The phrase Web 2.0 has become popular lately. If you’re not familiar with the term (and like a lot of internet-related terms, its definition is not completely agreed upon), it describes the web’s second generation, which has more community applications, such as social networking sites, wikis, message boards, blogs, etc.
Web 2.0 means that users have a voice and increased expectations for commercial websites and communications with brands online have increased. It also means that online marketing has become incredibly more complex than the days when you could get by with throwing up your brochures and a contact us page and wait to see what happened. There are significantly greater opportunities for business as well as significantly greater complexity for those who manage online marketing. Of course, this means that the skill sets necessary to effectively manage web 2.0 must similarly evolve.
However, historically, companies have staffed their internet marketing department with personnel that lacks marketing experience, when, in fact, internet marketing is easily the most complex marketing channel to manage today. Very candidly, again and again, I’ve seen and learned from peers with similar experience that the reason for inadequate skill sets in the online marketing department is often rooted in senior marketing executives not being comfortable or familiar with online marketing. Consequently, they often view online marketing as an area to hire managers with strong technology skills, not necessarily strong marketing skills. My twenty two years of marketing and advertising and twelve years of managing online marketing tell me that companies should be looking for managers with very strong marketing and communications skills who are technology savvy. So, what is the result of online marketing departments staffed with inexperienced marketers? Check recent studies on marketing effectiveness, integration in the marketing mix and ability for online marketing to measure effectiveness from the CMO Council, Jupiter and others from the past several years. Although online marketing departments can provide a lot of web operational metrics, they rarely provide measures that are meaningful to the business. (Hint to CMOs: If you’re staff is providing you with low level web operational measures such as visitors, click-throughs and page views, you have a problem – you should be seeing measures meaning to the business objectives and ROI. Additional deficiencies include areas such as marketing mix integration, planning, setting quantitative objectives, properly testing, effectively leveraging media vehicles, etc. -- the list goes on.)
Web 2.0 not only means that marketing and metrics experience is even more critical than in the past, it also means that in-depth experience with communications is vital. Web 2.0 means that your targets have a voice – whether it’s on your turf (AKA website) or somewhere else. Which means that online marketing staff should be managing communications that are two way in nature. Think message board, blogs – it doesn’t matter if your company has launched one of these vehicles or if your targets use them somewhere else; if you’re not at least monitoring these vehicles and leveraging the information in your marketing -- plain and simple -- you’re not properly managing your brand.
All of this makes internet marketing incredibly more complex than it was a decade ago. It is no longer about throwing up brochures and watching what happens. I’m not even persuaded it is fair to call that interactive marketing, when that is about as interactive as someone reading a newspaper or watching a television show on their couch -- that's observing. Today’s web enables significantly greater interactivity. Internet users can rate things, provide their opinion to the community or brand, ask for help or give help to others, share their experiences with a brand – there are almost endless possibilities. However, companies still often manage this area with skills sets that fit more with Web 1.0.
I’ve put together a list of some of the skill sets necessary to manage online marketing in today’s environment:
- Advanced communications skills.
Merely understanding and communicating the value proposition isn’t sufficient. The web isn’t like one-way communications sent out to the public such as advertising or press releases, online marketers must be fluent in two-way communications with the public and know how to deal effectively with harsh critics. This is probably the most difficult skill set to expect from candidates, as this area is so new. Consequently, strong corporate communications experience is imperative.
- Strong knowledge of branding and a solid understanding of design, usability and user experience.
Visitors to your website, recipients of your emails, readers of your corporate blogs are all experiencing your brand. Your website being hard to use and forms not working might represent that your company is not customer-focused and concerned with ease of use in your products to her.
- Strong knowledge of other elements of the marketing mix.
Great online marketing rarely exists in a silo. It is integrated into everything else your company is doing, from PR to word of mouth marketing to traditional advertising to packaging to support. In order to be integrated, great online marketing requires integrated planning and, ideally (but rarely, in practice), integrated metrics. This means that online marketing managers must have a solid understanding of how these other elements work in order to best integrate.
- Strong marketing, segmentation and targeting skills.
Effective online marketing requires a strong foundation in marketing and direct marketing fundamentals (yes, I believe a foundation in direct marketing is very beneficial for online marketing, even if you're not doing direct selling), segmenting audiences and effectively targeting messages.
- Strong understanding of technology/information technology.
Managing online marketing requires a strong knowledge and comfort with technology to understand how things work and what is possible. It means working closely with the IT department, programmers, coders, designers, illustrators, analysts, etc. Even more, because internet technologies and usage is regularly evolving, it requires a manager to regularly stay up on technology. However, the technical aspect of managing online marketing shouldn’t define the online marketing position, marketing skills should.
- Strong analytical/data skills.
Online marketing, even for brands that do not sell direct (that is, through channel partners), requires constant analysis of data that indicates what users do. Database marketing experience is critical.
- Strong knowledge and experience with research and marketing testing techniques.
I’ve often thought that a good place to find great online marketers is from the direct mail marketing world, as these marketers are often experts with testing, complex metrics and database marketing. Doing online marketing campaigns at a best practice level requires testing and an effective online marketing manager must have a strong knowledge of testing techniques, and research in general to know when to conduct research and how to leverage the information learned from research.
Managing online marketing well requires a strong grasp of internet technologies, but it requires an even stronger grasp of marketing management. Perhaps CMOs are only beginning to realize this.