The Most Important Thing Digital Marketers Must Do to Avoid Obsolescence

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Marketing is changing at an increasingly rapid rate. New digital tools and tactics are constantly emerging to dethrone long-time kings. Disruptive products and players crop up on a constant basis with novel approaches and innovative ideas, vying for your market share. Even long-established pillars of marketing are being fundamentally changed by analytics, technology, and shifting consumer habits; it’s all too easy to fall behind.

If you’ve worked in digital marketing long enough, you’ve almost certainly worked under someone who was not a digital native; a senior manager or head of marketing that’s still leveraging the same outlook and tactics that made them successful ten or twenty years ago. Those principals were enough to bring them quick career growth at the time but have since lost relevance–and it’s apparent to anyone working with them who has a more modern perspective. As a digital marketer yourself, it’s imperative that you start adjusting your career journey now to avoid a similar fate.

This is no longer a profession suited for people with a static understanding of their marketing discipline. Perhaps once you could have gotten by with just a strong foundation of brand principles or PR best practices or direct response fundamentals, and that would be enough to carry you through your career. But that hasn’t been the case for some time now. Becoming complacent for just a few months can mean you’ll have to work overtime to catch back up and ride the wave. Fall behind a couple of years, and you might want to start considering a new career direction. That’s why, if you hope to have long and successful careers in marketing, it’s critically important to become what I like to call a “lifelong learner.” Otherwise you’ll be destined to commit the same sins as previous generations and quickly become irrelevant.

Climbing to the Top, One Step at a Time

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Regardless of the path you take to the top, you must always have the humility it takes to realize that you have a lot more to learn. The days of a successful marketing leader being out of touch with digital and the rest of marketing’s cutting edge are long gone. At the same time, a marketing head who is digitally minded but can’t take advantage of traditional media or more abstract concepts like branding will also have a short shelf life. If you have long term plans of a career in executive leadership with an eventual spot in the CMO chair of a large and prestigious organization, you must have an understanding of how all the pieces of modern marketing fit together. Experienced CMO executive recruiters will accept nothing less.

As fast as digital marketing is moving now, you need a consistent big-picture understanding of the major trends in marketing and the primary factors that are impacting your success. But that’s not something you can just acquire overnight–or over a year. We see too many marketers put off learning about a key new strategy or system and then rush to understand it all at once when an urgent need arises. These days, trying to acquire new skills or update your understanding in big “chunks” only when there is a pressing need for it doesn’t work for digital; you won’t get the real-time context and ability to absorb that information that makes it truly valuable.

Instead, it’s better to constantly build yourself and your knowledge of digital marketing consistently, on a daily basis. Read an article here, have a conversation with a subject matter expert there, watch a video in between. On any given day, this consistent learning and growing won’t make a huge impact. But the accumulation of knowledge, experience and skills builds up bit by bit into a powerful and flexible big-picture understanding of how to make the most of digital.

An experienced digital marketing recruiter can easily differentiate a professional who dedicated themselves to learning and growing constantly ten years ago versus one who only does it and fits and spurts when the need arises. The former is immeasurably more wise, strategic and prepared for the future than the latter, which can make all the difference down the road when CMO executive recruiters are evaluating you for a big job opportunity.

Becoming a Lifelong Learner Yourself

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From a strictly professional perspective, most of the knowledge you’re acquiring as a lifelong learner should be related to marketing, business, leadership and technology. But the most successful lifelong learners don’t limit their perpetual education to their career; they’re constantly learning personal skills, practicing their social aptitude, exposing themselves to new ideas and tirelessly forging themselves into stronger, better people overall. For them, learning isn’t a professional duty limited to business hours; it’s a full-time lifestyle choice.

Don’t take this advice to mean that you’re expected to know everything about every facet of marketing; that’s simply impossible. The list of moving parts that make up today’s marketing is already too long, and growing every day. Can you imagine learning all there is to know about online advertising, PR, user experience, analytics, branding, and web design? Of course not–and that’s only the tip of the iceberg!

Instead, it’s better to have a general understanding of major trends, a big-picture view of emerging technology and tactics, and know how everything fits together as part of a large, constantly changing and interdependent puzzle.

This is no longer a profession suited for people with a static understanding of marketing discipline.

For instance, regardless of your background you can better understand what your customer experience is, why it’s important, and the value (or detriment) it brings your business. But if your background and strengths lie in product marketing or media buying, you don’t need to get obsessed with learning the meticulous details of improving online UX, providing responsive customer support and developing a seamless omnichannel offering. For the finer points, you should rely on your team of top performers in every field to handle day-to-day execution and advise you on strategy.

A good way to start is to find a variety of reliable resources that deliver a regular schedule of high-quality, up-to-date and easily accessible content. Thanks to the magic of the internet, you have an overwhelming amount of well-written, interesting, informative and even entertaining resources in your pocket at all times. Make use of them! Blogs, web publications, podcasts, video series and more bring guides, thought leadership, trending news and industry forecasts right to your fingertips, often entirely free. There are also webinars, industry conferences, mentorships, workshops, and the like. Our CMO executive recruiters have written about several of these subjects before; you’ll find these a good place to get started if you’re just beginning (or continuing) your journey as a digital marketer and lifelong learner:

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