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Some terms in digital marketing are difficult to get a hold of. They may have many definitions, or be the victims of prolonged misuse.

I've gathered up some of these terms in an attempt to assist people who are new to the industry.

If you think I've missed something, please add to the post in the comments.

Agile

Sometimes capitalized, it is a generic style of project management pioneered in software development that is also often adopted by ecommerce and service design teams. Its basic principles are:

  • individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • working software over comprehensive documentation.
  • customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  • responding to change over following a plan.

Scrum is the most popular methodology of agile project management. The UK's Government Digital Service has a handy guide to agile methods.

Confusingly, 'agile marketing' is often (mis)used to describe reactive marketing - responding quickly to an event, often on social media or in print.

Artificial intelligence

Where to start with this one? It's probably best to go and do some reading on Wikipedia, specifically on machine learning, AI's pragmatic cousin.

Simply, it is the use of mathematical models to make data-driven predictions. It's important to remember this technology has been 'everyday' for a while (in fraud detection, spam filtering, OCR etc.).

However, tech companies are making strides, especially with regards to text analysis and translation, speech recognition and image analysis.

Google and others, are now offering machine learning APIs, so the technology is increasingly available. As every software provider and his dog starts to say their solution is 'AI-powered', it's important not to be blinded by these claims. (Check out these 10 examples of AI-powered marketing software.)

google api machine learning

Marketing automation

This began life as email automation and in many cases this is still the long and short of it. Automation involves creating rules that govern what messages prospects/customers receive, and what content they see.

A simple example: those that open a first email and click on a link may be automatically sent a further message directing them to some additional resource; if they click once more, a salesperson may be prompted to make a follow-up call.

More complex automation pathways are associated with high-value B2B sales, but automation occurs in B2C, too. One only has to think of ecommerce and triggered emails to those that abandon baskets or make a purchase and are encouraged to leave a review. 

Marketing automation is sometimes conflated with the term behavioural marketing. Behavioural marketing is looking at customer interaction in a wider range of channels (including website, mobile, social), sometimes including third-party data (interactions with other websites), to determine what messages or advertising a prospect should receive.

Behavioural marketing is perhaps most associated with targeted display ads that uses cookie data (what pages has the user viewed) to target potentially interested users.

Chatbot

At the moment, many chatbots do not allow for chat, i.e. they do not let the user enter free text. What they have in common is an interface designed to mimic a messaging app in order to make communication feel easier, more focused.

Many chatbots simply offer multiple choice options, and which ever the user taps on determines what message they will receive next.

However, that doesn't mean chatbots are trivial, they do offer functionality and have been used variously to provide mobile boarding passes (KLM in Messenger), order your regular pizza (Dominos) and check on your parcel delivery date (Very).

As natural language processing improves, chatbots will become less prescriptive, but for now they offer an easily accessible and familiar interaction to customers that are often in a rush.

dominos chatbot

Content

A banal but entirely necessary word that essentially means 'information'. Pretty much every brand creates online content, even if it's simply publishing their latest ad to YouTube.

Use this generic term too often and you start to go slightly crazy.

Content marketing

A surprisingly controversial term, content marketing has been around for a long, long time. Michelin tyres created restaurant guides in 1900, US soap and detergent companies created soap operas in the 1930s.

The term has become slightly contentious in the consumer internet era, where the definition itself has blurred (most brands create content in some form) and some argue it is an ineffective strategy.

In reality, it's effective for many companies, particularly in B2B (e.g. the Arup Journal), but is more contentious for, say, consumer goods brands. More debate here.

Sponsored content can bear similarities with content marketing, but is not created in-house.

Customer experience

Customer experience is a nebulous term, not dissimilar to user experience, but used in reference to the entire experience a customer has with a brand across all channels.

Where things get more confusing is how customer experience (CX) is managed within the organisation - some companies have CX roles and departments, though it is generally accepted that this is a stop-gap solution as the company seeks to spread a CX mindset across the entire organisation.

CRM

Customer relationship management means different things in different companies. Some see it chiefly as email, some as billing and direct mail, others as a big part of sales - it all depends on what the company does.

