As marketers admit digital shortcomings, is the digital economy really as vibrant as portrayed?

Over half of marketers lack confidence in digital ability, a recent study reported by Adobe concludes.

Marketers admit to digital shortcomings

To suggest that Adobe “would say this wouldn't it?" runs counter-intuitive. Surely it wants the world to believe that we are all worshippers at the digital alter. But in what looks like a professional survey of 1,000 marketers across the USA, the headlines are startling:

Only 48 per cent of marketers feel proficient in digital marketing.

Few have any training, with 82 per cent saying they learned the subject on the job.

Only 40 per cent think their company's marketing is effective.

And only nine per cent strongly agree that their "digital marketing is working".

Given that 41 per cent of UK advertising is now digital, the highest proportion in the world by some way (the Western European average is 25 per cent), somebody somewhere should be worried. Fortunately I'm not a shareholder in Toyota, Standard Life, P&G, Unilever et al.

No one doubts the incredible power of the internet to connect people. But marketing, which is what most marketers do, is about a lot more than connection. It's about engagement, persuasion, conversion and transaction.

Which is why companies such as Google, Microsoft, Dell, and others invest in display advertising in newspapers and television. Like Coke they know that the virtual world is a very good thing, but is hidden from the consumer’s horizon.

What is getting lost in all this digital hype (or not), is that marketing is a layered set of objectives, messages and channels. The marketing guru Philip Kotler defined the product at three levels: its core proposition, the supporting benefits, and the ancillary elements such as distribution. One leading media buyer explained to me recently that his company now plans around sixteen different channels, each with a different objective. And each must reflect the overall brand concept, while demonstrating the (dreaded) ROI to the client.

One of the attractions with digital is that is measurable, but one must ask (and this is part of the challenge being put up by the marketers) are we measuring the right thing? Fantastic that 10 per cent of users click through, but if the number of users is only 20 per cent of those that could be reached through conventional means, does the math ad up?

I may be an old curmudgeon but it strikes me that too much of the advice that is going out to the marketers who confess to being out of their depth is coming from a new generation of low-grade media graduates, who can only talk digital speakish, but wouldn’t know what a newspaper is if it whacked them on the head, and whose only knowledge of TV is that it is something on which their parents watch Coronation Street.

I keep hearing people rejoicing that the UK has the most vibrant digital economy, but I can’t help wondering if this is reality or virtual reality.

Jim Chisholm has advised companies in 40 countries on their media strategy.

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