A while ago, I wrote a post saying that if you wanted to be a digital marketing expert, you needed some pretty solid business skills across the organization.

More recently, I also wrote that social media still has a credibility problem, and it’s in large part due to the lack of accountability and business acumen that most practitioners still have.

So you’ll notice a theme here.

But today, I want to get specific. When it comes to social media in a marketing use case (and there are more, but that for another day), if you’re going to assert yourself as an expert in the field, you better know marketing first. That means that digital and social cannot stand on their own, they’re advancements in execution of fundamental marketing strategy that has been around since the dawn of business.

Here are a few things you need to have under your belt – at least at a basic understanding level – before you go calling yourself an expert (or before you hire someone who claims to be one!).

Why? Because digital is in service to advance all of these things. It doesn’t replace them, and in fact in order to be successful, digital relies on doing these things well.

Product Marketing

In its simplest terms, product marketing is the process of promoting and selling a product. That “product” in some cases can be a service, or a combination of products and services, or some other kind of offering. But at its core, it’s the discipline that helps explore and understand:

  • The audience for the product, and what they care about
  • The addressable market for the product, and the product/market fit
  • Distribution channels
  • Pricing
  • Customer inputs/feedback and communication, including testing and validation of marketing strategies

If the offering isn’t directed at the right people, offered within an addressable market meeting a demand, and priced and distributed properly, all the clever digital tactics in the world will fail spectacularly.

Social and digital fit in here as helping understand audiences (yay for social data!), evaluating the market itself, offering additional and creative distribution channels, testing pricing and viability of products, and of course, serving as a massively important channel for the voice of the customer.

Marketing Communications

I’m a proponent of an integrated marketing communications approach (IMC), which takes corporate communications, public relations, advertising and other company-to-customer communication mechanisms and leverages them as a whole to convey messages on behalf of the brand to the desired audiences.

That can mean 1:many communications (like mass media), 1:few communications (like niche marketing), 1:1 communications (like account based marketing), or any combination of the above.

Today, digital and online marketing serves as another lever to throw in the overall IMC mix, meaning that the web and social serve as another avenue to communicate and to receive communication from the market and customers.


One of my favorite ways to define branding comes from Ze Frank. He says branding is the “emotional aftertaste” you leave with your customers.

Branding used to be a fairly tightly engineered exercise; very controlled by the company, very carefully crafted with identity and messaging and promotion. I separated this from IMC because I do still think strategic branding stands apart simply because it’s not just a marketing function anymore. The brand is partly what the company articulates and puts out into the market, but it’s also dramatically shaped by the voices of the market itself, the media, and everything from the C-suite and their leadership to the community and philanthropic impact of the organization on causes they care about.

Understanding what creates (and destroys) brands and how digital activities influence that is critical to understanding why digital is transformational to start with and how companies need to consider their strategy knowing how brands endure in a connected world.

Customer Experience

Remember the days when customer “service” and marketing were different departments?

As my buddy Jay Baer will tell you, it just ain’t that way anymore. Marketing is often the first touchpoint customers have with a brand today, especially online, and marketing shapes and helps define what customer experience is and should be for an organization. They’re hearing the voice of the customer through data and research, and they’re acting on it in product positioning and delivery, often working hand in hand with the more traditional customer service channels to communicate with and serve customers in digital channels. After all, customers don’t care what department you work in. They just care about having their needs met.

It’s not enough anymore to believe this is another department’s job, and if you want to be a successful digital marketer, you must understand the tenets of creating a complete and comprehensive customer experience, not just creating campaigns and gimmicks that seem fun but ultimately don’t serve the person driving your business.

Accountability & Measurement

I’ve probably worn out this soapbox the most so I won’t belabor it too much here.

If you don’t know how to:

  • Set measurable objectives
  • Determine goals for your digital strategies that tie to larger business outcomes
  • Identify the data you need in order to measure your progress toward those objectives
  • Not just report on the outcomes but integrate that insight into your future decision making

You have work to do. And if you’re preaching about programs people “should” be running but you can’t also tell them how to measure the success of those initiatives beyond “likes” and “views”, you also have work to do.

Strategic Planning

This is more of a business skill than a marketing-exclusive skill, but I still think it’s critical.

Digital experts today are lousy with tactics and ideas and “things” they can do to spike an uptick in a campaign or get a piece of content seen. That’s great and all, but it’s not nearly enough.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a strategic thinker, it would behoove you to learn about strategic planning and how programmatically your marketing leaders (or clients) are looking at their marketing plans. What are the inputs? What are the outputs? How are budgets allocated, and determined? What’s the mix between tried-and-true strategies and those that are new and experimental? How does the business view marketing in its overall success, and what is it being expected to achieve in order to be deemed successful? How does the organization take successes and failures and put that intelligence BACK into the planning process to adjust and refine?

It seems elementary, but I see the mistake being made all the time, repeatedly. Marketing is not a series of tactics strung haphazardly together. Marketing is a system, with a number of mechanics at work, all designed for one goal: driving sales. If the tactics don’t somehow support the revenue goal at some point along the way, they’re not business-driven, they’re marketing-driven. And that’s a recipe for getting budgets cut and programs eliminated, not to mention having tons of people questioning why digital and social are even in the mix to start with.

What did I miss?

Not everyone is a master marketer when they first start out; that’s not what I’m suggesting. We all learn, and if we’re good, we’re learning constantly.

What I am asking is that if you’re going to get on a stage or in front of a client and claim that you’re a digital marketing expert, you have some fundamental working knowledge of the discipline of marketing to start with. Without it, it’s just peddling gimmicks for a quick buck, and that makes all of us look bad.

What other things do you think digital marketing experts need to know in order to be effective and successful in this era?

Comments belong to you.

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