18 October 2011

100 Marketers in Search of Integration

Digital marketers are ready to help drive marketing integration.

That was a common theme at Peer Summit Chicago, a gathering of about 100 marketing professionals seeking to improve on what they do by hearing from and sharing with their peers. It was organized by Econsultancy, a London-based firm that counsels clients on media and marketing with an emphasis on digital issues. They also publish a lot of research, often working with partners like Adobe and Google, who also co-sponsored the event. You can read about Econsultancy here and Peer Summit here.

My role was to moderate three discussions on “Integrating Digital Marketing,” each time with about eight marketers, while a dozen or so other tables were discussing other topics like Mobile Commerce and Email Marketing. We talked openly, under the Chatham House Rule, so I’ll only report some general things, not for attribution.

“Digital” vs. “Traditional”

Across the three roundtable discussions we had a good mix of seniority, expertise, and industry. E-commerce directors for insurance and for heavy machinery, manager of all creative materials for a financial services giant, director of digital marketing for a risk management company, and a book publishing executive responsible for digital marketing including product development for all her company’s e-books. Apparently if you’re a digital specialist they give you all things digital.

And that was exactly the problem. Every single digital marketer felt siloed in their specialty. Almost all of them either envied or resented their “traditional” or “offline” counterparts because they get more budget and more attention. When one of the speakers said “TV is the only non-discretionary marketing expense” they all nodded. No one argued the point.

Four Ways Digital Marketers Can Break Down Silos

So how do you break down the silos? Here were just some of the things the digital marketers said they would put into practice back at their offices.

The solutions lie in People more than Process. There’s no benefit in trying to force collaboration via some IMC process mechanism. Instead, there was a huge perceived opportunity in simply building alliances with like minds in other disciplines, even/especially “traditional” marketers. It seems like simple advice – “just open the door at the base of the silo” – but few had tried it.

Consumer knowledge rules. In a bit of self-criticism, most participants admitted they didn’t know their own consumers, customers or end-users very well. Instead, they wind up serving only their internal customers such as a project manager or “traditional” marketer, putting themselves at a disadvantage. Each of them needed to change that; it’s axiomatic that any kind of marketer needs to understand their consumer. There are two opportunities for digital marketers. One is to simply do their own homework on consumers because most marketers don’t. The second is to use digital’s own tools to get close to the consumer, either by research or simply as a listening post.

Digital has an opportunity to lead via Knowledge Management. Consumer product marketers were keen to hear about the Knowledge Management function in many consulting firms. “You mean there people whose full-time jobs are to organize, store and retrieve the company’s knowledge base?” I cautioned the group that Knowledge Management, done well, winds up being the full-time job of a lot of people. Nevertheless, digital specialists have the tools to champion the cause in their organizations, thus getting them out of their silo.

Share your specialty. Digital marketers sometimes forget that “traditional” marketers are mystified, even intimidated, by SEM, SEO, Demand Side Platforms, HTML5, etc. A great starting point is to teach others about what you do, so they can see the value and the utility of digital media.

There were some other discussion points, but these were the main ones. It was clear, at least from three roundtable discussions, that digital still lives in a silo, dangerously underutilized. Hopefully we sent forth some evangelists for integration.


  1. Great post! I think one huge opportunity for digital that is often overlooked is the knowledge management aspect. Advertising agencies are similar to consulting firms/research firms in that there is a high churn rate leading to endemic corporate amnesia (loss of knowledge when people or 'champions of knowledge' leave). Consulting firms/research firms realize this and invest in the resources and people to ensure knowledge is captured and organized in a way to make it useful to others in the future. If advertising agencies face the same problem, why aren't they also investing in knowledge management? This is even more important as when it comes to formulating strategy the competitive set is consulting/research firms.

  2. Thanks for the write-up, Steve. Very interesting.

    You nailed it on the last bullet point. It’s amazing how perceptions differ, though. My thought while reading was “…are these people kidding?” I would venture that it’s actually the other way around, and while "traditional" marketers might have the money and attention for now, they are panicked that they are missing the train to the future, which the digital guys are driving. They traditional guys are dead afraid that they won't have the money and attention for long.

    For these digital folks to break out of their silos, I'd recommend two doses of basic marketing…
    1. Know your consumer – you said it!
    2. Know your technology – The key here is to know it in “layman’s terms”. People that can only speak IT are limited to an IT only circle. Learn to speak IT in a way that makes sense to others in your corporation. And keep abreast of it.

    …and one dose of self-help affirmation
    1. Understand that you are at the vanguard, and act like it. Become an evangelist of what you do. Spread the word, pitch projects, have sharing sessions within the corporation, invite your bosses to conferences, dig up case studies with companies similar to yours, etc. Whatever it takes, make it happen! If you don’t, in no time that 23 year old intern will.


  3. That is a great insight - just open the door at the bottom of the silo!

    After attending a conference where a speaker mentioned that silos were good, I decided I should explore that in one of my blog posts (entitled "The Matrix"). One of the advantages of silos is further knowledge development and specialization within the field.

    It seems to me that owning a "digital" silo can be a great advantage since it is still in rapid growth mode. Finding ways to make it relevant to other areas gives that silo a great entre to assist and advise others due to it's expertise.