The medium is the message, and this is especially true in modern marketing. The medium, or distribution, of messaging has always been a relevant consideration. When people received most of their news from newspapers, newspaper ads rose in value as a medium of message delivery. For the 21st century, this means attempting to occupy digital spaces where targeted consumers regularly see (and engage with) the marketing messages being displayed.
If a marketing message falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, is it really a marketing message? Jokes aside, there is a very real struggle for attention in the modern world precisely due to the change in medium from tangible to digital. Digital space is unrestrained in the sense that anyone can access almost anything at any time, and the competition becomes completely global as well. This results in the signal (i.e. the marketing message) being lost amidst an unprecedented amount of noise (i.e. the entirety of internet information flow).
Fortunately, digital marketing has matured a great deal over the years and has achieved success and cost-efficacy that can potentially exceed traditional methods. The study of how to succeed in this complex new messaging marketplace is a core objective of digital marketing students and professionals, and the theoretical frameworks driving this success can be learned in most modern higher education institutions.
This can include a fairly wide variety of organizational roles, which all revolve around the same digital pillar. Marketers tend to be avid communicators, who excel in environments where visual cues (static images and videos) combine with copy (written words) to encapsulate the core messaging of a campaign. This means that writers, video editors, photographers, and graphic designs all fit well within the umbrella of digital marketing.
Digital marketing skills also contribute to managerial positions, as the strategic considerations are quite vast in the virtual space. Should an organization invest in video shorts on streaming platforms, or invest more heavily in search engine optimization (SEO)? Is it more effective to build a large social media following, or simply purchase ad space on social media websites? These questions just scratch the service of the broader executive-level thinking required to manage an organization’s digital marketing tactics, and both study and experience is required to excel in these roles.
Which begs the question, how does one enter the field of digital marketing? Are there degree programs geared towards these professionals? What types of courses do they take? Let’s take a look.
Getting a Digital Marketing Degree
Both established marketing professionals and new entrants into the field can find success in the broader execution of digital marketing strategies. For professionals who already have degrees in marketing, there are plenty of online courses and bootcamps that could be considered to build off of the traditional marketing competencies you already have. Much of the core methodology remains the same, with the distribution, analytics, and technical integrations being something that can be added on to contend with modern opportunities and challenges.
Another option for bachelor degree holders is the pursuit of a graduate program, where digital marketing is an explicit concentration in a broader MBA program. A graduate degree will assume some experience and expertise in marketing, management, and broader business strategy, building on that in order to implement marketing knowledge via modern technology. For professionals pursuing a promotion, an MBA in digital marketing is a great option.
For undergraduates interested in the field, there are plenty of options available. In fact, digital marketing is so integral to the modern marketing profession that virtually all marketing programs will include substantial theory and practice in strategizing and managing the use of digital channels. There are also undergraduate degrees specifically catering to digital marketing, though this is more common at the graduate level (undergraduate curricula typically include a broader scope within business management). With the rise of online education, many of these programs can also be completed online.
Let’s take a look at the key topics covered in these digital marketing degree programs:
- Social media marketing – Social media is very lucrative from a marketing perspective, both via paid tactics and organic ones. Learning how to manage an organization’s social media account is a very involved process, and well worth a few courses.
- Digital marketing strategy – More common in MBA-level programs, digital marketing strategy will seek ways to enunciate, measure, and prioritize different digital channels on a case-by-base basis. Lots of case studies and big-picture thinking in these courses.
- Content marketing – This is the bread and butter of many a digital marketing team, where graphic designers produce imagery and copywriters craft prose to generate digital assets that lead to preferable customer behaviors. This can branch into many fields, spanning from web design to filming multi-million dollar YouTube videos.
- Marketing automation: Machine learning is increasingly capable of making tactical decisions based on a well-designed campaign architecture, and automating many tasks (like composing and sending emails to email lists) is increasingly popular.
- SEO/SEM: Optimizing search engineer tactics, including both paid (SEM) and organic (SEO), begins with understanding the algorithms which determine what results make their way to the top of a query. This field is important for writers in particular.
- Analytics: Last but certainly not least is analytics. One of the primary advantages of digital marketing is the ability to measure every form of imaginable engagement accurately. Using this information to inform future decisions requires analytics.
While coursework is the core of any university program, it’s important to convert this knowledge into action via hands-on projects and internships. Internship programs can be found at the university’s career services department, and is a great consideration when deciding which program to pursue. Programs with a rich professional network will have opportunities to begin your career before you even finish your education. This is the ideal situation, and is well-worth investing time and energy researching prior to enrollment.
At this point you may be wondering what these internships would actually entail. What do digital marketers actually do? Let’s walk through it.
