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Non-marketers in digital marketing

Update: This is now the most visited page on my website. I wonder what the agree/disagree ratio is?

Note that I have ranted about this subject for numerous years in diverse places and via an assortment of media.

Since the birth of online marketing (1994, in my opinion) there has always been a battle between marketers and techies (my affable term for anyone with a computer science qualification). My argument - as a marketer - is that digital is a platform for marketing messages, and so it is a marketing discipline. Techies - well, some of them - feel that anything that happens on a computer is a computer science discipline. However, TV engineers never claimed that adverts on TV belonged to them, so why should computer scientists claim that marketing on computers is part of their domain?

The fault is not wholly one-sided, however. In the early days of the web, too many marketers eschewed the new media - mainly for fear of computers because they knew little about them or what they could do - and were happy to let the IT department control the organization's web presence. The realisation by the successful online businesses (the likes of Amazon and ebay) that to be effective you need input from both technical staff and marketers has - too slowly - filtered down to some lesser organizations when another - related - problem came to be recognized by some of those with a recognised status in the discipline.

The problem is this: there are a lot of people working as digital marketers who do not know even the fundamentals of marketing. These people may well be good, excellent even, at one aspect of digital marketing (search engine optimization is an obvious example), but they do not appreciate how that element is - or should be - an integral part of a wider digital operation. In turn, this means they certainly do not understand how their relatively small element fits into the organization's strategic marketing. And the situation is getting worse because some of these non-marketers are being promoted to positions of Digital Managers, or even Marketing Managers. That's a situation that will rarely end happily for anyone involved, not least because they will always favour digital over non-digital marketing ... and that's not always effective or efficient. This is one reason why I am something of an anti-digital-marketing digital marketer.

Similarly, these experts are finding jobs writing about digital marketing - though normally online rather than in books. In one leading industry online publication I recently read an article whose non-marketing-qualified author said; 'Return on Investment (ROI) has rapidly become a buzzword among marketers: a phrase that is often used, but rarely defined.' Sadly, the young writer is correct in that these non-marketing marketers have never come across the concept of ROI and so it has become a buzzword. However, for anyone who has studied marketing, ROI is a pre-requisite of any marketing strategy, tactic or campaign. ROI is business 101 - and marketing is part of business. And as for 'rarely defined', what's simpler than returns should exceed costs? In a similar publication I read advice for ecommerce product pages that read as if the suggestions were revolutionary. Sadly, to the non-marketers they probably were. To anyone with any sales experience they were things you picked up as the way it's done in the first week on the job. Note that account based marketing covered in the next section is also an example of this phenomenon.

Completing the circle back to 20 years ago; these non-marketing digital-marketers come from technical and/or computer science backgrounds where their degree and/or experience does not include any knowledge and understanding of strategic marketing - of which digital is just one part. The contents list of any Strategic Marketing text book or any marketing degree programme syllabus will confirm that not only is digital about a tenth of all marketing, but that it comes near the end where it requires the reader/learner to understand the basics before studying that element - how can a SEO specialist target a specific market segment if he or she does not know what market segmentation is, what its advantages are, what its failings are - or how, if you get it wrong - it can alienate potential customers rather than attract them?

Furthermore, as was the case at the end of the last century and into this one, computer scientists in marketing posts will invariably produce tactics and strategies that are led by technology - not by the needs of the customer. As Seth Godin said in his influential book, Meatball Sundae (2007); 'New marketing isn't about technology any more than fast food (and the drive-through window) is about cars'. That said, I also freely accept that too many marketers have shown little enthusiasm to learning the very basics of digital technology that that they need to know in order to practice or teach contemporary marketing.

Of course, this situation is not new. I have always been amazed at how often 'non-marketers' are appointed to marketing posts. I recall a local theatre that seemed to be in a downward spiral towards closure as audiences dropped. Marketing managers/directors were appointed and sacked, seemingly, every couple of months. And do you know what? None of these 'marketers' had any qualifications in marketing [e.g. why would a concert-standard musician - famous in their own sphere - be any good at marketing a multi-million pound organization?]. Fortunately, that theatre is currently enjoying unprecedented success ... led by a proper marketer.

