In today’s world, adaptability is a soft skill that is steadily growing in importance. Those able to rapidly learn new skills and behaviours will be most resilient as the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues to change business landscapes at an exponential rate. Gone are the days where you could graduate, find a good job and stay in it for thirty years before retiring. For Isabella Salomonsson, one of the talented individuals teaching our Digital Marketing Course, a drive towards continuous learning and adaptation became key to her development and success in the digital marketing space.
“I’ve always been driven by what can I do next? And also, how can I adapt? For me, this is digital marketing; it is all about adapting.”
According to Isabella, establishing a baseline understanding of the fundamental structures and strategies of digital marketing is necessary to analyze the specific business needs of her clients. But it doesn’t end with basic understanding. Digital marketing professionals should continuously learn from their environment and adapt. The ability to put knowledge into practice might be the most important fundamental skill of digital marketing. To do this efficiently, digital marketing professionals should experiment to learn and understand how to adapt specific strategies to the needs of each business case.
While business theories are useful knowledge for a digital marketing professional, digital marketing is not academia. Digital marketing is a “learning by doing” skill requiring a project-based, practical approach. Isabella’s journey from an art history major to driving content strategy at IKEA was not the result of formal education. It was the result of her curiosity, flexibility, adaptability and ambition.
“I always find new things that I can learn. I don’t know if it’s better. It’s just; I never feel that I know everything. So I always go find new stuff to learn.”
Her success as an industry expert is also a result of paying attention. By keeping an eye on other digital marketers’ content, style, and strategies, Isabella quickly learned to adapt specific techniques for her own situational use. She rightly points out that nothing is sacred in the digital marketing world; if you find something you like, there is no shame in borrowing and adjusting it to see if it works for your own situation. However, in a “nothing is sacred world”, it’s important to remember if you use something and maybe improve it, you need to share it back with the community.
“It’s really about sharing is caring. This is a field where you can’t put a trademark label on anything.”
When asked about the biggest challenges her industry faces in the future, Isabella quickly replied, “Big Data”. She believes that despite the allure and buzz, big data is absolutely useless unless you know how to use it. To add injury to insult, the more data a business collects, the more difficult it becomes for analysts to extract useful information from it.
At the end of the day, data comes down to behaviour and the ability to use quantitative data to understand the qualitative aspects of human behaviour. As the digital marketing industry progresses, understanding the psychology of a targeted audience will be an important competence to have. Zeros and ones mean absolutely nothing without a human element to interpret it into a business or marketing strategy.
“It’s actually going to be more focused on how, what, and why people are doing what they’re doing. As well as how do we interpret that number into behaviour to understand the customer.”
The second biggest challenge facing the digital marketing industry is the common misconception of undergoing a digital transformation. While digital transformation is another alluring buzzword, Isabella believes that many business leaders are still a long way from the simple understanding of what the term means. In her experience, many companies assume that having a digital marketing department is akin to completing a digital transformation. Many are not seeing the big picture to understand what it means to become a truly digital business.
“Basically, the question is not how are we a business, but how are we a digital business? And how does that affect what we do in terms of marketing sales and product?”
This lapse in understanding often leads to the assumption that digital marketing is inexpensive or even free! Something that you can do without a dedicated budget. But just like everything else in business, digital marketing requires money. Even without expensive sponsored campaigns, a successful digital marketing outfit requires a real investment in talented individuals who can produce quality and execute relevant strategies. Especially when it comes to driving the motor of digital marketing, content.
“You don’t get great content just on the cheap; you need to have some money behind the content. At the end of the day, it comes down to hiring the right people or going to an agency, and neither one is cheap!”
In her opinion, Isabella believes a lot of this comes down to the maturity of the market. Employers often have unrealistic expectations of the skillset and experience digital marketers should have but can be unwilling to offer competitive wages.
Isabella recommends that her students quickly identify where their strengths and weaknesses lie. This will make it possible for them to understand where they need help from colleagues or an agency. Without this important self-knowledge, adaptation is all but impossible. For Isabella, self-reflection is a key part of being a digital marketer. Continuously analyzing who you are, what you can do and what you can’t do may mean the difference between failing and adapting or failing over and over again.
“When you’re a generalist, you might not be able to do quality in all areas. It’s important to work with others to see, okay, how do we transform this?”
Digital marketers need to ask questions; it doesn’t even need to be the right questions. Curious questions that show genuine interest will lead you to an area of the business that is interesting to you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a chemical company or a Formula One team. If you’re just curious enough, you can begin to understand why a business that looks boring on the outside is, in fact, interesting. This may come from understanding why it’s important to society, why it’s important to the consumer, or possibly both. At the end of the day, being invested in what you’re doing will contribute to your learning and help guide you towards success.
“If I don’t listen to my clients, if I don’t listen to my customers, if I don’t listen to the world around me, well, then I will not be able to deliver good s–t.”
Lastly, Isabella shared some personal tips for getting a special edge. She feels that it’s all about being interested in things outside of the digital marketing space. For example, digital marketing professionals need to read about psychology, philosophy, politics, and societal trends. Later, when reading up on the latest marketing campaigns, she will have the necessary context to understand the puzzle pieces that made a campaign successful.