Achieving Excellence in Digital Marketing

A while back I read an article in Harvard Business Review that has stuck with me like pine needles to the underside of the living room rug. It was titled “Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything,” and it offered just that: a handful of suggestions for improving virtually any skillset. Apart from penning his own book on the subject, author Tony Schwartz culls his information from works like Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” which most people are likely to remember most for one chapter. As stated in “The 10,000-Hour Rule,” it takes thousands of hours of practice to achieve greatness – whether you’re Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy, Mozart, or The Beatles.

Consider this theory in the context of media planning and buying and you’re likely to draw the same conclusion. Ours is not an industry that sees a lot of “natural talent.” Sure, we’ve all worked with marketing professionals who seem to have an intrinsic ability to know which sites will deliver and which should be avoided like the plague. But nine times out of 10 such individuals haven’t just completed their first campaign; to the contrary, they’ve logged hundreds of hours in the trenches, during which time they honed their instincts and polished their sixth sense to the gleaming beacon it is today.

In fact, in reading the “Six Keys” outlined in the aforementioned text, one can see how particularly relevant they are to our work. As you complete the first week of the new year, ask yourself if any of these recommendations sound familiar. Then pat yourself on the back. Chances are you’re well on your way to achieving true digital marketing excellence.

Key 1: Pursue what you love. Let’s be honest, not all of us came out of college with the intention of becoming digital marketers. Only in very recent years has our profession been sufficiently synonymous with success to warrant a premeditated effort. Whether you came by it by chance or dreamed of being an online media buyer when you were in school, you’ve probably grown to love this exciting, eccentric world, particularly as it becomes more and more mainstream.

Key 2: Do the hardest work first. This one may take a little added effort. When you arrive in the office in the morning, do you make a beeline for those pending insertion orders or do you first get a coffee, check your e-mail, and make an appearance on Twitter? In accordance with the rule, try tackling the least pleasurable work first when your mind is fresh and your schedule is clear. Posting news of your latest parking ticket to Facebook can wait.

Key 3: Practice intensely. Here, media planners and buyers shine. Few put in a short workday; odds are you’re more than doubling the four and a half hours of daily practice demonstrated by the “great performers.” You likely also work more than the recommended 90 straight minutes before taking a break. At last, a case where an impossibly demanding work schedule works in your favor.

Key 4: Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses. Regardless of where and how you rank, you are part of a team of digital marketing professionals who consult one another in some capacity on a daily basis. Where achieving excellence is considered this is another major score. If you can ease back on the meetings just to the point where the feedback you receive is consistently “simple and precise,” you’ll avoid that pesky “cognitive overload” that inevitably leads to your next campaign going down in flames.

Key 5: Take regular renewal breaks. Now’s your chance to tell your Facebook friends about that parking ticket.

Key 6: Ritualize practice. Research shows the best way to ensure you’ll put in the necessary hours of practice is to establish rituals that encourage consistency. Score three for the media buyer! Each day is a nimble pas de deux, a well-rehearsed routine performed with colleagues, clients, and reps. There’s no guarantee your partner won’t fumble, but you’ll be there to cover the gaffe. Because your job is to be consistent and reliable, and that inevitably translates into ritualized practice – and a fast track to digital marketing excellence.

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