The Death of the Digital Marketing Career

By Dan Bernard, Vice President, Financial Services

"If you want a career at the cutting edge, go digital. Learn search. Learn site. Learn social." This was the advice we gave (or perhaps received as) young marketers 10 years ago. And it's been a fairly constant refrain since that time - a nearly sure bet given ever-expanding budgets and the proliferation of new digital channels.

But it is 2016 and something feels different. In nearly every corner we are starting to ask digital marketers to be something they are not. Digital marketing as a career is dying. And there is more than a little irony in what is coming next. In 2016, marketing is going "old school," creating a significant skill and talent gap. More than ever, we need our old school marketers back!

Rumors that are not exaggerated.

First, the obvious: Digital marketing is becoming more targeted, more "addressable." The signs: Google announces ever-improving ability to target individuals across digital media; Facebook's addressable platform continues its rapid expansion; DMPs mature and become a permanent part of the marketing portfolio; the accelerating rate of launch of targeting platforms which tap new pools of data; the now-significant movement to consolidate the marketing ad tech stack into a few planning-centered cloud-based platforms...just to name a few.

As a result, "digital marketing" is becoming less about broad-reach ad buys based (perhaps) on one size fits all or high level segments. Instead, more and more inventory is bought at the individual level, shifting the momentum in our digital portfolios toward channels based on "lists." Old school lists. And now that lists are involved, all of a sudden we need a "new" set of disciplines to manage them. Think for example, campaign analytics and management: targeting models, test design, frequency/sequence/cadence planning, and so on.

Secondly, digital is being asked to "play nice with others." Cross-channel, omni-channel, portfolio marketing - there are a number of names for this, but the conversation is the same. Companies today are trying to create rich, coherent experiences while deploying media as efficiently as possible. Measurement itself is evolving to support this change with "last click" giving way to "event streams" in which individual marketing touches receive partial credit for their contribution to a sale.

Finally, all of this is happening at a time when the line between online and offline media is blurring. TV is both being consumed digitally and becoming addressable at scale. Mobile is replacing some forms of offline and digital media, consuming a greater portion of our day to day. Even the Internet of Things is trickling into our lives, offering more ways to connect across media and more ways for "digital" to seemingly disappear.

New opportunities for new- and old-school marketers alike.

Taken together, these changes are causing digital to be understood as just one piece of a larger equation where the focus is on cross-media ROI against specific customer segments. Many of the disciplines required to thrive in this environment are the stock and trade of traditionally addressable media like direct mail and email (media which themselves are enjoying a bit of a resurgence) and telemarketing. In the near term, this creates opportunity for these old school marketers to deploy their skills in new contexts. For example, the campaign manager running, say, direct mail, may have the best tool sets to deliver media and experiences against a segment across marketing touchpoints. Similarly, the analyst who built segments or measured media for traditionally addressable media has new opportunities to drive insight across the marketing portfolio. In many cases, analytics leads are now vested with responsibility to allocate budgets against segments and portfolios, driving strategy along the way.

The opportunity is a little different for the digital specialist. After all, we've reached the point where a whole generation of marketers - planners, optimizers, strategists, analysts - has grown up completely in digital media. Many of these individuals are super stars being put into positions where the expectation is that they can manage more than digital.

For these individuals, the challenge is to recognize the increasingly addressable nature of marketing and become immersed in the language of things like value, scoring, attribution...maybe even learning a thing or two about traditional media planning and maturity cycles in the process.

At the same time, these individuals have powerful contributions to make by seeking out new ways to reach consumers and pull relevant experiences through a consumer's entire set of company interactions. For example, imagine "planning" a landing experience tied to an addressable TV view the way one plans a direct mail campaign. Now add to this campaign tailored search, digital media, and even messaging within new types of connected devices.

All of these things can be done today, but their effectiveness and speed of adoption depends on our ability to blend skill sets, creating a new kind of marketer with digital in their job description but not their title. In this context, those entering marketing will experience a new kind of career path. And it will be a path that, from the vantage point of today's digital marketer, looks more than a little old-school.