"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," wrote William Shakespeare. The often quoted line from "Romeo and Juliet" reflects Juliet's conviction that the label of a thing has little or no bearing on its substance. What really matters is the qualities of the thing itself. Today's marketing professional bearing the word "digital" in his or her title might relate to Juliet's sentiment; I know I do. We, the digital marketers, are experts at the tools that make up the segment of marketing currently known as "digital marketing," but these days, most things are either digital or are able to be extended and amplified through digital technology. So where does that leave the digital marketer in the overarching ecosystem of marketing? Let's start by taking a look at the core discipline.
According to Wikipedia (the only true source of credible information on the planet), essential to the role of the marketer is the "process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling the product or service."
This definition is void of reference to technology, media, or anything related to the way in which the communication occurs, and while the digital marketer may be an expert at communicating via technologically enabled channels, we are still held to the standard of our core function: Marketing. Hence, one must ask whether the modifier "digital" is essential to one's title.
The need for experts in specialist areas of marketing is incontestable. Ten years ago, when digital marketers were thought of in the same light as IT professionals, there was a need for a differentiated role. Much to my chagrin, this need still exists today, so I continue to wear the "digital marketer" moniker with pride. How long will this be the case? My prediction is that the need for large digital marketing teams will reach a peak followed by a stark decline beginning in three to five years. Why this time frame? Well, we still have a lot of work to do in mobile and other "tradigital" arenas (apologies for the use of a silly buzz phrase).
Beyond the aforementioned three- to five-year timeline, I predict we will see a resurgence of the clichéd and much maligned discipline, "emerging media and marketing" (a moniker I also wore for years). This role will solely focus on cutting edge trends in disciplines like computer vision, artificial intelligence, and new ways to search for and discover the information in the world around us. This role will focus, as it did in the past, on the integration of the latest and greatest tech into brand marketing, but it will not be like the era in which we saw this title run rampant. Advances in technology will continue to grow exponentially, but the ramifications will not be as significant for mainstream marketing as they were in the years when mobile and social first took center stage.
My advice for those currently working in digital marketing is to begin to build bridges to all disciplines adjacent to your own (i.e., communications, sponsorships, consumer research/ insights, and public relations). Take stock of your strengths and weaknesses, and begin to think about how your knowledge can bring new energy to these tried and true disciplines. Acknowledge that the professionals that once needed your guidance with all things digital are beginning to think digitally themselves. One day soon, you will either be called on for your general creativity, knowledge, and ability to formulate and execute a strategy, or you may not be called on at all.
We still have about 10 years before deep digital skills are an expectation of all marketers. Some companies are closer than others, but at the outer limits, my estimate is that in 10 years the title "digital marketer" will be completely absorbed into other core marketing disciplines. This is significant for digital and non-digital marketers alike. This article could have just as easily been titled "The death of the traditional marketer," but it would have been no fun to write and certainly would not have gotten your attention as easily.
Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of MasterCard.
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