Digital strategists (sometimes referred to as digital marketing strategists) play a critical role for in-house and agency marketing teams. They lay out a roadmap for brand vision and tactics and pull them through to each digital channel where customers have a touchpoint with a company’s product or service.
These positions are in-demand because the digital presence of brands are becoming ubiquitous, and a strong business knowledge - outside of their vital marketing experience - are pushing companies to include these teams in their long-term strategy.
Digital strategists can specialize in different areas, but are brought in to help client and account teams to get the most of a variety of digital marketing assets:
Social Media. Will the role of social media be primarily customer engagement, owned/paid advertising, or both? Digital strategists understanding the audience behaviors on each channel and how they use devices is key to the ROI of marketing campaigns. Social experts also have deep knowledge of paid ad units, text and video restrictions, and how a brand can deliver the best possible experience to an audience with a short attention span.
Content. Content is often curiously defined (and sometimes confused for social media), but the better digital strategists are able to distill the term down for company stakeholders. Content entertains, educates, or provides utility to an audience in service of a brand or drives an audience to a branded solution to the problem. A content strategist shapes briefs for blogs, podcasts, whitepapers, checklists, infographics, and videos that position the brand as the solution for a common problem. This type of digital marketing strategist remains in high demand 23 years after Bill Gates popularized the phrase “Content is King.”
Paid advertising: This marketing strategist often owns or inform the relationship with media partners who specialize in paid search, display, or social ads and can provide points of view on the strengths and weaknesses of these media buys. This is one of the classic responsibilities in the internet marketing field, and many of these professionals build relationships with media buying firms to achieve a better ROI on a client’s marketing campaigns.
Analytics. More and more, companies are looking for a digital marketing strategist that can analyze the data in software like Google Analytics and provide a point of view on how to increase the success of an internet marketing campaign. Without the valuable insights this role can provide, weekly reports aren’t as valuable.
Successful digital strategy teams are often tasked with realizing business goals by using the right digital channels to deliver the right message at the right time. Depending on the level of investment by their company, they may report to a Director of Digital Strategy or a Chief Digital Officer who represents them on the executive leadership team.
How to Become a Digital Strategist
There’s good news for anyone looking to switch careers and become a digital strategist: Only 50% of companies - 1 in 2 - have no defined digital marketing strategy.
How are companies solving this business problem? First, they’re identifying the internal talent they have and the skillsets they need to fill roles. Next, they’re looking to hire people from outside the organization that have experience in all types of internet marketing.
A Master’s degree in digital marketing prepares students to ask the right questions and puts existing case studies and models in place to learn more, faster. These students graduate to better understand the audience research, design functionality, and market changes (adjustments to social media algorithms, paid media budgets, competitive pressure) needed to present a crisp marketing brief that answers more questions than it asks.
After having that knowledge, companies then look for hustle. A digital marketing strategist is on the pulse of vendor relationships that breathe the most life in their existing marketing strategies and creative work. The best digital, content, and social media strategists are the most curious learners.
Training to be a digital strategist traditionally began as a communications major or cutting your teeth in an ad agency on Madison Avenue, but newer courses and programs allow deep immersion into the digital marketing field without the initial years spent in an entry-level position.
Careers for Digital Strategists
Digital strategists find themselves in the driver’s seat when they want to develop skills that require deeper dives into one part of the marketing funnel. We’ve discussed what a digital strategist is responsible for, but what about career growth?
Analytics. Digital strategists need to be fluent in communicating campaign results - but most importantly campaign insights - to other organizational teams looking for an edge on their competitors, while beating their own performance benchmarks. Digital strategists that want to specialize in those areas often find themselves growing into a data analytics role.
Possible career path: Analyst, Senior Analyst, Director, Vice President, Chief Data Officer.
Paid and organic search. SEO/SEM industry leaders are often the ones that spent much of the early years of their career focused on brands whose goals include tracking conversions from search traffic further down the marketing funnel. They’ve had an inside look at the evolution of the internet from a paid search monopoly into a host of eCommerce, display, and paid social brand solutions.
Possible career path: SEO/SEM Analyst, SEO/SEM Manager, Director of Paid Search, VP Marketing.
Social & Content. A content strategist and social media teams are responsible for communicating directly with an audience (e.g. engaging with fans and audience members on Facebook and Twitter), as well as creating and executing a content calendar of paid and organic posts for the coming days, weeks, and months of an existing campaign. They’re also responsible to make sure that marketing campaigns are consistent across all channels.
Possible career path: Community Manager, Content Strategist, Senior Content Manager, Content / Social Media Director, Vice President, Head of Social / Content, Chief Digital Officer
It’s easy to see why talking heads have a difficult time defining ‘digital strategy.’ There are so many niche pieces of the industry and career paths rooted in those skills. But we can ask two questions to help find a need where digital marketing strategists are most in demand:”
- Which industries have a sizable investment earmarked for their digital media spend?
- Which industries are most in need of a marketing strategist to help with the spend?
The industries that traditionally lagged behind are now hiring the right digital marketing strategist persona needed to compete in a world where the Amazon experience is the new standard of delivery. Law firms, pharmaceutical companies, and investment banks no longer wait on the sidelines while tech and CPG marketers make a big splash. Internet marketing professionals who understand those businesses and how each story is told across channels are an invaluable asset to the industries that were traditionally arrived late to the game.
A company’s investment usually starts with a Chief Digital Officer, who not only hires a team capable of executing the digital marketing strategy, but also integrates search, social, and PR across business units.
Best Educational Programs for Becoming a Digital Strategist
Digital marketing courses are highly immersive and - appropriately enough - available to complete online. A Master’s degree in Digital Marketing includes courses that cover a wide range of disciplines and strategy development - from content to lead generation and brand building. The more useful programs dive into what’s needed for a full omnichannel digital plan - search, email, mobile, social, display, and content marketing - in particular how those tactics can be a differentiator in the marketplace.
Yeshiva Katz Master’s Degree in Digital Marketing and Media provides students the ability to build integrated digital strategies with flexible schedules and online coursework. Click to learn more.