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  • Writer's pictureLisa Williams

Chapter 14 - Be a Student - Pursuing Learning Opportunities

Education and ongoing learning was messaged strongly by many of the interviewees and is best summed up by Joi Ito's quote that, "Education is what people do to you, learning is what you do to yourself".

Many organizations leverage hours/project tracking tools to help identify where resources spend time and align that to company performance-an absolutely necessary strategy for organizational health. But when you don't give a task code for learning, researching and education you make it irrelevant. If your company has a "read and research on your own time" policy, the learning, thinking, innovation and creativity that comes from educating ourselves will be lost.

Google famously allows all of their employees 20% of their time to dedicate whatever they believe is important and some of the company's best ideas and initiatives come from this encouragement for people to become subject matter experts as well as autonomous.

If, as an organization, you say learning is important but you don't have a methodology (like Google's) to encourage that learning it will always be a "nice to have" rather than part of your culture.

Bruce Clay, founder of Bruce Clay, inc, insists on a high-level of training for his employees (training which he also packages and executes in workshops around the world). He also insists on educating his clients. "People walk around talking about how stupid this client or this partner is. You're the stupid one if you know something and you believe it's important for partners to know and you keep it to yourself", says Clay.

Digital marketing is a discipline that changes all the time. New channels, new tools and new thinking will continue to drive innovation that improves our ability to get the right message to the right audience at the right time. Your education is never done.

Traditionally, a marketer would study marketing and the 4 P's and be fairly prepared for a career in marketing brands and products.

The path to becoming a digital marketer is diverse. I interviewed marketers with experience as journalists, computer scientists, librarians, musicians and programmers. The commonality in this list is combination of being inquisitive and wanting to solve problems.

The disconnect between education and experience needed today to excel in digital marketing is enormous. Only 9 of 10 marketing schools have digital marketing programs.

Shari Thurow, Founder and SEO Director at Omni Media Interactive, author of "Search Engine Visibility" and "When Search Meets Web Visibility" has undertaken graduate work in Library and Information Sciences. "Usability and information architecture are table stakes for large sites," shares Thurow, "but they are often disciplines that are either overlooked or not considered until a site is finished." Today's CMO doesn't have to be an information architect but he or she needs to understand the imperative for inclusion of usability in site creation and maintenance.

Focus groups are a great way to embrace the role of student, forget your preconceived notions about the brand and watch how people engage. My team was tasked with creating 3 templates for 3 different pages/user experiences for the B2C experience for a large retail/manufacturing company. Some of the product shots included people. The VP of Global Marketing was participating in the focus groups and told us to pull all the images with people. "The product is the focus and all of our hero shots should include just the product, no people". I had a strong subject matter expert on my team, but usability is not my main area of expertise so I reached out to Thurow to get advice on how to delicately, but firmly handle the issue. "That's what focus groups are for. Management doesn't decide, users decide. You don't have to prove anything. Let the research and their users prove the results." Not surprisingly the images and experiences that featured people defeated the product-only hero shots by a landslide.

Tim Ash, CEO of Site Tuners and author of "Landing Page Optimization" wants to encourage all digital marketers to school themselves on conversion optimization. Whether you're a brand, an SEO or in Paid Media, conversion optimization, much of digital marketing is focused on driving traffic, particularly paid and owned strategies.

Helping your website continually improve and get better at converting should be an ongoing endeavor. Current estimates put average landing page conversion between 2 and 3%. Think about that, 97% or more of the traffic you so lovingly (and expensively) send to your website leaves without doing the thing you want them to do. Becoming a student of conversion optimization helps you laser focus around not just driving traffic, but around driving business.

There are a number of skills that people own that need to be aggregated to successfully execute a strong digital marketing program. There are a select few people who have overlapping skills that make them truly special in their ability to assess needs and define next steps in a way that nearly always leads to success. Jonathon Colman, Facebook Usability & Content Strategist, chose to go to school to learn information architecture to support his love of content marketing and content strategy.

Heather Lloyd Martin CEO of Successworks and author of the first marketing book I ever read, "SEO Copywriting". Only the coolest part about the book is that it was not just the first SEO Copywriting book, but in 1999 it was the first book that really spoke to engaging users with content, not just ranking with content. Every word she wrote about SEO copywriting had to do with the user experience first and the search engines second is still relevant today.

If you were to ask any CMO if they value education in support of digital marketing they would nearly all say yes. If you were to ask if they have a way to execute and measure against that goal most would say no. Learning, absolutely fundamental to success in digital marketing, will always be a nice-to-have rather than an imperative unless we execute and measure against learning.

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