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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 - including the third edition of my book Digital Marketing: a Practical Approach.

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.

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 ... and 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, that's right, I say ... 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, say I ... they are the most successful companies on the planet because they are extremely good at marketing. And even though product is one of the 4Ps, it is not the 'best' product that is the most successful - folk reading this who have studied marketing will be able to insert examples here.

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 shyte?.

On a slight tangent to the main thrust of this page/notion is that without formal education in marketing, even the best of 'techie' non-marketers in digital marketing - those who have successfully made the transformation - look at marketing from a computer science perspective and that is reflected in their writing and teaching of the subject. As marketing, this is fundamentally flawed in that whilst marketing is about meeting customer needs; computer science does not start with the customer. Often the nuances of the scientific perspective are subtle - going unnoticed by some readers/listeners, particularly those from a scientific background who feel an affinity with the content's presentation. But, ultimately, it will produce ineffective marketing tactics and strategies.

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 marketingweek.com 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. However ... 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 coure, 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 :-)

The same online publication gave us How direct-to-consumer brands are using social to scale - again, written by a qualified journalist who has no marketing qualifications. Its opening sentence is Social media provides direct-to-consumer businesses with the rocket fuel they need to scale their business at speed. Now ... I reckon that meets a number of journalistic requirements, not least to grab the attention of the reader. Sadly, in marketing terms, the statement is shite. Let's ignore the fact that you will not find 'rocket fuel' anywhere in the marketing mix [4Ps and an R, anyone?], and at least add a 'might', or 'can' as the third word. I would actually include 'might just possibly for the right product'. Repeating a bug bear of mine [read any of my books] is that it is never clear in the article whether the various elements of it refer to social media pages 'owned' by the seller, adverts placed on individual's pages on social media pages ... or the use of influencers who use social media platforms to do their influencing? But the main problem is that I know that as a piece of advice; social media provides direct-to-consumer businesses with the rocket fuel they need to scale their business at speed is shite. But what about that entrepreneur who has just invented/developed a new product and is reading Marketing Week because she thinks that is where she will get the right marketing advice? Or that non-marketer in digital marketing?
Oh, and as a footnote to the qualified journalist: media is plural, so there should be no 's' at the end of 'provides'. There's grammar school education for you :-).

Another example from the same publication - and another author who writes about marketing without any qualifications in, or experience of, marketing. In The Holly Effect: Why primetime TV stars are the new fashion influencers the author makes the revelation that the model of 'influencers' has shifted offline from online. Ahem, I think she will find that the use of influencers moved online after existing offline for, oh let me think ... ever.

#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.

#9. Just in case he comes looking for me; a reminder that my gripe is with the system that allows the situation to exist - not the individuals in it. This story stems from an article called What to think about when pricing a product in [again] Marketing Week. I read it because the question belongs in any Introduction to Marketing type book. Sure enough, it was pretty basic stuff. However, it soon became evident [to me, anyway] that it was a 'native' ad for Marketing Week's Mini MBA in Marketing delivered by the excellent Professor Mark Ritson [pricing is one of the modules]. I've no problem with this - it's marketing. But what did bother me were some of the recommendations for the course built into the article as quotes on pricing. One in particular said:
' ... this insight has helped the [his] company to start approaching marketing products based on the perceived value, rather than purely on price. Companies that fixate on cost often are in a race to the bottom. Better, and smarter, marketing is clearly a better approach'.
But here's the kicker: the quote was from a recent graduate of the programme who is director of a PR and marketing consultancy. A quick check on the individual's LinkedIn profile revealed that he is director and co-founder of a B2B Technology PR & Marketing agency, with a history of similar roles in similar organizations going back to 2006 and some employment in marketing communications and PR before that - predominently, it seems - in the 'digital' field. It is a reasonably impressive work history. Particularly for someone with no marketing qualifications.
This is someone who has worked in marketing and [shudder] has acted as a consultant in marketing who has just discovered that you can: 'market products based on the perceived value, rather than purely on price'. [double shudder] The Americans would class that concept as being part of Marketing 101. I've taught it in colleges on business [not marketing] qualifications. 'Nuff said?

