7 Confessions of a Digital Marketer (and How They Can Make You a Better Marketer)

Avatar Act-On
Corporate

I’ve always liked confessions. I used to love reading PostSecret and Craigslist’s “Missed Connections.” And today I still love when a confidant shares a secret, or a character in a book reveals something huge, or an industry insider tells their tricks of the trade.

There’s certainly a voyeuristic appeal that comes from the word “confession” – inciting me to keep listening or reading. But it’s not all creepy. There is a lot to be learned in those truth-telling moments.

Today I want to share my own list of confessions: my secrets as a decade-plus digital marketer.

Confession #1: I don’t always keep up with trends.

One of the hallmarks of any job is keeping up with the industry and making sure you know what is trending. I see these questions come up repeatedly in job descriptions, interviews, or conversations with peers:

  • “What are your favorite digital marketing sites?”
  • “Which is your favorite campaign or ad from this year?”
  • “What is the best new media site out there, and why?”

It’s not at all wrong to keep an eye on what is happening in your industry. In fact, it’s essential. You don’t want to stagnate or have your work come across as outdated.

That said, sometimes what works, works! So if you’ve found a good formula for successful social media or a great cadence for your email marketing, stick with it.

Takeaway: Look at what is happening in your industry, but also keep an eye on what is working for you. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Confession #2: I don’t always rely on data.

We are in the information age. “Data-driven decisions” is a phrase I heard on repeat at my last few jobs, and my hunch is you’ve heard it, too.

Amazon uses data relentlessly, as reported by the New York Times. “Data creates a lot of clarity around decision-making,” said employee Sean Boyle in that article.

And it’s true. The more you know, the more informed your marketing efforts. Data is helpful and you should examine it regularly. See who is on your website, who is buying things, note what they buy, examine their demographics, review which email subject line is working (or isn’t working), etc.

But sometimes data is plain wrong. It can show blips or dips – but it doesn’t provide the full story. Sometimes, you need to throw that bad data out the window.

For example, if you saw a huge spike on your website last week, it could be that your blog post got picked up by a syndicator or included excellent SEO keywords and got lots of visitors from social shares. The topic was great, you think. We should do more posts like this, you say to your team. But what you didn’t realize is your post got great traffic because some external event – something totally out of your control – drove traffic to your topic. You may not ever be able to replicate this.

Same goes for the traffic lulls. Maybe you saw record low site traffic over the weekend. You’re crestfallen, and you are worried you’ll get fired. You assume the blogs you posted over the weekend were crap. Terrible topics. Awful images. Bad writing. You fret for days. Then, in casual conversation with your IT department lead, you find out your site’s host experienced an outage on Saturday. Those traffic dips had nothing to do with your content.

Takeaway: Look at the data, but also poke around to find out what else was happening.  Ask questions. Seek the larger context.

Confession #3: Sometimes I recycle content.

Actually, it’s not just sometimes … but every time I can manage to do it.

Let me back up. As a writer and journalist, it’s instilled in me to be original. So much so that I didn’t even like to plagiarize myself. It used to make me squeamish.

But when I got over that and learned to repurpose content like a boss, I discovered that I could take one blog and turn it into several social media posts, a webinar script, and a poster.

And the takeaway? I get consistent content, with the same set of messages, in every channel my customers are in.

It saves me time. And, I can afford to invest more in that first piece of content because it’ll have larger wings. Its budget goes so far now. It’s a win-win-win. For more on this, read more ideas on repurposing content.

Confession #4: I don’t always have great ideas.

I get inspired by others – both other people and other companies.

Tactically, this means I keep lists and bookmarks and pinned content and snips of things. Stuff that moves me, inspires me, speaks to me.

Where do I find this content? Sometimes it’s organic – flipping through a magazine or watching a television commercial. And sometimes it is more intentional – I’ll go hunting to see what others are doing.

What do I do with this content? When it’s time to create, I revisit these archives. I might take bits and parts of one campaign and add to another few, and make my own version. (I’m not stealing whole ideas, but elements.) And what happens more frequently is I look to these inspirations and come up with a totally new idea – one I would never have come up with if I hadn’t seen what others were doing.

The book “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon sits on my digital bookshelf. I need to read the whole thing one day, but there are key quotes that I look to when I’m stuck in the ideating phase. Here are a few selected quotes:

  • “Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find yourself.”
  • “Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.”

Try it, and see what happens.

Also talk to your peers. I bash ideas with my colleagues a lot. I don’t want to work in a silo. That’s no fun, and it’s limiting. I love impromptu brainstorming sessions and planned-ahead pitch meetings. I love to watch people’s faces as I share an idea, looking for the telltale signs of disinterest or thrill. And I also know that my ideas get better with additional input. Everyone brings their own stuff to the table – our interests and perspectives and lenses. What may make sense to me actually needs more refining. Someone else can help me with that.

