How can Marketing Managers take charge of digital marketing?

So, you're a manager of marketing. Nice! Whether you're new to the job, or are an industry veteran, you may find yourself asking "now that I'm responsible for digital strategy, what the heck do I do?!" In my experience, new marketing managers face unique challenges when it comes to digital marketing because they are often seen as "the new hope" for a company to execute digital marketing well. No pressure, right?

"Digital" as a subset of marketing is not new -- using technology for promotion and project management have been around for quite a while. But even with its age and growing familiarity, digital marketing still represents a tough nut to crack for many businesses. Even those that have been "doing digital" for several years are often flailing beneath the surface, and not really approaching this marketing category with strategy or discipline. And as the new manager, this is now your problem to solve! The following article is meant to help you get a head start and minimize the amount of "wheel spinning" that occurs so often when setting foundations for digital marketing.

What to do: Fully understand the opportunity for digital marketing within your business

While it seems like it should go without saying, this step (which should be the first) is often passed up in an effort to expedite the process of launching campaigns. This is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING for you, the marketing manager, to understand. And when I say understand, I don't mean, "yeah, the executives see technology as a necessity, and they fought for the budget to hire me... I guess it's pretty important." Rather, I mean understanding the business strategy, the market, the product lifecycle, the financial strategy, and everything else that keeps the business moving forward. It's your job, as the owner of digital strategy, to understand the playing field so that you can make the best decisions and investments for the company.

This means that in order to execute a digital marketing program well, you have to first think outside of digital marketing. Your efforts are going to make up just one piece of the business puzzle, so you need to understand  what gaps currently exist before trying to jam pieces in where they don't fit.

How do you do it? Talk to your peers -- a lot. Talk to the head of accounting to learn how budgets are allocated, and how the company currently maximizes profitability. Talk to the head of product development to learn about the products and services your company offers, and how they are brought to life. Talk to the head of market intelligence, traditional marketing, public relations, and design. Talk to the C-suite. Talk to everyone and anyone who has direct accountability for your company's success. 

As a new manager, you might feel a lot of pressure to step in and simply "have the answers." But don't get sucked in to the trap. You were hired to set a digital strategy in motion that moves the needle for the company. And you can't do that until you understand the context of your piece of the puzzle. 

What not to do: Let shiny object syndrome dictate your priorities

Shiny object syndrome is an epidemic that has claimed the life of many digital marketing programs. Simply put, it is the idea that someone with more authority than you has recently learned of a new digital tactic or new technology, and now suddenly demands that it be moved to the forefront of your digital strategy. Remember QR codes? In the early 2000s QR codes were one of the deadliest causes of shiny object syndrome.

As a strategy leader (especially in a discipline as fast moving and innovative as digital marketing), it's part of your job to be open to new ideas and information. You can't (and shouldn't) shut down anyone who wants to share their ideas with you -- that'd make you a bad leader, and kind of a bad person. But you must not let these one-off ideas divert you from your disciplined planning of a digital strategy. 

Tip: When someone with shiny object syndrome comes to you insisting that you prioritize X digital tactic, I've found that the best response is something like "That is a great observation, Mrs. CXO! My team and I are developing a foundation for our digital marketing strategy now, and we'll definitely include X digital tactic in our vetting process! I've seen X digital tactic work well for some companies, and not so well for others, so we're going to make sure it's a good fit for us in our market." 

Any good executive will not only understand, but will also appreciate your commitment to due diligence and a thorough investigation, rather than blindly changing courses to appease their whim.

What do do: Write a charter for your team -- and share it with everyone

Having a strategy is one thing, but having a firm grasp on the operations and expectations of your team is a completely different challenge. Again, because "digital strategy" can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, you will find that others' expectations of your team may not match reality. Others may think your entire team just 'does Facebook' for the company. Others may think you're an extension of IT, and will call you when their keyboard is stuffed with scone crumbs. It is up to you to not only define the purpose of your team, but also to educate everyone around you about your program.

Additionally, a centralized charter can even help the individuals on your team to better understand their role on the team (and the team's role within the company strategy as a whole)

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About the Author
Justin is the owner/founder of Fox Consulting Group, and a lead consultant for strategy engagements.

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