Talk had turned to the way that graduate trainee marketers used to be given a thorough immersion in their new company so they could understand its strategy, objectives, products or services and operations. Once they knew who they were working for, they would be better placed to market the business.
For a long time, this practice has been in decline. But it appears to have stopped dead when it comes to recruiting digital marketers. Even if the business is totally reliant on digital as a dot.com, there seems to be little belief that to position, grow and retain a business and its customers, a marketer should first understand that business.
So it was not exceptional for that delegate to wonder why they should be bothered, since nobody has ever expected them to be. Older marketers (ie, those aged over 30) have it as second nature. Set against that, however, older marketers are increasingly finding it difficult to get new jobs because they may understand business, but their digital knowledge is lacking.
To give this argument more context, consider the way advertising got split into creative and media during the 1980s. Media buying became viewed as a dark art that required specialist skills. Certainly, the ability to keep cost per thousand for any given audience as low as possible had important benefits for advertisers.
As a result, the focus increasingly fell on how to improve the efficiency of each medium with less attention given to the overall strategy. Only late in the day was some corrective thinking applied through initiatives like media neutral planning.
The same problem seems to be emerging in digital marketing. Since search is such a major driver for prospects and sales, a company needs to optimise its search engine marketing. No argument there.
But optimising the way you deploy budget in a given channel is a tactical dimension of marketing – it is no substitute for thinking about strategy. For example, you may be achieving a low cost per click from a search engine, but how does that compare with other options?
A specialist in SEO will not be able to give you an answer, other than to point out that a low CPK is always a good thing. TV planners could not tell you whether it was a good for your business to use commercials either.
Unless the emphasis on technical, channel-specific issues starts to get combined with a broader, strategic concern about where digital fits into the marketing picture, then both clients and their agencies risk falling into the trap TV fell into in the early 90s. A perfectly optimised campaign is only of value if it is building the business, not just if it has been bought as cheaply as possible.