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In the last six months there has been talk of the death of digital marketing. Forrester recently mooted that digital marketing is dead and that we are now in an era of “post-digital” marketing. 

In his keynote address at Dmexco in Cologne last September, P&G’s global brand building officer Marc Pritchard also talked about the end of digital marketing as something separate or distinct.

Indeed this is a view that Econsultancy and Marketing Week espoused in our Modern Marketing Manifesto which we published almost a year ago.

We cut ‘digital’ as one of the key elements of marketing from the initial draft and focus instead on integration, customer experience, brand, data and other elements irrespective of medium or channel.

However, while we might agree that this is conceptually and strategically the right end point, the reality on the ground is quite different.

Very few organisations are at a point where they are sufficiently capable or mature in their digital marketing or ecommerce activities that they have become ‘business as usual’.

What we see is that digital is the catalyst and driver for marketing and business transformation; where organisations talk about innovation it is almost entirely digital.

The operational reality for most businesses is that digital is very much alive and a huge area of focus. In our research around organisational structures it is clear that most organisations can only move quickly enough in digital by creating dedicated digital teams with digital specialists.

Q: What best describes the structure of your digital marketing capability, and how resource is allocated? 


In time the digital expertise becomes more decentralised and digital knowledge more widely disseminated. The destination is indeed digital ‘evaporation’ as something distinct; but the journey of digital transformation is only just underway for most.

There are apparently also 'deaths' at the level of digital marketing disciplines. Email marketing is dead thanks to newer forms of messaging, so say some.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is also dead. So say others. Certainly both have evolved over the years and will continue to do so but to paraphrase the Mark Twain misquotation, rumours of their deaths have been greatly exaggerated.

Let us take SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). Despite the rise of social media it is still the case that most sites get most of their traffic, particularly new users, from search engines.

In Econsultancy’s case, despite our impressive 170,000 Twitter followers, more than 60% of new visitors to our site come from natural search. That is around 20,000 potential new customers a day.

Back in 2009 we migrated the Econsultancy site from one domain to another and dropped out of Google for several months. This was a salutary reminder of how vital technical SEO (still) is.

Econsultancy Google Referrals

We recently changed our entire URL structure and moved the whole site to SSL (https). We thought long and hard about this and paid for specialist SEO advice.

The Guardian recently wrote an article about its own domain migration experiences. If this all sounds ‘too techy’ for you then consider the implications of having all your search traffic switched off. You must care about these things. They are specialist and they are digital and they are not dying.

In association with Responsys we have published the Marketing Budgets Report 2014 based on a survey of more than 600 marketers. We asked them about how they would be spending their budgets in 2014.

For digital marketing the discipline experiencing the greatest percentage year on year increase is content marketing: 74% plan to increase spend on this.

But in second place, alongside mobile, is search engine optimisation with 63% planning to increase spend and 33% keeping spend the same. No imminent signs of death there.

In fact, if anything, we see a trend in 2014 away from ‘shiny new things’ in digital and a much greater focus on 'doing the digital basics really well'. That is where most of the money and resources are going and rightly so.

So we can envisage a time of digital demise as a broad term because it will become part of everything. But we are a fair way off that yet and, even then, there will still be digital specialists required and digital-only marketing disciplines.

Digital is dying. Long live digital.  

Ashley Friedlein

Published 17 March, 2014 by Ashley Friedlein @ Econsultancy

Ashley Friedlein is Founder of Econsultancy and President of Centaur Marketing. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

86 more posts from this author

Comments (9)

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Dave Thackeray

You're absolutely right to be stoical on this: digital marketing will remain a powerful force and a requirement on any corporate budget line for many years to come.

Even as digital becomes native to companies and fully integrated within the overarching marketing strategy, it has its own unique demands. In much the same way as direct marketing continues to welcome specialists to the stable, so digital marketing will do the same long into the future.

If only it was as simple as the speculators insist!

over 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

The figures for "Heavy Investment across range of digital channels" need a little context, because this mixes two things - the amount of marketing and its unit cost.

1) Labor-intensive marketing activities such as Content Marketing and and SEO experience positive inflation as wages rise. They tend to get more expensive every year and so show on charts like this.

2) Whereas largely automated technologies such as Email and Real-time experience negative inflation as technology advances. I've been involved with email for over 10 years and it's amazing how inexpensive it's become and yet CP/M rates are still falling.

I see companies doing more email and much more real-time marketing every year. These are getting so cheap that they are unlikely to ever rank highly on a survey of total investment - but they are what smart companies are doing for exactly that reason.

over 2 years ago


Mattias Fjalestad

I agree there is shift which you discuss in this article in mature and forward-looking market-driven organizations as we speak. I'm also observing as you mention the fact that many organization haven't yet become mature enough to remove the 'digital silo's' as they function as change agents / evangelists in their organizations. And this is only the marketing function.

We're now seeing a shift in large fortune 500 organizations towards global and regional executive level digital leadership which cross-over across traditional organizational boundaries like HR, Marketing,Sales, Operations, Customer Support etc. and the rising of the CDO (Chief Digital Officer).

In addition to the observations Ashley so clearly outlined for us, this new shift which we at Refine Marketing call the 'New Marketing' era, is having significantly bigger implications to people, processes and technology across medium/large sized organizations, then when Interactive/Internet/Online marketing started (now over 20 years ago).

