In this article I’ll discuss:
- An irresponsible scenario I see often in the digital industry, and the negative outcome it produces
- How this scenario applies to consultants, agencies AND job-seekers
- The difference between digital production and digital marketing
- An analysis of an ineffective (bad) digital marketer
- The ten qualities of a competent, impactful (good) digital marketer
I want to introduce you to a fictional entrepreneur called James.
James knows how to:
- Build a nice looking WordPress website,
- Create a basic AdWords campaign,
- Write an interesting article or two, and
- Create a decked out Facebook page, containing informative articles, links to video content, and compelling status updates…
…and as a result, he labels himself a digital marketer.
Let’s give credit where credit is due — he’s got some serious swag on his website. Tasteful stock images hold together a clean, modern design. And his service pages talk about “business consulting” and buzzwords like Search Engine Optimisation, PPC management and content marketing.
Jamesy-boy talks the talk, and this doesn’t go unnoticed – he uses his gift of the gab and “personal brand” to rope in a handful of new clients.
They let him charge steeply because they’re wowed by his promises of (a) getting their phone to ring with new leads, (b) more sales, or (c) a flood of email addresses for their sales funnel.
For each of his new clients, James produces a basic website that looks a lot like his own, complemented by a Facebook PPC and AdWords campaign. The clients hook up their credit cards to each platform, and stare at their phones, inboxes, or sales reports with stars in their eyes.
They keep staring. Their eyes start watering. But nothing happens.
Before too long, the honeymoon period with James starts to crumble.
Client A starts asking questions like “Where has our money gone? What are all of these “Likes” going to get us, anyways?” while Client B thunders “why isn’t the phone isn’t ringing like you promised it would?”
James responds defensively. He built them a great looking website. They have a Facebook page. They appear for their ‘bullseye’ search terms in the SERPS.
“But their brand just isn’t “magnetic” enough to get the phone to ring,” he tells them as he slides into his Mercedes Benz.
The clients are left high and dry… with a nice looking website but a lacklustre system for successfully marketing their business via the web.
This sounds dramatic, but it happens often.
From a 40,000-foot perspective, James made NO initiative to get inside the mind of the client’s prospects by providing a solution to a problem they have but don’t want, or an outcome they want but don’t yet have.
So here’s my point: people who can use digital tools are NOT – by any means – qualified to call themselves digital marketers based on that fact alone. Digital marketing is SIGNIFICANTLY more complicated than just assembling digital channels.
It’s cowboys like James that give GOOD marketers a bad name.
Why do I feel strongly about this?
The above situation happens far too often, and it creates a painful impact on those who don’t have the right lens to determine the skills and capability of a GOOD digital marketer. This negative impact bears down on our whole industry, and gives digital marketing a bad name in general. This causes:
- Negative financial impact on the client
- Negative impact on the reputation of the industry
People like James — people who think they can sell themselves (and often DO) – think they can transfer their skills over to selling/marketing their clients.
Just because a consultant or agency can successfully market themselves, doesn’t mean they can successfully market ANOTHER business.
I also feel strongly about this because of the state of some of the resumes I see coming across my desk.
I’m responsible for hiring new marketers for our Account Management team. Many of the applications I screen seem to believe “being able to use the tools” qualifies them as a digital marketer. There’s rarely any mention of understanding the prospect, psychology or consideration for the client’s prospect’s decision-making process.
Digital marketing isn’t like studying law, medicine or accounting. There’s no regulated qualification or widely known accreditation yet, which means there’s a low barrier to entry.
I can’t put a sign on my door and say I’m an accountant without some sort of regulated oversight from a governing body. But I can put a sign on my door and say I’m a digital marketer.
That’s the scary part over. Let’s look at what makes an ineffective (bad) digital marketer, so you can weed them out.
Analysis Of An Ineffective (Bad) Digital Marketer
I like to entertain the comparison between a digital marketer and a digital producer. Often, these two roles are confused for one another.
A digital marketer’s role is to market an individual or organisation via digital channels.
This is a broad definition, but the operative word here is “market”… and to market an entity, one needs to understand and correctly approach a target market (including addressing the needs and problems of its prospects), leverage the unique value proposition of the entity being marketed, and tweak and reiterate collateral and campaigns until results come to life.
