The digital marketing industry is still young, having started in very nascent forms around 1996 with the first search engines, where all that mattered was onpage text. The notion of links as a way to connect the Internet came into being in 1999-2001 with Google coming onto the scene and effectively making all of the other available search engines at the time (remember Dogpile that was the meta search engine, searching all the available search engines?) irrelevant very quickly. The concept of blogging came into being around 2001/2002 with the rise of Blogger, which was then bought by Google. Social media really started in 2004 with Facebook, then Twitter came on the scene in 2006/2007, now we have Snapchat, Peach, and new “social networks” launching every day.
Outside of just the web apps and services, we also have companies working to replace SMS or make SMS work as a marketing channel. We have a plethora of choices for CRMs, marketing automation tools, email marketing software, social media management, and everything else you can imagine. And yet, nothing really easily talks to the other technologies businesses use, so redundant effort is needed to keep businesses working.
At the same time, business needs have changed. Business models have changed through the decades and centuries. Every new advancement, such as the rise of the Internet, brings amazing opportunities as well as challenges. New business models are being created all the time, but I believe we now have enough data and history to know what works and what doesn’t, and also where to look for new potential ideas.
Is It Time For Marketing Management Consulting To Happen?
So is now the time for digital management consulting, and more specifically digital marketing management consulting, to finally happen? Many of us, and a few agencies, have been trying to do it for years now. The challenge has always been proving the value of it because so many businesses have still been primarily doing offline marketing while slowly moving efforts online. The challenges then come up when building out a digital team, to support the different business needs, and how to structure that. In the offline world, for example, businesses maybe had data entry and many iterations of designs. The pace was slower. In the digital world, efforts move much faster and not only have skills changed, but also the speed at which things get done. Whole new ways of operating are needed. And this is shown in the downward trend of searches for “management consulting”:
I believe that now is the time for digital management consulting to finally take hold. We now have people with 20 years of digital business experience, building their own companies or helping a lot of other companies build and come into the digital age. Traditional management consulting has been around for a long time, but digital can now rise because the winds of experience are finally at our backs.
Here’s the evidence I’ve seen.
Business Models Have Changed
Think about the business models in place when you were growing up. Many of them revolved around in-person shopping, carrying a lot of inventory, and required a lot of people doing a lot of manual work.
In the digital world, models have changed. Companies can scale with many fewer people and often no physical inventory being needed. The companies that straddle the physical and the digital, such as Amazon and Zappos, are one new model where digital has enabled the physical. One big change brought about by the digital world is the rise of services that people can use from anywhere – their laptop, their phone, their tablet, and any other screen they have (TV even sometimes).
There are freemium models (though these existed before the Internet. Think about “30 day free trials” that then required a return, otherwise you were locked in to paying), paid upgrades, different levels of service and bandwidth based on price. You can call a car from your smartphone, pay your bills on the go as you’re riding in that car, then arrive at the restaurant where you reserved a table via your smartphone once again. Each of these has a business plan behind it. And different skills and people are needed to make all of this work.
Technologies Need To Talk
Every digital business uses multiple tools to run their business. At Credo, I use Freshbooks for invoicing, Paypal for credit card processing, Hubspot for my CRM, Trello for my task lists and prioritization, Bench.co for my accounting, Gravity Forms and WordPress for my site and lead capture forms, Moz and SEMrush for my marketing research needs, Google Analytics for Analytics, Google Tag Manager for tracking, Facebook for retargeting advertising, and more. Credo is a small company, and I just mentioned thirteen different tools that I use. All of these are built on their own technologies and are used for their own needs, but I also need them to all work together to make my workflows work and scale without requiring me to hire and staff up the company.
I know from firsthand experience that much bigger businesses use even more tools that are also disparate and sometimes cobbled together with tools like Zapier (and I LOVE Zapier, but don’t trust it to scale businesses to huge growth in a cost-effective manner), but often the data is manually moved from one place to another. Tools break all the time, so if you’ve tied everything together in a house of cars you’ll have the reverse engineer it every time it breaks. And what if you weren’t the one to create the system? Good luck.
A great digital marketing management consultant can help you tie these together in a sustainable way. Companies like iPullRank are specializing in this.
New Processes Are Needed
As the technologies and business needs change, so do the processes needing to make your business (and therefore your marketing) work. What previously took 10 people to do may now only take 3, but what about those other seven people? Do the three whose jobs are mission critical have all of the skills needed, or will you have necessary redundancy? We all know that people are resistant to change as well (fear of loss is much stronger than hope of gain), but what happens when the overhead of those extra people needs to be either removed or reallocated?
You need someone with years of digital business experience to help you figure this all out.
Business Is International
If you’re at all involved in the startup or technology world, you’re probably noticing the move towards distributed teams. There are whole companies that are distributed, like Buffer and Zapier. Many large companies are now opening up various offices to house different teams or companies, but this means separate timezones, work cultures, and less facetime than before. While this can be great in many ways (for example it’s much cheaper to hire a software engineer in Eastern Europe than the SF Bay Area), it also brings its own set of challenges.
This happened during the offline era as well, but these offices and teams often operated as their own islands and communication took forever. In the digital age, you can literally have people working around the clock because of the magic of time zones. You can get instant feedback from other offices because of the magic of email/Slack/chat, as opposed to sending a design pitch via USPS Express (and risking that it gets lost in the mail).
The business needs have changed.
Execution Matters, Strategy Wins
Businesses will always need execution help. At any company, people feel like there are never enough hands on deck to do everything they want to do. That’s business, whether offline or online. From what I’ve seen by observing a lot of businesses, it’s much easier to find people to execute on a strategy than it is to find someone to put together the strategy in the first place. That strategy creation comes from years and years of experience seeing different business models and executing on them, tweaking the needs, and moving forward with the creation of new models, tweaking again, and so on and so forth.
Most businesses can get to a certain level with their internal strategies, created by their founders or their executive team. At some point however, and all businesses reach this point, it becomes necessary to bring in outside help. If your business was offline and is now online, the leadership team definitely needs help figuring out how to move online, organize their company optimally, and implement a culture of fast testing, tweaking, and optimizing to stay current.
If you need to fix a broken limb you’re not going to call a brain surgeon. If you need to grow online, why call a traditional management consultancy?
People Are Already Doing This
The good news is that there are already people working in this realm. Businesses like iPullRank are focusing on helping teams tie together their disparate platforms so they can make better decisions. Genuinely (formerly Mack Web) is focusing on training companies and teams how to build a brand online. Tom Critchlow is helping companies build their marketing teams and organize themselves for success.
What do you think? Is the time for digital management consulting finally arriving?