3 Things ‘Digital Marketers’ Say But Don’t Really Understand

Everybody in the digital industry is suddenly a marketing expert. Or so they’ll try to convince you; probably by hurling clichés and platitudes at you.

However, many jobs in our industry actually require very little real understanding of marketing beyond the Mickey Mouse stuff you’d expect your 10 year old kid to understand… everything should be user-friendly, messages should be simple and your efforts should be aimed at pleasing the audience — Lemonade anyone?

digital marketing lemonade


The problem, I think, is that people confuse good UI/UX skills (i.e. how customers interact with websites and apps etc) with good marketing skills (i.e. how customers interact with brands). The psychology of consumers and the essence of good advertising are a world away from web development.

That’s not to down-play the value of designers and developers at all: they add value in a very different way. No marketer should claim to be a developer just because they know basic HTML or a designer because they can edit text in Photoshop. All three disciplines come together to create great digital strategies and campaigns. Also, some cross-over of skills is a valuable thing… but the kitchen gets very busy when everyone calls themselves a cook.

My point is this: people should do what they do best—design, develop or market—rather than trying to be a ‘digital everythinger’. So in that spirit, here are the 3 most cringe-worthy things I hear dubious ‘digital marketing experts’ regurgitate on a regular basis without pausing to ponder the meaning behind the words…

1. “Content is king”

If we take that to mean good content is important then yes, of course it is. But that’s nothing new. It was never good strategy to create crappy content. I don’t know why everybody thinks brand-owners need reminding of this.

But ‘king’? Really?

To be fair, I sometimes hear people slightly tweak this played-out idiom to ‘Context is King’. The point they’re trying to make is that good content isn’t enough on its own – it should be put in the right context. Again this is true.

My real issue with these phrases is that by putting such a strong focus on content, these ‘marketing experts’ actually take the brand-owner’s eyes off the goal. Content is merely a tool to trigger meaningful dialogue. Or in other words, as British-Canadian blogger Cory Doctorow famously said:

Content is not king. If I sent you to a desert island and gave you the choice of taking your friends or your movies, you’d choose your friends – if you chose the movies, we’d call you a sociopath. Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.

Either way this sentiment ultimately boils down to a portentous proclamation that the aim should be pleasing the audience. Sound familiar?— ah yes, Micky Mouse marketing 101. Hardly Earth-shattering advice.

2. “We’ll get you to the top of Google”

Except there is no top of Google.

If they had the faintest idea about search engines in general, they’d know that search results are tailored for logged-in Google users; and logged-in Google users deliver the lion’s share of searches. Then there’s all sorts of location-based stuff going on; even when a location isn’t specifically searched in many cases. Then there’s the fact that meaningful SEO is carried out on the long-tail—not the short-tail—so focusing that narrowly on one term (or indeed a short list of terms) is an inefficient approach.

People make promises about ‘the top of Google’ because it sounds simple and it will likely please any uneducated listeners. (Imagine Mickey Mouse without the ethics.)

If someone starts trying to nail you to a narrow list of ‘keywords’, promising ‘number one positions’ rather than talking to you about how your customers’ needs and habits can be leveraged to improve the quality of your organic search traffic then you should run a mile.

3. “Everything should be mobile first”

Except when it shouldn’t. Despite the inflated and aggregated statistics you often see in infographics, the fact remains that some websites still get less than 5% of their traffic from mobile devices.

Rules of thumb are useful, but when you’re formulating a strategy to redesign and develop what is probably the most important part of your entire web estate – your website – I think you’d agree that a measured approach that leads to a tailored methodology is going to be best.

With that said, the ‘mobile first’ philosophy popped up when everyone in the industry started to notice the phenomenal growth in mobile internet usage. The resounding cry was understandably: “We need to focus on the mobile experience. We can’t ignore this segment anymore!”

Too right. Couldn’t agree more. But there is such a thing as over-compensation. You can’t become so obsessed with pleasing mobile users that you forsake desktop users as a result. The approach should be balanced and tailored to please the website’s unique audience. (And just like that, we’re straight back to Mickey Mouse)

If you catch someone using one of these regurgitated clichés, call them out on it. Find out whether their understanding actually goes beneath the surface or if they are just repeating something they overheard somewhere.

Posted by Paul

Paul is our Head of Marketing and digital strategy specialist. A Google certified SEO expert and Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, he has worked on award-winning campaigns since 2003.

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