My wife and I founded and ran an independent music label that were in business from 2003 till 2008. We sold to customers around the world using the Internet. Our bands and their music CD records found their way to Japan, the US, Poland, Peru and anywhere in the modern world with an internet connection. While we were mailing orders away, our bands themselves travelled to play their music.
And then the music died.
Our thriving online business was disrupted by another digital business (iTunes). We experienced what was then a consumer revolution: a later generation of Internet users that had never bought physical music came online. Illegal mp3 downloading became the norm and a lifestyle (remember Soulseek, anyone?)
(Editor’s Notes: This was initially written as an extended Trainer Profile to flash my street cred for my upcoming Human-Driven Digital Marketing Masterclass. Whenever I lament about the state of “digital marketing” education today, I get carried away. The length of this piece reflects the festering of emotions and conviction that I have to do something about it.)
Despite being a polytechnic dropout and also a concert roadie/ theatre lighting technician for 12 years, I was computer proficient enough to land a corporate gig with Oracle in 2008 at the age of 28. By 2010, I was a “young” marketing executive with the world’s biggest internet job board for finance professionals, eFinancialCareers. These were true formative digital years. I did everything: email marketing, Google search and display, Facebook and LinkedIn ads, social media, crossed swords with rogue media agencies pulling wool over eyes, hacked software, broke things, battled with HTML wrigglies, etc. These on top of traditional marketing work such as marketing comms, demand generation, lead management and market research for thought leadership. My own data analytics research uncovered that finance professionals in the UK are most likely to make an online job application between 10am and 12pm on Tuesdays. Yup, right at their work desks. A reminder that culture is an important element in marketing and that Mondays typically suck #banMondaysforwork
I had great supportive bosses who believed in people and career development. I was trained in what-was-then-gold-class analytics Omniture Sitecatalyst (now Adobe-owned), Google Analytics (when it was still godawful), and was one of the earliest Marketo and marketing automation user in Asia Pacific. In fact, I flew 36 hours to Des Moines, Iowa for my Marketo Train-the-Trainer training with one of the most inspiring product trainers I’ve ever experienced, a perfect example of memorable employee ambassador. Hence, began a lifelong one-sided love affair with Marketo (stay away, Adobe) and a desire to be an engaging and empathetic trainer myself. In case anyone forgot, training is a people development business. Not a “cash grab” because the government says “digital transformation is important; here’s some funding money.”
Later on, the corporate leader game was strong so I took that leap up and joined the advertising technology industry. For someone who had years of ad blocking plugin on his browser, this was a leap of faith and a swallowing-of-pride (or was it for the money?) As a senior marketer, I had the opportunity to market the most incredible, advanced and terrifying-to-some advertising technologies available on the market. I travelled all over the region to preach the gospel of programmatic advertising to agency and brand marketers (I love trade booth duty) and witnessed some amusing looks of bewilderment / fear / I-pretend-I-know-what-programmatic-is on their faces.
I firmly believe I’m one of those rare breed of marketers who bothers to look under the technology hood and actually understands the sh*t he sells. How does this help? I make technology easy to understand for non-technologists, avoiding tech mumbo jumbo and PR fluff that most tech marketers repeat again and again to sound, well, in the game.
Then I maxed out of corporate juice. I was Head of Marketing, Asia Pacific at MediaMath and then Marketing Director, Asia Pacific at Tapad, both NYC tech companies when I felt I was done selling marketers’ technologies they don’t understand but still spend millions anyway because “everybody is doing it”. I decided that my MBA education deserves its truest test and a justification of its cost: get entrepreneurial and street-check business school doctrines. If you want to hear classic entrepreneur stories, come to my masterclass. Having said that, being an entrepreneur today is helping me sharpen my digital marketing skills as I regularly try to outwin pesky competitors on Google search ads (I will tell you how I’m winning) and keeping up pretences on social media.
Over the years, I have trained and taught hundreds of aspiring digital marketers, experienced marketing professionals and students at training academies, schools and through my own corporate training business, in Singapore and overseas. I have seen their struggles first hand especially for adult learners and those who are asked to attend “on-the-job corporate training”. This is because “digital marketing education” is mostly fundamentally flawed, especially for non-specialists. Each training is a narrow and piecemeal focus on a specialisation and never quite the big picture. Our enthusiastic learners who want to conquer the world with digital marketing or transform their business operations often leave the classroom feeling a little empty. All these great new skills yet still clueless on how to execute strategically and for the long term.