Generally speaking, a digital producer’s role is to produce collateral via digital mediums. This could be websites, banners, EDMs etc.
The difference here is obvious – there’s no requirement on the producer to understand the marketing ecosystem revolving around the entity being marketed.
Here are a handful of mistakes made by ineffective digital marketers:
- Not providing a solution to the problem(s) the client’s prospects are trying to overcome.
- Not providing a desired outcome(s) the client’s prospects are trying to achieve.
- Creating marketing collateral (written AND visual) that revolves around characteristics of the client. Instead, it should revolve around the client’s prospect’s problems and outcomes.
- Not manifesting and/or leveraging the client’s unique value proposition (what they DO UNIQUELY… that their competitors DO NOT).
- Relying too heavily on design, whereas sales COPY (AKA written words) should be the most tested/leveraged lever. Persuasion through copywriting is a significant tool in digital marketing… a poor looking website with GREAT sales copy will convert much higher than a great looking website with POOR copy.
- “Setting and forgetting” campaigns. All traffic campaigns should be optimised and tested, repeatedly, forever.
- Not leveraging the incredible amounts of data provided by analytics tools like Google Analytics.
- Not conducting ongoing website testing regimes.
- Reporting on vanity metrics like bounce rate and time on site. Yes, these are important during analysis, but most clients only want to know about commercial metrics like lead volume, and cost per lead.
- Not having a “challenger” mindset that proactively brings new ideas and concepts to the client, with the ultimate goal of getting them better ROI and providing more value.
Ineffective marketers focus on the tools of digital marketing, but don’t focus on the psychology of persuasion.
Just because I can use a spanner and wrench, doesn’t mean I can make an airliner soar at seven clicks above sea level. To become an aircraft engineer, I need to understand aviation theory (what makes an aircraft fly?), jet engine mechanics, and the reiterative process of tweaking and adjusting to get the BEST possible performance from an aircraft. A strong digital marketer clearly understands and animates a similar approach to their discipline.
Here are ten qualities of a strong digital marketer:
Real Digital Marketing Mastery (Analysis Of A Good Operator)
1. Strong digital marketers understand *and implement* the psychology of persuasion.
An impactful digital marketer will take the time to research and understand the overlap between (a) their client’s unique value proposition (what they do uniquely, that their competitors do not) and (b) the psychological motivators of the client’s prospects as mentioned above (What problems does the prospect have but doesn’t want? What desired outcomes does the prospect want but not yet have?).
This overlap area, where the client’s unique offering addresses the needs and/or wants of their customer, is the sweet spot that should be leveraged as a persuasion device. This overlap should form the groundwork for the client’s written and visual marketing collateral.
To do this, the marketer will:
- Have an understanding of the human psyche, to the extent of being able to influence via persuasion techniques
- Have some degree of life experience
- Possess suitable “detective” skills to be able to ask the right questions of the client, to get the right answers they need
- Understand how to persuade via written and visual means (visualisation is a powerful tool)
- Be able to accurately interpret this overlap area/sweet spot into tidy, functional collateral
The high-level process for achieving this is:
- Understanding the client’s unique value proposition
- Understanding the client’s prospect type(s) and their needs/wants/problems
- Implementing the unique value proposition into the client’s marketing collateral
- Using written and visual persuasion tactics to elicit a positive response from a reader (sign up, by now, enquire now, contact us, etc.). Written tactics include the use of direct response copy and content writing. Visual tactics include the use of conversion-centric design and website testing.
2. Strong digital marketers overlay an impactful sales acumen over the work they do.
When I say sales, I mean providing VALUE by matching a suitable solution to someone’s need or want. “Value” is the key operator here – an impactful digital marketer understands what it takes to sell the value of the work they’re doing, either when selling for the client, or when selling their solutions to the client.
Applying a sales acumen over the top of marketing initiatives is critical. Some purists argue a clear distinction between sales and marketing techniques; however sales strategies and tactics are a critical cornerstone of ANY direct-response digital marketing campaign.