Digital cannot die, will not die but once it is everywhere it does no longer makes sense to talk about online/offline or digital/traditional anymore. The future (3-5 years) are we see it is more exciting than the past due to new digital strategy skills being used at a much higher level then previously as business schools and top consulting firms globally now starting to adopt and develop a digital business curriculum and faculties at a larger scale.

For better business returns, do-the-right-things first (strategy) and then do-the-things-right (planning).

over 2 years ago


Kirby Wadsworth


Here's what we just wrote on the subject in our new book, Recommend This! www.recommendthisbook.com

"If it ever truly existed, yes, digital marketing is definitely dead. That’s because there ’s no real distinction anymore between traditional and digital marketing.

All audience experiences are intrinsically digital by connecting in some way to the myriad of new channels like websites, social media, and apps. These experiences change the ways through which organizations form relationships with their audiences—all relationships must bridge the real and virtual worlds. Organizations are increasingly being forced to accept the new order of things.

To form and transform relationships through digital channels, we must embrace the concept that matters most: the sum of the audience ’s experiences across the entire spectrum of touch points. We must find ways to translate our stories into real life experiences using nothing but those digital touch points. We must engage the audience at a real-life, emotional level almost from the very moment we touch them.

We cannot simply bolt digital stuff onto our marketing plans, or hire an intern to do something digital. The entire organization must evolve to embrace the power that digital channels and technologies provide us. As both consumers and marketers, digital is at the core of our lives now. We interact with digital tools and technologies throughout our day. Employees, processes—the entire organizational gestalt—must transform so that every interaction, live or virtual, is aligned to translate the brand ’s story into a real-life experience for the audience. . .but within digital channels.

Are we suggesting that digital should replace traditional marketing? No. We are saying there ’s no distinction anymore really because digital has fundamentally changed consumer expectations.

over 2 years ago



You say is the catalyst and driver for marketing and business transformation. If that is so, then where do you rank 'social purpose' in consumer pull terms of market drivers?

over 2 years ago

Lazar Dzamic

Lazar Dzamic, Ex-Planning Director of Kitcatt Nohr Digitas at On garden leave

Ashley, as always, a very well argued and thought-provoking article.

May I just suggest a wee clarification: it is all largely in how one defines 'digital'. Digital specialisms will not die, in the same way that TV, or experiential, or PR, or market research ones haven't. And yet, no one goes to these guys to ask them to define the brand strategy for a brand. They all feed into it.

The problem is that most of the branding today is happening in digital spaces, or is largely enabled, powered or enhanced by digital even if it doesn't. That requires a bird's eye view of digital that is, surprisingly, less specialist and more brand.

'Digital' is the first 'meta-medium' we ever had, comprising all the previously known ones into one space. So, it's now beyond individual channels. The answer to the question 'and how we are going to continue to build this brand' is not just a list of different channels and specific deliverables within each of them. I know it all too well from my own experience that there is always temptation to answer the brand question with a long sheet 'things we do'.

So, post-digital marketing for me means that the nature of branding has changed and is, as you say, even more digital than before, not less, but should not stem from individual disciplines. The view has evolved. I've touched on some of the 'hows' in my recent Guardian article: http://www.theguardian.com/media-network/media-network-blog/2014/mar/13/post-digital-marketing-branding

over 2 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@Steve It is worth noting that the financial figures are not absolute amounts of money but rather % change in spend. So the ones that will show the most change are actually those where there was less spend the year before. So it is no surprise really that something like content marketing should show the greatest % swing. If you spend £1 one year and £2 the next that's 100% growth; if you spend £1m one year and £1.5m the next that's only 50% growth.

@Lazar I'm sure we are in violent agreement. Certainly branding isn't 'digital' per se though it is likely to have digital in there somewhere these days. However, what I would say is that (mentioning no names) I've talked recently to some senior marketers at some of the biggest brands in the world, organisations famous for brand building, and they all admit that they are nowhere on their digital journey and that their brand managers still do exactly what they have always done. They have their 'manuals' and they still stick to them (largely TV + print). They do the odd 'innovative' project which they can talk about in the press and at conferences (like ours) but digital is skin-deep in reality. So I agree that brand should take priority, not channel, but equally it scares me just how little most of these brand people know about digital so I'm not sure I trust them to be leading the way either!

over 2 years ago

Simone Kurtzke

Simone Kurtzke, Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Robert Gordon University

Agree with all of this - excellent article, Ashley. What I've also seen is 'lip service' (for want of a better word) - companies creating dedicated digital teams then dissolving them a couple of years later because it is 'no longer required as separate' - while underneath the workforce still isn't sufficiently capable or mature (but hey, they now have a Facebook page!).

@Mattias yes, the next 3-5 years will be very interesting / exciting, and you mention that

"business schools and top consulting firms globally now starting to adopt and develop a digital business curriculum and faculties at a larger scale"

That's exactly what we're doing at the Aberdeen Business School (part of Robert Gordon Uni) - we're launching a practice-based MSc in Digital Marketing because like Econsultancy and others we believe that true digital business transformation is still some way off and there's a desperate need to create a talent pool of people with practical digital skills.

over 2 years ago

Lazar Dzamic

Lazar Dzamic, Ex-Planning Director of Kitcatt Nohr Digitas at On garden leave

Point accepted Ashly. My experience on the ground has been largely the same. And yet, some enlightened CMOs are genuinely moving into more holistic branding again, which makes me quite happy. It'll take time, I do agree.

over 2 years ago

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