I am a marketer by training, trade, and DNA, but I started my career in the pre-Internet days and have often reflected on the large and small ways that my experience and opportunities have been shaped by the advent of the Internet and social media. Many junior and even senior members of our trade craft at this point were digitally born into their professional careers. They can't imagine a professional world without email or websites, social communities, search engines, analytics, and dozens of other critical tools. We old marketing dinosaurs have learned to move quickly and adapt to the new environment, but it really is a different professional world in some profound ways.
Every business is a multi-channel publisher now. Whether they want to be or not, every business is in the content business now and the need for content is constant and growing. You may have thought you worked in a trucking business or a drug company, but you have additional responsibilities now that define the business in substantial ways. A whole new industry has grown up to feed the content monster in all its forms - emails, site content, interactive tools, games, video, and apps - the list is endless and it needs to be refreshed constantly with quality content. That's a huge problem for many businesses, as evidenced by all the dumb or outdated content on the web. Marketers are charged with identifying those content needs, assessing the appropriate format, scope, and tone, supplying the content on a regular basis, measuring the impact of that content, looking for syndication partners and links, etc. The need for content adds a whole new layer of responsibility to the marketing role, and the resulting content assets are often referred to as "owned assets."
User-generated content (UGC). Advice and reviews, even rants, from both strangers and friends, often has more credibility and power than the message that the brand carefully crafts and places. Eliciting, tracking, and responding appropriately to that UGC may be a task shared by other departments within the organization (e.g., customer service), but it has deep marketing impact. It's another take on the content challenge with the additional twist that the marketers don't control the message. They can hope to "earn" good mentions by providing opportunity for dialogue, and listening and responding appropriately. That direct connection to the end user and the power shift to the consumer creates an entirely new set of challenges for marketers.
Brand accountability is heightened. The consumer's experience is defined by other consumers as well as the brand or company, and that consumer has a megaphone through social media. In fact, just one user's experience can immediately and directly impact businesses that might have thought they were insulated. Today's marketers have to be ever-vigilant on all fronts and switch their focus away from pushing out brand messaging. The new marketing role is about understanding the consumers' needs, creating a good customer experience, enabling conversations and dialogue to further cement brand bonds, and learning useful tidbits that help companies meet those needs even better as they continue to evolve. Marketers have to cope with the idea that they are not in charge - not in charge of their brand message, not in charge of the conversations, not even, in some cases, in charge of their pricing models.
Redefined competitive sets. Information is freely available for research or comparison shopping and geography has less control over where you buy. This move to a less friction-prone environment redefines the competitive set for many marketers. In a very real sense, marketers now compete with businesses around the globe, that sell to different groups, or provide different services or products sometimes simply because they share some common language for consumer queries on search engines.
Paid media opportunities are much more finely segmented and targeted. Marketers now can personalize ads, offers, and site experiences based on all kinds of targeting parameters or captured information that qualifies prospects. That degree of precision increases relevancy and optimizes the efficiency of media spend. New technology platforms like ad exchanges and DSPs have brought down the cost of those buys as the universe of publishers offering ad space and users performing search queries has increased to provide an even richer potential field of advertising opportunities online. These media buys are also more fluid, providing better budget management as optimization pushes dollars to the most effective placements and lenient out-clauses remove a huge sunk cost from the picture.
It's all about the metrics. Digital marketing is very data-driven and most of the activity is highly traceable. It's one of the reasons that budgets have swarmed to online marketing, because there is far less guessing about what is working. Even the softer measures of earned/social media get translated into KPIs and optimized mostly because we can, but also because those metrics can provide illumination and insight when used correctly. Direct marketing pros in all eras have always applied analytics to their marketing. Successful marketers in this environment should be well-prepared to collect, manipulate, analyze, and translate data as an everyday part of their world, regardless of their marketing specialty or industry.
Businesses that will thrive are nimble. They are forced to respond quickly with rapid iteration of everything from their business model or offerings to audience segments, targeting technology, new channels, and much more. Google is the classic example. Large, ponderous organizations face a tremendous challenge in adapting to this new environment that hits them in all kinds of ways from budgeting to hiring to planning on a completely new time horizon and with a pace many executives are not used to. It's very difficult to balance that need to be nimble and iterate quickly with the need to plan. Because the opportunities are so vast now - critical and analytical thinking that leads to a sound strategy is crucially important for marketers and throughout the organization.
Powerful devices and always-on access. Wireless broadband access all over the world combined with powerful devices - smartphones and tablets have enabled locally relevant content as well as targeting and new "lean back" entertainment and browsing experiences, which in turn have spawned new businesses and tools to support those behaviors. Again, more work for marketers to translate and tailor content for all those experiences and to create new ways to communicate and segment across more channels, at more times, and in more modes. The always-on expectation has changed consumer attitudes regarding frequent touchpoints and given them tools to help define and control how they choose to be contacted.
Marketing is bleeding into other functional areas. The marketing lines have blurred with other functional areas as more operational job titles interact directly with consumers through the Internet or social media. Twitter responses may be handled by customer service: some Internet channels are worked as a means to eliminate traditional costs; employees of all experience levels and from different departments may be blogging. Each touchpoint can have a marketing impact.
Privacy issues. Government intrusion and lobbyist efforts reflect and pour accelerant on consumer concerns about identity privacy and security attached to behaviorally-targeted and other ads including those that connect to third-party data. People who likely understand very little of the technology or the potential impact of the proposals they push may determine the future course of online advertising. Marketers now need to understand the technologies they use at a deep level in order to make good decisions about the level of targeting that is appropriate and safe, and to be a vocal advocate for the technologies that they use.
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Robin is the CEO and cofounder of NetPlus Marketing Inc., a top 50 interactive agency established in 1996 to focus exclusively on online marketing and advertising best practices. Robin brings innovative strategy and a depth and breadth of marketing experience to the agency's practice and management. As one of the industry's pioneers, she is a driving force behind NetPlus Marketing's ongoing success with a diverse and discerning client base that considers online results critical to their business success.
Robin is a frequent speaker at national industry events, including ClickZ, internet.com, OMMA, Ad:Tech, SES, Online Marketing Summit, and Thunder Lizard conferences and is a sought-after resource for industry and business publications for her insight and advice on such topics as digital strategy, social media marketing, and behavioral targeting.