What is digital marketing?
What exactly does a digital marketer do? If you’ve never done any kind of marketing work, or been involved in a job where you worked with marketers, you’d be forgiven for having no idea. In fact, some managers and business owners who hire online marketing professionals aren’t 100% sure what they do, just that they deliver results. But it’s worth getting to know what this exciting (and high growth) profession is all about – especially if you’re looking for a great new career.
Digital marketing as a full-time profession has only been around for a couple of decades. Before that, aspects of digital marketing were usually part of a general marketing management role, and specialist services like web design were contracted separately. It’s only within the last ten years or so that it’s become standard for even smaller businesses to have their own in-house digital marketing professional.
In this article, we’ll explain what a digital marketer does, and the emerging digital marketing specialist jobs out there. We’ll top it off with some easy steps you can take to become a digital marketer, including studying a digital marketing qualification, no matter what background you’re starting with.
What does a digital marketer do?
Online marketing professionals have a huge variety of responsibilities and tasks to do every day. But if you had to sum it up in one sentence:
“Digital marketers use and manage digital channels to grow awareness, interest and sales.”
Let’s break down that sentence and learn more about those channels, and the task and projects that go towards building awareness, interest and sales.
Digital marketing channels
‘Digital marketing channels’ are any non-analogue (analogue = print, radio, regular TV etc.) media. This means platforms, publishers, apps, interfaces and other methods of communicating or showing information. Digital marketing channels include websites, smart phone apps, email, search engines, text/MMS and more. Common digital marketing channels you might already be familiar with include:
- Search engines:
- Pay per click (advertising)
- Organic search results (SEO)
- Company websites
- Digital publications (online magazines, news sites, blogs etc.)
- Social media profiles (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and more)
- Video sharing platforms (YouTube, Vimeo, TikTok etc.)
- Forum sites and online communities
Digital marketing tasks and projects
Digital marketers do a variety of tasks and projects related to each of these channels. Some tasks and projects involve making the channels work together in a connected way (‘convergent’ or ‘integrated’ marketing). Here are a few examples.
Learn about the target market/s and their digital habits
To really make an impact and eventually grow sales, digital marketers have to know their target market/s inside out. This means the usual market research stuff, like demographics, needs and preferences. But for digital marketing specialists, it also means their digital habits.
Digital marketers spend a lot of time researching and understanding target markets’ digital habits, including:
- Which apps and websites they like
- How long they spend on apps or websites
- When they look at apps or websites
- Their online behaviour patterns: how they browse, click, interact, communicate etc.
Create and publish digital content: blogs, videos, ad graphics and more
In case it wasn’t obvious yet: digital marketers need serious creative skills! Many marketers are in charge of producing blogs, videos, advertising graphics and more. They may need to do everything themselves, or they may need to coordinate and manage other professionals such as photographers, editors and graphic designer .
Ongoing search engine optimisation
When an organisation’s website is built, the designer or developer usually helps set up the basics that make a site search engine-friendly at the time. This means things like the structure and layout of the site, the domain name (main part of the website address) and more.
What digital marketers have to do is make sure the website stays up to scratch for the search engines, and gets more search-friendly over time. This is a tough task because search engines like Google are always changing their algorithms and raising the standard that a website has to meet in order to appear high up in search results. Digital marketers may be responsible for various ongoing SEO tasks including:
- choosing high-impact key phrases to focus on (keyword research)
- content optimisation (tweaking the writing and pictures)
- competitor research (crosses over with general marketing research)
- SEO content production and publishing (crosses over with content marketing)
- improving user experience in line with algorithm changes (changing the website to give users an easier and more enjoyable time)
Search engine optimisation is separate from PPC (pay per click) search engine advertising, like those little ads and sponsored results you see at the top of the page when you do a search. It all fits under the umbrella of search engine marketing.
Set up advertising campaigns
- Marketers usually use online advertising as part of the overall marketing mix. This means one of the big jobs they do is to set up advertising campaigns. Set up involves:
- Choosing the right platform/s: which apps, websites etc.
