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Being honest about digital marketing

Over the course of my day I speak to quite a few people about Internet / digital marketing in one capacity or another. The discussions range from local to organic search to paid search to social media to display advertising to analytics and all stops in between or beyond. To say the least the online marketing landscape is vast and it can be one that creates problems for those trying to optimize their business opportunity using it. I have essentially given up evangelizing the medium. For the most part, it’s pointless. At this stage of the online game, businesses either get it or they don’t. If they don’t, or they choose to not truly try to get it, it is easier than ever to wish them luck and move on. If you are resistant by this point in the life cycle of digital marketing you are a true hold out and you deserve your fate.

But even more puzzling that those who simply don’t feel that they need to play are those who have a truly vested interest in the digital marketing space coupled with a ridiculously unrealistic assessment of their own personal level of knowledge of various areas of the digital world.

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With all of the things I do on a daily basis I stay even with the information flow in most areas of the digital world but staying even means that I am likely to not truly know everything, rather I will know about everything. I readily admit that because I am human and I can’t know it all. Take a look at this post from the Harvard Business Review called “You’re Probably Not Very Good At Most Things.” Here is a taste if you don’t have the time to invest in reading it.

Sief, a former colleague of mine, has an MBA from a top business school and is a rising star at a technology company. But he’s interested in a new job and he recently called to ask if I’d serve as a reference.

I told him that I’d be happy to describe his strengths to potential employers. I’d witnessed first hand Sief’s organizational skill, administrative acumen and effectiveness at project management. But I also warned him to be careful.

He was pursuing a marketing role requiring creativity, strong technical skills, and comfort with lack of structure. And I was concerned Sief might not have the very skills he needed to excel in the job.

“The reality is you’re probably good at a lot of things,” I told him. “But you’re not very good at most of them. I’m not either.”

The real funny part is in the comment sections when those who feel they are good at everything sound off and try to belittle the writer.

This is quite possibly the WORST blog post from the Harvard Business Review that I have ever read (and I devour the Harvard Business Review blogs). It is all conjecture. There is no data to back up any of the claims that Mr. Sinoway insinuates. He is writing based on his own speculation and feelings and perhaps to justify his own shortcomings and lack of bravery. It is incredibly hard to gauge what one is good at; failure in one area does not necessarily mean you are not good or even the best at that area.

The commenter goes on and on in the same vein but to what end? He is simply one of those folks who has such a high opinion (or actually low opinion) of himself that he needs to act as if he is truly capable of doing all things for all people. This detachment from a realistic point of view is what can get in the way of digital marketing success and it does often. Why? Because there is a perception that if you admit that you don’t know a particular aspect of online marketing well that you are going to be exposed or found out. We all fear that possibility.

That is unless we take the road called realism and accept what we do and don’t know. It’s at this point that we can actually tap a lot of unused brain power because we are now free to learn rather than constrained in simply trying to protect a non-existent turf. It’s simply being honest. Unfortunately, honesty in today’s marketplace sticks out like a sore thumb. Why do I say unfortunately? It’s because it is the exception and not the rule. It sticks out because it is rare. I hear it from people more often than I am comfortable with but I am now understanding it better.

So what do we do? My recommendation (with absolutely ZERO empirical data to back me up so if that bugs you then brace yourself) is to relax and get honest. Pay attention to the things you don’t know or don’t do well and give yourself the latitude to learn rather than cover up. Surrender to be free. It’s the paradox that faces folks like myself in other areas of our lives (for me it’s a faith thing). It makes no sense upon hearing the first time but can make total sense if allowed to do so.

So what do you need to be honest about regarding digital marketing today? What’s holding you back from getting better?

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