Marketing education must also shoulder some of the blame. Public Relations - PR - programmes are nearly always delivered in universities' media schools/departments. Closer to the digital home ... so is marketing on social media. And all are taught by folk with no marketing qualifications. In other words, students are taught subjects in isolation with no understanding of those subjects role in the wider marketing strategy. That students of these programmes go on to find jobs in those fields suggests that those doing the employing [also] have no marketing qualifications. The blind leading the blind?

My contention is that marketing as a discipline is vastly under-rated by the majority of folk who run or manage any kind of organization. Or teach any aspect of business that isn't marketing - hence the prejudice goes on. 'Oh it's just the 4Ps' they say. Yeah, and rocket science is just about creating an explosion that moves something. Marketing is the only element of business that creates income. Every other element of business costs money. That the most successful companies on the planet are extremely good at marketing is just a co-incidence, they say. No, they are the most successful companies on the planet because they are extremely good at marketing. That is marketing in its broadest sense ... not just the 4Ps.

We also have a similar situation in some academic papers on digital marketing ... see The effects of blogger recommendations on customers' online shopping intentions in academic articles: why are so many such shite?.

Some random examples of non-marketing marketers that I have come across

#1. When a practicing digital marketer published a blog article entitled; 24 Marketers You Should Follow on Twitter, outspoken marketing Professor (of Marketing at Melbourne Business School), Mark Ritson took a look at the background of the 24 named marketers. He found that only four had any formal marketing training or education. Ritson's subsequent article in caused something of a furore amongst the non-marketing marketers - but then it would, wouldn't it?
Professor Mark Ritson is outspoken on this subject. In a recent rant he asked the question: Why would we not employ the likes of an electrician, plumber, chef or optician if they were not qualified and yet so many organizations are willing to appoint people as marketers when they have had no education or training in the discipline?

#2. I came across impressive looking MsC in Digital Marketing and Data Science at a European University [delivered in English]. It is headed up by a 'Professor in Digital Marketing' who is also 'Adjunct Professor of Digital Marketing' at a second university. Her educational profile is mightily impressive: Ph.D. in Management; Eligibility as Full Professor in Management; Eligibility as Associate Professor; MIT Program inData and Models in Engineering Science and Business; MIT Program in Individual Choice Behavior: Theory and Application of Discrete Choice Analysis; Degree (Master of Science) in Business Administration.
The only thing missing seems to be the word 'marketing'. Her list of publications is also exceptional. But, again, the word 'marketing' is absent in all but a couple of occasions.
Further investigation of the MsC, however, suggests it is actually a computer science programme, not a marketing programme. Yes, the skill sets of 'marketing technologists' are required, but as support to marketers - not 'marketing' per se. Naturally, that's just my opinion. Call me old fashioned, but I would have thought that a programme on digital marketing would cover such off-the-wall things as: website development, e-commerce, email marketing, search engine optimization, online advertising and marketing on social media. This one doesn't. Yep ... we'll end up with even more non-marketers in marketing.

#3. I've seen Dan Sodergren on the BBC a couple of times. He is witty and engaging - an excellent guest on the likes of 'Breakfast News' where an 'expert' is required to explain something in the news to less knowledgable viwers. He is introduced as a 'marketing expert'. He uses the same title for his YouTube pages that feature these interviews. Similarly, he refers to himself as being an 'expert' in a number of digital marketing disciplines [though not all]. His experience would suggest he may well be an 'expert' in these things. He has no qualifications in marketing.