- Setting up business advertising account with the platform/s
- Choose ad type or format: banner, video, text-only etc.
- Creating/ordering visual content
- Writing advertising copy (words)
- Getting the ads approved by the platform
- Choosing the initial timing and placement for the ads
- Checking ads for legal compliance (e.g. consumer laws)
- Setting maximum bids (for bid-based platforms, including search engines)
Monitor and adjust campaigns in real time
One of the reasons that businesses like investing in digital marketing is that they don’t have to wait long to find out whether their activity is working. Instead of waiting weeks or months after a radio or newspaper ad to see if it made a difference to sales, with online marketing, the business can see a direct and almost immediate link between the ad and the finished sale. And if they’re not seeing that link, they can press pause on the activity to change things. This may mean a higher ROI (return on investment) in both the short term and long term.
While online advertising can be pre-paid and automated, it can also be changed fairly quickly. Some things, like ad placement, bid or timing, can be changed instantly. Other things, like a new graphic, can take 24-28 hours to be approved.
What this means is that digital marketers need to constantly keep an eye on the advertising campaigns they’re responsible for. They need to make adjustments if the ads aren’t working, or recommend expanding advertising (budget) to the owner/manager if the ads are working really well. Many digital marketers will have tabs open on their computer all day, every day, for each of the ad platforms they work with.
Manage brand social media accounts
Social media management is fast becoming a specialist role (see more below). The more social platforms are out there, and the more sophisticated the marketing options get, the more businesses are seeing the value in a full-time (or outsourced) specialist. However, many small to medium sized businesses still have a marketing all-rounder take care of their company social media accounts.
Managing social media accounts (not including paid advertising) can involve several different tasks, including:
- Creating text, image and video posts for social media
- Sharing links and posts according to company social media guidelines
- Work with social media influencers
- Engaging (liking and commenting on) with fan posts
- Answering product/service questions on social media
- Delivering general customer service via social media
Understand and take action on data (web analytics, social media stats and more)
Saving the best to last, this is perhaps the most important job a professional digital marketer has to do. Data analytics and data-driven decision making are amongst the most in-demand skill sets, for both generalist and specialist digital marketers. In some ways, understanding data reports is a part of all the other tasks and responsibilities listed above. But to really understand what they’re seeing on an analytics dashboard, marketers have to know how to:
- identify trends and patterns
- understand the decision-making impact of data
- make projections and predictions based on available information
- make connections between different sets of data
What different digital marketing jobs are out there?
As mentioned above, it’s common for smaller companies to have a marketing all-rounder. This might be a marketing manager, who handles everything to do with marketing. Their goals and targets are set by the owner/manager, with some consultation about what constitutes a good achievable benchmark. They may be responsible for things like deciding the marketing mix, managing an overall marketing budget, and dealing with freelancers.
In some cases, where the manager/s want to get more hands on with marketing, the business might have a marketing assistant. Marketing assistants usually have tasks delegated to them. They may have less decision-making responsibility, but also a little less freedom.
Specialist digital marketers
Search engine marketers handle all things search, from search engine optimisation to PPC advertising. They spend their time getting to know the finer details of SEO and how it applies to different sites from different areas and industries. They’re also more skilled than the average marketer in the more advanced functions of paid search engine advertising.
Dedicated specialists in this area often go for platform or software certifications for the search engines they deal with, like Google certification, on top of any other qualifications they may have.
SEO/SEM specialists may work in larger companies, or for SEO agencies, where they serve a number of different clients at once.
Content marketers may work in the marketing department of larger organisations, as freelancers, or as part of a team in a marketing agency. There are no particular extra qualifications needed, but a basic qualification in marketing helps, and some demonstrated creative skills (like a portfolio) is the usual way to go.
