digital marketing teams are outdated

The headline itself might raise a few eyebrows or create frustration. How could a digital marketing team in this digital age be…outdated? That question is especially true considering there are still many companies and brands out there that are somehow just jumping on board the whole “we should get digital” train; in late 2016. Sometimes the barrier or delay was due to budgets, resources, or strategic direction, and sometimes it was because they were just…late to the party.

When I say digital marketing teams are old news, I am not referring to the what they do. We live in a digital world. Consumers need to be reached where they already spend their time, in ways that’s native to their everyday lives – so a strategic and thoughtful digital approach from a brand is mandatory. It’s no longer a discussion of if you should do it. However, it’s the actual marketer that’s changed, as has the expectations that now come with being a marketer in today’s world.

I was part of a “digital marketing team” for just over two years recently, for a large national retailer. They had “product marketing” and “brand” marketing teams, and then in the other silo across the hall sat the “digital” marketing team. It was understood that the digital teams were the ones doing things that happened to end up online to reach consumers. The product marketing team was responsible for the broad reach of products the company sold, promotions, etc. And last but not least, the brand marketing team handled things relating specifically to the overall company’s position and presence in the marketplace.

You can imagine, things got really confusing when there was the dreaded crossover!

While it’s nice to have clear cut, disciplined teams (I do like them for things like analytics, research, insights, and for other special cases when frankly it just makes sense – I realize there are times when it just makes sense for a specific business), what this did was created a finger-pointing world of “that’s their job” within the same marketing organization. We’d have silo-breaking brainstorms as larger groups, but everyone’s own field and expertise was so specific, it was still put on certain people to come up with ideas for their mediums, whether the words were that blatant or not. You’re the social media guy. That’s the email girl. She does PPC. He handles TV. He only does product marketing. It created broken projects and processes because everyone was only worried about that own world of theirs.

I fully understand some people are really good at certain things, so they’ll handle physically doing those things. That will never go away. What I’m talking about is when the definition of what a person does on a marketing team is so specific, that they have trouble thinking outside their box, or possibly stepping on toes into someone else’s box. It makes for a world with buried ideas that might have been great, and challenging communication because so and so isn’t the “expert” …so why would they speak about it.

In reality, at the highest level, we were all simply just trying to turn consumers’ heads to our company as a place to buy stuff. We’re all marketers no matter how you really divvy it up. The internal labels on the marketing teams added complication and walls, making it  challenging for potential partnerships to flourish.

But above all the labels, the digital marketing team was the most in need of a name change. The fact that the company still had a marketing team called “digital” was putting us behind our competitors. We needed to think differently, and be different, yet we were doing the most expected thing, and it made the digital team seem like some off-shoot side project in the lab. Like, “oh, those the digital people.”

In a few months it will be 2017. It is no longer one person’s responsibility to own digital thought leadership, for example. You know why? Because no matter how you slice it, whether it’s in a magazine, a billboard, a stunt, native content, emails, or a video series in partnership with a teenage influencer – it’s all just marketing. And the expectation is that today’s marketer can think from medium to medium. It’s how our consumers behave, so it’s how we need to be, too. Otherwise you run into breakdowns when considering the full user experience of the consumer; a consumer would be going from one marketing team to another, that’s hard to handle, smoothly.

We no longer need to call it “digital” marketing. Hell, “social media” is a dying phrase. All these channels, platforms, and innovative ways to reach people at our fingertips these days as marketers is the way it is. And every marketer in today’s world should be versed and knowledgeable. Otherwise, you too will fall behind. The silos of the past where one person managed one marketing channel and that’s all they thought about…are gone.  Specialists are a dying breed, and so are excuses like “I’m not the digital guy.”

It’s still great to have subject matter experts in certain mediums and tactics, absolutely. And if your company has a hierarchy there has to be rank and order, I get it.  But we all must remember, in today’s world it’s all just marketing, whether it’s on a piece of mail or on Snapchat, and the sooner brands’ marketing teams think that way and knock down their specialist team classifications, the sooner ideas, innovation and true partnerships will flourish.

Note: While ditching labels can be hard for companies and not always realistic, there are ways around it. There are methods to brainstorming and opening up the idea collection where people remove their hats and sit as one, free of hierarchy, titles, team name, or speciality. So while what I’m talking about mainly refers to three different marketing teams within a greater marketing team creating issues, I realize sometimes it’s needed for specific brands or businesses. It’s all about today’s expectation that marketers can see beyond their narrow field, and through the consumer’s true crazy every-changing lens. That’s how you’ll win.

I’m also not trying to paint some picture of negativity where I previously worked, I’m simply using it as a first-hand example of the surroundings and the challenges brought forth by that particular organization layout.

Last note: this is not pertaining to digital experience teams in the sense of online website UX and development. Those are very specific skill sets, not to be confused with true consumer digital marketing.