Dan Kirby

How To Be A Marketer In The Digital Era

20 October 2014, Dan Kirby

How to be a marketer in the digital era
Pre-internet, the world was a more straightforward place – at least for marketers. The overall fragmentation of media, and dominance of digital channels, has made traditional marketing tactics (mass market tv, newspaper ads, printing things on paper) seem somewhat quaint.

Today’s marketer needs a completely different set of skills and tools to the past, to achieve their objectives. And these skills are technological, creating a new role – the Marketing Technologist.

It’s become a looking glass world for traditional marketers and creatives, which is often hard to understand. So how do you become a successful marketing technologist? Here are a few tips to get you started.

Treat failure like a scientist

The modern marketer must be able to change how they see “success” and “failure.” For too many people, failure is the end of the road, but we must instead view failure in the same way that a scientist does.

In a scientific experiment, a failed hypothesis means that you go back to the drawing board with data on what you know doesn’t work – it help guides the next experiment. Marketers need to learn to treat failure as a scientist.

Failure is simply a cost you have to pay on the way to being right,” said Seth Godin. By running experiments, and measuring the data from those experiments, the marketing technologist builds insight over time, proving things work before committing all the budget.

For years marketers would complain that they didn’t know which half of their budget was effective, now you should be able to prove it.

Embrace the theory of evolution

Approaching your marketing as a series of tests, can be applied to a design process, and the user journey of your web site. Conversion rate optimisation – getting better performance from your web site – is fundamental to the modern marketers set of skills.

What better way to explain the importance of it than the words of one of the world’s leading experts in the field: Ben Jesson, CEO of Conversion Rate Experts.

“Imagine if you asked someone to build a computer for you, and he came back with one of those pretend ones that you see in furniture stores—just a shiny, empty plastic box—then he said “Let me know if you’d like me to make it actually work.”

That’s how most web-design projects happen. The design team builds a beautiful website with little interest in measuring how well it actually works.

Every week we hear a company say “we’ll start to work on conversion rate optimization (CRO) once our new website is finished,” as if conversion were an optional extra—like a mouse mat. Conversion is a site’s goal. In fact, that’s how a conversion is defined: as a purchase, a lead, a registration, or whatever the site’s purpose is. Conversions are the reason the site exists.

CRO is thus the act of making the site good at doing what it was built for. So CRO is a core activity, arguably THE core activity.

Of course, some companies do understand the importance of conversion, and unsurprisingly they are doing well. Our clients include many of the world’s most successful web companies — including Google, Amazon and Facebook—all of whom focus obsessively on user experience and conversion. Look under the bonnet of any these companies and you’ll find a powerful conversion engine. And you’ll see that they all have a crack team of engineers continually tuning that engine, constantly improving the customer experience.

These companies’ staff members are marketers and designers, but they bear little resemblance to the marketers or designers of old—just like their businesses bear little resemblance to the bricks-and-mortar companies they replaced. These marketers are able to accurately measure the results of their actions, so marketing blather is replaced with rigorous exploration (here are some of the feedback tools they use) and scientific testing (here’s a list of the most popular A/B split-testing platforms).

These days, any good marketer should be constantly carrying out split-tests to confirm that he or she is growing sales. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a list of ways to maximize your profits using split-testing.

There’s no good reason not to do it.

Unless you are in the trade of selling shiny, empty plastic boxes.”

What’s interesting about Ben’s insights is that the big beasts of the digital age are constantly evolving – they are adapting to the world around them, but all based on real world data.

Truly understand who’s following you

The first step towards successful marketing has always been understanding your audience.

The marketing technologist has plenty of tools, such as analytics and data extraction, at his or her fingertips to get a clear picture about their customer base.

Most brands now have multiple social media accounts in order to reach out to their customers, but how many can confidently argue that they really know the people who are interested in their company?

DataSift produces innovative data filtering technology designed to uncover usage patterns in data from social media. This means getting to know and understand their customers, at any stage in the sales funnel. The tool aggregates information from billions of data points across all of your social media platforms and blogs. It then filters the data to make it clear to understand and collates it all into one place where it can be easily monitored.

In simple terms, Datasift makes your data actionable, and lets you make clear decisions on how to market your business.

Another great analytical tool for Twitter is Followerwonk. It too enables a brand to learn more about their customers, by providing useful nuggets of information such as the identity, location and even tweeting habits of those that follow them. This allows you to find any patterns which can be employed to enhance your marketing.

For example, Followerwonk would allow you to connect with your audience at the optimum time: in B2B your customers will most likely be engaged during working hours (typically 9am-5pm), whereas in B2C engagement tends to be very different, as the majority of time spent on social media is 5pm.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of Followerwonk is that you can compare the followers of competitors to seek out potential new audiences to engage with, a few short cuts to hugely expand your social presence and influence.

Marketing automation

Get automated – take out the leg work

Marketing automation software helps you market your businesses across multiple platforms from one easy to manage dashboard.

Essentially, the platforms save marketers a huge amount of time and effort. It replaces repetitive manual processes such as email, social media posting and lead nurturing with automated solutions. Then teams can focus on providing the optimum user experience for each individual customer or prospective customer.

Marketing automation is the wave of the future, and companies are focusing big chunks of their budget on such technology-related activities. According to BRW, 67% of marketing departments have plans in place that will increase their technology-related spending. In addition, 65% will increase budgets for their technological service providers.

Hubspot, Eloqua, Infusionsoft and Marketo are some examples of marketing automation tools that are growing rapidly and earning the budgets set aside for technology-related activities by many a successful company. HubSpot in particular also has an informative blog and multiple free book downloads for those who want to get up to speed with internet marketing or simple learn more about the new digital age.

However, marketing automation is by no means a one stop solution. You cannot simply turn it on and wait for the leads to come flying through the door. The content you create, the way you engage on social media and the emails that you send must all be relevant and helpful to your customers.

Don’t Fear Code!

This new digitally centred world is built upon code, meaning that any marketing technologist needs to have a certain knowledge of it. But resist the urge to run a mile – you don’t need to be a coder to understand code.

A marketing technologist in 2014 should be able to understand the language and terminology associated with what makes up the web. This is particularly important to ensure clear communication between you and your development team.


Sometimes it is simply a case of being able to differentiate coding languages from one another. For example, front end languages such as HTML and CSS are used to create the parts of the web page which bring the design to life – the form. Back end code like C# or PHP are used for more functional items – like sending an email form, or data capture.

You can grasp the basics of these languages for free on an interactive coding platform such as Codecademy and other online resources to help you navigate this brave new world – Treehouse, Codeschool, Khan Academy. For more detail on this, I recently wrote a post on this blog called – “How To Hack A Coding Degree” that looks at learning to code.

You don’t have to be able to build your own web site to succeed as a marketer in this new digital era, but a basic knowledge of the how code works is invaluable way of demystifying this brave new world.

For more information on ways to effectively manage the development process, check out 5 Ways To De-Stress Your Development from the Techdept blog earlier this year.

Adapting to the Zero Moment of Truth

The real key to marketing in our digital era is to understand that all the marketing power lies in hands of the people.

Today’s consumer has the tools to thoroughly research a product before buying, quickly compare it with similar products and then share their experience with their friends and colleagues on social media. In 2011, Google studied how word of mouth, so to speak, is spread online and called the revolution the “Zero Moment of Truth.”

This shift in the way that information is spread means that marketers must change their mind-set as well as their skills. The key is flexibility as technology is always changing, and today’s successful marketer must be able to embrace that change.

What do you think? What other skills does a modern marketing technologist need? What platforms, tips and tricks do you use? Let us know in the comments below.