Lee Odden

5 Essential Skills for Digital Marketing Consultants

Lee Odden     Digital Marketing

digital marketing skills

Much of today’s digital marketing consulting is about data: goals, KPIs and performance metrics. Processes and technology also play a big part, serving as a point of differentiation for many digital marketing agencies and consultants.

The consulting business can be a tricky one because not all business marketing problems are clearly defined and even fewer require simple cause and effect or linear solutions. There are almost always contextual differences between various stakeholders and multiple dependencies, outside forces and differing agendas to deal with as well. Sounds like a fun career, doesn’t it?

The fast pace and increasing complexity of the digital marketing consulting world requires more than functional expertise, best practices and the ability to analyze and optimize data. All too often, the soft skills of consulting are omitted or inconsistent causing misinterpretation, ineffective insight and unmet expectations.

Why? Because there are humans involved! Beyond data, process and software, it takes a mix of soft skills to effectively scope out a situation, evaluate opportunities and facilitate the implementation of recommendations. As business marketing becomes more “human” so too, must the marketers in their approach.

The best digital marketing advice in the world is useless if it’s never implemented.

There are many people skills that come into play with consulting and especially with marketing in the digital space and in particular: those that tap into individual and collective agency intelligence, the ability to solve problems and execute creatively, accountability and a continuous drive for improved performance.

I believe it is a combination of  process, software and data driven capabilities along with the effectiveness of human to human interaction with marketing (sociological to psychological) that drive the most effective marketing consulting engagements.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the more human digital marketing consultant skills that are beginning to differentiate top performing agencies and what we look for at TopRank Online Marketing as we continue to hire smart, creative and focused on results professionals into 2015:

1. Be Goals Focused

Always understand the “Why”.  From shiny objects to scope creep, dynamic optimization of digital marketing can cause programs to become inefficient and go off course. With every strategic directive and especially with any tactic or task, there should be a clear line of sight as to the purpose and expectation.

Understanding the overall goal as well as how individual actions contribute up to that goal is an essential perspective for making decisions throughout a successful engagement. The more often marketers have to wonder, “Why are we doing this?” the more likely the efforts will fail. Rather, the question in the marketer’s mind for each task should be, “How does this impact the program? How will it advance our progress and reach goals?”. Impact of marketing actions are not always direct, but there should be a sense of accountability nonetheless.

A strategy is a plan of action with a goal. A tactic is a specific action that is part of implementing the strategy.

2. Understand Strategy vs. Tactics

Far too many marketing consultants don’t understand this distinction. A strategy is a plan of action with a goal. A tactic is a specific action that is part of implementing the strategy. For example, a digital marketing strategy that calls for an increase in sales from a specific target audience might call for a unique messaging approach specific to a pain point that involves producing content, ads, emails and offers that are relevant for that specific customer group. Producing content, ads, emails and offers are the tactics of that strategy.

Understanding the difference between strategy and tactics ensures the “why” is present in all directives and will contribute to more successful engagements.

3. Ability to Listen and Empathize

Probably one of the most important and often neglected skills is the combination of actually listening to learn the current situation, goals and troubles involved as well as the ability to empathize with both the brand marketer and the customers they’re trying to reach. While experienced and confident agency marketers provide valuable perspective, insight from clients and their customers is priceless. That insight can’t be captured effectively if the consultant does all the talking.

The complexity of what’s possible should not contaminate the focus of a digital marketing program.

4. Be Able to Prioritize

The complexity of what’s possible should not contaminate the focus of a digital marketing program. A big part of a marketing consultant’s job is to collect data, organize, extract insights and present recommendations in a way that balances options with priorities. Prioritization rules can vary with engagement, but a focus on what can be implemented and what can have the most impact (short and long term) are good guidelines to go by. The alternative? Digital marketing tactics overload!

An important part of leadership in digital marketing is the ability to communicate at any time, how to go from where we are now, to where we’re going and what to expect in the future.

5. Leadership Skills and Professionalism

Clients hiring consultants of any kind expect confident, insightful recommendations. Leadership of the agency to leadership skills and professionalism of individual consultants inspire confidence and drive progress. This means providing unique perspectives, original ideas and innovations as well as the ability to communicate at any time, how to go from where we are now, to where we’re going and what to expect in the future.

Professional conduct of consultants involves everything from responsiveness, courtesy, anticipation of client needs, follow up and staying on top of what’s important for the client as well as the program. One of the most important differentiators amongst marketing consultancies that use similar software and processes is the leadership of the agency and the conduct of its consultants.

People and organizational skills alone are not enough of course. It is the combination of human to human, organization and leadership skills plus proficiency with data, software and processes that will differentiate digital marketing agency effectiveness.

Photo: Shutterstock

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About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on integrated content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely on a beach somewhere doing absolutely nothing.