Digital Is NOT A Department

Are you still looking to hire a digital marketing specialist?  If so, put on your Members Only jacket, pick up your Newton, and get back in your Model T Ford and drive home -- because you are sorely out of date.

Digital marketing is not a department; it has officially woven its way into the fabric of all your marketing.  Digital is no longer a matter of planning search and display ads and maintaining a line item on your media mix.  Digital has actually transformed all of your marketing, and it’s only going to become more integrated as time moves on.  Digital creates a path for addressability and measurability in all areas of your marketing mix, even print, outdoor and more.  The unifying factor in most of these cross-channel solutions is mobile, which is why mobile is so difficult to look at in a vacuum, even more so that traditional digital channels.

Digital media now includes extensions of all “traditional” media.  When you buy TV or print, you can have digital extensions packaged together.  Digital has become an extension, if not the driving force, in most all media decisions.  

This evolution has led to the fragmentation of marketing teams into two opposing areas.  The first area is strategy vs. execution.  This has long been a demarcation in most marketing orgs and agencies.  It has been dressed up previously as media planning vs. communications planning, or as account planning vs. media planning.  It has had many names, but it comes down to identifying the people in your org who can think bigger picture vs. the folks whose minds are detail-oriented and fulfilled by flawless execution.  These are rarely the same people because they are more right-brain vs. left-brain thinkers. 

Strategy requires the ability to look outward, examine the competition and identify trends that may affect how you achieve your objectives.  Execution requires being very present, focusing on the details of each partner and how a message will be delivered.  These people are more project managers with expertise in media and creative – and, I have to admit, are sorely under-represented in the marketplace today because they’re experienced in the execution of many campaign formats .

The second area is marketing  vs. technology specialists.  This is a new area and one that is being created out of necessity.  Marketing specialists are the folks with degrees in marketing, who’ve long lived by the standards of reach/frequency, the 4 P’s, and AIDA (awareness, interest desire and action) as their fundamentals. These folks act as problem solvers and psychologists and are extremely necessary in the age of data-driven marketing, where customer knowledge is necessary to understand how to personalize messaging.

Technology specialists are those who routinely log in to complicated systems and understand taxonomy, Boolean statements and the analytical underpinnings of the advertising business today.  These folks are more akin to traders and economists than marketers, but they know how to apply the emerging tools of the trade.  Technologists with a modicum of marketing knowledge are also in high demand, creating an exaggerated market where they live -- cities like San Francisco and New York.

There is most certainly overlap between these two views of the world, and there is obvious overlap between the world of execution people and marketing technologists.  Large marketers are looking to find ways to train their teams in the tools they need, and teach them how to address marketing challenges from a technology perspective -- but at the end of the day, the best strategy is to find a way to let marketers be marketers and make the technology simple for them.  Give them a means of doing what they do best, while enabling the tools at their disposal for success.

This is the next great battleground for marketing, and it's fun to be involved with it!

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5 comments about "Digital Is NOT A Department".
  1. dorothy higgins from UMWW , July 9, 2014 at noon
    Nor is it a medium....by which we mean content distribution. It is ONLY distribution and content might be video, audio, static, audio-visual, consumer-generated, published, etc. One does not allocate budgets, for example, to TV and Digital, one allocates to Video and determines among a variety of distribution platforms (smartphone, tablet, TV monitor (linear or streaming) how to align with varied content. Let's catch up to the consumer content choice experience.
  2. Charles Pinkerton from Theseus Communications , July 9, 2014 at 12:31 p.m.
    Well said. But to carry this further, neither, should digital be a separate company. That there are still agencies-that-only-do-digital and agencies-that-sometimes-do-digital is making them and the industry look very un-evolved.
  3. Neil Hunter from Consumer Kinetics Inc. , July 9, 2014 at 12:46 p.m.
    Cory, I like the perspective, and good read, I love the last line, "let them do what they do best". In my industry I love seeing companies speak of Digital Integration in all they do, yet set up Digital as a department, and silo them with little funding, little decision making and huge expectations. They are skilled people that are currently battling to get traditional marketers to come along for the ride, especially in Mobile. Those that ride along will bring their content and attain the lofty results they look for, and the data return in accurate measurement and ROI.
  4. Kenneth Hittel from Ken Hittel , July 9, 2014 at 4:15 p.m.
    Very conflicted about your article, Cory. OTOH, having previously built and run a digital dept. at my previous company -- & having run it as a bottom-line profitability operation -- I well recognize how digital should be universalized rather than (simply) compartmentalized, or department-ized. OTOH, most U.S. companies haven't yet gotten to the point of even centralizing digital. That doesn't mean decentralization -- it means dispersal, ineffiency, missed opportunities and, certainly, no clue how to operationalize profitability. So your prescription here, no matter how ideally right it sounds, is really pie-in-the-sky theorizing. This seems to me very similar to the prescription of a couple years back: Digital Convergence, Paid/Owned/Earned all together, working together. Guess what? It didn't happen then, it's not happening now.
  5. David Adelman from moddern marketing , July 17, 2014 at 8:34 a.m.
    Cory, thanks for writing this. I think the biggest mistake marketers and agencies make is defining digital as a medium. It is a marketing channel that can be used as a medium. Evidence of this is how digital transformed the travel industry, catalog shopping, printing, publishing, music--I can go on. I've been involved in digital marketing since 1985 (not a typo) for the first online banking product. That being said, integrating digital marketing into the overall plan is paramount for success today. Agencies need to stop thinking of their clients as "advertisers" and define them as "marketers". Marketers need to stop hiring ad agencies and hire marketing agencies instead.