It occurred to me while at the recent iMedia Brand Summit that it’s been a long time since digital marketing meant microsites, banner ads and maybe the occasional email. The iMedia Brand Summit brings together brand leaders with agency, media and technology partners for three days of discussion about the latest in digital marketing technologies, platforms and approaches.
While informative, the conference also highlighted the fact that the industry is now well entrenched in an age of extreme complexity. Today even the most basic marketing initiative requires a small army of digital specialists to bring it to market. Will the campaign involve content marketing, real-time marketing, mobile marketing, or location-based marketing? Which advertising formats and media platforms will be used? How will the campaign be delivered and monitored across channels? How will the data be collected and analyzed? How will conversions be tracked? Every question opens up more options, and the possible combinations of technology solutions and media platforms are seemingly endless.
For me, the most important question that senior-level marketers should ask themselves is probably the most controversial: how much do they really need to know about every facet of digital marketing? When the tools of the trade are evolving at record speed, is it realistic that a marketer can be an expert across every sub-discipline? Is it even possible to stay current with the latest technologies and media opportunities while keeping an eye on the big picture of a brand’s performance? Does the aspiring CMO also need to know the ins and outs of e-commerce, web analytics, search technology, social content and user experience?
Fortunately for the industry’s already overstretched marketers, the answer is no. It would be a rare leader who could both lead and do the hard work of sifting through the latest technologies to identify those that will deliver real value to the brand. At the same time, it’s essential for brand leaders who want to be competitive to stay on top of the trends. Digital in its many forms—mobile, social, content, data—has shifted from a campaign add-on to an integral part of any marketing endeavour and will only increase in importance.
With that in mind, marketers should turn to the one partner who should be constantly assessing marketplace developments on their behalf: their digital agency. A digital agency can and should be so much more than just a builder of websites or manager of social-media campaigns. A digital agency should be on the frontlines of sorting through the latest technologies and identifying those that will have the greatest relevance to the brand and its business objectives. Ask that your agency bring forward the latest thinking in digital. Expect your agency to regularly evaluate new technologies. Hold your agency accountable for knowing best practice for your brand and category. For every niche opportunity within digital, your agency should have a perspective on whether or not there is a benefit to the brand.
None of this is to say that brand leaders should simply surrender the responsibility of maintaining a competitive edge over to their agencies. But no brand leader can reasonably be expected to be an expert in every sub-discipline of a rapidly evolving industry. The goal should be to know enough to ask your digital agency the tough questions and expect smart answers. And, of course, understand that what matters in the end is not new technology but making a connection with consumers.
Stephanie Myers is engagement director, Asia Pacific, at Possible