Article first published March 2017, updated in June 2019
Digital marketers of today are constantly learning and building upon their existing knowledge base to become more effective in their roles—but there’s a lot to learn.
And, as quickly as technology changes and new tactics emerge, it can feel daunting to even participate in this world on a day-to-day basis. Keeping up requires constant learning.
However, some lessons are best learned from trial and error. That’s why we gathered some insights from a few seasoned digital marketers to see what they had to say about important lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Learn from their experiences—and keep these lessons in mind as you go about your daily work in digital marketing.
1. “Focus on the message rather than the platform.”
Brittany Berger, Mention
Early in her digital marketing career, Brittany Berger would spend months learning about one specific tactic or platform—but she eventually realized she was just learning the same big-picture engagement strategies over and over again. That’s when she had a light-bulb moment.
“Digital marketers have a tendency to focus so much on the platform over the message that we end up making things a lot harder for ourselves. We spend time so laser-focused on learning one tactic for one platform instead of zooming out a bit to focus more on understanding the overall strategy behind it. But when you start with the message you can easily adapt it for all these different platforms without reinventing the wheel.”
Today, with more than seven years of experience under her belt, she’s come to understand that the message matters more than the medium. Here’s an example of a message that can easily adapt to suit any platform:
Source: Campaign Monitor
2. “You really cannot predict what will convince people to take action.”
Joanna Wiebe, Airstory and Copyhackers
Wiebe’s extensive work as a conversion copywriter has allowed her to take a deep dive into the world of conversion optimization—and what she’s gleaned from her experience is insightful and a bit surprising. She said:
“You really cannot predict what will convince people to take action. You can make educated guesses/hypotheses based on user research, data, better practices, persuasion principles and the latest academic articles on consumer decision-making…but, until you put it out there, you won’t know. Even the best won’t know.”
How did she learn this? In her words: “From losing a thousand tests and winning two thousand.” While Wiebe supports extensive testing, she explained that you simply can’t test everything—and that the reality is: digital marketers are working from a lot of assumptions. For marketers, this is important to remember. Don’t get so frustrated when constantly trying to improve conversion rates. Keep in mind we’re all working from educated guesses.
3. “Focus on the marketing process more than the solutions themselves.”
Ty Magnin, Appcues
With more than six years of digital marketing experience, Ty Magnin has done his fair share of marketing experiments and tests on everything from blog posts to web pages. From this, he’s learned that failure is far more common than he ever thought.
“It’s been a humbling surprise to realize how often my marketing experiments fail. Whether it be an A/B test or a new nurturing drip, my experiments are wrong a lot of the time. Further, the experiments that do succeed often surprise me too. This lesson has forced me to focus on the marketing process more than the solutions themselves.”
Magnin has found that, sometimes, the experimentation and testing process can be just as valuable as the results they produce, regardless of whether these efforts succeed or fail in the short term.
4. “Only the best of the best pays off long term.”
Sujan Patel, Webprofits
Sujan Patel has been consistently writing and creating content for more than 14 years and, looking back, he’s come to realize that only the best, most original and in-depth content has been able to stand the test of time—for his own work and for his clients. He said:
“At the end of the day, only the best of the best pays off long term. This is most obvious in content marketing. You can spin your wheels writing decent content that’s no better than as good as what’s already out there, and no amount of promotion will turn that into something that moves the needle. Having a piece of content (or a product, or anything) that’s clearly the best that’s out there makes marketing and promotion a lot more effective (and a lot more fun).”
Today, he focuses on creating extremely in-depth content that serves as a cornerstone for several months at a time—and he doesn’t waste time on content that’s only as good as what’s already out there.
5. “Good design does work.”
Matthew Smith, Really Good Emails
After spending years designing and building e-commerce products for Fathom & Draft and running creative for various e-commerce products for the last decade, Matthew Smith has made what he calls a wild discovery: That the best digital marketing often doesn’t come from those with a job description that includes “marketing” at all. Instead, it often comes from those whose job it is to simply serve customers—like designers, customer support providers, and UX experts. He explained:
“Good design does work. I’m amazed at the way an honest “oops” email written in earnest from a CEO or a little dash of human from customer service can be a net positive for a brand, as their connection to the customer moves from transactional to relational. This is design. Design is not perfect pixels. Design is service to people who want to hire a service or pay for a product to do work for them. The best design gets that work done without drawing attention to itself.”
Smith made this discovery through designing for people—and by ditching the hype associated with hacks. Today, he focuses on design that’s people-centric and sincerely simple. Here’s an example below:
Source: Campaign Monitor
6. “Don’t get too obsessed with fleeting marketing gimmicks.”
Danny Wong, Conversio
So often, marketers hurry to throw money at the “next big marketing tactic” in hopes of driving new customer acquisition. But Danny Wong has found that this approach often leads to quick churn and very little in the customer loyalty department. He recommends doing this instead:
“Witchcraft and wizardry won’t convert long-term customers, so don’t get too obsessed with fleeting marketing gimmicks such as aggressive popups. Instead, focus your energies on building a brand buyers are proud to associate with and enhancing the value users ultimately get from your product or service.”
