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Is Digital Marketing a Core Skill for Today’s Marketers? (Updated 2018)

Digital marketing point of view - courtesy of joeydz on Flickr.comCindy Estis Green — author of The Travel Marketer’s Guide to Social Media and Social Networks [*] and Demystifying the Digital Marketplace — helps travel and hospitality marketers get better at their business.

Way back in 2009, Cindy asked the brilliant Laurence Bernstein of BC3 Strategies and me to debate the question: Is digital marketing a core skill for today’s marketers? Guess which side I took?

Unfortunately, Cindy has moved on to other roles and the original site featuring our debate is no longer live. So, in the interest of spreading the knowledge, I thought you might enjoy seeing my arguments here:

Point/Counterpoint – Digital Marketing is a Core Skill

Meet Dave. Dave is 44 years old. He works as a civil engineer. He and his wife Ellen have two kids aged 14 and 9 and take two 5-day family vacations a year – once during their kids' spring break, once in late summer. Their household income is around $108,000 annually. So, how come he bought your product through media placed on Facebook? Your target demographic doesn't use sites like that.

Or do they?

How can you possibly know?

Both the activities customers engage in and the media channels they use have multiplied. Fragmented. Challenged marketers like never before to locate customers, listen to what they want and lead them in new ways through the steps of awareness, interest, desire and action. Cable, broadcast and satellite television let your customers watch hundreds of channels in real-time, or when they choose, with video on demand or Tivo. Radio offers similar options, with podcasts providing the on demand audio model. There are at least five different popular game consoles and handhelds with dozens of best-selling games. There are thousands of media outlets. Over 150 million websites, blogs, and vlogs. Over 1 billion mobile phones. The list goes on.

For all its talk of putting the right product in front of the right customer at the right time, “traditional” marketing has long lacked the tools to actually achieve that goal. The best marketers continually challenge themselves to improve their ability to talk to their customer. Digital — with its emphasis on measurement and just-in-time delivery — provides marketers with the ability to understand their customers' needs and place appropriate messages to those most primed to buy. Sounds pretty "core" to me.

Take a look at the changes wrought by digital:

  • Product. Crowdsourcing, data mining, improved consumer research
  • Price. Price monitoring, price forecasting
  • Place. The move for many from physical product to bits (such as downloadable ebooks, music and movies), the associated zero distribution cost
  • Promotion. Behavioral targeting and content targeting as in the example of "Dave" above

Marketers who don't speak this language will quickly choke on their competitors' digital dust.

It's certainly true that some tools and techniques digital marketers tout today will be replaced in the future. Today's darling, pay-per-click advertising, already shows signs that it may have reached its saturation point. But suggesting that digital is “just another tool” is much like assuming the automobile or jet airplane were “just another” form of transportation. Digital represents a fundamental shift in how to reach your customers and learn what matters to them. And assuming that a core skill of marketing isn't to continually improve your ability to reach your customers is fantasy.

Photo credit: Point of view by joeydz from Flickr – Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 license

* – Full disclosure: I served as a member of the advisory board for The Travel Marketers Guide to Social Media and Social Networks. I receive no compensation for any sales related to the book.

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Finally, you might enjoy some of these past posts from Thinks to help you build your e-commerce strategy and your digital success:

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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