Sometimes I can see it in their eyes. During a speaking appearance, I'll look out at the audience and see fear. Not the "Big F" kind of "Run for your lives, citizens!" terror that you see in a B-movie. No, I am talking about the kind of fear that makes you stop and check things out just one more time before trying something. The fear that causes you to wait for someone else to make the first move. I see it all the time in digital marketing. It's totally understandable. It's human nature. I am extremely sympathetic to everyone who experiences it. But, we have to get rid of it.
A few years ago, I'd see that fear in the eyes of veteran marketing and PR people—the ones who went into marketing as a refuge from math. They would literaly cower when I explained the principles of direct marketing. They no more wanted to calculate a conversion rate than balance their checkbooks. They were "message people." They had "soft skills" and knew how to promote brand image in the minds of consumers. They were truly afraid of being held responsible for whether conversion rates ticked up or down a tenth of a point last month. They knew exactly what they were good at, and this wasn't it.
So in came the quants—math geeks who knew how to juice the clickthroughs and didn't worry about optimizing pages for SEO. They were analytical and they were good. They tuned up Web sites and made them persuasive, but they had their own Achilles's heel. They had gone into math and technology to avoid ever having to speak or write. When social media came along, they were aghast that marketing was becoming squishy again. I know so many of these new marketers now fearful about their lack of communications skills.
The truth is that marketing is at once a powerful communications tool and one that must ring the cash register. Digital marketing forces us to analyze and optimize in ways that we never did before, because we can measure the results and adjust what we do. But we can't only analyze and optimize. At some point, we need to actually say something, to stand for something, and to move people.
Brand marketers who believe that they can't succeed because of their sparse analytical skills have something in common with direct marketers who feel they come up shy in creativity: they are both right. Both kinds of marketers need the other and the sooner they realize it, the sooner their companies will use digital marketing at a new level.