The digital marketing industry encompasses two types of people: seasoned marketers with a traditional approach who begin by unlocking the psyche of their target audiences; and a newer generation of marketers who have trained in the digital first age and have got to know the various channels and platforms in a practical way.
But are there enough people who combine both skills?
As we keep up with ever-changing digital channels and techniques, do we forget the who, what, why, and when – the basics – of traditional marketing? Are digital skills wasted without really understanding the principles of marketing?
In recent years, a discussion has begun about the digital skills gap – a concern that technology is advancing faster than marketers’ skills. At the same time, however, we need to fill another void: the lack of a thorough understanding of basic marketing principles and values.
In short, is there really a winner in the battle between traditional and digital marketing mentalities?
Don’t leave the traditional principles of marketing behind
Digital skills are in increasing demand – and rightly so. But they shouldn’t be the driving force behind what marketers do.
We can report on data, but as marketers we are ultimately judged on sales and growth. Statistics on click-through rates, page views, and session times may be high, but if we don’t contribute to new business, those to whom we are accountable probably won’t mind.
In SEO, it is common to use a range of digital tools to research keyword volumes, tweak code, and experiment with schemes to improve search positions – regardless of whether those searches and phrases are targeting the right audience or not Intent. An incredible amount of effort and technical know-how can be put into searching for keywords without generating significant traffic.
Similarly, a paid social media executive may know all of the tricks and tactics to reduce the cost per click – but possibly with the wrong message.
What is missing, of course, is what is human – curiosity, the ability to ask questions. And the traditional marketing mentality: take the time to find out everything about your target audience – who they are, how they behave online, what interests them and what holds them back, as well as how your company fits into the market and what defines you Part.
We have to be strategic, not just tech-savvy.
Traditional vs. Digital Marketing: How Did We Get Here?
Marketers work in an industry that is developing faster than most. In fact, for those of us who work exclusively in the digital realm – or niches within the digital realm like SEO – our industry didn’t even exist a few decades ago. So it makes sense that as we struggle to keep up with new Google Ad features or new social media platforms, the “why” question gets a bit blurry.
As marketing grows, there is pressure to stay ahead (or just keep up) and hiring a younger generation of digital natives is often seen as the solution. But that alone is not enough.
Because digital marketing is a relatively young industry, it sometimes lacks the traditional and formal structure that would ensure a more consistent form of training and development. This is especially true when you consider that there are fewer barriers to entry, meaning that many smaller companies or agencies don’t have regulated marketing training processes.
For example, anyone starting their career as a lawyer receives 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 standardized approach to continuous learning.
Marketers have a less defined career path, and that sometimes means critical skills – sometimes soft skills – slip through the cracks.
As we face the proliferation of remote working, there is a risk that the gap between traditional and digital marketing mentalities will widen. Newbies 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 – will help them develop the right mindset.
How do we close the gap between traditional and digital marketing?
The responsibility for ensuring that basic marketing skills are the focus rests with everyone in the company at every stage.
When hiring newbies, look beyond a résumé full of certifications and keep in mind that creative thinkers can be of great benefit in the long run. If you’re already in a digital role, listen to the more seasoned marketers around you and find out not only what they’re doing, but why.
However, the most effective way of teaching the basic marketing basics is to encourage people to ask questions. Make it a habit to seek out as much information as you can and question everything that is presented to you.
If you’re an agency marketer, this logic applies not just to those you market to, but to your clients as well. Sometimes what customers ask for isn’t necessarily what they want or need. When asking for a service or assignment, it is important that you can identify the outcome you want and work backwards, and this type of independent thinking makes you valuable.
A good working knowledge of the right digital tools and techniques will get you a long way, but strengthening that expertise with an understanding of what to say to your audience, when and why, is what the marketing industry needs more of.
More resources on traditional vs. digital marketing
Understanding Modern Marketing: The Evolution of Marketing and the Impact of the Digital
Four keys to traditional marketing in a digital world
How to stay relevant as a marketer in a crazy martech world