I often get asked what it is precisely that I do as a freelance consultant in digital marketing. And when I am not asked this, it is most likely because people don’t want to embarrass themselves by not knowing as it is such an ubiquitous term today. At present, most people don’t really understand what digital marketing means, including most of my friends and family. Well, let’s start by including some background info on how we got here.
What is Marketing?
To understand digital marketing, we need to look at defining marketing in general; we need to make sure we are on the same page with regards to that term. Most generally, marketing is the field of engaging in a certain set of activities to help brand, promote and sell a specific product, service, idea or organisation.
Why Do We Need Any Marketing?
The old-fashioned assumption that marketing’s goal is to fool consumers into buying something they don’t want or need couldn’t be farther from the truth for me. This is not what we’re trying to accomplish, and in reality, it is rarely a sustainable long-term strategy for anyone.
The goal of marketing is to alert potential buyers about the existence, value and competitive benefits of the product, service, idea or organisation at hand, that could prove beneficial to them, PERIOD.
Marketers aren’t some hustlers trying to steal consumers’ hard-earned cash, contrary to what some might believe. I consider those people blindly sending spam in any possible shape or form (be it direct mail, e-mail, offline/online ads, or social media) to be, rather, carpet bombers and in-the-dark-shooters, than true genuine marketers.
It must be noted that if what we’re trying to market doesn’t resonate with consumers who are increasingly savvy in today’s global, online marketplace or help them achieve a goal they have set for themselves, it’s going to be near-impossible to sell it, short of exaggerating or simply lying about its perks.
Marketing as a Craft and an Art Form
As we become progressively overloaded with data, inundated with mostly irrelevant announcements and pressed to make constant choices in our daily lives, factual information about product features and benefits gets harder to come by and people are hard pressed to verify most marketing claims, let alone trust them. This is where good, honest, creative marketing comes in and to succeed at it is more of an art than a science in the digital era. Marketers must not only capture eyeballs but continuously inform, educate, delight and entertain, often without expecting a single sale in return. And that’s what will keep this field honest in the future, so I look at it as a welcome development.
Anyone who is doing well in marketing (online or offline) understands this, and is keen on communicating value through their work, rather than getting a one-time purchase that will not result in return business. Marketers should be working hard to sell continued relationships, trust and quality, rather than a single product or service. Notably, this notion goes way beyond just marketing and requires investments in brand equity, customer service, IT, web/mobile presence, user experience,…. you name it.
About Digital Marketing, Finally
The field of digital marketing came about because, let’s face it, following the digital revolution, almost all business is digital or becoming digital in 2017. With the exception of a few very traditional, physical, brick-and-mortar type of businesses — retailers, FMCG companies, service providers, financial institutions, and even medical organisations, have all made or will make the transition to the digital space, whether it is to complement their offline commerce, or to fully replace it.
The old methods of informing and delighting consumers no longer applied in this new marketplace and we all needed a special set of strategies, activities and techniques to help online businesses accomplish their goals, so we started calling the tools-of-the-trade, collectively, ‘digital marketing.’ We could no longer call it just ‘marketing’ because this new way we find, engage and retain consumers is happening almost exclusively through the Internet rather than in the physical world.
The Early Days of Digital
When I first started working in the field of digital marketing during my last two years of university, most search display advertising was done on the Yahoo! display network through a platform called Overture or Go To, Google was a brand new search engine no one knew about, and e-mail marketing was still very effective due to the low rates of spam. I had no intention of starting a career in ‘digital marketing,’ because what I studied was just called ‘marketing,’ but the market needed me to gain a new set of skills in order to find employment post-graduation, and thus I unknowingly launched my career in this brand new field.
Since the beginning of my digital marketing career nearly 17 years ago, much has evolved and changed in the way consultants help businesses meet commercial and branding objectives. Digital Deepak has done a good job of outlining the major fields of this now formidable discipline, including:
- Content Marketing
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Paid Search (PPC) or Search Engine Advertising (SEA)
- Email Marketing or E-marketing
- Social Media Marketing and Social Media Advertising
- Screen Display Marketing
- Web Analytics and Reporting
- Mobile Marketing
Of course, it all starts with a business strategy, just like any type of consulting work so don’t let anyone jump into any type of budget or campaign-setting without establishing clear, measurable goals and ROI first. Consultants like me today need to be proficient at all the disciplines listed above, albeit at various levels, and be jacks of all trades. We have had to keep up with technology and industry trends and constantly evolve our knowledge and skills to be marketable and be able to find work. That’s what makes this field really exciting as it is ever-changing, dynamic, and full of surprises. Of course, this type of work isn’t for the faint at heart, who fear change, enjoy monotony, and prefer not to augment their toolboxes over time.
In my next post, I’ll discuss what it takes to be good at digital marketing consulting, why it is becoming increasingly important to understand it if you are a business owner or decision maker, and how you can keep your tools sharp and yourself – sell-able as digital marketing becomes just ‘marketing’ again.