Here’s what a digital marketer will do when selling FOR a client:
- The marketer will single out the difference between the client’s “Market Entry” features and benefits and “Unique” features and benefits. Market Entry benefits are plain, vanilla attributes that any ol’ James can promote to be considered as a digital marketer (“I build websites”). Unique features and benefits are what sets James apart from his competitors (“I build websites for orthodontists in Africa). These unique features/benefits should be leveraged in sales collateral (online AND offline) until the cows come home.
- Most customers will choose a vendor based on their perceived value, not their price. So, if a certain service costs more, it needs a stronger value-sell around it. A strong marketer will quantify the value their client provides, therefore positioning the client as the leading provider of value, EVEN if they cost more.
- A strong marketer will take certain components of the client’s unique value proposition and overlay it over the unique needs and wants of their customer. This is a sweet spot: aligning the client’s unique offering over their customer’s needs and wants.
Here’s what a digital marketer will do when selling TO a client:
- The marketer will pull apart the client’s sales funnel, and quantify the dollar value of each core step in their sales process (averages of: cost per impression, cost per click, cost per lead, cost per 1 on 1 conversation, and/or cost per sale; and the conversion metrics between stages). This achieves a few things – it allows the marketer to determine financial KPIs around campaigns, and also allows the marketer to define how much VALUE they’ll provide when they improve the performance of the client’s sales funnel. This will allow the client to make a decision based on the value they’ll receive, NOT the cost they’ll pay for the service.
- The marketer will say “it’s my duty as a professional to make you aware of every opportunity you have available to you”. This way, the marketer will simultaneously provide value whilst explaining to the client the options they have, which makes ‘sales’ conversations far easier. Note this strategy isn’t about clutching at sales – it’s about acting as a trusted advisory and value-provider to the client.
- The marketer will speak in terms like “here’s the value I can provide you” “here’s how I provide value to clients in your situation”.
- The marketer will push back on the client if they have ideas that aren’t in their best interests. The marketer exists to tell the client what they NEED to hear, not what they WANT to hear.
- The marketer will provide examples of collective intelligence/insights/learnings gathered from working with other clients and industries.
3. Strong digital marketers influence their subjects via written form.
Digital marketers are able to persuade via their written words, in the form of direct response copywriting and informative, value-adding content writing. They have a higher than average understanding of the written and spoken word and can tailor their writing style, tone, cadence and level of sophistication to the audience they’re writing for, with the end-goal of influencing their readers to take a desired action.
An impactful digital marketer will, when writing digital sales copy:
- Write pages that drip in value for the reader. If the prospect reads an offer that they simply can’t refuse, because there’s decadent scores of value in it for them, the marketer has succeeded. Marketer FTW!
- Leverage the shit out of the client’s unique value proposition. The client’s UVP should be like ol’ King Midas’ finger – every piece of marketing collateral it touches should turn to gold.
- Speak in terms of “you”, not “we” or “I”. Speaking in terms of “you” allows the reader to better understand what’s in it for them. When this is achieved, the reader is far more likely to take a desired action.
- Explain ultimate and proximate benefits first. Features come second.
- Aim to provide an argument containing a choice of yeses. The more yeses the reader verbally or non-verbally says, the more likely they are to take a desired action.
- Understand the level of awareness of the reader. Depending on the traffic source or general market understanding, the marketer will blunt down or sharpen up the technical components of their writing.
- Understand the position of the reader in the client’s sales funnel. Is the reader brand new/cold traffic? Have they come from an email sequence deployed by the client? Have they come from a branded search term? Have they come from a commercially motivated search term? Are they recycled/remarketed traffic?
- Make sure their copy flows logically – small arguments must smoothly flow in the stream of an overall, larger argument that guides the reader into taking action.
- Use social proof to reinforce their written arguments.
- Never write a word or sentence that doesn’t provide some form of value towards the persuasion process. Every sentence should answer a “so what” test – if the sentence doesn’t relate to solving a problem or providing an outcome the prospect needs, it’s noise. Simple as that.
- Convince the reader that they’d be worse-off if they DID NOT take up the offer written by the marketer.