More correctly/generically:

CRM enables the analysis and management of customer interactions with sales, marketing and service departments, ultimately shaping the customer lifecycle but also, more broadly, organisational processes.

There is plenty of theory attached to CRM. Here's an introduction

crm

Digital transformation

The application of digital technology to a company's processes, products and services. Something Econsultancy can help you with.

Experiential marketing

A fancy way of saying live event marketing. Here are some examples

Full-stack marketer

A phrase taken from development. A full-stack developer works with both back-end and front-end technologies.

The full-stack marketer has a slightly fluffier definition. It's a role more prevalent in startups, where marketers have to have creative, technical and data skills.

Full-stack marketers may have to manage all growth activity in a startup - events, paid advertising, SEO, email, growth hacking (see definition), copywriting, CRM etc.

Growth hacking

A lot of people think this term is just a flimsy buzzword, but nonetheless it refers to the process of rapid experimentation in the pursuit of new users/customers.

It's probably easiest to understand by reading some famous examples.

Influencer

Though this word is often attached to annoying YouTube personalities, it is, of course, much broader than that. Influencers include editors, analysts, business leaders - the list is pretty lengthy and depends on what sector you work in.

Influencer marketing can be marketing to these influencers, or through them (sponsoring their content), or with them (signing them up to work with your marketing/advertising teams).

Martech

Marketing...technology...duh. As punishment, you must commit the following chart to memory.

martech vendors

Multichannel marketing

If a customer gets in touch with you via social media, can you resolve their problem within that channel, or do you tell them to call a phone number?

This is multichannel marketing in a nutshell - being able to serve the customer with a consistent brand image/message across multiple media.

Native advertising

Depends on who you are talking to. In the world of display advertising, it is a term used to describe native ad formats - essentially ads within the text of an article, rather than banners or mid-page units.

However, the term more generally has been used to describe advertorials - content written by an advertiser (and flagged up as such). Sponsored content is not dissimilar to this concept, but generally involves more input from the publisher.

Omnichannel marketing / ecommerce

The logical extension of multichannel, omnichannel is the concept of a seamless or consistent experience regardless of channel or device.

In ecommerce, omnichannel might imply a consolidated view of stock, across stores and warehouses, and a single view of the customer (linking online and offline purchases through a loyalty scheme or e-receipts).

Programmatic

Chiefly referring to display advertising, and the automation of buying and selling, either through an open auction process (real-time bidding) or a private auction, or buying inventory reserved just for you (programmatic direct).

Adtech can be pretty opaque to an outsider - see my nightmare with header bidding. This complexity can help adtech companies to sell the medium (and take their cut), but recent furores have led many brands to rethink - where are my ads appearing and who can actually see them?

Service design

Service design involves cross-functional teams, often involving designers, developers, user researchers, content specialists, project managers and product managers.

These teams focus on customer interactions, often across a range of channels, and seek to improve particular services, e.g. applying for a bank account.

Consulting firms have invested in design capability (e.g. Accenture Interactive's purchase of Fjord in 2013), and design is becoming more important as a corollary to the prioritisation of a good customer experience.

For more on this term, read another post of mine: What is service design & who uses it?

Soft skills

Though there is a shortage of technical skills in the market (developers, data scientists etc.), employers often talk of the importance of softer skills, such as the ability to collaborate and to influence leadership.

Econsultancy's 2014 research into skills of the modern marketer highlights a soft skills revolution.

Ben Davis

Published 15 February, 2017 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Deputy Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (4)

Mike Berry

Mike Berry, Managing Director at Mike Berry Associates

Great post Ben. Lucky there's no such thing as overdemystifying...

2 months ago

Sarah Alder

Sarah Alder, Managing Director at Cranmore Digital Consulting Ltd

Very funny. You seem to get more cynical as we go down the list. Also very useful. I had never heard of fullstack marketer before so I will add that to my buzzword bingo card for meetings with digital agencies. Thanks Ben!

2 months ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Deputy Editor at EconsultancyStaff

@Sarah I am unmasked.

2 months ago

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Karan k, Founder at http://www.dosemo.com

Great Post.Helpful and informative

about 1 month ago

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