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Why traditional marketers are at a crossroads

I didn’t go to school for marketing. In fact, I never took as much as a single course in marketing during my college days. And in hindsight, that might have been a good thing.


Because with every passing day, I see some of the more traditional, subjective facets of marketing (what some refer to as the “art” of marketing) giving way to a much more analytical, dare I say mathematical, approach to marketing (what some refer to as the science of marketing). And I know that I’m not alone. It seems like with every passing day, more and more of the big opportunities lie in disciplines like marketing finance and big data science. I’m even starting to see some of the big players including skills like SQL in marketing leadership jobs that have historically focused on “idea” people as opposed to analysis people.

Even at the day to day level, it seems like more and more of the meetings I attend deal with statistical significance, A/B splits, and data integrity as opposed to campaign tag lines and marketing hooks. I’m loving it because I’m a big believer in creating a culture of testing, and creating that type of culture requires moving away from subjective approach to executing marketing campaigns and initiatives. Yet at the same time, it’s got me thinking that I should be spending my spare time sharpening up my mathematical, statistical, and programming skills (and perhaps even returning to school) so that I can keep pace with breakneck speed at which analytical sophistication impacts the various digital marketing channels that I work with.

And then I think about folks I’ve worked with that consider themselves “traditional marketers.” Pivot tables are foreign to them. A/B tests are a necessary evil if not an encumbrance. Marketing is all about getting credit for the next “big idea” or about documenting process or about schmoozing with colleagues and business partners.

Mind you, there’s certainly a place for big ideas, process, and schmoozing. There likely always will be. But as digital begins to overtake traditional individuals with a skill set geared only for the latter and not at all for the former will likely find themselves outflanked by individuals that took the time to develop both simultaneously.

And you can forget about it once TV finally succumbs and becomes a truly digital channel that’s subject to interactivity and analytics tracking.

So the moral of this story is this:

If you’re already knee deep in the scientific side of marketing, don’t become complacent. Keep refining and developing those skills and that knowledge base, because I can guarantee you that there are new generations of super smart and tech-savvy kids who could soon be nipping at your professional heels.

And if you’re one of these traditional marketers, recognize that you’re at a crossroads and take the steps necessary to ensure that you don’t become obsolete in the digital long run.


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  • http://twitter.com/LauraBHill BreezyHillMarketing

    Really interesting post and some great insight into the evolution of marketing. My background is traditional marketing but I am jumping on the data bandwagon for one huge reason, it can validate our soft science. Using data to not only measure a campaign’s success but also to influence the creation is an exciting development.
    Thanks for writing this. I enjoyed it!! -Laura

    • hugoguzman

      Right on, Laura! You hit the nail on the head. Getting that data side down pat not only helps measure a “traditional” marketing campaign’s success but can also drive ideation for future campaigns and initiatives. It’s a double win. Thanks for chiming in and I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Miguel Salcido

    Couldn’t agree more Hugo. I’ve seen this shift over the past 2 years too. Its good for me because the big data side is something that I’ve always been weak on. So in my past two jobs I HAD to learn how to deal with it, how to use Excel like a mad man, and how to back EVERYTHING up with data. The company I worked at hired guys from big online conglomerates that were already doing these things. Think of places like Shopping.com, Cars.com, etc. These big enterprise places have been running off such thin margins for so long that they have been way ahead of the curve when it comes to using big data to drive decisions.

    Now as an SEO, by nature, this was very disruptive for me. But hey, I’m man enough to admit that even though I don’t like doing it, that crunching data can be extremely effective. And I’m all about effectiveness!
    So…. are you taking any stats or math classes? How about SQL?

    • hugoguzman

      Glad to hear that you’re on top of this, Miguel! It will serve you well in the long run. And yes, math and database admin (particularly SQL) are at the top of my list. I’m also considering a return to school to study applied mathematics.

  • LJB

    Great post – and I would also add that I think this applies
    to various disciplines that have traditionally relied on a lot of soft science
    (organizational culture/development, customer relations/engagement etc.) The
    smaller our world gets, the harder it is to ignore, or not see, the
    interrelationships between things. You need the BIG idea people, but how do you
    know what impact your BIG idea has had unless you can measure it. Also, CEOs
    and CFOs like their hard data, and tend to not always take things too seriously
    unless they can attach a set of numbers to it. Adding this skill set to your repertoire
    not only bodes well for your own marketing career, but the overall profitability
    and health of an organization.

    • hugoguzman

      Great points, LJB! Math bridges the gap between ideas and execution and between marketing leadership and executive leadership.

  • http://twitter.com/robincarey Robin Fray Carey

    Great post, Hugo. I didn’t study marketing either. These observations are borne out in the recent IBM CMO study, by the way.

    • hugoguzman

      Thanks Robin! Glad you enjoyed it. And please do share a link to that IBM report if you can. I’d be interested in checking it out.