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As I’ve written before dear reader, you don’t become a brain surgeon hanging around the casualty ward. And you definitely don’t become a CMO hanging around a marketing department – unless you’re prepared to hang around for a lifetime.

You need to invest in self-improvement to really get ahead. And that doesn’t mean reading an (alleged) definitive guide on all-things digital. Or drinking in the cyber-hustler kool-aid that pretends to be the magic elixir of marketing.

As you well know, trade skills are passed on through the master-apprentice relationship. The master of the craft trains and educates the apprentice, to get them skilled enough to work in the trade.

It used to be the same in business. I went through a business apprenticeship. It even included when to use ‘regards’ versus ‘best regards’ to sign-off a letter. Unfortunately business apprenticeships have disappeared, while in the digital marketing industry, expertise has been devalued, and often dismissed.

I’ve never seen so many instant self-appointed experts. If you can type on a keyboard you’re a content marketer. Pay a ghost-writer in a third-world country to write a white paper for you and call yourself a thought leader. Even worse, publish a ‘definitive guide’ (that is not definitive) and you’re an influencer, or some self-styled crazy label like linkfluencer, socialfluencer or ninja!

In the digital marketing world, you just sprout new buzzwords for existing and proven marketing techniques, now being used online, or work in a digital business that’s name has very few vowels, and you’re a self-appointed bloody genius.

Well that was the case until these last few months, as things are beginning to change…

The pendulum has started shifting in marketing. The digital chooks are coming home to roost – evidenced by recent revelations across the digital marketing world.

Digital chooks are coming home to roost…

Here are just a few examples:

  • Agencies overcharged so much for programmatic advertising, they’re now refunding hundreds of millions of dollars to advertisers
  • Media agencies and digital publishers admit they cannot provide accurate data regarding who is viewing ads, or even where ads are being published
  • YouTube admits its content/ads appear on terrorism and hate sites
  • Facebook admits 80% of viewed videos weren’t – viewed that is
  • Facebook admits it has more than 270 million fake accounts
  • The fake internet, where sites earn ad revenue by using fake content and fake followers, is the fastest growing business category in the world
  • Instagrammers admit using stock images and buying fake followers, so they can get “influencer” contracts from naive advertisers
  • Facebook, Twitter and Google grossly underestimated Russian propaganda delivered through their sites
  • Twitter wants to sell, but nobody wants to buy, as it still hasn’t turned a profit and usage is stagnant – active usage is once per month

Every day there is more news about the problems in the digital marketing world. Interestingly, Professor Scott Galloway who teaches marketing at NYU, blames much of Facebook’s problems on the naivety and inexperience of its staff. Yet it was Zuckerberg who made the ridiculous statement years ago that “young people are just smarter“.

I’ll leave that one out there for you to contemplate dear reader.

One can only assume it’s the lack of experience causing all this industry grief – surely it wouldn’t be an ethical issue?

Inexperience hurting the digital industry…

I’ve always advised my staff and students to perpetually furnish their minds to help improve their lot. Read classic marketing books (because the principles haven’t changed) as well as contemporary ones. Read books that have nothing to do with marketing, visit art galleries, photographic exhibitions, go to the theatre, experience other creative industries for inspiration. Or to be digitally correct, #inspo.

The fastest way to learn how to get better at marketing, rather than working for years to get hands-on experience, is to pick the brains of the masters – those who’ve tasted blood. They can give you the real short-cuts you need to know, certainly more than the cyber-hustlers with their loony listicles, like “10 killer new social media lead magnet miracles that have rewritten the rules of marketing and will blow your mind“.

The only problem is, there are very few experienced executives, let alone  opportunities to learn from them. Industry conferences are full of well-meaning “speakers” showcasing their successes – though it’s rare to see failures. If you listen to any marketing seminar these days, you’d think there had never been any failures in the digital marketing industry – despite the problems outlined above.

Yet to navigate successfully, you should always sail with the mariner who knows where the reefs are located. They’ve been shipwrecked, so know the dangers. You want to work with, and learn from, experienced people who have made the odd mistake while gaining their expertise.

Sail with those who have been shipwrecked

Though I do suspect we’re going to hear more and more about failures, as the latest buzzword “transparency” permeates the industry.

I’m off to buy another book – Bob Hoffman’s Badmen. No listicles, just bare truth.

P.S. For those in Oz who want better marketing results, or fast-track their young marketing talent, get along to Drayton Bird’s final event. His brilliantly successful career spans more than four decades, including 20+ in digital marketing, so you’re bound to pick up some valuable ideas – and enjoy a drink or two with this master marketer.