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Does Your Marketing Unit Suffer From a Digital Deficit?


The impact of digital technology on society and business has been profound.  The means by which consumers source information, goods and services has changed massively in the past decade and the effect and impact on businesses is huge.

However there are major alarm bells about the ability of businesses, and in particular marketing units within businesses, to adapt successfully to a modern media environment increasingly dominated by online sites, search engines and social media.

Working with marketing units and managers to help improve and modernise their marketing, I’ve identified a number of core gaps and vulnerabilities that businesses need to address:

  1. Most Social Media Marketing is Ineffective
  2. Poor Prioritisation of High RoI Digital Marketing Methods
  3. Poor Investment in Digital Skills and Knowledge
  4. Over-Reliance on Inexperienced Staff to Manage Digital Marketing

Most Social Media Marketing is Ineffective

If you completely stopped your presence on social media networks would anyone notice?

For the vast volume of businesses, probably not. Social media is the most challenging media type that businesses have ever faced – and most businesses perform poorly on it.

So is Social Media a waste of time? No, for a lot a businesses across the globe social media presents a genuinely good opportunity to reach target audiences and promote their business. Over 65% of people across Ireland and UK are Facebook users with the average user spending a massive 1 hour per day on the network. And it is possible for businesses to capitalise on Facebook’s media power through smart marketing.

Image for Promo Main

So why is social media marketing presenting such a challenge for businesses? Well firstly consider the reasons why people use social media. For most, social media networks are entertainment platforms  enabling them to connect with friends or around their hobbies and interests. Businesses can use social effectively to connect with people, but they need to be clever and adept at producing relevant, interesting content, and having a good level of knowledge on social media networks.  And the fact is most businesses, and even marketing units, don’t possess this – and have never really tried to improve their ability. Poor performance on social media is typically down to a business having a blend of the following:

  • Their brand, product or service is fundamentally poor, and marketing promotion on social media is not going to improve it
  • Their content is reasonably good, but it’s only being seen by a very small volume of people. (Facebook massively restrict the visibility of Facebook Page Posts for most Pages)
  • Their content on social media is poor, and they misunderstand why anyone would be interested in interacting with it on what are essentially entertainment channels.
  • They have strong potential on social media but haven’t utilised social media advertising to gain a realistic marketing impact.

There’s no doubt there are numerous examples of businesses, big and small, who are very adept at social media marketing. But there are just too many businesses that are relying on, often poor, activity on social media instead of committing to implementing an effective modern marketing strategy and activity that is productive.


Failure to utilise other primary digital marketing methods – especially email and search; and an overspend on digital display ads

All too often marketing managers are totally ignoring key digital marketing areas such as search marketing, email marketing and paid Facebook advertising in favour of an over-reliance on tactics such as ineffective organic social media activity and digital display ads – activity that fails from a marketing perspective.

Here’s a guide to the highest (and lowest!) rated digital marketing methods in a survey of UK Marketing Directors by eConsultancy. Email, SEO and Paid Search always perform well in marketing return on investment, and just look at the poor results for online display advertising.


Top Digital marketing methods by RoI

Top Digital marketing methods by RoI – Econsultancy

There’s no doubt that a large volume of marketing units and businesses in Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland lag behind when it comes to reflecting the importance of digital marketing in their budget spend. Poor investment in core digital marketing areas is usually always complemented by over-spending on traditional marketing activity with a very heavy reliance on print and broadcast advertising. Just consider the spending plans by business leaders according to key marketing methods with sharp declines in Direct Mail and Print Advertising.

Marketing Spend 2016 - Marketing Charts

Marketing Spend 2016 – Marketing Charts


Why does digital display advertising attract so high a percentage of ad spend?

Another area that keeps cropping up in marketing audits I perform is the very high proportion of marketing budget spend allocated to digital display advertising. You’ve undoubtedly seen these ads on major websites – they are banner ads that are used to promote brands and products on third party websites.

However, display adverts have a poor reputation for performance and return on investment compared to other digital advert types such as search and social ads.  In fact, there’s even a term for their poor performance within the Ad industry: ‘banner blindness’, so called because of the low level of interaction that website visitors have with these ads. Average Click Through Rates are only 0.17% in the UK.

And it’s not just the low interaction with banner ads that causes alarm, it’s also the quality of the website traffic they yield. Typically people clicking through to websites from banner ads are poor at interacting with the site content compared to visitors from other online sources.

So the big question is – Why is there such as disproportionately high spend on banner ads in modern marketing?


Poor Investment in Digital Skills and Knowledge

The pressure on business to quickly adapt to the rapidly changing modern media and consumer environment is of critical importance for many businesses. A key factor in exploiting and reacting to these changes has been the level of digital knowledge and skills of staff within organisations.  And perhaps no single area of business has been disrupted as much as marketing.  According to, 76% of marketers believe ‘Marketing has changed more in the past 2 years compared to the previous 50’!

Given the massive structural changes in media and technology, knowledge and skills, we might have expected marketers and communications professionals would have been eager to invest in their digital marketing education and skills. But for a large part, that has not been the case.

When you consider the huge media changes, investment in improving knowledge of transformative technology, digital media and marketing is very low among marketing staff generally. Adobe report that ‘Marketers are not confident in their digital ability. Only 48% say they feel highly proficient in digital marketing’. And, in a staggering statistic from the Digital Marketing Institute, “a mere 8% of marketers achieved ‘entry level skills’ in digital.” (DMI 2016 Digital Skills Survey)

Lack of digital skills, as well as a general unwillingness to modernise marketing skills is one of the main areas of detriment I witness in organisations and businesses across the country.

And the ‘digital deficit’ is increasingly having an impact on the careers of marketing and communications staff in addition to the effect on how their host organisations perform online. Typical job specifications in marketing, communications and PR are fast evolving to include much greater reliance on digital and social media marketing skills.

So one of my key pieces of advice is for marketing and communications professionals to invest in their future by improving their level of knowledge and their practical skills in digital marketing. At the very least modern marketing staff should possess the following:

  • A diploma in Digital Marketing from a reputable training provider
  • Good knowledge of digital and social media content and tactics
  • An understanding of the impact that technology and digital media is having on their target audiences and their markets
  • Keeping regularly up-to-date on the trends within modern media and marketing


Over-Reliance on Inexperienced Staff to Manage Digital Marketing

One very common scenario I experience in organisations is the practice of over-relying on young, often very inexperienced staff and interns to run their digital and social media marketing. While there are plenty of capable interns and young marketing professionals about, there is no doubt unreasonable expectations are placed on graduates based on a misunderstanding about what they can deliver in terms of marketing success.

All too often in-house ‘digital experts’, tend to exhibit the following weaknesses:

  • Poor understanding of overall digital marketing – especially in relation to highly important areas such as search marketing and website performance.
  • Ineffective social media impact: although they churn out a high volume of social media content – there is a low demonstrable impact in terms of adding value to the employer
  • Lack context and awareness of the organisation – to the extent that marketing messages, especially on social media, do not sound authentic.


Final thoughts …………

With such a dizzying array of media choices coupled with rapid developments in digital media and technology, it’s perhaps unsurprising that many marketing units have struggled to effectively modernise their marketing.

However businesses need to go beyond simple tactics in marketing and develop a sound and effective marketing strategy that allows your company to ‘reach and impact your target audiences, on the right media, at the right price and at the right time’. Digital marketing methods – from search engine advertising to social media marketing – are important pillars in the marketing process. It’s vital that marketing, communications and PR professionals are strong on marketing strategy, digital marketing methods and are investing heavily in their knowledge and skills development in a fast-changing world.