The New Breed of Digital Talent

On Tuesday, the newly formed Grow.co, a think tank on digital customer acquisition, launched its first conference: Unlocked.

The event—held at Pier 60 in NYC—had an underground feel. Unlike Search Engine Strategies or AdTech, everyone wore jeans. Most attendees were men under age 30; many had beards. This new breed of digital marketer is a renegade. He is part management consultant, skilled at jockeying through .xls spreadsheets. He is also part Wall Street trader circa 1960, making it up as he goes along… hopefully finding pockets of “gold” in the constant Facebook algorithm changes or the vagaries of Search Engine Marketing.

The vendors who spoke—a founder of Convertro (attribution) and the CEO of Custora (customer measurement)—are attempting to bring order to this noisy and wild sector. They preached the gospel of Attribution and Customer Lifetime Value. All in the audience agreed with the message, but many had already found their own path.

I was struck by how down-in-the-weeds many of the presentations were—as if the presenter ripped himself away from shuttling back-and-forth between multiple open browsers to make a few comments. TechCrunch, Nanigans dashboard, Facebook Exchange, OMG this audience in front of me.

This is not a critique of the conference—this, I think, is the just the persona of the new breed of digital marketer. We have boomeranged from the old guard with ranks of Marketing VPs who didn’t “get” digital (and often didn’t “get” that they didn’t “get it”). This new acquisition marketer is the other extreme. This marketer has little loyalty to agencies or his own staff. He doesn’t care about channel, doesn’t care about creative, and doesn’t care x brand. He is constantly optimizing to CPA, darting back-and-forth between Facebook marketplace and newsfeed and retargeting and search. He doesn’t make long-term media commitments. He alters creative daily. He tests and iterates, and repeats again.

This new breed of marketer is talented. He is adding value, and in fact, it’s hard to find this type of great talent. But if I were his CEO, I might ask him to do a one-month rotation in customer service or merchandising before coming back to the marketing trading desk. Marketing is an open system—and ultimately the point of all the pixels we place, the ads we run, and the keyword-rich content we create is to build and keep customers. If those all on the marketing trading desk deeply connect to that customer and understand the overall business strategy for adding value to that customer, then, I’m okay being all about the #s.