Like many other digital leaders, I've been spending more time on Quora. Who isn’t? The who’s who of digital is now accessible to the masses and organized in a way that makes it easy to get an almost-instantaneous response from experts of any subject.
So I couldn’t help but post a simple question: What does it take to be a great digital leader?
The quality of responses was extraordinary. What I found really interesting, though, was the difference in opinions among respondents belonging to the brand, technology, and agency worlds.
The first Quora comment was posted by a CMO. He argued that being a digital leader meant using digital media to develop and execute the company’s overall value proposition. From his standpoint, successful leaders are able to see the big picture and articulate it to internal stakeholders and agencies. His success is measured by his ability to bring everyone together to achieve a common goal.
The second comment, relating to the “power of specialization,” was posted by someone who works for a technology provider. In the early digital days, he maintained, it was easier for marketers to set up priorities and let agencies create digital campaigns around them. Try that now with audience buy, real-time bidding, and social media activation. And we are not even talking about attribution modeling. As a result, it has becoming increasingly difficult for marketers to stay on top of new trends, and it’s naive to rely exclusively on an agency’s point of view. Marketers need to be able to form their own opinions. That’s why they ought to become more specialized and gain expertise by working for vendors who developed those leading digital marketing technologies, this person wrote.
The third comment came from someone from the agency side. In her opinion, being a great digital leader is about the ability to innovate. Don’t get me wrong; marketers are typically the first ones to get excited about new concepts. The reality, however, is that marketers are usually constrained by what they have experienced or seen across one particular industry. This can limit the ability to adopt innovative ideas from other industries. On the other hand, people who work for agencies very often manage multiple clients. Increasingly, marketers would need to develop some prior experience with agencies where they got to see a wider variety of industries.
As for me, an ex-brand manager of a global financial institution, I believe marketers are natural digital leaders. They have a unique ability to develop a digital vision and be accountable for it. For starters, marketers possess a comprehensive view of the opportunities and challenges their organizations are facing--not only in marketing, but also in other areas, such as operations, customer service, privacy, etc. They can successfully articulate a digital value proposition in the context of a broader strategic goal.
Second, marketers work in tandem with internal stakeholders and agencies to develop and optimize winning digital campaigns. While agencies can provide great insights, it’s ultimately the marketer’s job to take responsibility for performance over time.
As digital marketing becomes more complex, marketers will find it hard to resist working in the technology and agencies worlds. It is these two realms, though, that will give them the diversity of experience and digital acumen required to glue all the pieces together.