Content marketers sometimes work with other specialists, like SEO and social media managers, to develop content for the organisation to publish. ‘Content’, as hinted above, can be anything from blogs, articles and other written content, to videos, infographics and more. Sometimes content marketers develop a whole series of content that goes together, like an article that links to a video, or a series of short blogs.
The stuff that content marketers make has a purpose, usually set by a client or marketing manager. The general purpose of a piece or series may be:
- brand awareness
- product/service awareness
- to push the customer along in their journey
- building understanding around key selling points (e.g. special ingredients or components, unique features of a service, exclusive benefits)
- explainers, how-to guides, and other useful stuff for the reader
Within that, the content marketer usually has a bit of creative freedom. They can work out what types of content will have the most impact, and make suggestions to the client/manager before proceeding with production.
Social media marketing
Social media marketing isn’t just about having a company page/profile, making posts, or using a social app to advertise. It’s about how everything works together on social media to create the results the business needs. In addition to the social media tasks already mentioned, social media marketers may be responsible for:
- multi-platform campaign planning
- post planning and scheduling
- managing the social media content calendar
- directing creative production for a range of posts and stories
- networking with other organisations on social media where relevant
- setting and monitoring social media customer service guidelines
- social media ‘events’: PR events, competitions, giveaways and more
A Diploma of Social Media Marketing is a great foundation for a career in social media marketing. It’s ideal for beginners as well as those with general marketing experience, or some limited social media experience. After that, some social media marketers get certified in the apps or platforms they work with. These certifications are offered by the app or platform, and help to show the depth of the marketer’s knowledge to prospective clients or employers.
Marketing automation means setting up systems that do some (or all) marketing tasks automatically. Some examples of things that can be done automatically are:
- Remarketing: targeted advertising to people who have already visited the site or gone on the social media profile
- Reminder/notification/special offer text messages
- Push notifications on apps with special offers based on location, past purchases and more
- Email marketing based on the customer’s preferences, past purchases and more
- Advertising stops, starts, bid changes etc. based on particular triggers
- Social media community management
- Customer service and sales tools, like chat bots and help libraries
An online marketer who specialises in automation might work with a particular platform or piece of software, like HubSpot or Salesforce. They may produce the content that goes in to these platforms themselves, or work with others such as copywriters.
Research and analytics
Market research and analytics specialists usually work for larger companies, although some work on a freelance basis. The reason for this is that it’s extra important for the information they develop, uncover or analyse to be kept secret. Research and advice based on analytics can be a real competitive advantage for an organisation.
Digital marketing researchers help other marketers by identifying, assessing and analysing new digital marketing media, platforms, technologies and more. They use a variety of automated tools, but they may also do investigative work. For example, they may find online communities or influential individuals that the brand can potentially work with.
Analytics specialists do similar things to what marketing managers do with analytics, but in more depth, and with more insight. For example, many analytics specialists have knowledge or training in statistics. They can tell when a trend or a change is meaningful, or just a blip. They can accurately make projections based on statistical models, rather than simple maths.
Marketing analytics specialists may hold a variety of qualifications, from basic certificates to degrees in data science.
Head of marketing / chief marketing officer
Larger organisations with marketing departments or multiple marketing staff often need a senior manager or executive to oversee everything and keep things working together smoothly. Marketing managers may plan long-term strategies, delegate work to staff or contractors, and have responsibility for the annual marketing budget. Depending on the type and structure of the organisation, this person may have a variety of job titles, including the ones above.
Marketing managers usually have at least a basic qualification in marketing, like a Certificate IV in Marketing and Communications, or a Diploma, if not a degree. This is because even if they gain their position through experience, they may not have experience in every single aspect of the jobs of the people they’ll be managing. A qualification helps to round this out.
Digital marketing jobs of the future
In addition to the general and specialist roles above, there are some digital marketing roles that are just emerging as distinct specialities. Several sources suggest that these jobs will be extra in demand in the near future.
A digital marketer who specialises in innovative and experimental ways to grow awareness, interest and sales as much and as quickly as possible.
