The evolution of digital marketing leadership

The digital marketing space is one of, if not the most rapidly growing and evolving sectors with the landscape changing year on year. New tools and technologies, a wide array of platforms, changing customer behaviour and expectations, and a digitally savvy audience all contribute to this changing environment. But how does this impact on the role of a digital marketing leader? Is there an expectation to stay on top of all new technologies and innovations? Do they need to be the innovators themselves? Or is it about managing an evolving, highly specialised workforce? To answer these questions Andrew Carr, Manager at Michael Page Digital, spoke with one such digital marketing leader.
Rich began his career in marketing in the retail sector and has since specialised in Digital Marketing. Having worked on shoestring budgets and with some of the world’s biggest brands he has a rich and diverse experience in the field and has seen it grow and evolve as customer behaviour and digitalisation carry increasing influence. We started off talking about the industry and how it has changed in recent years. 

The Evolution of Digital Marketing

Rich explains that the key changes are led by customer behaviour and expectation. “The emergence of services such as Uber and Airbnb, being able to watch TV on demand and next day delivery means that consumers expect to be able to do something at the touch of a button. In the digital space, this has led to marketing activity becoming more and more tactical as a lot of the time you are not seeing the return on those big above-the-line activities you once did.”
This trend is only likely to continue; the focus on digital will increase and companies will be putting the consumer at the forefront of this evolution. Google CEO Sundar Pichai rose to his position as a result of his success in making Google products easier to use and is spearheading the company’s consumer-first agenda. Rich believes that the marketing industry will become even more technical moving forward. “This trend has already led to the integration of IT specialists so that businesses can make better use of analytics and customer data. Personalisation will be a big focus and IT & development skill sets will be required.”
Rich has a clear view of the types of skills that are in demand. “Currently good content managers/copywriters, UX designers and developers are in high demand. Moving forward and while we are seeing more and more people moving into digital or consumer shopping there will be fewer and fewer true Above the Line (ABL) marketing specialists so we may well see an increase in demand for experts in the future as the talent pool dwindles.”

A modern workforce

Workforces are increasingly diverse and on the move: with our recent Job Confidence Index research revealing that some 53 percent of candidates are willing to work overseas. Constant connectivity is resulting in a night-time colonised by work tasks and disruption of the conventional 9 to 5. Currently, in the UK, almost a third of workers and 50 percent of millennials claim to use their mobile devices to complete work tasks at home. 
These trends are as prevalent in marketing as they are anywhere else but Rich does not see them as a hindrance. “With the technology available nowadays remote working is not an issue, certainly not to the extent that it used to be.” But how does it change the demands placed on a manager? “I’d say that the demands are still much the same, it just means that you are accessible at all times. 
“When managing a team there is potential for issues to arise with remote working but that’s why it is so important to be confident in your team and trust them – bringing in the right people is crucial for this to work.” If managers become stressed or cannot come with these changes Rich believes that it is down to wider factors. “In my eyes, it is because they don’t have the right foundations to support them, whether that be the right team makeup, the right people or even the right company.”

Digital Marketing Management 

I asked Rich about his current role and how he sees his challenges and opportunities developing as Digital Marketing Manager. The exciting thing he tells me is that the company is bucking the retail trend. “Whilst the high street is generally in decline we are actually in growth. We are within the health sector so although we are performing well there is tremendous opportunity to improve and the marketing team are going to be central to that.”  Rich hopes that by aligning the digital and ATL activity he can show the true value of digital marketing and push the company forward.
Another opportunity and something which Rich considers a personal goal is to get the most out of social from a business perspective. “It is ever evolving and presents a huge opportunity for brands to both gain awareness and engage their audience at a significantly lower cost than some traditional advertising mediums. The potential is massive.” 
We have covered the evolution of marketing but what about the role of a marketing leader? How is that changing? “The real difference is between large corporates and smaller SMEs and Start-Ups. Many small businesses are now investing more heavily in marketing, recognising that is an essential part of any forward-thinking enterprise. The real difference is that if you are bought into a large corporate you will work largely within a particular part function of marketing. If you are hired as a Digital or CRM manager you will work on that aspect of marketing. In smaller firms, marketing managers will often be expected to do a bit of everything. This does afford wider influence over a marketing programme and many prefer this.”


Unprecedented technological advancements coupled with rapidly evolving consumer and employee needs, call for a major revision of the concept of leadership. So how can managers prepare themselves to be leaders of the future? “I’ve never had formal training or mentoring” Rich tells me “but I certainly look at my managers and take a great deal from them – anyone in a position of influence can potentially teach you something about leadership. I do think that it is important for the individual to work out what works well for them. Some people, like me, benefit from observing others and applying what does or does not work well, while others will benefit more from seminars or formal leadership training.”
PageGroup recently released a report on the Future of Leadership which concludes that ‘with technology bringing a rapid and unprecedented rate of disruption, honing the ability to take risks, adapt to change and foresee implications for customers and employees alike will be critical to becoming a successful leader.
As a final point, I asked Rich if there were any misconceptions he would like to dispel about marketing. “It’s not all fluffy work! There is a great deal of hard graft that goes into campaigns and it often takes a long time before the creative work is seen by the end user.”
Rich was speaking with Andrew Carr, Manager at Michael Page Digital
Andrew Carr
T: 0121 634 6947