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We’ve spent the last few years paying close attention to digital marketing – reading scads of research and opinion on marketing operations, client needs, trends in ad budget allocations, technology, consumer behavior, SEO, emerging media, and lots of other related subjects.

We’ve also been a part of a lot of digital copywriting initiatives over the last decade and a half or so. We’ve experimented, we’ve analyzed, and we’ve generally thought digital marketing to death. Here’s a few things we’ve learned that we’re fairly certain about. We reserve the right to change our opinion on some of this, but we think these statements qualify as absolute truisms, based on what we’ve learned.

1. Technology is a great enabler – but only humans can actually create.

Time after time, we’ve seen marketers invest tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars building platforms – websites, microsites, content management systems, custom web applications . . . but there is no technology available for content creation for those platforms.

It takes skilled humans to actually make the content that drives digital marketing. There’s no way around it, there’s no technology that can replace it, and even automation requires skilled human oversight.

2. Content drives every interaction on the web.

As much time and money as we spend on technology, design and usability, it’s only there to serve content. Whether it’s an eCommerce transaction, a succesful search, a download of a whitepaper, or signing up for an email newsletter – people are online to find content. Period. Every browsing session is a quest for some kind of content.

They don’t care about your website – they care what’s on it. They don’t care about your Facebook page – they care what’s on it. It’s not the Twitter platform that’s making it succesful-it’s the Tweets.

3. Content drives Search results.

Google’s search algorithm is trying to help you find the most relevant content. All other things being equal, Google and other search engines will rank the newest, most relevant content higher. Google is indexing for content, and also for reputation . . .  i.e. inbound links from others who found your content.

The only way to create fresh, compelling content to drive SEO, is with skilled humans. Those super-valuable inbound links that tell Google what others think of you, rather than what you think of yourself? Another problem that can only be solved with more skilled humans.

4. Consumer behavior is not “changing” – it has already changed.

We are not in the middle of a seismic shift in media habits – this has already happened. People are spending more time online and on their mobile devices than with traditional media – now. Not tomorrow, not next week, right now.

If you want to reach consumers where they are, on their terms, inside their social circles and their inboxes, it’s no longer a simple matter of creative messaging and media weight.

5. Functional capability is not the same as experience, skill, and expertise.

Just because you think you can, doesn’t mean you necessarily should. Yes, you can set up your company’s Facebook account and post things on it. Yes, you can create a blog in under three minutes with a variety of free tools. You can go buy an email marketing tool, or a CMS for your website, or even build your own social network with a few clicks.

Then you can have your receptionist, or an intern, or some other junior level person “write stuff”. You’re functionally capable of doing this – and your staff is functionally capable of creating content. That doesn’t mean you’re good at it, or that it’s going to have much of an impact on your business goals.

It doesn’t mean you have time for it, or that you’ve actually planned for it, or that you can make it a priority and keep your content relevant, fresh, and on strategy.

6. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth measuring – but it takes a human to have an insight.

Marketing is an ongoing science experiment. Our goal as marketers is to provide the best possible return on investment for our respective companies. That’s our job. Ongoing analysis is critical to the success of any campaign, and digital media lets you see it all on the fly, hour by hour if you like. It’s all just charts and graphs without an intelligent, skilled human to interpret the data and make insightful recommendations.

7. Agencies are not built to plan or produce digital content.

Ad agencies are great at what they do. Ad agencies make advertising. They are structured to make advertising, they are trained to make advertising, and the good ones can still move the needle with well-planned, insightful advertising. Ad agencies are built to make ads – they’re just not designed to produce digital content.

Ad agencies are staffed with media buyers, creative directors, art directors and account managers. They make their money on comissions, markups, and outsourcing. Their fee structure is built around making things like billboards, TV ads, and print pieces, and placing media – and they’re awesome at it! But they’re just not set up to manage digital content on an ongoing basis.

8. PR firms are not designed to plan or produce digital content.

PR firms are a little closer to being able to create digital content. They have some writers on staff, but they write press releases, not web copy (which is a specific art unto itself). If they’re well connected, and a little bit lucky, they can get you a lot of valuable, credible exposure. We use a PR firm ourselves.

PR firms are fantastic at generating press . . . but how does a PR firm deal with YouTube or Vimeo? What are they doing to maximize your exposure on Google? How do they plan a dynamic 1:1 content campaign? How do they manage your analytics?

The short answer is, they usually don’t. They’re not supposed to. They’re supposed to generate press. They’re not designed to build digital content, they’re designed to get television and newspaper reporters to write or say something – hopefully positive – about your brand. But they are not staffed or operationally designed to build digital content.

9. Digital shops and web developers are not structured to plan or produce content.

Programmers. Developers. Designers. Information Architects. Animators. This is how a web shop or a digital agency is staffed. Web shops are designed to make websites and web applications – and they’re generally pretty good at it, because that’s what they’re designed to do.

Digital agencies fall somewhere between an ad agency and a web shop, and they’re staffed with some combination of agency-esque roles like Account Managers and Strategists, working in concert with Developers, Digital Designers, and Programmers. They’re really good at creating slick, higher-end content like Flash animations, but they’re marketing and tech people, not content people.

These companies are set up to take advantage of technology, platforms and paid media . . .  but they’re not set up to regularly create content for your brand on an ongoing basis.

We make the content that makes digital marketing work.

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