Digital Marketing. Or, Marketing.

I'm-kind-of-a-big-dealA friend, mentor, and professor of mine was a leading voice in southern poetry. He wrote profoundly about many things, most notably about the martyrs of the civil rights movement and white privilege. So it made more than a little sense when the chair of his department asked him to teach a class about multiculturalism in American literature.

He refused. And his reason why will stick with me forever. He told me “I told them that the history of American literature is multicultural. The entire damn American narrative is about our multiple cultures. I can’t see how we can teach any American literature course without it dealing with multiculturalism at its core.”

At the risk of inflating my self importance (let’s be honest: what I do is to his work what r/funny is to the Mark Twain corpus), I hear my friend’s logic ringing loudly when I see the term “Digital Marketing.”

Is anyone out there sending direct mail pieces without a URL (or several dozen) they can track? If a print ad doesn’t have a link to a corresponding Facebook campaign, or a “see the video at” or “join the discussion at” link, it has a character in it that has its own Twitter account. Rare is the coupon I see that’s offered only through the mail, that isn’t also offered on Facebook or a website or GroupOn. I think we all expect a complaint on the social web, if tagged with even the most basic competency, to generate a response from the brand. Restaurant clients of mine are far more concerned with PR to help them deal with Yelp than with the reviewer from the city magazine. Who today creates a TV-only ad? To me, it looks like most are thinking YouTube first, or at least congruently. I don’t know anyone today who thinks of a traditional media placement as simply “good ink:” it has to drive website traffic and increase search rankings or I’ll hear about it. Speaking of which, I’ve been brought in to talk with prospective clients about brand strategy where the first thing they want to talk about is SEO. Have you ever done a naming exercise that didn’t consider URL availability a primary factor? And who among us hasn’t worked with clients on social? They may not quite understand what makes it tick, but they’re certainly asking the right questions. (Businesses are funny that way—they need to make money. They feel the pressure of being where their competitors are quite strongly. As in, keeping-them-up-at-night strongly.)

And by the way, how exactly are people measuring the results of all this marketing work? With an abacus?

Sometimes when I see “Digital Marketing” it feels like someone is exposing a bias. That looming bias that’s created when people bring their tactic strengths to the strategy table. Instead of asking questions like “Where will we play, how will we win, and is it worth it?” the questions are “What kinds of tactics should your brand deploy online, are you any good at it, and did we mention we are?”

Plus, suggesting that brands employ some kind of so-called Digital Marketing plan would be like saying “We need to reach your target market.” Isn’t the brand that doesn’t have, at a minimum, a significant chunk of its target market online and interacting with pixels exceedingly rare?

I can’t help but wonder. Are some people using the term “Digital Marketing” to scare clients into hiring them? By creating a more sophisticated-sounding category that a prospective client can’t define, it adds anxiety to their already sleepless nights. I’m here to tell you, Oh Sleepless One: Don’t fret it. It’s different, but so was building a website back in the day. (Oh wait. That’s digital, too.)

Is there really a difference? Isn’t the whole damn marketing narrative digital?