Keeping Pace With The Rapid-Fire Change In Digital Marketing

When I attempted to expose my students in a Digital Marketing class to the reality of how businesses employ digital strategies, I found that senior executives marveled when a college student said mundane things like, “add a better description on your LinkedIn page, or how about moving sections around on your web site?” When these college students crossed the line into the business world, they instantly became digital rock stars. 

Fresh off reading an outstanding text, Digital Branding, by Daniel Rowles, my students were charged with providing a digital communications plan for their “clients,” primarily local businesses wishing to improve their digital communications efforts. 

The moment the students shifted gears from low hanging fruit—the immediate tactical changes—to the most current digital marketing trends, some clients couldn’t keep up with the discussion. It was hard for some to understand the integration of social media platforms, purchase journey mapping, platform migration trends, and personal and relational connectivity. 



Most tried to steer the discussion back to easily-answered tactical questions relating to platform type or message post. It was shocking to discover that their digital knowledge was somewhere stuck in 2010. While they marveled at student tactical expertise, they were downright intimidated by current digital theory. 

It was an obvious disconnect. In one case, a client actually called me and requested that we simply send two students to their offices a couple of days a week to do Facebook posts. They didn’t have time or interest in talking about all the other areas the students were making recommendations about. 

Companies like Uber, Zappo’s, or Airbnb are born digitally and they inherently understand how to talk to their online audiences. They have full-time staffers who remain current on digital marketing trends. Also, they are constantly testing and implementing new strategies to improve performance. They succeed by staying current. 

If my class experience is any indication, older, smaller companies that have to adapt to a digital world are in for a harder time. They initially get lured into the ease of execution and quickly lose sight of the complexity of communication effectiveness and the speed at which technology advances the discipline. 

Many business leaders consider their company digitally hip if they have a modern Parallax web site, purchase Google AdWords, and make daily posts on Facebook.

What they fail to realize is that the minute they exhaustively finish one digital project, there is already something new on the horizon. 

My students innately understand the complexity of current digital communications mainly from socializing with their friends, searching for information to use for class assignments, and incessantly purchasing products online. What they didn’t expect to encounter were clients who didn’t intuitively grasp that digital marketing is continually in motion; changing and evolving daily with small and unnoticeable technological advancements. 

Large, successful brands are able to adapt to the new digital reality by building permanent infrastructure to keep them current. But, how do smaller companies keep up? How do they advance without easy access to social media intuition, a large digital marketing budget, and all of the new tools needed to succeed? 

The answer is not by bringing in a team of young adults for a semester to show them how to make their marketing efforts more digital. Executives at smaller companies really don’t have the digital aptitude or commitment to embrace that kind of immediate change. 

Regrettably, the students didn’t spend much time talking to clients about the highly addictive nature of digital expression, especially with less cluttered social media platforms. The focus rarely expanded beyond the executive experience. 

It might have been better to give the business leaders some exposure to newer, more popular platforms like SnapChat. Within a few weeks, their new cravings and dependence might have convinced them that modern digital marketing requires frequent education, online tutorials, engaging with experts in the field, testing, and constant study. It is probably the best way for them to keep up with competitors or larger companies. 

My pedagogical  goals for the semester were to expose my students to digital marketing theory in the classroom combined with practical application outside of their usual social circles. 

Along the way, they have learned a more valuable lesson that will serve them well as they start their first full-time jobs in corporate America this summer. Working in a company doesn’t provide the same kind of freedom of expression as in the classroom. Managing those above you requires an ability to gently help them learn what you already know. It’s an important skill for those who aspire to get promoted.

7 comments about "Keeping Pace With The Rapid-Fire Change In Digital Marketing".
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  1. Howard Zoss from Zig Marketing, June 11, 2015 at 9:18 a.m.

    Bill, this is brilliant.  You have nailed the problem precisely.  Brands say post on Facebook, get likes and buy some search .. we're digital!  it's a mess.  Why?  Digital is hard strategically and executionally, but the real reason is it's not in the DNA of most brands.  The C-Level does not understand the nature of Always-On.  Worse, those who do and grasp the complexity simply do not want to learn it. Can't tell you how many times clients have said ... the stuff you do is just too complex.
    Agencies start from the TV concept and work out ... backwards and hopelessly outdated.  The key is engagment and conversations that start and spread digitally.  Given that, brands need to build  digital-out and think interactively.  How do we engage?  What concepts can get consumers actively involved?  How do we create around their interests intersecting with our brand benefits?
    Hard stuff for many, especially if digital is not in the DNA.  Worse is allowing a traditional TV, generalist agency to extend the campaign into digital.  They don't understand it, it's not their specialization and budgets get wasted routinely ... it's not in their DNA eiher.  One of the better articles in the morass of mundane that I have read in a long time.  Thank you.

  2. Henry Blaufox from Dragon360, June 11, 2015 at 11:14 a.m.

    Perhaps the key hurdle to overcome is the constant change in the digital realm. There is always something new, and someone at a firm has to determine if this latest thing is just another bright shiny object that will lose popularity before returning any value, or will be worth adopting. It can take time and resources to keep track, try the new things out, make adjustments based on results, and decisions on whether to add it to the digital toolkit. One or more staff people or outside resources should be assigned responsibility for this part of the firm's mission.

  3. Bill Bergman from Bergman Group, June 11, 2015 at 11:27 a.m.

    Howard, you are so right about brands that don't have digital in their DNA. The challenge is how to evaluate a brand or company digital aptitude before recommending something too sophisticated. Since everyone is an expert today, it's imperative to make sure you're not offering a graduate level course to a freshman. Thanks for your nice comments.

  4. James Smith from J. R. Smith Group, June 11, 2015 at 11:45 a.m.

    Bill:  Excellent material, excellent insights, and congrats for trying to infuse the students with doses of reality.  Isn't it a bit disheartening to discover the C-suiter's haven't moved from digitally aware to digitally savvy?  Regarding the's often difficult to get them moving away from their screens and actually you were on-track.  Plus, it's not just small and medium biz operators that become overwhelmed with digital options and opportunities. From my discussions, it's migrated to even the higher levels.  It's, for those who remember, "Future Shock" all over again.  Too much change, on too many fronts, too quickly.  The life-vests are located at the rear of the ship.

  5. Bill Bergman from Bergman Group, June 11, 2015 at 11:59 a.m.

    Mr. Smith, my experience has been that 22-year olds have no problem adapting to constant change. Having been raised on technology, they don't know any different. They surely don't need the life-vests. It's the people they will work for that need to learn to float in a communications and media environment that is new every day, or at least, every couple of months.

  6. Russel Wohlwerth from Wohlwerh Consulting Group LLC, June 11, 2015 at 12:45 p.m.

    Fantastic reality check for us all. This really puts things in perspective. Very well done Bill.

    On the flip side, being a digital native does not neccesarily connote an understanding of brands and branding which I think is still quite valuable.

    Again, wonderful post. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Bill Bergman from Bergman Group, June 11, 2015 at 3:08 p.m.

    Russel, The management challenge is to pair digital natives with seasoned brand professionals. When it happens, there is real innovative communications. Newcastle Brown Ale and Taco Bell are great examples of brands that have combined youthful digital expertise with traditional marketing MBA talent. The results have been most impressive.

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