Perfection doesn’t exist in today’s digital marketing. There is no mountaintop. Whether we’re talking about in-house marketers or agency pros, the industry is evolving so quickly—with privacy and automation in, and cookies and channel-specific minutiae out—that the very best a marketer can do is stay on top of trends, refine strategies, learn and re-learn critical skills, and stay focused on driving real business outcomes.
We’re moving into a world where marketers will have to be much more holistic and sophisticated in their approach. People need to be prepared to train and learn new skills and rethink the skills they thought they had already mastered. As networks, tracking, and audience building completely changes, the entire way we approach digital marketing needs to change.
If this isn’t daunting enough, personnel and media budgets are shrinking across the board as markets vacillate and funding streams dry up. In industry after industry, CMOs are feeling like they have a gallon of water to cover an acre of land.
How will the best agencies pivot to support their clients in this digital marketing landscape? Let’s look at the role agencies should prepare to play—and how they should train their employees in order to fulfill that role.
Safe Harbor in a Storm
Companies planning their internal marketing future are weighing whether to retrain their teams, hire new experts, or find replacements better equipped to handle the changing landscape. Each of those options requires either time, money, or both, at a time when both are in short supply.
As a result of the changes happening in the market, many companies are taking an employee-light, agency/contractor-heavy approach to deal with the parts of their business experiencing a great deal of uncertainty. JDM, and agencies in general, are in a unique position to tackle today’s challenges because we are built to pivot quickly. Lean, organized marketing agencies are evolving so our clients’ teams don’t need to relearn everything to move forward—or spend lots of time looking for in-house resources they may not be able to afford.
Marketing agencies and the marketers who compose them need to evolve from being tactical operators to strategic marketing partners. Thanks to automation and tech complexity, days of relying on single-channel expertise are over. Marketers need to learn to define marketing strategies, get creative in building new audiences, manage multiple channels, and help pull the whole picture together for clients in a cogent way—rather than learning to master the violin, we need to learn how to conduct the orchestra. Put simply, digital marketing agencies need to move from operating as paid search or paid social experts to providing full digital marketing expertise. And they need to commit to staying nimble so they can flex to effectively serve clients as the changes keep coming.
Here’s how Google sees it:
So how do agencies get from the image on the left to the image on the right? They hire and develop talent differently than before.
Building Better Marketers
I’ve given dozens of speeches on the importance of being a T-Shaped marketer in my time as a marketing leader, but I’ll never give those speeches again. T-shaped marketers have a shallow understanding of many marketing disciplines and a deep understanding of one or two primary areas of focus. Unfortunately, T-shaped marketers are doomed in the new marketing world because dependence on a few marketing skills is a recipe for failure when things are changing as quickly as they are in today’s marketing landscape.
Digital marketers should be looking for opportunities to expand their horizons and help push an overarching marketing strategy. We need to evolve into V-Shaped marketers. The V-Shaped marketer has a deep understanding of 1 or 2 channels and the ability to jump in and take on the challenges of new channels and strategies as they emerge, and continuously deepen our skill sets. The V-Shaped marketer is how we build our team at JDM, and this helps us to better deliver on our promise to clients. We retrain and expand our skills so they don’t have to—this is what the next iteration of agencies should look like.
I always say that we don’t sell marketing; we sell peace of mind. In that sense, our core offering—our client promise—will persist, but how we fulfill it will change. If we do our job right, hopefully our clients won’t even realize that the marketing revolution is here.