#11. This is the case of a small business offering 'social media' advice and services to clients. Now let me say upfront I doff my cap to anyone who starts their own business, I wish everyone of them every success and I would never do anything to cause such a business to fail. And that's a good enough reason for this example to remain anonymous. But ...
On the website of this business the service offered is referred to as 'social media'. Indeed, the word 'marketing' appears only once on the entire site.
In the owner's work history she is described as having ' ... over a decade in project management and a degree in IT and Technology'. Her educational achievements - as shown on LinkedIn - though impressive, do not include the word 'marketing'. Membership of the Social Media Managers Association ... which does not seem to have any other accreditation other than its own.
There is a certain irony that I feel I should make it clear at this point that the service being offered is all about marketing on social media, not social media.
The website includes two headlines that read: 'Social Media can now boast to being one of the biggest drivers of sales for businesses globally' and 'Social Media is PROVEN to increase your sales'. My own opinion is that both of these statements are just plain wrong. They are at the very least, contentious. However, I know this is the case ... but what about those small business owners who seek help in a subject they know nothing about. And this is an expert telling them these things.
When I do any consultancy I always sign a contract, the key elements - sometimes the only elements - of which are that [1] I cannot divulge to any third party anything I might learn about the organization as a result of my consultancy work, and [2] that any advice I might offer is not guaranteed to be effective. So any website that says, as part of its sales pitch: 'Social Media is PROVEN to increase your sales' is dicing with a legal claim without a safety net [there's nothing like a good mixed metaphor].

#12. Following on from the previous example is this one on degrees in Social Media Management. I was recently killing time within reach of a host of prospectus from a number of universities and a quick perusal revealed that such programmes are pretty common. They are all delivered by 'media' faculties or schools - often related to journalism courses. All describe the management of social media sites. Now ... call me naive, but a social media site is part of the marketing of an organization. And yet none of these courses had modules on marketing. Indeed, the word 'marketing' was pretty scarce in all of the programme descriptions.

#13. I have railed against bad onsite search facilities since they first appeared on e-commerce/retail websites. Some sellers have got it right, but they are few in number, so when I came across Innovators in E-Commerce: How Retail is Progressing in the Site Search Maturity Model I took a look ... expecting to see something innovative. But, yep - the solutions were all expected to be technical. Oh dear.
I revert back to what I advised organizations to do in the last century when I referred to the 'red sweater syndrome'. The start point has to be this. You take a group of people who are experienced in selling the products [that are available on the site] in shops. That is, real shops, not virtual ones. Obviously, this is easier if you're an offline shop going online, because you already employ such people. Oh, and another thing to emphasise: I'm talking about folk who actually sell products on the shop floor - not their managers or supervisors. And here's what you do: you ask them what people ask for when they enter the shop and then what they are guided to buy. So if someone comes in and asks for a 'summer dress', which items would the sales person show them. And which accessories to up or cross sell. And there ladies and gentleman are your search results. Once again, an example of human experience trumping artificial intelligence. But then getting in a group of mere sales staff to advise computer scientists does little for the ego of those highly qualified know-it-all scientists does it? It seems that asking the opinion of people who actually know about the subject is not innovative enough?
Oh - and the last thing you should do is leave the development of the search fields [the answers to the search questions] to the IT folk. Which brings me to the reason this article is included here. It's author, a Product Marketing Manager for an organization that '... allows websites and mobile applications to increase user engagement and conversions' has no qualifications in marketing. Or retail. Or retail experience. Hmmm.

How to cite this article:
Charlesworth, A. (2018). Non-marketers in digital marketing. Retrieved [insert date] from AlanCharlesworth.com: https://www.alancharlesworth.com/non-marketers-in-digital-marketing.html

This page was first published on this domain in February 2018 ... but it was on alancharlesworth.eu before that.

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