What makes someone a strong digital marketer? There's no one answer, in part because the industry is so diverse. In fact, the next time you walk the floor at an industry conference, you might find yourself wondering if you really are in the same industry as all of your peers. It's a fair question because on the surface there doesn't seem to be much overlap between the creative gurus who have the "secret sauce" that every branded video needs to go viral, the spreadsheet-obsessed search geeks who seemingly speak their own language, and the always-on, always-sharing social media evangelists who swear up and down that if your brand isn't on [insert latest platform here], you guys are dead like dinosaurs.
Like I said, it's a big, diverse industry, and marketers come in all kinds of packages. But at their core, all strong digital marketers have some key qualities in common. But don't take my word for it; see what they have to say. And if you can think of qualities we missed, let us know in the comments.
We hear a lot about teams in marketing, and we talk a lot about breaking down the silos that divide those teams, but one fact that often gets overlooked in that discussion is just how important collaboration is to virtually everything marketers do.
"Surprisingly, it's not knowing the latest trends, digital tricks, and SAAS tools that make a successful digital marketer," says Tom Gallego, founder and chief creative officer for L7 Creative. "Success in digital marketing today means engaging skilled partners, who you can trust and rely on to deliver winning strategies that support your specific marketing goals while building long-term brand equity."
So what makes a good marketer a strong partner? It's a mix of things, according to Gallego.
"They are great managers of people and possess a passion for their careers and the brands they are charged with growing," he says. "Their work ethic is fueled by a sense of purpose and commitment to their vision."
But while that vision is essential for uniting a partnership around a specific goal, it's not set in stone.
"The most successful marketers have a vision and plan with built-in flexibility to make necessary course corrections along the way," he says. "They are demanding, but not autocratic."
It may not be what quality hiring managers look for on the resume or bosses pick up on in an interview, but a good marketer is a humble marketer, according to Fiona Gill, VP of global client excellence at Kenshoo.
"No digital marketer, no matter how talented, can manage things totally on their own," she says. "Those who try to do it all and suffer every detail, inevitably fall behind and fail to try new potentially valuable things."
But being humble has another advantage, according to Gill, who says it's an important bulwark against hubris.
"Failure comes with the job," she says. "A humble marketer might try to correct a failing channel, but they won't do so endlessly. Humble marketers know when a marketing investment is not a good fit and they cut their losses and move on to the next opportunity."
Grasping the big picture
While so much of marketing today is all about the specialist, it's still important to be able to think like a generalist. It helps you see the big picture, according to Stan Valencis, president at Primacy, and it helps you work with a diverse and always-expanding group of marketing professionals.
"The old cliché, get the right content in front of the right people at the right time, has never been more apropos," says Valencis. "Understanding the full digital ecosystem and each role is the only way to optimize your content strategy and corresponding media spend."
A customer's mindset
Many marketers want to think like the best marketers in their field. There's nothing wrong with that idea in theory, but the best thing you can do in practice is to train yourself to think like a customer, says Eric Schiffer, CEO of DigitalMarketing.com.
"[Marketers] need to be able to think about everything they do through the lens of the consumer," he says. "Consumers have more control and say than [they] ever [have] in history. So designing the user experience with keen insight into consumer motivation and behavioral dynamics is critical to success, and then it's about measuring, monitoring, and adjusting that experience in real time for each customer."
An open mind
If you're a digital marketer today, there's a good chance you didn't go to school for what you do. In fact, if you're over a certain age, the industry that you work in didn't exist when you were a kid. But if you're a Millennial in the marketing business, you shouldn't assume that you've got it all figured out because of your digital native status. In fact, one of the only constants in our industry is change.
"One of the most exciting parts of working in digital media is the endless number of first to market opportunities available to us," says Bruce Harwood, associate director at The Media Kitchen. "In traditional media, it's much harder to do something truly unique and out of the box that has never been done before. It's always a plus to have a client that is not afraid of these opportunities and appreciates the benefit of getting their foot in the door before everyone else, [and] it's important that marketers are open to new and untested opportunities."
But don't mistake "untested" for unmeasured.
"It's extremely important to realize the importance of measuring each portion of the campaign to understand the true value of each tactic," says Harwood. "The best marketers are committed to measurement."
Commitment to continuous improvement
"The very best marketers openly ask 'What could we do better?'" says Tania Yuki, founder and CEO of Shareablee. "Even if they are leading their category, they are not satisfied with where they are, and encourage those around them to stay restless, curious, and healthily paranoid."
While building that commitment in yourself isn't something that's easily done or understood, Yuki says some of the best evidence that a marketer has the building blocks to improve comes down to the willingness to face facts, especially when those facts aren't good news.
"[Strong marketers] know that success is not always linear, and they want to understand what's working and what isn't so they can learn and continually get better, so the truth does not scare them," Yuki says. "They acknowledge that new platforms require new rules, and what worked for one, or once before will not ensure future success. This can be particularly tough if it means reporting that a campaign was not as effective as it could have been, but it is the way the very best brands stay sharp and ahead of the game, and it also creates a culture where people do not fear failure, and are therefore willing to take risks."
Similar to having a commitment to continuous improvement, strong marketers are also lifetime students, says John Lincoln, co-founder and president of SEO and social media at Ignite Visibility.
"You always need to be combing blogs, studying, learning, and getting new certifications," says Lincoln. "In digital marketing, if there are two people with equal abilities and judgment, the deciding factor between who is better simply comes down to their thirst for knowledge. Internet marketing really is an industry where knowledge is power."
Willingness to experiment
You've probably heard this thousands of times: Digital marketing depends on testing and experimentation. Well, you've heard it so often because it's true, according to Dave Rigotti, who worked on Microsoft's Bing marketing team before joining Bizible.
"The biggest part to being a successful marketer now is to have a willingness to try new things, but to ground all of your decisions with data," he says. "It's all about taking calculated risks that are one step ahead of the competition. So you need to be the sort of person who's really comfortable with testing your marketing to see what's working and what's not."
Strategy and tactics
"Typically marketers would fall into two buckets," says Scott Rayden, chief revenue officer at 3Q Digital. "You had your marketing tacticians and your marketing strategists. I believe the successful digital marketer of the future will be a convergence of the two. The best marketers I've been around have had the unique ability to understand marketing at a tactical level, but could also understand how to leverage business data, consumer data, and marketing data to build strategy."
According to Rayden, what's forcing marketers to be able to think tactically and strategically is the nature of the industry itself.
"So much is changing in our industry right now and there is a huge focus around relevance and the personalization of advertising," he says. "Great marketers need to be able to develop, articulate, leverage the right team and resources, and execute on strategies that do a better job connecting brands and consumers in meaningful ways."
Knowing something besides marketing
For some people, it might make sense to say that the best marketers are those who studied marketing. But there's a contrary view on that topic that's worth considering, according to David Erickson, VP of online marketing at Karwoski & Courage.
"I am fairly skeptical of formal professional communications degrees because I think they teach a lot of stuff you'll quickly learn on the job but too little of the critical thinking skills required to excel," says Erickson. "I think people who have earned English or political science degrees, for example, are more likely to have the mental training required to be a successful marketer in the digital age. The study of literature requires you to learn how stories are put together by breaking them down to understand what the writer is saying. Political science majors, especially those who practice politics, will learn to decipher human motivations, perceptions, and how to network."
Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.
"Business person standing against the blackboard" image via Shutterstock.