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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Phillips

How to avoid setting your digital marketer up to fail.

Updated: Nov 27, 2018

Wanted: Mid-level Digital Marketing Manager who can write the strategy for our multi-million dollar business, make 'viral' content, provide game changing data insights and educate and inspire everyone from the Exec to administrators. Must guide us through a digital transformation and deliver ROI ASAP. 

This is a summary of pretty much every digital marketing  job advertised in NZ right now. Businesses who are making (or have made) a digital transformation are placing their bets on finding a unicorn-esque digital native to guide them to digital glory. They want someone as comfortable with delivering a board level strategy as they are with holding a camera and shifting pixels in photoshop.

Where's my digital unicorns at? (Stolen from

While I can’t unequivocally say these people don’t exist (they do), my experience indicates  the likelihood of finding these mythical creatures is low. Really low.

As people learn digital marketing, they naturally lean towards the area that interests them most: Social media marketing, influencer marketing, SEO, analytics, performance media, strategy, design, web development… while it’s all ‘digital', each discipline demands it’s own skill set, style of thinking, problem solving and application. Being good at all of those things is hard and it's complete naturally to move towards becoming a specialist: even generalists develop a T shaped skill set

With budget for one FTE on top of their agency and media costs, many companies look for someone who can do everything, eventually hiring knowing they’re making sacrifices: They take on a UX designer and hope they can do strategy, or they take an analyst and hope they can be creative, or a back-end developer who has shown a flair in making things look pretty.

The new hire is then loaded up with a bunch of cross-functional KPIs (one person might be responsible for customer acquisition, retention, social media management and IT support duties), potentially written by managers who aren't very confident at digital themselves, and asked to deliver outcomes that are unlikely to be met. 

This puts a massive amount of pressure on everyone involved. The digital marketing manager tries really hard to be a jack of all trades, knowing their skills (and interest) lay in just a few areas. The marketing manager finds it hard to get the breadth of outputs the business wants and the Owner/Exec struggles to justify investment without clarity of direction or getting results they expected. That's when we start hearing things like “digital doesn’t work for us”.

They’re right. Without the right resourcing or leadership, digital almost definitely wont work. 

This challenge is amplified in NZ. Most businesses and marketing teams run lean - we just can't afford an army of marketers to support the business. As a small nation built on the back of being number-8-wire grafters, we expect (and need) everyone to lend a hand at doing a bit of everything. 

So the challenge facing business/brand owners is: How do we get good digital advice and resource effectively, when the skill set we need is so broad?

Here’s three typical approaches that are taken:

1) Despite the picture I painted above, hiring a brilliant generalist could work. 

Those people are rare, but are out there. Look for someone who:

- Can explain how digital  works in a way that makes sense at

- Talks about driving towards business results and avoids getting into discussion about things that don't matter, like click through rates and number of page followers.

- Thinks of digital as a journey - not just stands alone ads or webpages.

- Puts an inordinate amount of time in to optimisation, is naturally curious., loves experimenting and trying shit out. 

2)  Outsource to an agency.

Agencies are treasure trove of digital geniuses, I've worked with loads of them. Digital people get jobs at agencies because they are cool environments, have awesome cultures and are driven by a passion for doing new things and play with interesting new stuff. However, agencies are geared toward selling clients the one thing they are best at or make the most money out of. For digital media agencies, that’s programmatic or premium buys. For creative agencies, that's any sort of production...

The challenge here is agencies rarely look at the whole picture of digital marketing that drive people right though the funnel; Social agencies tend to focus on social engagement, , media agencies care about media, SEM agencies care about Adwords etc.

Very few agencies take full responsibility for the overall performance of digital, from awareness to conversion and retention. Test it out - ask your media agency when the last time they did a deep dive on your website analytics was, or ask your digital creative agency for a point of view on your SEM campaigns. 

3) Manage a group of domain experts.

In my mind there’s no doubt that you will get the best results from hiring a range of professionals to drive digital business outcomes. Engaging domain experts for SEO, SEM, Email marketing, media buying, influencer marketing, digital creative, web development etc will give you the best chance of fostering great results, however this can be incredibly arduous to manage. Not only do you have to sift through a bunch of contractors or small businesses to find out who’s actually good, but you also have to navigate the management of them, you have to translate the different languages they speak and jargon they use. Then you have to filter all the advice from each supplier to arrive get to a point where you can confidently use the right tool and partner at the right time to get the right outcome. This is really tricky. 

In my opinion, the ideal outcome would be a mix of all of the above: a strong digital generalist, supported by a broadly skilled digital agency and the ability to access domain experts as required. But to build that team takes time, skills and relationships, something the average digital marketing will struggle to do. 

Digital marketing has matured, but that has not made it any less complex. Getting it right takes time, experience, practice and a network. If you need any help to see a digital strategy or get the right mix of digital skills on board for your company, give me a yell.


Aftermath Digital helps companies get the most out of their digital marketing investments.

In a world that's not short on thought leadership or advice, we provide practical, actionable digital marketing that will deliver tangible, meaningful results. This is delivered through our 'Virtual Head of Digital Marketing’ service, offering best-in-class leadership and agency services for businesses who aren't able to justify hiring a permanent senior digital resource. 

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