Strategic Digital Marketing Breaks Out of the Specialist Silo

May 27, 2021
Contributor: Swetha Venkataramani

Since the pandemic, strategic digital marketing has become synonymous with marketing leadership and achieving overall marketing objectives. This expanded role presents obstacles as well as opportunities.

Digital marketers now play a much more prominent role in marketing organizations. The marked shift toward digital business in 2020 is expanding digital marketing’s remit to include broader strategic marketing objectives.

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According to the Gartner 2021 Digital Marketing Survey of 350 marketing executives across the globe, 36% of digital marketing leaders hold the title of chief marketing officer. The degree to which digital marketing leadership now aligns with overall marketing leadership is a direct result of the expanded role digital now plays in overall marketing strategies and objectives.

As the connection between digital marketing and marketing leadership continues to grow, marketing leaders will need to stay aware of potential obstacles as well as efforts that can help increase marketing’s impact on their organization.

Strategic digital marketing goes broad on responsibilities

Currently, digital marketing is responsible for defining and meeting strategic marketing objectives through connected conversations that engage target market segments across digital channels. Digital marketing teams need expertise across a range of functions, from core marketing channels to analytics, content creation and management, media planning and buying, and, increasingly, digital commerce. They must also be adept at using technologies that support orchestrated customer engagement through these different touchpoints.

Even where the majority of respondents don’t indicate sole responsibility, they lead a larger group responsible for such initiatives. These responsibilities include driving customer retention and designing processes and workflows to optimize the shifting roles of relevant channels in executing against larger campaign and business goals.

“85% of digital marketing leaders hold the title of vice president or higher.”

Contributing to this expansive remit is the degree to which digital marketing leadership progressively aligns with overall marketing leadership. This is reflected in the seniority of the respondents who fill their organization’s digital marketing leader role — 85% of digital marketing leaders hold the title of vice president or higher.

Balancing channel strategy with overall vision

The digital marketing leader’s broad set of responsibilities similarly extends to channel-specific strategies and execution. For most channel-related initiatives, a majority (more than 50% of respondents) indicate they are solely responsible for:  

  • Content marketing strategy and execution (57%)
  • Brand advertising strategy and execution (54%)
  • Integrating mobile marketing into the digital mix (53%)
  • SEO/SEM strategy and execution (53%)
  • Email marketing strategy and execution (52%)  
  • Media strategy and execution (51%)

Digital marketing leaders, particularly those with an organizationwide span of control, must balance broader business objectives with channel strategy and execution goals. Striving for this balance entails making channel-agnostic decisions in the service of those larger objectives.

Increasing impact through collaboration

In their expanding role, digital marketers need to collaborate with a wide range of stakeholders from various departments. When digital marketing faced a series of disruptive events in 2020, IT organizations and CEOs provided the most support.

The Gartner survey shows that IT played a strong role in elevating digital marketing technologies and data analytics as well as managing those technologies to maximum effect, whereas the CEO was the digital marketing leader’s strongest proponent within the organization. This put the CEO at the center of the digital marketing leader’s “collaboration zone,” along with IT. 

Maintaining strong partnerships with IT is critical, especially as many companies make hybrid or remote work permanent for a large portion of employees and as they accelerate their digital transformation projects. 

As organizations shift their brand positioning to accommodate changing customer needs, the experience and communications teams can be valuable allies to cultivate. It also makes sense for digital marketing leaders to collaborate more closely with loyalty management peers on revitalization of loyalty programs and related initiatives that drive customer retention.

On the flip side, as digital marketing continues on the path of increased collaboration, marketing leaders need to watch out for potential roadblocks with product development, sales, operations and supply chain functions. These functions were reported to hinder marketing efforts in 2020. This lack of collaboration tends, predictably, to be more acute in B2B organizations.

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