Digital Marketing? Digital Will Kill Marketing | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

“When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” This quote from The Psychology of Science easily, and disconcertingly, applies to many of today’s marketers, who are vigorously using digital technologies to “nail” the multiple customer touch points – e.g., context-based services, IoT, mobility, and social collaboration – at their disposal.

Indeed, there is significant vendor sponsored “research,” from the likes of Adobe, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle,, SAP, and marketing consultants, that hammers home the idea that marketing has no future without digital technologies. Volumes of literature debate and explain how digital technologies are changing the role of traditional e-marketing, and that these technologies are providing the needed ammunition in terms of social conversations, mobile interfaces, and consumer analytics.

But there’s been surprisingly little discussion on whether marketers are overdoing it, whether all marketers are equally equipped to drive such technology-heavy initiatives, and whether digital marketing strategies benefit everyone, all organizations, across all industries. Here’s my take on a couple of these points.

  1. Most marketers do not fundamentally understand technology: For example, they get carried away by Facebook likes, and overwhelmed or too excited by what they see from marketing technology vendors, such as a new content management platform, irrespective of the value delivered. Though there is “hot money” flowing for digital marketing, this should not drive the adoption of digital technologies. For example, the business case of data analytics may become an “availability heuristic bias” without realizing whether it delivers good or bad data, or whether it can produce meaningful insights and business value or just become another academic exercise to please business leaders.

  2. Digital marketing is not about only marketing anymore: Earlier marketers could operate in their ivory towers with somewhat limited integration with the broader organization, as digital technologies were limited to email marketing, surveys, and/or occasional mobility projects. Today, however, with the plethora of customer touch-points, the fundamental shift in consumers’ interaction with a brand, the confluence of big data, the IoT, context-driven services, and mobility, marketers must realize that digital impact is broad-based across the organization. Many different departments, including production, support, supply chain, procurement, operations, customer service, and IT, need to be in synch to drive a meaningful digital marketing strategy. If the entire organization is not geared toward this transformation, the digital marketing efforts will eventually turn into traditional e-marketing, creating little business value.

Effective digital marketing should result in seamless excellent customer engagement, and requires an overhaul of multiple interconnected processes within an organization to avoid actually driving a disconnect with the customer. A plethora of digital technologies cannot improve a bad business process. Therefore, marketers have the difficult task of taking the entire organization together, explaining why process changes are required, how to improve customer touch-points, and how to build a customer experience lifecycle.

But, are marketers capable of doing this? Do they have the needed support and mandate from senior executives? Do they have the required organizational standing and stature to drive these changes? Can they fathom and swim across the political landscape and inertia of their organization?

Most importantly, marketers must keep the customer top of mind when considering use of digital technologies. The reality is that extreme technology leverage may confuse, frustrate, and overwhelm the customer. The branding message may get convoluted, confusing, and irrelevant. Though increasingly marketers are becoming more tech savvy, they should never forget their role is not to adopt latest digital technology but to serve their customers.

Digital channels are means to an end, not the end by themselves. For marketers, it is easy to get carried away by believing new technology is “digital marketing.” But what they may not realize is that “digital” may actually be killing marketing.

Photo credit: Flickr

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