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Is Digital Marketing Dead or are publishers desperate to make the headlines

Friday, January 29, 2016
Grant Whiteside

’Digital marketing is dead’ – that’s the headline I read this morning. Apparently what the world needs now are traditional marketers, an area where businesses face a major skills gap.

The headline did what it was meant to do, it grabbed my attention and I clicked through, read the article, shook my head, and laughed…part out of disdain, part out of despair.

Are we really there already? Is ‘digital’ really dead?

I was more of the opinion that the word ‘digital’ is now the norm and perhaps ‘traditional’, ‘above the line’ or ‘old school’ were more indicative of previous methods of communicating to an audience.

In effect ‘digital’ was ‘new’ about 10 years ago and since then ‘digital’ hasn’t died, it simply became what people do. As a result ‘digital’ is now as relevant to marketing as ‘smart phone’ is for mobile; it’s simply what we expect, it’s the norm.

So why bother with the sensationalist headline? Was it just for the click through?

We all know that journalists and headline makers have struggled to make ends meet (because of a ‘digital’ revolution in their industry) and there is a ‘digital’ algorithm that helps decide what content does get seen and gets market share. It does seems as if we are being played here.

And just as Cisco declared ‘digital marketing’ a redundant term earlier this year, I thought we would check out these forward thinking dudes and see what ‘marketing’ jobs they had to offer. Surely we weren’t going to see anyone advertising one of those outdated ‘digital’ job titles?

cisco digital marketing jobs

Perhaps the headlines don’t reflect the reality of the situation.

People use the words that help create meaning for us. Ask any recruitment agency whether ‘digital’ helps distinguish between applicants that fit the bill and those that don’t!

Cisco clearly have a vision that hasn’t filtered down to the HR department, or perhaps the headline is nothing more than just that; a headline that doesn’t tie up with the reality of the situation.

It reminds me of the ‘guru’ that knocked up the headline ‘SEO is Dead’ several years ago.  A few trillion organic searches later (via Search and Social), we are still just as interested in how organic visitors are driven from mobile / desktop / tablets to our site and how this affects market share.

In fact I’m going to say businesses are more interested than ever before how to plan, create, distribute, repurpose, optimise and measure the attribution of their content. This is because businesses now have an understanding of ‘digital’ measurement and how these align to real business goals.

In effect, ‘SEO’, just like ‘digital’, hasn’t died, it just isn’t as unachievable as it once was, not as scary, and isn’t the great headline maker it once was. If this means that ‘headline’ makers have to change the aspirational goal posts now and again, then so be it, but be careful what you ask for!

If Cisco dropped ‘digital’ from their job titles, could you imagine the number of unqualified candidates that could apply for the post.

So when do we get to drop the ’digital’ word?

Despite the headlines, Google Trends shows that more people are using the phrase ‘digital marketing’ than ever before. And as you can see the ‘digital media’ terminology is becoming increasingly irrelevant as more media is delivered in a digital format (even the printed stuff).

The difference is that marketing media effectively is increasingly dependent on having ‘digital marketing’ skills.

digital marketing google trends

So it seems that this so-called ‘dead’ medium of ‘digital’ has a long way to go before it starts pushing up the daisies, particularly when you consider that we’ve just scratched the surface of app optimisation and Artificial Intelligence.

Let’s go back and look at Cisco’s job page in January 2017 and we’ll see how the visionaries are getting on. Will we see a drop in ‘digital’ job titles in a year time? I don’t honestly know. My gut feel is we’ll see a growing trend of ‘digital is dead’ articles by publishers this year; but as long as you read it on a screen (rather than on an expensive printed format) you can probably work out whether ‘digital’ is or isn’t dead.

Is digital now traditional marketing?

Because it’s been around for a decade and a generation of Millennials see it as the norm, digital is becoming traditional.

What has changed is the ability to measure ‘traditional’ channels, mostly because digital analyst skills have driven this change.  There aren’t the same hiding places – media is measurable both offline and online, and the attribution between these channels can be measured.

Some of the best TV and press campaigns tell people what to search for, while savvy producers of tangible products use digital messages on their packaging to drive customers to social media platforms.

Digital isn’t dead, it’s just starting to grow up a bit.

As much as I would love to see everyone understand ‘marketing’ as “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising”, we need to start by understanding the difference between a sensationalist headline and the reality of the situation.

While terminology might change, sensationalist headlines are nothing but a traditional method of getting attention in a busy digital world. But if digital marketing was ‘dead’ you wouldn’t be reading this article, and Cisco wouldn’t be advertising for a digital marketing team!

Grant Whiteside
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