Marketing professionals feel the earth move.

Wow. A survey released barely more than a week ago by Adobe underscores why so many marketing pros — whether inside agencies, for-profits or non-profits — are feeling so unmoored these days.

The survey of 1,000 U.S. marketers reflects data collected over two weeks in August and September 2013.

More than three-quarters of the respondents said they think the industry has changed more in the past two years than in the prior 50! Whose education and experience could have prepared them for such a blinding pace of change? How can anyone keep up with it?

More than 75% of 1,000 U.S. marketers surveyed by Adobe said they think the marketing industry has changed more in the past two years than in the prior 50.

It certainly explains why virtually every prospective new client in our office has one burning question: “can you help me master this unruly digital beast?” More of the data also helps shed light on the growing anxiety marketing pros are feeling. Direct quotes from Adobe’s summary:

  • Marketers are not confident in their digital ability. Only 48% of digital marketers feel highly proficient in digital marketing. (Note these are individuals who self-identify as “digital marketers.“)
  • Marketers have low confidence in their companies’ marketing performance. Only 40% think their company’s marketing is effective.
  • Sixty-eight percent of marketing professionals feel more pressured to show return on investment on marketing spend.
  • Most digital marketers don’t have formal training; 82% learn on the job.
  • Only 9% of respondents strongly agree with the statement “I know our digital marketing is working.”
[br top=”20″]These are some sobering data, for agencies providing marketing services, client-side marketing leaders, and especially company CFOs and CEOs.

Given the rapidly shifting digital landscape and its attendant uncertainty, what’s a marketer to do? I’m no McKinsey consultant so I don’t try to dispense advice for the global multinational. (We work mostly with small and middle-market businesses on brand strategy, brand development and online/offline marketing integration.) But I can tell you exactly what our team’s doing — and has been doing weekly for the past couple of years — to get up on this wave and ride.

“Get More Digital”

Two years ago I sponsored an agency-wide initiative to increase familiarity and proficiency in digital marketing, storytelling, communications and analytical tools, theory and practice; our rallying cry was “Get More Digital!”

For an hour every week, small teams tasked with investigating specific skills brought the material back and taught their peers. We recognized quickly that the days of the super-specialist in the agency were gone. A graphic designer must become conversant in HTML, CSS, CMS, online video and SEO. A copywriter must know SEO, blogging, ebooks, v-logs and more. An account manager was always a generalist; even more so in this new world order.

We discovered the encyclopedic knowledge of HubSpot and Marketo, two leading marketing software automation companies. So we spent several months getting every staffer inbound marketing certified at HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Academy. A certification, by the way, that we renew annually. Great resources we relied on then — and continue to follow faithfully — are HubSpot Academy, MOZ, Google Analytics, Social Media Examiner and Copyblogger.

Unify Your Thinking (and Doing)

One of the most powerful frameworks for unifying both thinking and doing is your brand.

Almost any marketing group today is going to have some 50-somethings working along some 20-somethings. I grew up counting characters to see if a headline would fit. Melissa and I started Thoma Thoma with a T-square, graphic table and an account with the local Linotype shop. The firm was nearly two years old when we bought our first computer, a Mac Plus with a 20-megabyte hard disk and Aldus PageMaker 1.0. Now one of my star colleagues is a kid who wrote a novel in college, led the student newspaper to an integrated digital platform and doesn’t know a world that existed without cell phones.

The fact is that these two centers of energy and smarts bring a lot to the table. Unifying the analog and digital, the online and offline, the traditional and the new remains a key domain of the excellent marketing and communications group. Today, every plan and execution should be viewed through the lens of unity. Are the gears enmeshed or grinding? Is the offline syncing with the online; is there a seamless experience for our customer?

One of the most powerful frameworks for unifying both thinking and doing is your brand. What is the brand promise? What is the desired brand experience? Is your digital presence articulating your brand value and delivering your brand experience as effectively and memorably as your “bricks-and-mortar” operation? Thoma Thoma’s 20+ years in brand marketing enabled us to jump-start unified-marketing programs and services. We find it’s a great lens to get our clients thinking about how they can accelerate success in online marketing and customer service.

Measure Everything

Survey participants say they don’t think their companies’ marketing is effective, and few have good measurement systems in place. Well, you can’t discern the former without the latter, so the solution starts with building decent analytics into your programs.

The explosion of the Internet has ushered in a whole new age of accountability. Gone are those days of John Wanamaker who knew half his advertising budget was wasted, but couldn’t tell which half.

On our team is a former VP of Rapp Collins, the world’s largest direct marketing company. Her assessment after recently completing our de rigeur online marketing certification: “That’s mostly like everything in direct. Measure everything. Be accountable. A/B test and go with the winners. Care about ROI more than awards.”

For the first time in marketing practice, a breathtaking degree of accountability is available. Are we availing ourselves of it? Every new business, every annual review conversation now starts with, “What has to happen in your business during the next year for you to be successful?” The answer gets drilled down into the measures and objectives for the marketing, lead-generation and sales program.

Our answer was to enthusiastically embrace this fabulous transparency and visibility into our marketing programs’ effectiveness. It’s pretty damn scary to begin–not everyone in the communications and creative industry has been subject to such performance scrutiny growing up in the industry. (Check out this post from our creative director Wade McCune; he and I share common sentiments, having grown up in the creative department.)  But then a wonderful thing happens. You experience regular feedback on your programs. You know exactly what’s working and what’s not. You watch the points accumulating on the scoreboard, and you know just which passes, tackles, blocks and trick-plays put them there. Not only that, your clients get addicted to the data…and soon you are having more substantive, strategic and smart conversations together than ever happened in the past.

The Adobe survey can be viewed as a sad state of marketing affairs. Or it can be seen as a rallying cry to marketing practitioners to embrace accountability for our own performance, to actively learn something every day, and to apply that insight and measure results tomorrow.

That’s what we’re doing at Thoma Thoma. What about you?

P.S. If you want to download a copy of the survey, “Digital Distress: What Keeps Marketers Up at Night?” which Adobe is distributing freely, you can get it here, or at Adobe’s website.

Author Martin Thoma

Began his agency career as a copywriter before co-founding Thoma Thoma more than 30 years ago. Now Martin focuses on helping brands grow by discerning, defining and articulating their unique strengths.

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