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In 2010 when my then boss told me about a new media that was going to rock our marketing worlds I wasn’t quite able to fathom it. Back then digital marketing was limited to having a Facebook page and posting a few statuses at the right time (usually 9 PM). It was the good old simple times when organic reach (percentage of total fans reached without spending on media) was more than 30%. Anything you posted on your profile or from your brand’s page would most likely be seen by your peers and discussed the next day. Presence on digital (or rather just Facebook because digital meant only Facebook back then) was more like a good to have rather than a must-have. The landscape started to change in the next couple of years before rapidly expanding to the current scenario today. All businesses want to come online. A lot of them already have and are now trying to figure out the best possible way to maintain it. We now have multiple full-serviced digital agencies from one-man shows to upwards of 50-employee ones. Most of them if not all claim to be great at digital marketing and offer a range of solutions like search, social, mobile, e-commerce, etc. Some would take a different route and will mention solutions in paid, earned, and owned.

While there is no doubt that a digital adaptation strategy is essential for today’s businesses as more and more people come online. However, some businesses are guilty of being tunnel-visioned while handling this transformation. Adding digital departments/resources to our organizations and partnering with digital agencies is the order of the day. These newly formed teams often work in silos and formulate strategies on their own. So a typical annual marketing plan will have two parts now: an overall marketing plan and a digital plan worked on by two separate teams: the old marketing team and the new digital team.

With relatively new concepts such as search, social, mobile, analytics, and more to manage, it’s no surprise that digital marketing can become somewhat overwhelming. Marketing has always had a big responsibility for most businesses, but the rapid changes enabled by the internet can mean that everything starts to pile up very quickly. The result is small businesses feel that they can’t compete, and large businesses quickly end up making mistakes due to a confused sprawling mess of accounts and responsibilities. Hence strategy and planning are so important to effective digital marketing. A small company with limited resources has a great opportunity to compete on a comparatively level playing field compared to the costs of an expensive ATL advertising campaign, for example, but needs to be hyper-focused to use those resources most effectively. Meanwhile, a larger business needs just as much clarity in order to coordinate a larger range of initiatives, and both need to plan for their efforts to constantly evolve throughout the space as platforms and priorities change.

This brings me to the title of this article “The digital marketing bubble”. The phrase “digital marketing” should be dumped according to Pepsico’s Global Beverage Group President, Brad Jakeman. I can’t help but agree. “Marketing on digital” explains the phenomenon that it is a little better. I wonder if we are over glorifying one platform where there are other channels still at play and still relevant. Only 7% of word of mouth is generated online whereas the rest 93% is still induced from real human interaction. The good old understanding of the target audience first and formulating a big idea based on business, marketing, and communication objectives are still not out of fashion. Rather than setting up separate digital departments and hoping that these new young tech-savvy guys will take care of the PPCs, CPAs, etc the existing marketing teams should be trained to understand the opportunities that this now-not-so-new media presents. It’s a matter of three to four weeks of curiosity and studying to become Google certified and being savvy with Facebook ads for example. But it takes years to truly understand marketing in its full glory. Figure 1 is a highly simplified version of the typical funnel marketers use to formulate marketing strategies. What is interesting to see is that the decision to be on “digital” (even though its influence is significant) comes in much later. So it will be a good idea for the “digital marketers” of today to catch up on or refresh their memory on marketing concepts and philosophies as a whole. On the other hand, there is no real excuse to shy away from learning about the opportunities presented by this ecosystem by the “traditional” marketers. Rather than creating departments our organizations should pivot themselves into adapting digital throughout the whole organization. Technologies and tools will change but a fundamental understanding of human behavior and psychology will remain the same. Who knows, in 2020 I might be writing another article named “The wearables bubble” because marketers will have been focusing too much on “Wearables marketing” where our smartwatches, glasses are bombarded with CPI (Cost per Interaction) ads. Like the beginning of the article I would like to end with a quote from one of my other former bosses which somewhat goes like this “Most likely if you are not over 55 years old yet, you will not be able to retire (properly) without learning digital”.