Digital Marketing Is Overrated

Josh Thompson
Nov 30, 2018 · 4 min read

Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration but it’s not the cure-all that many make it out to be. It’s an important part of the media mix but it’s only one gear in a complex machine. I’m an ‘expert’ in digital marketing. That’s what my CV tells you but this doesn’t mean that I am an evangelist of the sort you find trending on Twitter or waxing lyrical on your LinkedIn feed. It’s been clear since I finished my studies at university that there is a certain type of marketing professional that willfully excludes channels that don’t fit into their niche. Those channels might be considered old-fashioned and, dare I say it, dull.

The shiny neon of digital advertising and the power of data and analytics at the click of a button are too tempting to ignore. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for these things and I can’t deny that I love working with digital tools but a digital solution isn’t always the most effective channel.

The internet is crowded and as more amateur content gluts the online space with worthless twaddle the more difficult it becomes to deliver an exceptional ROI. I have to confess that I’ve occasionally created some absolutely rubbish (not the word I wanted to use) content. I’ve written some complete bollocks (this one definitely was) and thought, “There. That looks fantastic! That matches my target audience and personas down to their boots.”, only for my article to miss the mark completely. (Incidentally, I notice yet again there are calls that this year is the year that personas are finally dead… )

If you’re passionate about promoting your services then your content will reflect that energy but often, especially with digital marketing, the ability to easily toss something out there does you no favours. In less than two minutes I can vomit up an image, throw together a paragraph and have my words delivered to thousands of people on Facebook. How does that encourage thoughtfulness? It’s no wonder millions are wasted every year on ineffectual social media advertising.

Hear that? That’s the sound of Mark Zuckerburg diving like Scrooge McDuck into your wasted advertising spend.

Mark Ritson wrote an article earlier this year which caught my attention. He touched on an issue that pierces the marketing discipline like an egotistical splinter. We love to equate our own experience with that of our target market and some of us just can’t separate our assumptions from reality.

But we are NOT typical media consumers.

Working in the marketing industry by its very nature separates us from the public consumer. Our spare time is sometimes spent over-analysing article titles, rolling our eyes at advertising copy, and giving a disdainful sniff at the remarketing that appears on our social feed (“Oh actually, I do quite want that hedge trimmer, thank you for remembering Amazon.”). “They won’t catch me out with their tactics, I know their tricks,” we say to ourselves.

We respect great campaigns and enjoy seeing successful and nuanced copy that surprises us from across the industry. We will sometimes give grudging acknowledgment to a well-targeted online ad but never, that we admit to ourselves, are we unaware when we are being sold to. So why do we so often make judgments based on our own consumer habits? Our industry suffers for it.

I admit that fresh out of my Digital Marketing MSc I was wearing some pretty big blinkers. The problem with a specialist degree is that, well, I had become a specialist. I’d studied only one section of marketing and been excluded from others. I’ve become accustomed to wearing many hats in the years since and this has slowly worn away the belief that everything has to always be digital.

Many of the positions I’ve held brought to light that SME’s often do not have a marketing department, sometimes not even a marketing budget. (“Isn’t that why we pay you?”) It takes time to build confidence, produce results and deliver that effective ROI so it’s not surprising that the low-cost entry into social media, for example, is so appealing. Assigning a budget to your online presence is almost a necessity in this day and age but finding the right place for the entirety of the budget shouldn’t be limited by this.

It’s our responsibility as professionals to steer our employers and clients in the right direction. Closing our minds to the potential of ‘traditional’ marketing is something we need to work hard to avoid. There may come a time when people stop consuming offline media but I doubt it. (Unless we end up in the all too terrifying future that Pixar’s Wall-E whimsically explored a decade ago.) While it’s certainly true that the demographics of ‘traditional media’ are changing, it’s simply untrue that you can’t still use them to your advantage.

This article is not a damnation of everything ‘digital’. I passionately believe that a solid content marketing strategy can do wonders for your online presence and lead generation. I love data and I love autonomous personalised email marketing and all the other glorious technologies available but I find myself reluctant to join the ranks of the fanatics.

Ritson states that:

“…it turns out that perception creates the reality for most marketers. If you have the word ‘digital’ in your job title you automatically bend reality to ensure that all things technological end up looking better than those things that are ‘traditional’.”

If this is true for most then it’s up to us to change our thinking. Why set limits on our effectiveness by ignoring research for the benefit of our own ego? We can do better.

It’s time to embrace all forms of media and make decisions because they are right ones not because they are the ones we’re expected to make.

The results will speak for themselves.

Josh Thompson

Written by

Social Media & Marketing Strategist @ Minto Branding, Aberdeen

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