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October 20, 2015
What Does a Digital Marketing Strategist Do That a Marketing Strategist Can't?
Even though I run a digital marketing agency, I have a love/hate relationship with placing the word “digital” in front of everything we do. The reason for this incongruity was best expressed by Claire Knapp in her eloquent post titled “There is no such thing as digital marketing. There is only marketing.”

I agree. But even today, as the Internet turns twenty, we are still in a transitional stage where digital proficiency can’t be assumed when hiring a marketing agency or job candidate. Thus, the lingering need to preface everything with the word “digital” — including our current posting for a digital marketing strategist. At first, we discussed simply naming the position “marketing strategist.” Over the past week, however, we had a change of heart. After a little reflecting we realized that the traditional marketing strategist has evolved in recent years into a new species of strategist that requires its own moniker.

Our European office hired its first dedicated digital marketing strategist about six years ago. So, last week when the Swedish team decided to hire another, I told our content manager to just post the job description we wrote in 2009. Fortunately, she ignored my advice and, instead, asked our senior digital marketing strategist to write down exactly what she did every day. The list surprised us.

As you might imagine, the job description from 2009 bears little resemblance to the work our digital marketing strategists do today. Six years ago, the role in my agency was very neatly defined as analyzing the global web presence of brands, then making recommendations. However, our digital marketing strategist was not big on job descriptions and simply did what needed to be done. As a result, her position has expanded incrementally every day since. Today, she seems to be involved, one way or another, in almost everything we do.

That made sense to me, since nearly everything we do involves digital, marketing, and strategy. What made less sense was how one person could do all these things well. Would it even be possible to find another? I was concerned that we had created a position so tailored to the unique skills and personal nuances of our senior strategist that no one else could fill it.

Online learning site Chegg defines Marketing Strategist as “someone who analyzes data to figure out the best way to promote a product or obtain customers.” This is very close to how we defined the role of our first digital marketing strategist. It’s a long way from where the role is today. So it’s not surprising that such a different role would require a different skill set. I think it also requires a different mindset and temperament.

A post by Harvard University’s Chief Digital Officer, Perry Hewitt, put this in perspective. Perry describes digital marketing today and the six traits that define top-performing digital talent. She advises to hire people who are omnivores, not vegans. She explains: “Digital is part technology, part content strategy, part marketing art — and science. People who very strongly identify with only one piece of the equation will struggle on a high-performing digital team.” I believe it’s this omnivorous trait that makes a great digital marketing strategist and also what makes them rare.

Then there is the fact that digital is evolving at a dizzying pace. That has implications for the type of person who is even able to keep up. When marketing strategists only had a handful of traditional media channels to contend with, they could be picky eaters and still perform in their job. With digital weaving its way into practically every aspect of our lives, it not only takes an omnivore, but a voracious one at that.

So, in this case, I feel the addition of “digital” to “marketing strategist” is not a waste of pixels. Digital marketing strategists today have earned the seven extra letters in their job title. If you feel you’ve earned them, feel free to get in touch.

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Sean Duffy is a founder of Duffy Agency, the digital marketing agency for aspiring international brands. Sean has over 25 years of experience working with strategic marketing in Boston, San Francisco, Stockholm, and Copenhagen. In addition to his involvement with Duffy Agency, Sean is a frequent speaker on strategic international marketing and online brand management. He serves also as Lecturer and Practitioner in Residence at the Lund University School of Economics & Management and as Mentor in their Masters Program in Entrepreneurship. Sean is an active member of  TAAN Worldwide where he has served two terms as the European Governor. He is also a speaker, bloggerTwittererand is on LinkedInWith offices in Malmö and Boston, Sean splits his time between Sweden and the States.

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