4. Strong digital marketers have a results-driven eye for conversion-centric design.
Nice designs look ‘nice’ but often they don’t convert traffic as intended. When building/auditing a landing page, the marketer needs to communicate their value exchange and persuasion message using visual means too (not just via written copy).
Digital marketers understand how a page’s design impacts its conversion performance, and know how to audit or build a page with conversion-centric design in mind.
To do this, the digital marketer will consider the following items:
- Layout of the page, and eye flow. The page must guide the visitor’s eye down a logical path of written and visual elements. A landing page’s most core components must capture attention via a hierarchy – headline first, sub-headline second, bullet points third etc. Web users are impatient – so the sizzle of the hierarchical components must pull the reader into viewing them sequentially. I enthusiastically use the words ‘sizzle’ and ‘eye flow’ in this situation. It’s important to use whitespace to accentuate core conversion components.
- Call to action strategy and placement. On a landing page, there must be one call to action only (possibly repeated throughout the page). It should be the most visible component on the page. Try the “squint test” – look at a landing page and squint your eyes. If you can see the call to action visibly sticking out, the page has used colour and layout to properly position its call to action.
- Proof elements. Proof comes in many forms – examples are testimonials, accreditation badges, certificates, pictures of real-life examples and video testimonials.
- Typography. Typography must be easy to read – this means size, contrast to background, font style, font weight, leading, character spacing etc. must be considered.
- Diagrams and visualisation. A marketer will use diagrams and other visual aids to decrease the time it takes to convey a message. Charts, graphs and flow charts are examples.
- Colour selection. There’s no magical colour that makes every page convert, but colour choice, and the relationship between colours on a page DO influence a page’s conversion performance. Ideally, colours should welcome a reader and guide their eyes towards the persuasive components of the page (copy and call to action).
- Stock image use. I once ran a test between VERY stocky images and realistic, natural images. The natural images won by a mile. The learning here? Readers aren’t persuaded by overly stocky images. Also, every stock image must provide some form of value to the decision making process.
- Page length. The marketer will engineer the page to be as long as it needs to be, and no longer. Generally speaking, the length of a landing page will be dictated by the level of awareness of the visitor. Regular website pages shouldn’t be excessive in length – if they are, they’ll need suitable anchor links (for in-page navigation).
- Fluid responsiveness for mobile/tablet devices. Mobile and tablet conversions are important too.
A digital marketer will be able to apply the above lenses to all digital collateral types – websites, EDMs, banner design, social media collateral etc…. not just landing pages.
5. Strong digital marketers turn quantitative and qualitative data into insights.
The numbers behind a campaign or website/email/banner/social post performance are used by digital marketers to improve tactical performance, increase ROAS, and report results to clients.
To be more specific, a digital marketer will use quantitative data to:
- Determine and remove the elements that DON’T work in a campaign. Doing this saves budget for elements that are working. For example, pausing an expensive, non-performing keyword in an AdWords search campaign will save budget for keywords that are working.
- Prove what elements ARE working in a campaign, and amplify them to improve performance. An example of this is peel-and-sticking a high performing keyword into its own ad group.
- Quantify a psychological response in website testing. An example of this is demonstrating which landing page headline variation works better than another.
- Report the RIGHT numbers in the RIGHT situations. For example, vanity metrics like ‘bounce rate’ and ‘time on site’ aren’t useful in high-level marketing reports. Normally, the most relevant numbers to use when reporting marketing performance are cost per sale/lead, sale/lead volume, and ROI.
Insights from qualitative data like survey responses, live website reviews or focus groups should be used by the marketer to make improvements to campaign ROI.
6. Strong digital marketers are bulletproof project managers.
When I say ‘project management’ I mean the organisation of a delivery team or resources to provide a specified result or outcome. This could be for a project, a retainer client or for any desired outcome requiring management of deliverables.
A digital marketer is organised when it comes to:
- Planning. They’ll plan and visualise what needs to be done by when (and by whom, under what budget), and will communicate this to all appropriate parties. They’ll use a Gantt chart or Kanban style tool (e.g. Wrike or Trello) to keep track of moving parts.
- Time management. They’ll ensure their time is spent working on their highest and best use. They’ll make sure their subordinates are doing the same, too.
