So you think you can… work in digital marketing?

by Lauren Hamilton
04 March 2022

Digital marketing has a sexy ring to it, based on people’s reactions when I tell them what I do for a living.  Let me put it this way; when I’m at a BBQ and I’m asked what I do, I’m happy to volunteer that I work in digital marketing, and almost always receive a positive and fascinated response.

However, sooner or later it becomes clear in such conversations that most people don’t really know what a digital marketer is, or what the job entails.  Is it something to do with Facebook?  Is it incredibly “techy”?  Does it involve the Dark Arts of SEO?  Do I build websites?  The answer to all these questions is yes… but there’s so much more to digital marketing.

What IS digital marketing? 

Digital marketing is marketing which focuses solely on digital channels, in order to reach people where they spend their time online with bespoke brand communications.  It encompasses all aspects of the online environment where a brand can connect with consumers; including both ‘free’ or organic platforms and communications and pay-to-use options.

Digital marketing is often broken down into key disciplines, and some people spend their whole career in one niche.  Digital marketing strategists and so-called ‘holistic’ digital marketers (i.e., all-rounders) need to know enough about all digital channels to recommend which their clients should utilise, and how to best do this.

Digital marketing disciplines

  • Strategy
  • SEO
  • Website development
  • Content marketing
  • Social media
  • Digital advertising
  • Email marketing

What does a digital marketer do?

This depends on whether you’re a strategist / all-rounder, or a niche digital marketer.  If you’re the former, your role is very similar to that of a traditional marketer; in that you…

  1. decide what makes your client’s product or service special
  2. determine their target audience and gain insight into it
  3. detail how they can solve a problem this audience has better than anyone else
  4. determine the objectives of the digital marketing strategy (to sell online, to gain new customers, to build brand awareness for example)

From this point, it becomes more specialised as you decide which channels, messaging and creative execution will best meet these objectives and finally, build and launch your digital touchpoints and campaigns.

True ‘unicorn’ digital marketers do it all – from the initial research, audit and analysis phase through to the creation of a brilliant strategy, and the implementation of that strategy across multiple platforms.  They write copy, code websites, design banners, automate systems, edit metadata, troubleshoot websites, film Tik Tok videos… and they know ALL the best hashtags.  If you can become one of these unicorns, price yourself accordingly and look forward to a lifetime of winning pitches.

Where do I begin?

Typically, most people begin with a marketing degree or diploma – in recent years, sometimes specifically in digital marketing.  Freshly minted graduates are highly recommended to head to a decent-sized agency to gain experience across a broad range of clients with varied budgets before considering freelancing.  This will also give you the chance to work across all disciplines and discover if one in particular floats your boat.  It will also get you used to account management, also known as the subtle art of keeping clients sweet.

Only when you’ve worked for a few years across multiple disciplines will you have the experience necessary to create over-arching digital brand strategies.  You get a ‘feel’ for what’s right and what can be done on a certain budget after a while, which you can then back up with a proven track record.

For those segueing from aligned fields such as graphic design or journalism, a short course in traditional marketing theory is useful (yes, I’m talking the 6 P’s here!).  Consider taking an online course which addresses any ‘gaps’ in your knowledge; many of the major universities as well as private colleges offer these.  There are digital equivalents to offline roles which may be most suitable for you to pursue – for example, if you’re a writer, learning how to write for SEO and even how to perform technical optimisation tasks will make you an attractive proposition to agencies and clients alike.

What are the great bits about working in digital marketing?

Hands down, the best bit about working in digital marketing is when a campaign or strategy works it’s socks off and delivers on your clients’ objectives.  My agency works exclusively with small business owners, so delivering an online brand presence which improves the value of the client’s business often makes a tangible difference to their lives.  This is incredibly rewarding.

In less romantic terms, there is an avalanche of work for quality digital marketers right now.  As the world moves more and more online (especially throughout the pandemic), honest and capable digital marketers are more in demand than ever.

What sucks about it? 

The worst part of the job is failure – when your most painstaking research, most original strategy, coolest content and cleverest technical solutions fail to bring about your desired results.  It’s the flipside of working with small businesses because any failure, any budget wasted is coming directly off their bottom line.  The guilt can be surprisingly brutal, even when you know you’re doing your best.

Other downsides include the expectation that you’ll always be ‘on’ – I receive client requests 18 hours a day, 7 days a week – and the need to constantly update your knowledge.  My team and I attend webinars almost every month to keep us informed as to algorithm changes from Meta and Google, or new channels emerging in social media, or new eCommerce automation software to make our lives easier.  It really never ends.

Finally, there is a tendency for digital marketers who work with small business owners to become a de-facto business coach… and even life coach at times.  This is a trap to avoid as nicely as you can, because it’s a tremendous drain on your time and energy and can create unhealthily close client/marketer relationships.

What do digital marketers earn?

Salaries at agencies vary but are roughly in line with traditional marketing salaries.  At a junior level, you can expect to earn the equivalent of $60,000 pa, while a senior strategist may earn up to $150,000 pa.

When it comes to pricing services in a freelance sense, it becomes harder to pin down.  There are a lot of dubious operators out there charging exorbitant prices for packages with undisclosed inclusions, especially in the SEO space.  This has made many businesses suspicious about pricing, and prone to micro-managing their freelancers and agencies as a result.  

On the flipside, you may find yourself pitching against offshore agencies who use very cheap third world labour to offer bargain basement prices.  Don’t be tempted to lower your rates to compete – in my experience, clients who are tempted by these offers inevitably find the results inferior and the customer service non-existent.  They will typically return to you for a fresh quote within months having learned the wisdom of the age-old adage, ‘you get what you pay for’.

We hope you found Lauren’s post useful! Feel free to share a comment below or check out the other posts in our popular So You Think You Can… series.

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