Have you heard of Ryan Holiday? He became the Director of Marketing of American Apparel at just 22 years old.
What about Gordin Ching? He was nicknamed the World’s Youngest Chief Digital Officer by the CDO Club at just 22.
In an industry marked by continual change, youth can be seen as an advantage over experience. Younger digital marketers typically have a good understanding of technology, are up to date with current trends and, if the organisation is targeting a younger audience, may relate better to the target customer. Plus, they are generally cheaper to employ.
But no one wants to have a 22 year-old boss!
So what can you do to make sure that doesn’t happen? While Digital Marketers should be using a multipronged approach to ensure that you do your job well, this article focuses on the role that continual learning plays to ensure that you stay relevant and aren’t challenged by someone with less skills who is deemed to be more “up to speed”.
As Gandhi said“Learn as if you were to live forever”
This doesn’t just apply to life skills, but in your career too. Technology is an enabler that is changing all industries, but none perhaps so much as the Digital Marketing industry. If you want to stay relevant you need to know the changes that are happening, the tools that are available, the new methods that work better and most importantly, your customer’s changing expectations.
One of the key elements to being revered at your job is ensuring that you are staying up to date with progress in the industry and continually learning to stay on top of changes.
Whilst many of the core marketing concepts around customer service, usability and customer targeting holds true over the decades, it’s the skills, tools and implementation that are evolving on a daily basis.
When I started in Digital Marketing 17 years ago, we were using SEO by creating multiple landing pages, asking for blanket reciprocal links, using newsgroups to engage with customers, creating fake blog pages and emailing a database with no targeting and limited personalisation. Tools were all custom built and the website design formula was close to ‘loading as many links as possible on a page’.
Fast forward to today and the number of tactics have quadrupled. The tools available now consolidate and automate on our behalf and there are new tools released every day. What’s more, with more consumers online than ever, their expectations have also shot up and they expect a response almost instantly on their preferred channel at virtually any time of the day.
This is where continual learning comes in. Continual learning involves making a commitment to continually review and upgrade your skills in order to stay relevant. This is a fairly new phenomenon. Unlike the previous generation, we are not working on as many repetitive tasks. Our jobs to be done can vary largely and quickly and often our days are spent doing a variety of tasks, with few days exactly the same as the day before. Not only this but there are teams of people working to continually modify and improve the very tools we use on a daily basis, meaning that any of them can change at any time.
We only need to look at Google Analytics or Facebook Advertising to see how much those interfaces have evolved in the last 5 years.
So with tools, customers, techniques and success rates changing so fast, how can we learn?
All Digital Marketers need to adopt a growth mindset. You need to be thirsty for knowledge and eager to get to that next level. More than that though, you need to be willing to try, and to fail in your attempts. Because trying new things is a big part of this role, although failure has not been something that employers have looked favorably upon.
This view point is gradually starting to change. Certainly in the startup world the concept of failure is now being worn more as a badge of honor rather than something to be hidden away. Failure gives us a chance to improve, to try again and to do better next time. Some people go as far as to call failure a feature. Thomas Edison famously looked upon his experiences not as failure but as success in proving what does not work.
This is the mindset that Digital Marketers need to have. That is not to say that huge proportions of the budget should be set on tests that may not get results, but continually trying new things, then tweaking and trialling again needs to be part of the journey.
How to Embrace Continual Learning
There are several ways that Digital Marketers can take continual learning seriously. Here are our top ways of incorporating learning into your role and working life:
- Online Research:
Spend time discovering how other organisations are achieving success. Subscribe to publications and blogs that share information on new or updated tools. Look at what other companies in other industries are doing and seek out people to follow who share the how as well as the what. Our favourite tools in this space are TechCrunch, MarketingMag, the WPCurve blog, CMO.com.au and LinkedIn Pulse.
- In Person Events
It should be no surprise that this is high up on my list, but let me tell you why. Events provide you an opportunity to come together with lots of people in similar roles to you who jointly want to hear about a topic and network. Really it’s a no brainer! The hard bit is putting yourself out there and spending the time connecting with the people who can add value to you. We recommend trying to get a copy of the attendee list before hand (just ask if it’s not available, you might just get it!) and thinking about who might be valuable to meet. What’s more if you don’t get to connect at the event, you’ve got something in common for you to reach out to them about afterwards. The speakers are also generally available to meet and often share their contact details. If they are experts in an area you want to know more about, try and connect with them too. Chances are they are keen to meet others in the industry as well.
- Your Peers
I think this is one of the most valuable, yet under-ultilised resources available to us. Everyone knows people in similar positions to them in other companies. Make an effort to catch up regularly, organize an informal group to have a monthly lunch or go for a walk with someone you used to work with. People you know are more likely to be willing to give you specifics on what is and isn’t working for them and are likely to be interested in having a chat about where you are at and your current issues or challenges. If you don’t know people who meet this description, find them at events or look them up on LinkedIn and reach out. Everyone can do with a peer buddy to help!
Courses aren’t just for novices, there are increasingly sophisticated and specific courses available to help you to stay up to date. It is all about picking the one that is right for your skill level. Obviously there are heaps of beginner courses around, but take a look for master classes on specific topics that you want to learn about. And if you can’t find a course around, reach out to someone who is an expert in the area and ask them if you can pay them to spend a few hours teaching you on the topic. Maybe you can even get a group of your peers together to make it more affordable and fun!
- Online Learning
The challenge in the digital marketing space isn’t finding online learning on the topic you want to know about, it’s sifting through all that is available to find content that is worthy to spend your time on and at the right level of information and experience for what you need. There are several courses that provide elearning modules and I personally like finding experts and then seeing what they offer (or support) in the space.
Podcasts are an amazing source of keeping up to date and hearing new ideas and there is loads of fresh content being produced frequently for Digital Marketers. This is a great space to find someone who you find inspirational (like Seth Godin) and then finding all the podcasts that he has spoken on and listening to them. I’m also finding that some of the startup related podcasts feature very talented founders who are great to listen to about how they use Digital Marketing. Most of the time they are very generous with the information they share too.
One of the mistakes I’ve observed that people make is that they think they are too senior to learn or they push the learning onus onto their more junior team members. The truth is that no one can afford to do that in this industry or they will be left behind. It doesn’t mean that everyone needs to learn how to be hands on with every tactic that pops up, far from it, but if you don’t have a good understanding of what it is and how and when to use it (and why!) then you very well may be the one who gets superseded.
I love this quote:
“Try to learn something about everything and everything about something” Thomas Huxley
And to learn everything about Digital Marketing, means incorporating continual learning as part of the job.
Visit us on our Facebook Group and tell us how you embrace continual learning.