When iMedia asked me to take up this topic, I had a couple of concerns. The first was that I would be treading the well-trodden path laid by hayseed comedian Jeff Foxworthy, whose "You might be a redneck if..." schtick has remained lodged in our cultural digestive tract like a stack of flapjacks for the last couple decades, and I have no desire to run afoul of what I imagine to be his army of suspender-stretching, drawling copyright attorneys. My second concern was that by voicing concern No. 1, I might be outing myself as a fan, by the same grade-school lunch-room logic that answers "This tastes like crap" with "How do you know what crap tastes like?"
But then I realized that this dilemma had conveniently spun up for me my first "You know"-ism, and now I'm off to the races:
You know you're a digital marketer when it's not copyright infringement; it's a meme.
Many of us never met a bandwagon we didn't want to jump on, and there is no surer bandwagon than a hot meme -- provided you manage to jump on before it arrives at Triteville or Beentheredonethatburg (see Microsoft's sad co-opting of the Double Rainbow Guy as Exhibit A). There are now talent agencies set up for the specific purpose of making sure everybody in the meme-to-sellout food chain -- including, presumably, the copyright lawyers -- get paid. And if you're enterprising enough to represent the fickle interests of Grumpy Cat in a boardroom full of Hollywood suits, then I say more power to you.
Should digital marketers be making such flagrant use of memes? I am compelled to answer in the form of a meme:
You know you're a digital marketer if you're pretty sure SXSW peaked in 2007.
As you know, all able-bodied digital marketers are called upon to make a pilgrimage to Austin each spring to receive a headful of digital innovation/inspiration and a bellyful of smoked brisket. But this annual ritual is also accompanied by obligatory blog-based belly-aching (at least partly brisket-induced, one has to believe) about how "South-by" just ain't what it used to be – it's now too corporate, too unfocused, or contains too many fauxhawks.
This is due, in part, to the fact that 2007 is to SXSW what 1977 is to punk -- the annus mirabilis that changed everything that came after. Twitter was announced at the 2007 show, and there hasn't been a watershed of that magnitude since. (But that might actually be true of digital marketing rather than SXSW specifically.) So if you were there in '07, you have a certain glimmer to your digital marketing star that the rest of us lack. And to all you whippersnappers who hadn't even graduated in 2007 but are nonetheless driving the industry forward at SXSW and everywhere else -- well, you just shoulda been there, man. You shoulda been there.
You know you're a digital marketer if you secretly can't understand who wouldn't want targeted ads.
OK, admit it. You've pondered with requisite sobriety and chin-stroking the legitimate privacy concerns raised in the debate over tracking cookies and big data, but in your dark little marketer heart, you don't really understand why anyone wouldn't want ads to be more relevant to them. When I leaf through the quaintly rustling pages of my beloved New Yorker (OK, I'm lying, I read it on my iPad), and I see ads "targeting" me with a Patek Philippe diving watch, it is of no surprise to me that print ad revenues are plunging like a Patek Philippe strapped to an anchor. I'm sure I will be buying a quarter-million dollar watch right after I splurge on a rug to replace the one that the dog keeps peeing on.
No, I say, give me a digital publication that knows me, where I can still be targeted with Jeep ads two years after buying the damn Jeep. (Wait, no, bad example.) The point is, I like it when Gmail reads a reference in my email to "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" and then targets me with Viagra ads. (Wait, no, also bad.)
Maybe the point is that we've got some work to do in making ad targeting more refined, elegant, and relevant, and then everyone will think it's as cool as we do.
You know you're a digital marketer when everything has a "long tail."
If digital marketing had a mascot (and why don't we, by the way?), it would have to be the lemur, distinguished for the length of its tail (and the wetness of its nose, but I'm not sure that's relevant here). The long tail is the digital marketer's friend not only because it sounds impressive and looks cool in an infographic, but also because it pretty accurately describes a lot of what we do.
Chris Anderson popularized the metaphor in his eponymous 2004 book, and digital marketers have been invoking it ever since. As you no doubt know, since iMedia alone has published 541 articles containing the term, the long tail refers to the statistical distribution of a whole lot of small-scale activity as opposed to one big heap of activity, or in our case, the ability to micro-target specific interests instead of aiming for the mass market.
