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Why digital marketing challenges everyone

Sometimes I can see it in their eyes. During a speaking appearance, I’ll look out at the audience and see fear. Not the “Big F” kind of “Run for your lives, citizens!” terror that you see in a B-movie. No, I am talking about the kind of fear that makes you stop and check things out just one more time before trying something. The fear that causes you to wait for someone else to make the first move. I see it all the time in digital marketing. It’s totally understandable. It’s human nature. I am extremely sympathetic to everyone who experiences it. But, we have to get rid of it.

A few years ago, I’d see that fear in the eyes of veteran marketing and PR people—the ones who went into marketing as a refuge from math. They would literaly cower when I explained the principles of direct marketing. They no more wanted to calculate a conversion rate than balance their checkbooks. They were “message people.” They had “soft skills” and knew how to promote brand image in the minds of consumers. They were truly afraid of being held responsible for whether conversion rates ticked up or down a tenth of a point last month. They knew exactly what they were good at, and this wasn’t it.

Scared child

Image via Wikipedia

So in came the quants—math geeks who knew how to juice the clickthroughs and didn’t worry about optimizing pages for SEO. They were analytical and they were good. They tuned up Web sites and made them persuasive, but they had their own Achilles’s heel. They had gone into math and technology to avoid ever having to speak or write. When social media came along, they were aghast that marketing was becoming squishy again. I know so many of these new marketers now fearful about their lack of communications skills.

The truth is that marketing is at once a powerful communications tool and one that must ring the cash register. Digital marketing forces us to analyze and optimize in ways that we never did before, because we can measure the results and adjust what we do. But we can’t only analyze and optimize. At some point, we need to actually say something, to stand for something, and to move people.

Brand marketers who believe that they can’t succeed because of their sparse analytical skills have something in common with direct marketers who feel they come up shy in creativity: they are both right. Both kinds of marketers need the other and the sooner they realize it, the sooner their companies will use digital marketing at a new level.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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  1. Avatar Tim Peter

    MIke, this is a brilliant post that speaks not only to a problem, but to its solution. What many marketers seem to forget is the value of a great team. Many marketers—and other business people I know—have surrounded themselves for years with people who think just like them. Instead of expanding their insights with a more diverse talent pool, they’ve built an echo chamber. Clearly, that’s not true for all marketers. I’ve been lucky to work alongside a good many brilliant people who have built even more brilliant teams with shared goals and diverse viewpoints. But I don’t see it as much as I wish. Here’s hoping more marketers get the message.

  2. Avatar Mike Moran

    Thanks for the comment, Tim. It reminds me of something a smart manager once told me: “First-rate people hire first-rate people, while second-rate people hire third-rate people.” If we can all focus more on all the skills we need to succeed as a group, we can round ourselves out with others and do more together than we ever could by ourselves.

  3. Avatar Matt Sawyer

    Your right that successful marketing needs both analytic AND creative thinking. Daniel Pink talked about the needed shift from left to right brain thinking for business and other professionals in his book, A Whole New Mind. Pink even goes so far as saying that “the MFA is the new MBA.” At the end of the day (and book), he admits that both types of thinking are required and should be valued.
    Matt Sawyer
    Managing Director, Towers Branded Content & Entertainment

  4. Avatar Elixir Interactive

    Great article! The Internet has really changed nearly every aspect of our lives. If marketing teams are able to come together and play to their strengths then they could form a very successful digital marketing plan.

  5. Avatar KINS

    Nice post.I remember, while i was reading “The world is Flat” by Friedman, the power of the web is going to transform not only the business but also the way we practice it. Digital marketing can give immense penetration and when compounded with the marketing insight it is definitely going to cover the depth as well as depth of the market.

  6. Avatar Paul Solemn

    Excellent submission ! Too many executives think that all there is to a digital strategy is sitting in front of a computer and typing in some code and content. Even when they spend the time to get it right they often fail to adequately measure and optimize the results via their web analytics. Simple things like testing & validation and usability contribute a great user experience which is essential if you want people to have a good impression of your brand experience via online marketing.

  7. Avatar Harsh

    This is really a great post. i also believe anaylsis and strategy in the right direction via right people is necessaryfor good marketing of our brand. As it is progressive market it is necessary to be updated on the latest SEO algorithms and look at out converisons both on adwords and social media.

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