While he admits that he, too, was once obsessed with measuring marketing activities from a direct response perspective, he eventually found that it simply didn’t produce meaningful long-term results. He said that, while you can “trick” someone into purchasing once, you can’t convince them to continue paying for something if the first transaction was coerced.
7. “Surround yourself with smart people.”
Kevan Lee, Buffer
Kevan Lee says that the biggest lesson he’s learned about digital marketing actually started from reading a very old book: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The lesson: Surround yourself with smart people who challenge you and help you grow. He said:
“At Buffer, we talk about how you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I’m lucky I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with smart, talented people the past three years. Marc Andreessen says, ‘Don’t worry about being a small fish in a big pond—you want to always be in the best pond possible because that’s how you will get exposed to the best people and the best opportunities in your field.’ I am definitely a small fish!”
8. “Listen to the data–and pivot when necessary.”
Marcus Akerland, Adroll
Marcus Akerland learned his most important lesson on digital marketing the hard way—by being stubborn. He explained that, at first, he tried forcing campaigns that were doomed–simply because they fit his assumptions.
“It’s okay to have assumptions, but the key to digital marketing is being able to listen to the data and pivot when necessary, even when it goes against your initial assumption. Everything in today’s digital world is trackable, and, the more you leverage your data, the more successful you will be.”
Now Akerland uses data to inform his strategy—and he’s open to trying new things. Yes, it means stepping out of his comfort zone, but it’s allowed him to be much more successful with his campaigns.
9. “Track everything—and ensure you have a large enough sample size for accurate testing.”
Sol Orwell, SJO.com & Examine.com
As Sol Orwell and his team at Examine broke down studies and found errors in peer-published papers, he began to realize how few people understand statistics and probabilities. That’s why he knows it’s so important to produce data that truly makes sense before acting on it. He said:
“What is really important is to ensure you have enough of a sample size that data analysis makes sense. Far too many people blog about a 40% lift in conversion, except often times it’s some pithy jump from 10 to 14, which is, in no way, a large enough sample size to make that claim. Don’t jump to conclusions without making sure that your results are due to the actual comparison—and not due to inherent variability.”
The lesson: Data is only helpful when accurate.
10. “Successful organizations align their digital marketing strategy with their values and purpose as a company.”
Elizabeth Wellington, LizWellington.com
Working as a digital marketing consultant for the past three years, Liz Wellington has learned that success rates correlate with an ability to stay true to a brand and its audience, from the intention of a campaign all the way through to each Tweet or content asset.
“The most successful organizations align their digital marketing strategy with their values and purpose as a company. Customers and prospects can sniff out inauthenticity very quickly. Any marketing campaign or messaging that is misaligned with the integrity of an organization won’t succeed.”
Wellington has worked with brands as big as Google and as small as local retailers—and she’s found that this message stays true across the board, regardless of company size, marketing budget, or brand name.
As a savvy content marketer, you’ll do well to head these pearls of wisdom. Let’s wrap this article up with some key takeaways.
1. Successful digital marketing campaigns are about putting your audience first.
Most businesses fail because they’re more focused on making money. Because of this, they don’t take the time to develop relationships with their customers.
The main purpose of marketing is to create meaningful relationships that are mutually beneficial between your company and customers.
It’s for this very reason that you need to invest in gathering as much data as you can about your customers. By getting to know your audience, you’re better equipped to woo them properly.
2. Create customer-centric content.
When it comes to the content you’re using to market your business, you have to make sure that it’s beneficial to the consumer. Yes, people really don’t care about what you know—they want to know that you care.
Here are two ways to make sure that the content you create is all about the customer:
- Create valuable content by solving common problems
- Don’t sell a product or service; sell an experience. In other words, don’t tell customers about the features of your product. Instead, paint a picture of the difference it’ll make in their lives.
Once your prospects and customers see that your content is more about helping them, you‘ll quickly gain their trust and become the go-to solution.
That’s the goal of every content marketer, isn’t it?
3. Be careful of shiny object syndrome.
Many tools and apps continue popping up every day in the market. With many of them claiming to be the silver bullet of marketing, it’s easy for you to get trapped in the allure of finding the perfect tool and method.
Tried and tested methods like email marketing will never become outdated. As a content marketer, avoid spending money on any tool without first evaluating if it’s a good fit for your business. You also need to make sure it’s not just replicating tasks that your other tools are already doing.
4. Test as much as possible.
What worked before or what’s currently working for another marketer will not necessarily work with your audience.
For this reason, it’s important that you always test everything before rolling it out to your customers. A/B testing is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity if you want to pull off successful marketing campaigns.
Source: Campaign Monitor
The world of digital marketing can be confusing for anyone. With so many new shiny tools and silver-bullet tips being pandered around, it’s difficult to know what to accept and what to ignore. With this helpful guide, marketers like you can avoid the many pitfalls and mistakes that are common among your competition.
One thing you must remember from all the tips above is that businesses are all unique, with their own set of goals. As a result, when adopting new technology and marketing methods, make sure they:
- Align with your business
- Have been proven to work for a business similar to yours
- Integrate well with your current systems and values
For more solid tips on how to master the world of digital marketing check out our article that explains why email should be the cornerstone of your digital marketing strategy.