- Stakeholder management. They’ll clearly communicate with all vested parties, so the best results are produced on time, to specification, and to budget.
- Resource management. The suppliers they use are carefully selected, trained and managed to get desired results.
- Deadline management. They meet deadlines. If they don’t, they’re able to realign assets and expectations to maintain value delivery.
- Quality control. Feedback loops are fast and efficient, and quality is produced at a high standard, all day, every day.
- Being accountable for their responsibilities. No “excuses” are ever given. They’ll take it on the chin. Not that they ever make mistakes, anyway :p
7. Strong digital marketers are masters of 360-degree communication.
Digital marketers have effective communication skills, in written, visual, and spoken formats.
They facilitate clear, efficient communication in the 360 degrees around their environment – between their client, their peers and their suppliers. They’re able to adapt their language and communication methods to their current subject, and can translate technical concepts into simpler, less-complex terms.
This is done through strong:
- Written communication. They write clearly, efficiently and with purpose. To achieve this, a higher than average grasp on the written English language is required (this includes spelling, grammar, word selection, sentence structure, style, etc.).
- Visual communication. They use diagrams and illustrations to better convey and convince with their messages.
- Spoken communication. They have excellent verbal skills in scenarios like pitches, meetings, phone calls, screenshares, and screen recordings. They provide a narrative around their communications to foster widespread understanding.
Strong digital marketers are masters of their Reticular Activation System (RAS). They use whiteboards, pads, pens and other ‘on the fly’ written tools to interpret, discuss and communicate information. I’m not being a tosser when I say this: activating one’s RAS switches on parts of their brain that helps their problem solving and productivity skills. Read more about the science here and try it for yourself.
8. Strong digital marketers produce blistering value for their clients.
Digital marketers will provide more quantifiable value than the fees they charge for their services. They do this via a number of ways:
a) Converting a communication channel into quantifiable value
Digital marketers have the skills to turn a communications channel into a valuable asset. For example:
- Google AdWords Search traffic can be turned into sales leads.
- Facebook’s database of users can be turned into qualified traffic, via its PPC platform.
- An email list of prospects can be turned into customers.
b) Knowing WHAT to do, not just HOW to do it – Identifying strategies that get results.
Knowing which lever to pull is infinitely more important than knowing how to pull a certain lever.
Digital marketers provide value by knowing which strategies will get results (in the fastest way possible).
c) Acting as a trusted advisor and ‘challenger’
A digital marketer won’t rest on their laurels. They’ll constantly proactively challenge the status quo to get better results.
They’ll act as a source of information and provider of new knowledge.
They’ll also act with their client’s best interest in mind at all times.
9. Strong digital marketers have proven experience and can demonstrate measurable results.
A digital marketer will provide examples of the strategies and tactics they’ve used in the past, to demonstrate their theoretical understanding of a solution and prove their expertise.
They’ll be able to talk about results they’ve produced from other campaigns, and discuss the learnings (positive and negative) to better the position of their current client.
Yes, theory is good to know – but experience, and battle scars, provide wisdom and allow the marketer to make a judgment call on responses they may be required to make when dealing with a current client’s marketing ecosystem. School of hard knocks = wisdom.
10. Strong digital marketers can implement the nine tactical pillars of digital marketing.
Lastly, a digital marketer can implement tactical digital marketing deliverables and initiatives like:
- Conversion Funnels
- Content Marketing
- Customer Acquisition (via Paid Traffic)
- Email Marketing
- Social & Community Management
- Search Marketing
- Marketing Analytics
- Testing and Optimisation
- Marketing Automation
They can demonstrate tangible, proven results in these fields. If they’re new to the industry, they should be able to explain their understanding of the theory behind these nine disciplines.
Effective digital marketers:
- Aren’t digital producers.
- Understand how to think like psychologists, writers, salespeople, statisticians, designers and project managers.
- Don’t purely sell siloed services like SEO, PPC or web design. Instead, they sell an outcome.
- Turn communications channels into sources of value.
- Are VALUE creators.
Whether you’re choosing a consultant or agency, or you’re a student looking to learn more about digital marketing, I hope the above provides value to you.