#4. I read No search volume? No problem! 3 ways to improve low-traffic AdWords campaigns with interest, thinking it would be useful for the web page of the online advertising chapter of DMAPA3 - and as such, it's not bad. However as I read on I realised that the author was explaining how to squeeze an online demand for something where there wasn't an online demand. To be fair, he does suggest 'spread[ing] the word and build[ing] awareness and demand' - saying this is 'marketing 101'. But, of course, he suggests using network [i.e. online] advertising. His success/reputation [and very good they seem to be] is in programmatic advertising. He has no qualifications in marketing. In the case of the products he gives as examples, I would have advised that the marketing budget be spent elsewhere ... and that 'elsewhere' would be offline.
And that, in a nutshell, is where marketing experience/training/education comes into play. Online is not the only option. Sometimes it isn't an effective option. But if you're not aware of the benefits/advantages of the various other offline options ...

#5. There are some reasonable tips included in become an SEO rock star: Evolve your SEO skill set, however, its author makes no mention of needing to know [even] the basics of marketing to be a 'SEO rock star'. But why should he, he has no experience/education in marketing himself? Furthermore, he suggests that SEOs should; ' ... always look for a position that will allow you to grow beyond your current SEO skill set. Exposure to other functional areas in the organization, and/or even responsibilities to manage other groups as part of your role, will help build you into a well-rounded professional.' As career advice this is good ... but see my comments above re non-marketers being promoted to positions of Digital Managers, or even Marketing Managers.

#6. There is a certain irony to Marketing in 2018: Too tactical and not strategic enough? in that we have a non-marketer offering advice to [probably] other non-marketers ... with the recipients [probably] learning something from it. Note the opening line; 'Much is written about marketing 'strategies' and 'tactics', and these two terms are often used interchangeably.' Errr ... if you have studied marketing - or business - you will not use the two interchangeably. They are two different things ... as all students taking any business-related university programme will discover in year one. That is, if they didn't already know it from studying any business-related subject at school. Of coures, the author of the article is a computer scientist, of late concentrating on analytics. He has not studied strategic marketing. As a personal conclusion: the author does not differentiate between 'strategy' and 'strategic' - I think you can be strategic without having a strategy [one word's an adjective, the other a noun]. As I say in Digital Marketing III;
'... strategy suggests some kind of document exists that has been agreed by all the parties concerned and that is then developed into a plan, which is then disseminated around those interested parties (departments) who then unquestioningly follow the plan because not to do so would be more than my job is worth ... strategic is looking beyond day-to-day operations, but at the same time is flexible enough to react to change or be proactive when opportunities arise'.
You may not agree with the point I'm making - but at least I have enough knowledge and understanding to argue that there is a point to be made.

#7. This one is as much against publishers of marketing stuff as it is the individual concerned. In itself, the content of Brand building on Instagram: What marketers need to know is OK. My problem is that it is presented not so much as a story, but as guidance - or even instruction. Which leads into my real issue with it.
Although 'brand building' is in the title - and some of the content addresses branding - other elements of the story address online sales [income generation] and the use of Instagram to address operational problems [service and support].
Perhaps its author is unaware of such nuances in marketing? After all, she has no qualifications or experience in marketing ... she just writes about it :-)

#8. Although it is the case with some of the previous examples, I want to use clothing retailers must adapt to weather-driven changes in search behaviour to emphasise a point. As with the previous example, the author is a journalist. She is a qualified journalist. I am not questioning her abilities as a journalist - but the 'story' is presented more as advice than as an article.
The article itself is reasonable ... but its basis is something I knew during my time in retail back in the 1970s/80s. And retailers have known for, well ... ever. And it is taught in 'business' classes at school, let alone tertiary and higher education. It would seem that writers and publishers feel it is a good idea to present this kind of [old] knowledge to readers - because that knowledge is useful to those readers.
Which brings me to the point of my using this article as an example. If someone is working in Digital Marketing they should already have the knowledge - and understanding - of this kind of subject. They should not need to be reading it in 'trade' journals.

How to cite this article:
Charlesworth, A. (2018). Non-marketers in digital marketing. Retrieved [insert date] from

This page was first published on this domain in February 2018 ... but it was on Alan's musings before that.

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