Though digital marketing may still be relatively new on the scene, this form of communication has already made its mark. Just since the late 1990s, the customer experience has undergone significant changes as marketers have had to acclimate to the introduction of email, live chat, social media, and mobile technologies—not to mention the penetration of the Internet overall. But, as in the past, each emerging channel brings with it an opportunity for companies to learn, adjust, and grow alongside the consumer. 

Yet, even with nearly two decades of experience and exploration under their belts, digital marketers continue to struggle to adapt in conjunction with the evolving landscape. While some have embraced the need for constant innovation, others remain steadfast in their antiquated strategies, for they hesitate to undertake the risk that comes along with new investments. However, most will agree that this fast-paced space all but requires brands to integrate emerging technologies and adopt new skills if they are to retain their competitive advantage in an increasingly cutthroat economy.

Instead of distributing basic messaging out into the void, today's marketers must focus upon starting conversations and building brand relationships with the consumer. "Before digital marketing came on the scene, marketing was largely one way," says Adam Kapel, senior vice president of marketing and insights at Taykey. "Print, radio, and TV were used to broadcast messages to passive consumers. Now, marketers must think about how to interact with consumers—the complete opposite of what they were doing before. The fact that creative is now dominated by the desire to facilitate interactions, whether with an ad or directly with the brand, means that there are new skills to be learned."

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According to Wilson Raj, global director of customer intelligence at SAS, the average marketer's goals remain unchanged, as they still strive to win, serve, and retain customers by providing value and building trust so that the business can greatly improve the chances of making sales over the course of the relationship. However, the scope of their role has changed dramatically, for they have gone from being brand and communications stewards to business drivers focused on positive outcomes.

But, as brands progress at their own individual pace, every company's digital marketing department demonstrates its own unique level of aptitude and maturity: 

New marketers develop the basic skills necessary to carry out their duties.

Debbie Qaqish, principal and chief strategy officer at The Pedowitz Group, emphasizes that those new to the digital marketing space must master vital skills and establish the groundwork if they are to succeed. The following elements are critical for both those in the early stages of development, as well as those who need to reevaluate their current strategies:

  1. Technology: Alex Lustberg, CMO at Lyris, encourages digital marketers to embrace technology with an open mind. While the "four Ps" of marketing—product, place, price, and promotion—will always be relevant, marketing automation and optimization software have the power to facilitate new processes and new types of engagement. Inadequate data management investments, specifically, will hinder future efforts, as real-time and predictive capabilities are crucial factors.
  2. Measurement: While monitoring an established set of metrics isn't new to the marketing realm, digital marketers will find themselves looking to optimization and measurement more and more as quantitative analysis becomes essential. Though the tools used may be more sophisticated and complex, Kapel notes, this numbers-based approach remains at the heart of good marketing.
  3. Culture: Raj indicates that internal philosophy pertains to how the given company defines and embeds its digital marketing vision throughout the organization in terms of breadth of strategy, ownership, and investments in skill sets. By developing an enterprisewide approach, said brands establish an understanding that lays the necessary foundation for continued growth and success.
  4. Understanding: Qaqish highlights that those marketers who are accustomed to more traditional methods will need to shrink the huge gap present in their customer understanding skills. Because these professionals are used to one-way communications, they often lack the interpersonal skills necessary to engage today's consumers. Thus, said digital marketers must embrace the new tools at their disposal to acquaint themselves with their customer base and this digital body language.

Smart marketers avoid the 'bright, shiny objects' by focusing on the importance of data.

No matter the brand's stage of adoption, all digital marketing departments are susceptible to the allure of newfangled strategies and technologies. Marketers often stray toward what's fresh and popular before they assess the tactic or tool's total impact on the company's overarching goals. 

"Being distracted by shiny objects comes at the expense of getting some of the most foundational experiences right," Lustberg emphasizes. "Marketers are not necessarily being held back from diving into digital, but are doing so in a way that does not always advance their maturity. Maturity requires you to understand, integrate, and practice in every available channel, not just new technology. It's important to take a 'big picture' approach and harmonize different initiatives to achieve the best possible results."

Thus, smarter, more advanced digital marketers focus on analyzing and incorporating customer data so they may create plans that play into the consumers' wants and needs. "The only ways to find success moving forward will be to put the customer first and base your strategies on actual data, which is really just a fancy way of saying customer feedback," says Joe Moriarty, founder of Content Raven. "Whether consciously or not, customers are telling you exactly what they like and don't like, what they'll respond to and what doesn't work."

These marketers implement systems that allow them to track content and obtain real-time feedback so they may observe interaction and engagement patterns. Smart strategy starts with the target audience, hence why marketers are increasingly aware of data's primary benefits. Digital body language offers marketers more insight than ever before, yet many are hesitant to fully embrace digital marketing, for it requires a dramatic change in both mindset and tactics, particularly for those accustomed to broadcasting messages, not engaging in interactive conversations. However, those who disregard the intimidation that often accompanies this changing marketing landscape and embrace the customer feedback at their fingertips will find their transition to be much smoother than those who remain reluctant, for they will continue to boost their strategic intelligence simply by tapping into the customer psyche.

Sophisticated marketers learn from one another to create an effective, collaborative environment.

In the marketing space, traditional marketers are considered old, while digital marketing stands to be dominated by the young. However, traditionalists often hesitate to embrace this know-how, as they perpetuate the myth that youth indicates immaturity. Yet, while young marketers don't have the same level of hands-on experience that older marketers have, these newcomers possess an innate ability to tackle and master the latest contact channels. 

Digital marketing continues to evolve, as new channels—social, mobile, and video—offer innovative ways for consumers to engage. Many young marketing professionals, Kapel emphasizes, exercise great digital marketing maturity because they instinctively understand these channels, for they have had the opportunity to grow alongside these emerging technologies. Thus, older marketers now have the chance to learn from these savvy individuals, as they teach traditionalists how to approach these new channels and engage with consumers via these new online venues. Sophisticated marketing organizations are willing to push pride aside in order to learn from those who have knowledge to share.

However, just as the young have much to teach the old, traditionalists also have a wealth of expertise that's vital for younger marketers, as the more experienced generations have much to teach about fundamental marketing skills, such as writing and strategy. Once the gap between the age groups can be bridged, both sides of the organization will see their digital marketing maturity increase. Breaking down the barriers between experienced, but less digitally savvy marketers and the unseasoned, young professionals will help all of today's marketers become more well-rounded overall, for collaboration and constant learning remain at the heart of all successful organizations.