The digital marketing industry contains two types of people: experienced marketing professionals with a traditional approach who start by tapping into the psyche of their target audiences; and a newer generation of marketers who have trained in a digital-first era and familiarized themselves on a practical level with the various channels and platforms involved.
But are there enough people who combine both skill sets?
In keeping up with ever-changing digital channels and techniques, are we forgetting the who, what, why, and when—the fundamentals—of traditional marketing? Are digital skills wasted without a true understanding of marketing principles?
A discussion has begun in recent years about the digital skills gap—a concern that technology is advancing quicker than the skills of marketers. But we must simultaneously bridge another gap: the shortage of a fundamental grasp of core marketing principles and values.
In short, in the clash of traditional vs. digital marketing mindsets, is there really a winner?
Don't leave the traditional principles of marketing behind
Digital skills are going to become more sought after—and rightly so. But they shouldn't be the drivers of what marketers do.
We may report on data, but as marketers we're ultimately judged on sales and growth. Stats on clickthrough rates, page visits, and session durations might be through the roof, but if we're not contributing to new business, those we're accountable to aren't likely to care.
In SEO, it's common to use a suite of digital tools to research keyword volumes, as well as tweaking code and experimenting with schema to improve search positions—without considering whether those queries and phrases are associated with the right audience or intent. An incredible amount of effort and technical expertise can go into chasing keywords without driving meaningful traffic.
Similarly, a paid-social executive might know all the tricks and tactics to lower cost per click—but may be reaching out with the wrong message.
What's missing, of course, is the human element—the curiosity, the aptitude for asking questions. And the traditional marketing mindset: taking time to find out everything about your audience—who they are, how they behave online, what they care about, and what holds them back, as well as how your company fits into the market and what sets you apart.
We have to be strategic, not just tech-savvy.
Traditional vs. digital marketing: How did we get here?
Marketers work in an industry that moves faster than most. In fact, for those of us who work exclusively in digital—or niches within digital, such as SEO—our industry didn't even exist just a couple of decades ago. So it makes sense that in our efforts to keep up with new Google Ad features or new social media platforms, the question of "why" we're doing it becomes a little blurry.
As marketing gains more and more importance, there's a pressure to stay ahead (or simply keep up), and hiring from a younger generation of digital natives is often seen as the solution. But, on its own, that isn't enough.
Because digital marketing is a relatively young industry, it sometimes lacks the legacy and formal structure that would ensure a more consistent form of training and development. That is especially true when you consider that there are fewer barriers to entry, which means many smaller businesses or agencies do not have regimented marketing training processes in place.
Those starting their career as a lawyer, for example, will have a clear training program. They will enter the sector with more formal qualifications than many who enter digital marketing, and they will be subject to a more standardized approach to continued learning.
Marketers have a less-defined career route, and that sometimes means that vital skills—sometimes softer skills—slip through the cracks.
As we face the prevalence of remote working, the divide between traditional vs. digital marketing mindsets is in danger of expanding. Those new to the industry can take online courses to learn the practical elements of their craft, but interacting directly with more experienced, traditional marketers—learning through osmosis—is what helps them develop the right mindset.
How do we fix the traditional vs. digital marketing mindset gap?
The responsibility to ensure that fundamental marketing skills remain front and center lies with everyone in a company, at every stage.
If you're hiring new starters, look beyond a CV full of certifications and consider that creative thinkers can be hugely beneficial in the long term. If you're already in a digital role, listen to the more experienced marketers around you, learning not only what they do but also why.
The most effective way to instill the core marketing basics, however, is to encourage people to ask questions. Make it normal to seek out as much information as possible, and question everything you're presented with.
If you're an agency marketer, that logic applies not just to those you're marketing to but also your clients. Sometimes what clients ask for isn't necessarily what they want or need. When they ask for a service or a task, your being able to identify the desired outcome and work backwards is vital, and it's that kind of independent thought that makes you valuable.
An in-depth working knowledge of the right digital tools and techniques will take you far, but fueling that expertise with an understanding of what you need to say to your audience, and when and why, is what the marketing industry needs more of.
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