There are a lot of digital marketing experts out there, and that’s great – we lesser mortals can always use the insights and expertise they share so we can improve our marketing strategies. However, perhaps it’s the English language nerd in me, but I find the trend towards calling them anything other than ‘experts’ a little jarring. Ninjas or wizards they are not. Ninjas carry out irregular warfare tactics and historically were pretty much looked down on by the samurai, while wizards perform sorcery, and neither of these traits are evident in the modern marketing mix. Another thing they are definitely not are ‘gurus’.
A guru, from Sanskrit meaning ‘grave or weighty’ evolved over time to mean ‘a teacher of great stature and status in spiritual matters,’ but in what way does that apply to somebody who knows a lot about marketing on the internet, or any commercial activity?
The title of ‘guru’ carries with it suggestions of an otherworldly wisdom shared with us to give us more enlightenment towards a holy, religious state of consciousness, and while my boss has argued that religion is a form of marketing, digital marketing is not, and never should be, a religion.
Advice on generating leads should not be seen as wisdom that will lead a generation.
Emerging from my ivory tower and leaving my high horse in the stable, it is true to say that experts and thought leaders (which does still rankle as a term with its cultish connotations), can be extremely useful to learn from, and to avail of in our everyday digital marketing strategies. That is why it is important to establish good relations with influencers, and the practice works in the same way when it comes to respected and influential experts.
A nod of recognition or a nice link to your site from them can yield great dividends in the form of SEO, influence and online presence, so they definitely help in your digital marketing efforts.
For example, as this blog summarises, a TapInfluence report found that 92% of consumers rely on referrals from people they know and/or trust, which is exactly what influencers are. If a business or agency wants to find the best solutions to their digital marketing needs, they are likely to find themselves looking at sites mentioned or referenced by influential thought leaders.
They also provide great information on how to produce optimised content that will help you rank in search and nurture leads along the buyer journey – something that is becoming more difficult with every passing day as the sheer volume of online content grows exponentially.
While that volume of content expands, more and more information is being produced telling us how to stand out from the competition, leading to yet more content we have to compete with to show we know our chops, and are better than other businesses or digital marketing agencies. The big names stay on top of this pile, so they must be doing something right, and therefore it is only wise to be aware of what they say and to use their teachings as guidelines for creating our own marketing and content strategies.
The self-fulfilling prophesy
But digital marketing ‘gurus’ should not be followed blindly, as a real guru would be. They do not have the infallibility of spiritual leaders, for many very good reasons, and sometimes I get the impression that thought leaders, or gurus, have that position simply because they say they do, and in a self-perpetuating scenario, are created thus by the following and sharing of their teachings by others. We see a piece by a ‘guru’, so we want to share it to show we are in the know and follow the lead of this person, and so they retain their position of authority thanks to all those lovely links and shares and mentions.
It’s similar to the way in which the Wizard of Oz held so much power. He did because everybody believed he did. I’m not saying we should ‘pay no attention to that man behind the curtain’ because as mentioned, thought leaders do have very valuable insights to share, but in the end, what we are capable of stems from what is within ourselves, not from what others promise we can achieve by following their guidelines. More of that later.
It is important to emphasise that I am here talking about thought leaders or ‘gurus’ who ‘teach’, rather than ‘do’. There are many fine digital marketing agencies out there, including ourselves, who can provide expertise and share experience and advice on a practical level to help you enhance your lead generation and conversion efforts. In fact, that’s our whole purpose – we help businesses and agencies grow through improved marketing strategies and campaigns. But rather than just tell you what to do, we show you, or do it for you, which is an important distinction. We are more ‘go to’ than ‘guru’.
In a very forthright and entertaining post, Mark Ritson talks about an article he was invited to view listing 24 experts in digital marketing he should follow. As a professor in marketing, he felt he had to take a look but was bemused when he did some fact-checking and found only four of that 24 had any actual educational background in marketing.
While it’s true that expertise can be gained ‘on the ground’ so to speak, and that formal education is not always needed, Ritson does make the valid point that experts who tell us how things have changed so much and that we have to change our best practices accordingly, should really have some form of experience in what they say the industry has changed from, in order to give a truly rounded view.
Following your own path
Even if the ‘thought leader’ is fully qualified and experienced, it is still not necessarily wise to hang on every word they say. Another entertaining and thought-provoking blog, this time by Ben Pines for cloudways.com, echoes this sentiment. First outlining that his piece is not an attack on any one individual, he argues that rather than blindly following what an expert says, it is important to make your own marketing decisions based on your own abilities, your industry, your platforms and your own gut feeling.
As he points out, following the words of an expert in digital marketing will not necessarily mean you too will become an expert, or a huge success at it. After all, you are following the very people you want to appear better than. You can act exactly like the king of a country in the privacy of your own home or office, but that doesn’t mean you will ever have a valid claim to the throne.
But you don’t have to. You just need to take what is relevant to you from their teachings and implement it into your marketing strategy or way of thinking in a way that is relevant to your business or agency needs. You don’t necessarily have to know every single thing about every aspect of digital marketing, just the ones that will bring you more leads and conversions.
Rather than trying to copy success stories to the letter, look at your own strategies and see what is working, what is not, and what you can do to improve. Just as history is written by the victors, stories of overwhelming success will appear online far more than stories of failure because people don’t really want to tell you they failed. Why would they write about that? But you shouldn’t try to emulate those successes by simply doing exactly what they did, because there is no real formula to guaranteed success.
Nor should you try to incorporate every new teaching, trend or technology into your strategy, just because it is mentioned. Yes, your interest may have been piqued by an article on AI and its emergence in the marketing sector, but if there is no real way it can be applied to your own business, you don’t need to jump on board. By all means get informed about it, but don’t blindly invest your resources into it just because somebody said you must.
Keep your strategy as simple as you can, until you are ready to build on it, analyse what works for you, and keep improving it through trial and (hopefully little) error. It’s your business, so use your own acumen to figure out what you need to do, and how, and what improvements you can make based on the leadership pieces that fit your business model.
Be informed, but don’t be afraid to go your own way. Be open to what thought leaders say, but don’t be blindly led by their arguments. Be flexible, but don’t bend over backwards to incorporate practices that won’t suit you or your target market.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. I’m no digital marketing guru.
What are your thoughts on digital marketing 'gurus'? Let us know in the comments field below.
If you do want to get some practical advice on creating the content that will generate leads for your business, we can help, so get in touch, or download our Lead Generation Survival Kit below: