will be digital – in fact it’s possible, though unlikely, they all might be – but the point is that the tactics weren’t the driving force; the strategy was.

Our ‘digital marketing’ apprentice knows little or nothing about trade shows, direct mail, TV advertising (accepting this could be programmatic), press ads, trade journals or out-of-home posters; our ‘marketing’ apprentice does.

But this issue isn’t just confined to training: it’s also a problem when applied to job titles. Which is why, increasingly, ‘digital marketing managers’ and similar are thankfully seen as a thing of the past. Of course you still need specialists to deliver on certain areas (e.g. SEO and PPC management) but that’s different and these aren’t the people setting the agenda. Indeed, for most SMEs such specialist tasks will anyway be contracted out to a supplier.

One of the biggest issues I come up against with SME clients operating in both B2C and B2B markets, is that they take a tactics-led approach to their marketing. Training providers like the one I started my sorry tale with are a major source of such a dangerous mind-set, because most are also offering courses in specific digital disciplines – and notably social media. These people often have no idea of the big picture (and don’t even have a marketing background), and instead the subject of the training becomes the panacea for the SME’s marketing needs. And hence why we end up with bullshit standalone terms like ‘social media strategy’ instead of talking about ‘this is how social media is going to help deliver your marketing strategy’.

I’m not the first person to have a rant about this subject. Indeed, please Google ‘no more digital marketing’ or similar and see the plethora of writing from people even more pissed off about it than I am.

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