Digital marketing literacy (or lack thereof) is likely to make, or break, brands and marketplaces over the coming decade. Disagree? Ask folks in the travel (far fewer travel agents), music (iTunes as the biggest music retailer), book publishing (Kindle editions now outselling print editions), banking (migration from in-branch to online transactions), and too many other industries to mention.

Considering how seemingly-stable business models are being up-ended every day, I am constantly surprised at how complacent so many organisations are with respect to their marketing team’s digital literacy. A brand’s marketing team helps set and execute communication strategy, influences product development and is pretty well integrated into almost all aspects of brand activity on some level. Brands expect some degree of demonstrable capability and formal training in most parts of their corporate team – technology (must be up to date on IT), sales (sales training), finance (governance issues), and human resources (compliance and legislation) for example. The reason is simple: poor decision making in any of these areas can result in massive liability.

Marketing escapes some, but not all, of these accountability issues. There are good and bad reasons for the current state of play but it is likely that a day of reckoning is coming, when marketers will be held accountable in the same way other members of the brand team are. I suggest this because digital is changing the rules for marketers the same way it has for everyone else. Transparency of campaign results, quickly-understood market metrics and the increasing speed at which marketing is conducted will force brands to consider how well their marketing team is equipped to face the challenges – in the same way they expect their IT staff to know the ins and outs of cloud computing or finance staff to be up to speed on the latest tax regulations. Uninformed marketing won’t cut it for much longer.

And why should it, when digital literacy can liberate marketing teams? Accountability is a two-edged sword. When it is possible to directly attribute commercial success to a digitally trained up marketing team, that team’s contribution is valued that much more highly. Let’s try a thought experiment. Imagine you are the head of marketing for a major financial organisation. Now imagine the Marketing Fairy bestows a gift on your entire team – the ability to communicate in Mandarin Chinese. How would this single skill acquisition impact your goals, team performance and brand’s P&L? If you’re a savvy marketing pro, you can probably tick off lots of positive effects that would flow from having a team that’s proficient in Chinese. Now try that same experiment, but instead of fluency in Chinese, that Marketing Fairy can make your entire team fluent in digital marketing. What would the positive impact be on the business?

ROI is a perennial in conversations about marketing, so let’s frame digital literacy the same way. What impact would digital literacy have on the bottom line? On the cost side, a digitally literate marketing team would rely less on external partners, thus saving billable hours. A digitally literate team would negotiate more effectively for online opportunities. And a digitally literate team would probably be more productive and leaner. On the commercial upside, a digitally literate marketing team would be more agile in exploiting online opportunities, in uncovering potential new markets and better equipped to expand existing ones.

I suspect that marketers are starting to shake off their complacency and are beginning to recognise that having a team that is fluent in digital marketing is a significant competitive strategic asset going forward. Digital literacy will separate those brands who speak the language and those who don’t.

 

Patty Keegan
BY Patty Keegan ON 15 August 2012
Patty Keegan is director of Digital Chameleon. Beginning her career in magazines, she was also VP at Carat USA, founder and director of Carat Interactive Australia, founding general manager of the IAB Australia, and is one of the biggest players of Australia’s digital age. Twitter: @pattykeegan