The many ‘deaths’ of digital marketing

Digital marketing is apparently dead. Procter & Gamble’s global brand building officer Marc Pritchard talked about the end of digital as something separate or distinct from general marketing in his keynote at Dmexco in Cologne, Germany, last September. Forrester has also recently mooted that we are now in an era of “post-digital” marketing.

Ashley Friedlein

This is a view that Econsultancy and Marketing Week espoused in our Modern Marketing Manifesto, which we published last year. We cut out ‘digital’ as one of the key elements of marketing from the initial draft and instead focused on integration, customer experience, brand, data and other elements irrespective of medium or channel.

But while we might agree that this is conceptually and strategically the right direction, the reality on the ground is quite different. Few organisations are at a point where they are sufficiently capable or mature in their digital marketing or ecommerce activities so that this has become ‘business as usual’.

Digital is the catalyst and driver for marketing and business transformation; where organisations talk about innovation, it is almost entirely digital. This means that the operational reality for most businesses is that digital is very much alive and a huge area of focus.

In our research on organisational structures, it is clear that most organisations can only move quickly enough in digital by creating dedicated digital teams with digital specialists. In time, the digital expertise becomes more decentralised and digital knowledge more widely disseminated. The destination is indeed digital ‘evaporation’ as something distinct but the journey of digital transformation is only just under way for most.

There are apparently also ‘deaths’ at the level of digital marketing disciplines. Some say that email marketing is dead thanks to newer forms of messaging. Others argue that search engine optimisation (SEO) is also dead. Certainly, both have evolved over the years and will continue to do so but to paraphrase the Mark Twain misquotation, rumours of their deaths have been greatly exaggerated.

Let us take SEO. Despite the rise of social media, it is still the case that most websites get most of their traffic, particularly new users, from search engines.

In Econsultancy’s case, for example, we may have 170,000 Twitter followers, yet more than 60 per cent of new visitors to our site come from natural search. That is about 20,000 potential new customers a day.

In 2009, we migrated the Econsultancy site from one domain to another and dropped out of Google for several months. This was a salutary reminder of how vital technical SEO still is. We recently changed our entire URL structure and moved the whole site to SSL (https).

We thought long and hard about this and paid for specialist SEO advice. Marketers, if this all sounds ‘too techy’ for you, then consider the implications of having all your search traffic switched off. You must care about these things. They are specialist and they are digital and they are very much not dying.

Sixty-three per cent of respondents to our Marketing Budgets Report 2014, in association with Responsys, are planning to increase spend on SEO, with another 33 per cent keeping the spend the same. No imminent signs of death there. This ranks SEO spending with mobile and the only digital discipline where marketers are spending more is content marketing (74 per cent).

In fact, if anything, we see a trend in 2014 away from the shiny new things in digital and a much greater focus on doing the digital basics really well. That is where most of the money and resources are going – and rightly so.

So we can envisage a time of digital demise as a broad term because it will become part of everything. But we are a fair way off that yet and, even then, there will still be digital specialists required and digital-only marketing disciplines.

Ashley Friedlein is chief executive of Econsultancy, a sister brand of Marketing Week

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