Experience marketer / Chief experience officer
Someone who specialises in optimising every aspect of the customer’s experience, including marketing and customer service, to help boost sales and loyalty.
Machine learning engineer
A marketer who specialises in working with AI-driven solutions for marketing automation, market intelligence and more.
Top five reasons to become a digital marketer
Now that you know what digital marketers do, other than the challenge of the different tasks and responsibilities, why would you want to become one?
Here are five major reasons that apply to digital marketers across all different industries and specialisations.
Marketing professionals, including digital marketing specialists, are generally paid pretty well. The more specialised the role, or the better the results they can demonstrate, the higher the pay. Government stats suggest the full-time pay is at least a few hundred bucks a week higher than the average job*.
Strong future prospects
Different government stats also indicate that the job market for digital marketers will continue to grow strongly in the next five years. Not counting the impact of COVID-19 (which could end up being a net positive for digital jobs), there will be tens of thousands of new marketing jobs created in the years up to May 2024**.
Variety of work
Just about every type of business and non-profit (and many government organisations) needs marketing professionals to some extent. Many employer surveys indicate that companies will specifically be spending more on digital marketing in coming years. What this means is that there will be work available across a variety of different industries. You’ll get to apply your skills to marketing different products, services and causes – especially if you work in an agency.
COVID-19 has shown everyone just how valuable it is to work in a profession that allows you the flexibility of working from home or remotely. Digital marketing work is, by its very nature, open to flexible and remote working. Even when it’s business as usual, digital marketers may be more likely than other professionals to have flexible hours (for performance-based roles) and remote work arrangements. Some even spend most of the year travelling. Check out the ‘digital nomad’ trend online if you want to get really inspired/jealous…
Blend of creativity and logic
If you consider yourself to be both creative and logical, chances are you don’t want to get stuck in a career where it’s all one or the other. Digital marketing is a great field to get in to if you want to exercise your artistic and creative thinking skills as well as your business smarts. You’ll feel happier and more fulfilled with your career when both sides of your brain get a workout.
How to become a digital marketer
Your very first step should be to pursue a basic practical qualification.
Getting a vocational qualification gives you the basic knowledge you need to start working in digital marketing right away. It’s much shorter, more affordable, more up-to-date and practical than a degree. At the same time, you won’t be closing yourself off to further study: many unis offer credit for your Diploma-level studies.
Vocational qualifications are also way better than experience alone, because they’re valued by potential employers, and because they give you a better breadth of knowledge than work experience.
Online qualifications are even better if you’re looking for the flexibility to, say, start working and building your portfolio while you study.
Monarch Institute has a couple of great marketing courses that could be your first step towards a career in this field. Check out the course pages and make a time to chat with a course consultant today.
QUIZ: could you become a digital marketer?
Wondering if digital marketing is for you, or if you’ve got what it takes? Answer these questions and find out…
Are you a creative thinker?
HINT: not just art and design, but problem solving…
Do you take pride in the proven good results with your work?
(think: sales statistics, positive reviews, good peer feedback…)
Do you spend a lot of your free time online?
(This includes social media, reading, watching, gaming, shopping…)
Would you say you’re a digital native?
(very familiar and comfortable with computers and the internet, especially if brought up in the age of digital tech)
Do you like the idea of helping small businesses get ahead though smart digital marketing?
Do you like the idea of being part of a big marketing team for a cool product?
(or an important public service, or charity…)
Is the option of flexible work important to you?
Are you curious about particular aspects of how digital marketing works?
(like psychology, social influence, design aesthetics, programming for automation…)
Do you like the challenge of staying up to date with the latest and greatest in your work?
(new technology, best practice, competitor research, etc.)
5 or more yes: Digital marketing could definitely be for you! You’ve got a lot of the right interests and potential.
5 to 8 no: Think about what parts of digital marketing interest you most; you might be perfectly suited for a specialist role!
All no: Digital marketing might not be right for you – at least, not just yet. Spend some more time checking out different career paths and learning options.