Opinion

The best marketers emphasise breadth, not depth

Evan Cunningham-Dunlop, CEO and founder of LivingOnline.com.au, explores the forest beyond the trees of the marketing landscape.

We live in a world dominated by experts. When hiring for a new position, we give special attention to those that can prove they know far more than others on a given niche subject.

Our preference for experts is ingrained into our culture. Professional life has traditionally rewarded those with deep expertise in a single area over those who are more generalist. Digital marketers are no exception to this rule, with many in our profession choosing to align themselves as experts in a given marketing tool or niche, to appeal better to prospective employers and clients.

This is a mistake. When planning your career or sorting between candidates, if there’s one thing I could change about the way digital marketers think, it would be this concept that we must be niche experts to be successful. In fact I’d argue we are far more effective at our role as a ‘jack-of-all trades’; let the other marketing professions specialise to the nth degree on their use of Salesforce, InDesign, Premiere, etc.

There’s a few key reasons why Digital Marketing is the exception to the rule of specialisation. Here’s the topline:

Many tools, low costs: Digital marketing is awash with Martech. So much so that there are maps made of all the different tools for the different tasks we do each day. This high amount of competition often means low cost of entry and that new, innovative solutions to difficult problems can be found quickly.

Access to data: A plethora of tools also means the ever-increasing ability of digital marketers to measure, analyse, and attribute performance via these tools provides fertile ground for experimentation. The proof is in the pudding; digital marketing allows data to tell the story through more accurate measurement of ROAS than other mediums.

Change is accelerating: The martech / adtech landscape is innovating at increasing speed. With this comes more opportunity and navigating this complex landscape will become a skill unto itself, which will be difficult to achieve with a team of niche specialists.

Experimentation is cheap, refinement is expensive: In many marketing disciplines experimentation is a costly risk. In digital marketing, it’s the opposite: experimentation with different formats and new emerging platforms is cheap because of the ability to conduct small scale (and small budget) trials that uncover the opportunity for compelling returns. This means a successful experiment with a niche platform will often triumph in ROI over a well executed and refined campaign with well-known platforms.

The importance of the elusive ‘sweet spot’: This turbulent atmosphere of change creates a moving ‘sweet spot’ in the channel/feature landscape where the potential for generating return is extremely high – which is found when the audience numbers are high, but the competition for eyeballs is low. As a digital marketer if you wait for other people to prove the opportunity, then you’ve missed the boat and will find it harder to compete for attention.

The synergistic effect of multi-channel campaigns: Multi-channel campaigns across a variety of channels, mediums and formats enable digital marketers to build a relationship with the customer through multiple stages of their journey. Coupled with digital’s ability to measure assisted conversions via analytics, it enables the true value of a placement to be better understood. The ability to run these multi-channel campaigns is a core component of the breadth required in a digital marketers toolbox.

To be able to do continuous experimentation and adaptation requires you to first have basic knowledge and understanding of a new tool or platform, and second, to have the creativity to make content work on the new medium.

This is not easy. We have found the only real way to be able to do this consistently is to have generalist marketers who naturally find new opportunities as they go about their daily work. We’re not saying marketers should start ignoring what works just to be different; but equally it’s unlikely that you’ll spot a hidden opportunity to smash a client brief if you’re viewing every opportunity through the lens of Facebook marketing.

This brings us back around to the fundamental problem with the specialist Digital Marketer. Being data-driven, we live on the results we can present to our clients and the qualifications we can show to our next potential employer. This means we end up focusing on what we know has worked before, and specialisation naturally follows.

As a consequence, we all end up recommending the similar solutions, similar creative, similar strategies to our clients. Which means every dollar is competing on the same platforms, forever raising the bar and lowering ROI.

The sooner we as a profession can start to encourage experimentation and adaptability, the better. We should jump at the chance to poach those from other walks of life that want to give digital marketing a go. The results for clients will surely follow.

Evan Cunningham-Dunlop is the CEO and founder of LivingOnline.com.au.

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