Most digital marketing classes you can attend today are specialist ones with very little linkage to strategic business thinking or even marketing proficiencies such as consumer behaviour, branding, sales strategies and general marketing management. Digital marketing courses tend to focus on computer skills to manipulate digital tools of the trade and how to buy ads online (Google Ads, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, etc.) There is a clear disconnect for the needs of real customers behind the screen. Raise your hand if you love pop-up advertising or ads that creepily follow you around the internet.
The Race to Spend Silly Money
And today the bar to learn “digital marketing” is so low that “anyone can do it” is a mantra often heard from training providers. “If you can use Facebook, you can learn digital marketing”. “Be a Digital Marketer in 90 days”. Bull. Any experienced and respectable search engine, SEO or social media specialists can tell you that it takes years of experimentation and hard work to get to where they are today. There is no ABC, no paint-by-numbers path to digital marketing expertise. You have to get your hands dirty, fail repeatedly and then get some good results.
But don’t go celebrating yet! Good results only last until the day Google, LinkedIn or Facebook decides to update their decisioning algorithms. At this point, all your paid or unpaid campaigns and social media effort will begin to underperform. What do you do next? You pay more money to the ad giants to get your campaign to perform well again (and also because your quarterly employee performance KPIs depend on it.) It’s a vicious cycle and you are perpetually on the losing end. That’s no BS, that’s true story.
If you don’t have the stomach for this, you are not ready to be a digital marketer. Attend my masterclass and I will let you know how to grow your brand or company without paying increasingly silly ad money all the time. And remember, “digital marketing” is no longer a competitive advantage because everyone already has it.
The Decline of Marketing Education
Somewhere along the way, in the chase for profit and being on-trend, digital marketing course developers decided that all learners, of any size, shape and intellect, were born with built-in marketing skills. While marketing can be a form of common sense, the art and science of marketing does require effort towards mastery.
It bugs me the most when I look at digital marketing course outlines and noticed: WHERE IS THE FREAKING “FUNDAMENTALS OF MARKETING” MODULE? I’ll humblebrag that I possess a First Class Honours Bachelors in Marketing Management but, to this day, I am still trying to figure out the dark arts called ‘Public Relations’ (I still love you, PR gals and guys, you know who you are). These days, it is truly ‘Media Publisher’ Relations’ as media owners shut out genuine people enriching news in order to exploit this red-hot ‘paid content marketing’ revenue stream.
I call for a reform of “digital marketing” education. Make Fundamentals of Marketing a mandatory prerequisite before anyone attends a digital marketing class. We ought to create smart and creative marketers with amazing digital marketing skills, rather than “digital marketers” who will only help you spend your digital marketing budgets. Oh, and another thing, if you focus on building “digital marketing capabilities”, your marketing budgets and technology costs will only increase by leaps and bounds year after year, it’s a never ending cycle. However, if you focus more on your customers and your marketing people, you can expect to keep cost low yet grow revenue perpetually.
Let’s take “digital marketing education” back from the charlatans. We should be responsible and make marketing great again.
The Human-Driven “Digital Marketing” Masterclass
If you want a big picture view of the world of customers from a digital perspective, we will do that in my masterclass. I also plan to show you how digital technology works under the hood and across platforms, in simple terms, so you can understand how multiple technologies work together in an orchestra called “digital marketing”. Together, we will solve your real marketing problems with our strategic thinking hats and look at how we can develop your startup/Enterprise business, people and processes by understanding marketing agility. I can guide you on what digital technology to purchase and identify the “magic unicorns”. I will show you where to find world-class and absolutely free digital marketing education for yourself or for your employees. And next steps beyond that.
Your task now is to be a leader and decide that you want to make better and smarter decisions when it comes to “digital marketing”. I’ll equip you with the knowledge and confidence to make these decisions if you join us at my ‘Human-Driven Digital Marketing Masterclass’.
For more information, send me a message below.
Want more of me? See my slightly BS profile.
If you want me to speak to your team in-house or would like to explore a coaching engagement, I can be reached at +65 9687 2858 or email firstname.lastname@example.org