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Digital Marketing is not Digital Sales

June 28, 2018

You are not a digital marketer” After writing that headline, I should probably add another clause: except for when you are. Yes, it’s a little click-baity, but I have no shame. I wanted to get your attention to the idea that Marketing and Sales are very different skillsets, but when it comes to Digital Marketing, the lines are blurred. Really blurred.

Marketing, in its simplest form, used to be about creating desirability around a product or service. Sales were about closing the deal. Back in the days of Don Draper, marketing was something for the world of advertising to be far more interested in – billboards or full-page newspaper creatives that made people aware of a product or service. Sales were a little more cold-cally.

Back then, of course, people’s attention was actually on billboards and newspapers. But the world has moved on…

I’m preaching to the choir here, but we all know how we’re now spending most of our time looking at screens at work or on our phones? That we’re watching digital TV, consuming our news online, and generally one generation away from Singularity with an Apple product.

The two major trends we’ve seen of note are that social media has become just a way of being and that we’re producing more content than ever before. We consume stuff online. That’s where our attention is now. So naturally, brands – from both a marketing point of view and sales point of view – are focusing on producing content for us to consume, whether it’s a white paper linked to from LinkedIn or a video we’re watching on Facebook or YouTube.

And somewhere along the way, digital marketing and sales began to get really confused. Almost inseparable. We live in a world of digital sales and marketing. Which is an ugly portmanteau, so let’s see if we can separate them out a little.

What’s does digital marketing involve?

  • Branding (and all that it entails)
  • Influencers and PR – the new word of mouth (but the old one is just as good)
  • Creative awareness campaigns
  • Inspirational (non-sales) content – videos, imagery, copy. Arguably a drop-down from branding.

What do digital sales involve?

  • PPC
  • Customer reviews
  • CRO
  • Whitepapers
  • Inbound, lead generation content – the stuff that’s there to capture your data, not entertain or delight without asking
  • Instructional content (videos, product photos etc)
  • Email marketing
  • Affiliates

Which areas to digital marketing and digital sales share?

  • Social media (can be brand awareness, engaging and delighting, or pushing products – arguably it should be more of the former)
  • Paid social (good for awareness, but also for sales pushes)
  • SEO (at its purest, it’s about helping people find what they want)
  • Sexy website (it’s both about inspiring the desire and converting on it)

I know many people are thinking yeah yeah, digital marketing is top of the funnel stuff, digital sales is bottom of the funnel. But it’s arguable that many of us – agency side and client side – are focussing almost entirely on digital sales, and that where digital marketing activities are discussed, it’s completely with a focus on sales to the exclusion of marketing.

We’ve become dangerously obsessed with pushing our products or services – this is a problem on social media, where the algorithms are loaded in favor of the opposite. We’re wasting resources on creating content to sell on platforms that do not value that kind of content – unless we pay a lot of money to push it on people.

It’s easy to understand why this is the case though. Why, really, we’re all in the focus of digital sales, even though we have marketing on our CV. I’m old enough to remember how difficult it was trying to persuade my former client-side bosses that we should be on Facebook and Twitter. It was a chore. They didn’t see the point in it. It offered no short-term gain…

Except that it did. Those were the glory days where you could build up a following quickly and easily, and post the kind of things people wanted to see: office life, exclusive behind the scenes stuff, randoms, user-generated content. It was a great way to engage with our customers. Social was so good and engaging we later thought email was going to be killed off (fat chance – imagine how much easier getting through the GDPR would have been).

So for years, marketers had it easy. We could quickly show the benefits of being on social media, and no one asked any questions. There were few KPIs in digital, and we didn’t have too much data to show off – other than engagement metrics. As the digital industry became more sophisticated, and more people invested in people with digital skills, it also became more accountable. And measurable. And expensive.

Managers – quite rightly, with the best of intentions – wanted to know what they were getting for their investments. KPIs became enshrined. What was quite a laid-back, community- and creative-focused industry, became more efficient and lean and began to rely on data.

Data doesn’t help – except when it does

Data is great. Data tells us far more about people’s buying habits these days than in yesteryear, thanks to advances in digital technology and the ability to track what people do. It’s a marvel of modern sales and marketing. Everything is more measurable than it’s ever been.

The blessing and problem with data is that it’s based entirely on tangible stuff. Conversions. Click-through rates. Sales. We’ve all done it – sitting in our monthly meetings, as we look at the data for the month to see how something is performing, and then we start to react to the data – what can we do to improve, what can we do to lift up conversions. Those are the elements that I’d argue are more about digital sales. Going back to the social example, we start to focus on, say, the number of video views (which can easily be hijacked with a paid boost) rather than trying to provide entertaining, informative or moving content to begin with – the stuff that pays off down the line. The stuff that builds a relationship with a brand.

So, my point – if you’ve come this far – is this: data, accountability, the search for improvements has made digital marketing focus more on digital sales. And that’s all fine. It kinda works for the most part. ­But when we get pre-occupied with fine-tuning our conversions, we forget about two things. The first is that it isn’t marketing anymore – we’re no longer working on creating desire or stimulating our senses.

The most important though is that it neglects how we’re actually wired as humans.

Limbic Thinking

I want to briefly mention the limbic brain. That’s the emotional bit of the brain, the bit that has made a decision about something before your rational brain has had time to realise where it is. We like to think we’re rational creatures, but the science – ironically – shows us otherwise. We make our judgments based entirely by emotion, and then use facts or data to back them up. That’s why we’re arguing with each other online all the time – we’ve already got our view, and we like to arrange

How do you measure how moved someone is by your content? How do you measure the value of a brand being nice to people? How do you measure the value of a powerful photoshoot?

How do you measure people’s emotions?

You don’t. Not really. We can get approximations, focus group feedback, whatever. But we can’t really measure emotions.

And that’s where marketing comes in. Emotion. Creating the desire for someone to one day act upon your brand’s offering. Figuring out what makes people tick – not what persona someone is, where they sit in the sales funnel. But the stuff that excites them. That makes them smile when they think of a brand. What emotions do you want them to feel?

The takeaway is this: if you want to create impact, you have to remember how to be a marketer too. You have to think: with online tools, how am I going to stir the emotions of my customers? And then how am I going to sell to them after that.

Bringing The Two Together

David Ogilvy once said, “In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”

The marketing, then, still has to appeal to logical minds and still has to sell – to the decision-makers as well as the customers. A major task of digital marketing is to show the value of things other than digital sales. To show the importance of a good creative – in fact, to make a good creative in the first place.

To communicate upwards and outwards that it is important to treat people like people, not points on the data sheet; that that with all the amazing technology we have at our fingertips we can not only spam the world with GDPR emails, but we can actually create warm, fuzzy sensations about our products and services, creatives that capture attention, copy that brings a smile to people’s lips.

And after that, it’s cool to follow up with a call-to-action to buy stuff.




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