A Day in a Digital Marketer’s Shoes
Once you have the theory under your belt, it’s time to put those skills into action. This means identifying organizational needs from a digital communications perspective, and identifying the ideal way to execute social media campaigns, website development, email lists, promotional materials (i.e. content), and search engine optimization. A digital marketer will likely begin an internship occupying one of these roles, while professionals in the field will manage multiple roles from both a strategic (i.e. core messaging) and functional level (i.e. execution).
For creative types, a day in the life of a digital marketer will likely include meetings to discuss organizational vision, customer needs, past examples of successful content, and multidisciplinary collaboration across artists, writers, developers, and administrators. As a creative on one of these teams, you’ll need to translate the organization’s vision into interactive content that may (or may not) ‘go viral’.
Content creators have a difficult job, as they must take calculated strategic risks and iterate on previous assets to optimize customer engagement. This means lots of trial and error, feedback rounds, test campaigns (i.e. A/B tests), and the use of different mediums (platforms). Collaboration with more technically-inclined teammates will also take up a significant amount of work time.
These more technical digital marketers will occupy roles in analytics, software development (UX/UI design), and SEO. Technical professionals rely on automating the process of collecting and querying data, including how customers interact with all of the company’s internet-facing assets (i.e. websites, storefronts, etc.). There are a remarkable number of ways to collect and interpret this data, all of which must be translated into meaningful and actionable learnings.
At the higher levels, professionals (often with MBAs) will bridge the gap between these two groups as leaders of the digital marketing team. These individuals translate technical capabilities and analytical learnings into content development requests and pipelines (i.e. organized production and distribution of new assets). They must understand both the technical and the creative, capturing symmetries between what the organization has learned so far and their creative capacity to iterate in a better direction.
At the very highest level, the organization will use these learnings and content experiments to refine and even redefine broader organizational messaging and brand image maintenance. There is a top-down element of adhering to an organization’s core brand image, but also a bottom-up transfer of knowledge and learnings which highlight potential opportunities for refining this executive-level strategy. This iterative engine, see from the C-Suite, is the most comprehensive view of digital marketing as a field of work. Employees are hired based on their unique capacities within this cycle (creatives, technical specialists, and strategist), and understanding where you might fit into this process is the final step in our digital marketing investigation. Let’s give some concrete examples of real-life jobs that fit within this context.
Getting Hired as a Digital Marketer
Of course, all investments into learning new skills should eventually be translated into job responsibilities and potential career prospects. Let’s list some of the more common positions with the broader field of digital marketing:
- Social Media Manager: Social media managers do just what one might assume, spending their time building organic (and occasionally paid) reach within media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and many others. This is a great entry-level role with great upwards mobility (as success is easily demonstrated numerically). Salary clocks in around $56k/year.
- Marketing Analyst: For the more technically-inclined, marketing analysts link together technical tools to monitor digital interactions with statistics to produce useful learnings for an organization’s marketing team. This is another good entry level choice, with a salary at $65k/year.
- UX Designer: Now what if you happen to have the ability to link technical skills with creative ones? In that case, UX/UI design are a great choice. This combines technical skill in programming (website development) with the marketing consideration of maximizing successful visitor interactions. UX designers are mid-level, and offer particularly good upward mobility due to the combination of creative and technical ability. Salary averages out around $99k/year.
- Content Strategist: For professionals interested in the big-picture, content strategists will produce, evolve, and maintain successful brand imagery and content development guidelines for the team. This role is also mid-level, and leans more on the creative and managerial side of the process. Salary is around $68k/year, though highly successful strategists can make nearly $100k/year. This is a strategic role, and is well-suited to advancement.
- Digital Marketing Manager: Managerial roles vary quite widely, and in digital marketing this could be anywhere from managing a small content team to becoming an executive such as a VP for Digital Marketing. An executive-level digital marketer will be accountable for all spending (which can be extremely high), and the efficiency of that spending across all digital media channels. Salary comes in around $82k/year for a managerial role and $160k/year for an executive role.
Whether you are just starting out as a budding digital marketing expert, or steering an established career towards virtual waters, there are a wide range of opportunities available. It’s highly likely that this field of work will continue to grow as consumer behavior tils further and further towards online marketplaces. The key considerations are going to be striking a balance between what skills you excel in (technical, creative, or strategic), as well as what types of distribution channels lend themselves to your particular style of digital communication.
Specialization is almost always the best starting point in the job hunt, as it allows you to master a skill organization’s will see as valuable as early in your career as possible. From there, you can slowly expand the tools in your digital tool belt to broaden your competencies and opportunities. Managing digital marketing teams means understanding at least a little bit about a huge variety of skills, and the best way to do that is to jump in and get your hands dirty!