We're fond of telling each other there's gold in the long tail, and it is here that the elegance of the metaphor begins to break down, since tails do not typically contain gold, but rather burrs, fleas, and matted hair. Still, if you've used the term in the last month to describe your search strategy, your online merchandising, or the persistent recurrence of that Space Nazi movie in your Netflix recommendations, then congratulations -- you're one of us.
You know you're a digital marketer when you'd rather read an infographic.
I was going to go all meta on you and replace this section with an infographic about the popularity of infographics, but it turns out that some clever and more visually gifted people beat me to it. So I will instead tout their work here and here. Digital marketers especially love infographics because we tend to drink a little more deeply from the firehose of big data, and we need ways to convey said data to colleagues who prefer the drip hose.
We are living in the grand age of visualization, and while some might complain that spinning complex ideas into colorful confectionaries in a candy-store window frame is a way of substituting fluff for substance, I say we are none the worse for it. In fact, I lay down the challenge (and it should be noted that no challenge I have laid in my articles has ever been taken up) for someone to jump on the bandwagon of those "Year of [Insert Jackass Idea Here]" books and spend a year getting 100 percent of their new media content from infographics. I submit that this brave soul would emerge better informed, more expressive, and 20 pounds heavier, because damned if those infographics don't look like snack food labels. Or maybe that's just me.
You know you're a digital marketer when you've blogged or tweeted somebody else's social media fail.
I've written before about the digital marketer's passion for social media schadenfreude -- taking pleasure in the social media mishaps of others -- but I had to include it here because it remains one of our most enduring traits. As enduring as the mishaps themselves. It might, in fact, be our all-time favorite topic. Don't believe me? Go take a quick gander at the last couple dozen posts in iMedia's social media article section. Go ahead, I'll wait.
I know, right? We can't help ourselves. I happen to think it's not cruel though. We tell each other these spooky stories in order to teach object lessons, in the same way the Brothers Grimm were warning little German children not to take candy from witches, thereby ending the Candy-Wielding Witch Epidemic of the early 19th century. Ounce of prevention, folks.
And while I'm on the subject, let me give credit where credit is overdue. The digital marketers who manage social channels live on the lonely, windswept frontier of the digital experience, buffeted by unfiltered customer feedback, the vagaries of new technology, and the occasional request for a PPT to show upper management how social media is being "monetized." If they need to engage in a little schadenfreude to get through the day, I say, "OMG, did you hear about Amy's Bakery? Epic fail."
You know you're a digital marketer when television ads seem quaint.
Thanks to the magic of Netflix streaming, HBO Go, and cable on demand, I can go a long time without ever seeing a TV ad -- or as we digital marketers like to call them, "pre-roll." When I do spot one, it has the alluring strangeness of a dog walking on its hind legs.
Our TV ad diet has become so lean that we actually grow nostalgic and seek them out. We visit YouTube for a glimpse of yesteryear in much the same way that tourists flock to Pennsylvania Amish Country. I'm exaggerating of course; TV ads are not nearly as interesting as Amish Country. Except in the, ahem, long tail: The best ads become YouTube sensations, which in turn drives creative agencies to produce more sensational ads. So let's take a moment to savor the irony that the medium's decline is also driving its best work. And then move on, cuz we work in digital.
You know you're a digital marketer when you totally had that idea that somebody just paid $1 billion for.
The blessing and the curse of digital marketing is that we're never more than one degree removed from some of the biggest areas of innovation -- which is to say, the biggest piles of coin -- in contemporary culture. Having a front-row seat is fun, but it's not nearly as fun as being in the parade.
To make matters worse, there seems to be some grade inflation going on here in Dotcom Spending Spree 2.0. Why, I remember back in my day, when you actually had to make more money than you were losing to be worth $1 billion. Kids today. I'm tellin' ya.
So sidle up to the bar and tell me, one digital marketer to another, about the big ones that got away. Tell me about how you had an idea for microblogging back in 2006, how you half-drafted a business plan for a photo-sharing app, and how one of your kids once bit the other one's finger in a particularly hilarious way, if only you'd gotten it on video. Hey, I believe you. I've been there. I actually had the idea for Yahoo! several minutes before Jerry Yang did. (I was going to call it "Tarnation!" But same premise.) I should be writing billion-dollar checks. But we persevere. Courage and strength, my digital brethren, and may we meet again at The Next Big IPO.
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"Sticky memo notes" image via Shutterstock.