Question: “How do I make the transition from a traditional marketer into a digital marketer?”
I’m going to talk about my own personal journey of making that transition.
I started out as a marketing operations manager. I did mostly back-end stuff, meaning I set up tools, processes, vendor sourcing, training etc. Then I moved into event marketing, and from there I worked on print ads. My first encounter with digital was banner ads. I remember tinkering with various different shapes of banner ads: square, rectangle (vertical and horizontal). Sometimes we’d run into glitches like the ads were not working properly. Mostly I just remember that anything digital was a lot of work to get right in the beginning.
From there, I moved to a strategist role. As a strategist, I was tasked to create global Go-To-Market (GTM) plans for our local marketing teams to help build their campaigns. Even though I worked closely with social media, paid media, events, search, and even creative services, my knowledge of the digital side of things was still limited. That’s because my job didn’t require me to get my hands dirty. I had this urge to understand digital marketing more, but how?
Here’s what I did:
Ask for help
I was fortunate enough to work in a global company that had access to lots of resources, so I’d reach out to media, web, event MKT, and search agencies. I’d ask them to give me special 1-on-1 training to help me better understand their fields, and most of them were happy to share their knowledge with me. While there was the initial risk of a client surpassing them in knowledge, it ended up being a non-issue since digital technology changed so rapidly. As a result, we all landed on mostly equal footing in terms of having to play catch up.
Around 2005-2006, my company sensed the marketing landscape changing. A “disturbance” in the force, if you will. Our marketing operations team worked with our agencies and sought out influencers to create on-demand training videos. We had over 60 videos covering a range of various topics. Some videos, like Search 101, were mandatory for us to watch. We were also required to watch three other courses, similar to picking college electives. Now, that might seem like kind of a drag, but honestly, watching a bunch of videos was Ok with a glass of wine in hand, plus… they were tied to our employee bonus! Our company did these mandatory digital training courses for about 2 years. That was a great move to propel the whole marketing organization forward toward the digital marketing realm. Now, everything is on YouTube. So no excuses! Asking questions, reading, and watching videos are all great first steps to making that transition.
Learn new tricks by doing
Whoever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is a LIAR. The best way to learn is to get your hands dirty. To understand social media, do social media. If you want to understand AB testing, you guessed it, do AB testing! Create different ads with different copywriting messages to test and see what works. I, personally, was terrified of Twitter back in 2007, but I decided to get myself out there and see what happens. Nothing bad happen and I ended up making a lot of virtual friends. Here is another thing I did: I wanted to understand paid search and paid social, so I paid out of my own pocket for some ads to learn how it worked firsthand. Another example: I had no idea how to create a blog, so I decided to dive in headfirst by launching a blog website. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty! Do or do not, there is no try! If you can’t get your hands dirty, ask your agencies and have them show you how they buy media and what tools they use.
Understand technology and the back-end
When I say understand technology, it doesn’t mean that you need to learn how to code. It means understanding how everything works together at the back-end. For example: even though I have a person in mind when I write a blog post, it doesn’t mean I can write about whatever topics I like for that person. In the digital marketing world, I need to understand what keywords and phrases my target audience uses when he or she searches specific topics. Then, I make an effort to seamlessly integrate these keywords into my blog post. Why do I do that? Because it will impact the organic search and ranking of my website and the blog post.
To elevate the domain authority of my website, I need to reach out to relevant sites to make sure that they do a link back to my site. The more sites that link to my site, the more apparent my domain authority becomes to Google’s algorithm. It’s like the more people mention you, the more popular you probably are. (Unless you’re an airline, in which case the opposite may be true.)
So when you create content, you really need to think in advance about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and your content syndication channels. If you are working on nurturing your leads, you need to understand what content they have downloaded to gauge their interests and purchase intent. To do that, your back-end needs to be integrated to help you do the necessary analysis. You won’t know how digital works until you know how the back-end works.
Digital marketing is complicated because it touches on technology
That also means there are endless possibilities to integrate and remix to various channels. When you are a traditional marketer, you can be a generalist and still do a good job. When you are a digital marketer, you need to be both a generalist and a specialist. It’s likely that you will focus on a specific discipline, but you still need to understand how everything ties together. Yoda said it well. You need to unlearn what you’ve learned. It took me 3-4 years to really understand the intricacies of the back-end and how everything works. The journey never stops. When you stop learning, you stop living.