A fierce debate is playing out as to what skills are best suited to the conditions created by a digital world to which everybody has access. The era of single message mass marketing is coming to an end. In a presentation to 250 marketing and advertising executives in New York in late 2007, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said “for the last hundred years media has been pushed out to people, but now marketers are going to be a part of the conversation and they’re going to do this by using the social graph in the same way our users do.”
I believe that we have now entered a third phase since the inception of digital marketing. The first phase was a technical one, the second was built around design and creativity and this third phase is characterised by the democratisation of content. In the nineties when businesses first launched commercial web sites you hade to be a programmer or coder to build a website. The industry was wholly reliant on technicians. Specialist agencies sprang up and clients were in their thrall and people had to place their trust entirely in the hands of digital specialists. Over time coding became more commoditised and new programmes allowed the less technical to do more and more. The creative and design community started to be able to exert more of an influence. The look and feel as well as the functionality of a website becomes more important. In this second phase designers and creatives gained pre-eminence in the field of digital marketing.
The third wave of digital communications is characterised by user generated content and templated designs that can be adapted and customised (like the Wordpress template for this blog) and are now widely available. More importantly much of what we see on screen is originated in a space beyond the control of clients or agencies. Content comes from lots of different places the skills that are important to the marketing function are not hard technical skills, nor are they predominantly aesthetic but they are the softer management skills of diplomacy and influence. In short these are the skills that PR people have always used in their interactions with traditional media.