Beware the Digital Marketer

I’m not sure if you noticed, but there are a large number of people these days claiming to be digital marketing experts. With so many potential experts out there, who should you listen to? How do you sort through the number of companies posting sponsored ads on Facebook? Are they all giving you the same advice? Is it good advice?

At some point, it’s important to question their credentials. The reality is that it is easier than ever before to get a decent looking website started for free. The amount of social media applications that can be used for advertising purposes is fantastic. But does having access to the same tools that you have and knowing how to set up a Facebook ad or post a piece of content on YouTube make them an “expert”? I don’t think so.

Does owning a camera make you a good photographer? Does owning a pencil make you a good artist? Does owning a subscription to Microsoft Word make you a good writer?

People are realizing that a lot of small business owners are not comfortable using these tools, and they are positioning themselves as “experts” who can do SEO, PPC, Social Media Campaigns, e-mail marketing, etc. Since the people they are selling these services to lack information about how to use these applications, they sound like experts. They may sound like they know what they are talking about, because a lot of them are reciting what they learn from actual experts like Gary Vaynerchuk who has a wealth of information he posts on YouTube for free. However, most of them lack the actual experience or credentials they need to be an expert. Many of them have never built a business before. Many of them probably have never even managed one. That’s one of the reasons you’ve never heard of them. They’re brand new.

While they may have some experience using these tools, calling them experts is an exaggeration at best. For a lot of people, it is their side hustle. They care more about making themselves money than they do for their clients. So how can you tell the difference between an expert and an amateur?

I believe that the same things we would do to hire any other expert should be considered.

  1. What is on their resume? If last week they were working at 7-11 selling hot dogs, I would pass on them. Also, where did they get their education? I wouldn’t trust a doctor that only had a GED. While I agree that the level of education someone has does not guarantee or prevent them from being “successful”, I do believe that the person should actually be knowledgeable about the subject matter. That’s fair, right?
  2. What kind of marketing are they actually claiming to be an expert at? I hear people say that “x” person is helping them with their marketing. What does that mean? Are they helping you with product development? Pricing strategies? Distribution channels? Or is it just the promotional side of marketing? And under promotional marketing, are they talking about selling, advertising, PR, etc? And if they say advertising, what kind of advertising are they “experts” at? Direct mail, major media, e-mail marketing, influencer marketing, events, etc.? As you can see, being an expert at ALL of these marketing activities is unrealistic. They are probably building some experience in a few areas, but they don’t know as much as they claim to. After all, the world of marketing is vast.
  3. What are their previous customers saying? Do they even have any? As you and I both know, if you have eaten at a restaurant or seen a movie you’ll probably have an opinion about it. So what are their previous customers saying? Who has used what they are selling and gotten great results? I’ve attended a lot of networking events where people show up with all sorts of claims about what they or their products can do but are struggling in their businesses. Yet we all know when something is really good, people buy it. If you wanted to hire a comedian to do a show, you’d want to know if other people thought they were funny. Make sure the person or company you’re working with has a winning track record.
  4. Would you hire them to work at your business? As a business manager, one of the things I’ve done for ten consecutive years was to hire and fire people. The number of interviews I conducted during that span taught me that there are a few things that I tend to look for before bringing someone on the team. And even after they are on the team, they still have to prove to me that they are who they said they were in the interview. So before you turn your marketing efforts over to a stranger, ask yourself if you would hire them to be on your team if you could afford them. That shift in perspective helps when determining who you actually trust to help you build your business.

There are probably some other ways to verify whether these people are “experts” or not, but the bottom line is that the results always speak for themselves. Here is what I predict will happen over the next few years. We will continue to see an increase in the number of people making this claim to be a digital marketing expert, and the market will become saturated. This will keep prices down on some of these services, and it will cause some of these businesses to fail. Along the way, a lot of small business owners will waste a lot of money with people they shouldn’t have blindly trusted, and their businesses will probably decline a bit. Some may even go out of business by throwing good money away trusting people who sounded like they knew what they were talking about. And they won’t care, because they’ll have quit trying to sell digital marketing by then and will probably be working at WalMart or Amazon. The best digital marketing agencies who provide real value will survive.

The time we are living through at the moment is a result of the number of retailers going out of business. Entrepreneurship is trendy right now in the same way being a digital marketer is. It reminds me of the poker boom we all saw in the 2000s when Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker. Everyone showed up thinking they were Phil Helmeuth and lost a lot of money in the process. At least it was their own money. The thing that scares me about the digital marketers is that they’ll be losing their clients’ money.

The small business owners I work with all tell me the same thing; money is tight. They don’t have a lot of money to invest in marketing. They need every dollar of ad spend to create a return on investment. If that’s you, make sure you take the time to verify whether or not you trust the person who wants to help you build your business. Talk is cheap. Wasted time and money is expensive. Make sure that what you invest in actually has a good chance of being successful.

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