There are a few takeaways here:

  • Observe the interior and exterior of your industry. Keep an eye on brands you like, and watch what they do. If you’re a B2B marketer, keep tabs on the consumer space, for example.
  • Schedule brainstorming sessions with your peers. Choose a time when people are most likely to be creative (not first thing on Monday or last thing on Friday afternoon, for example). Maybe Tuesdays at 10 a.m.? Get it on your calendar.
  • Set up a time to research and dream on your own, too (with a nice cup of coffee and notebook in hand.) Another great quote from Steal Like an Artist: “Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing.”
  • Also – a little CYA here – I am not encouraging you to steal or plagiarize other people’s content. This is an exercise tactic, meant to help you brainstorm your own unique stuff. (If you must borrow, do it from yourself.)

Confession #5: I don’t always stick to my plans.

I build content and marketing calendars, workback schedules, and countless lists like a pro. I love them. They keep me focused and on track. But I don’t – I can’t – always stick to them. And actually I think this nimbleness is a critical part of my role as a marketer. Plans are great. They should be concrete, forged from data, aligned to release plans, etc. But all of those things can shift. And it’s critical that you are adaptable and open to change.

If you’re looking for content or marketing planning documents, here are a few recommendations to help you set up a framework:

  • First, get a calendar. Digital, print – whatever is most helpful to you. Plot out key dates, such as your launch date, your big conference, an important sales call. Then start working backwards, adding in the things you need to do prior to the key date and allow adequate time to do them. Make sure to allow a bit of buffer. Things inevitably go haywire!
  • Also, create a spreadsheet tool of your choice. Use this to plot out the tactical elements you will create, identify who is responsible, by what date, and track status. It might look simple or be very granular depending on your work style. Here is a rudimentary example of what I usually create:
Deliverable Who is responsible Draft 1 due Final copy due Status – done? (Yes/No)
Printed poster Amy Sept 1 Sept 15 No (In progress)
Email campaign #1 Sherry August 1 August 8 Yes

 

In theory those first two things will snap together in some way. I usually have my calendar and my spreadsheet open side by side.

Make grand plans – but be prepared; these are not locked in indelible ink. As you make changes, it’s your choice whether you save a new version of the file so that you have a record (example “Project Plan v1.2”) or whether you overwrite your work and save it to the same file name to go with the new flow. This choice may depend on what your boss or your client needs. Find what works.

Takeaway: Nimbleness, not rigidity, should be your mantra.

Confession #6: I may need glasses – or at least an updated eye prescription.

I always seek a second set of eyes on my work. Whether it be a copyeditor or a marketing peer (or sometimes my husband, who happens to be both), it’s wise to have someone else read what you’re putting out there.

Personally I recommend finding a peer critique partner. Someone you can count on to bounce an idea and swap materials before they go to press. This process does not have to take long – in fact, you could spend as little as 15 minutes. Just a quick read through to have someone catch any typos and ask overlooked questions.

It’s up to you whether you have your peer reviewer go in cold to your idea or with some context. Personally, I prefer the former. If they have no preconceived idea of what you are trying to do, they’ll give you more honest feedback. If the concept makes no sense, for example. And if you have a typo in that clever campaign headline.

Takeaway: Get a second set of eyes on your work. Two is better than one.

Confession #7: I know I am not that smart.

I am constantly learning from experts – on my teams, peers within my industry, via LinkedIn groups, and online courses.

There are countless free or low-cost ways to learn. Check out sites like Khan Academy, Udemy, Coursera, and Lynda.com for online courses. Attend internal training and industry conferences. Read blogs from experts like Seth Godin and Neil Patel, and this Act-On blog!

You’ll take in knowledge and get better at your job. It’s just the way it works.

Bonus tip: Try to learn outside of your industry, too. The idea for this post came from a conference – a conference that had nothing to do with marketing. I attended a children’s writing conference and as one of the keynote speakers spoke, something resonated in my brain. The wheels started turning. My brain stretches in weird ways when I am outside of my comfort zone – and I suspect yours does, too. Try attending a cooking class or a non-industry conference, or even watch a YouTube how-to video about something totally outside your day job. You’ll walk away with broader perspective.

Takeaway: To paraphrase an author I recently heard speak, “If you aren’t challenged and learning, you aren’t setting high enough goals.” Enroll in some classes. Keep learning.

Now it’s your turn

So, those are my confessions. Now it’s your turn to spill the beans. What are your deepest secrets as a marketer?