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The 6 Traits That Differentiate the Best Digital Marketers from the Rest

Imagine if, similar to the Matrix, you could simply plug a cord into the back of your head and learn a key skill for becoming a great digital marketer.

Or, even better: What if you could learn the traits of the best digital marketers within a few minutes?

Clarifying the Role of Social Media

You’d probably be pumped about the idea and ask where you could sign up. Unfortunately, there’s no plug, but you’re in luck: I’ve spent the last few years studying the best and working with the brightest in the marketing industry. In this post, I’ll share the traits I see in the industry that make the best stand out.

Here are six traits that differentiate the best digital marketers from the rest of the pack.

1) Obsessive Over Their Goals and Objectives

When Rand Fishkin was asked what he thought the #1 thing most SEO marketers should do but don’t, he pointed to where every marketer should start. He said:

Understand the business/organizational goals, why their work matters, and what it means to the KPIs and key initiatives.

As a digital marketer, there are plenty of new opportunities each and every month to consider. Every month, you’ll find a blog post that shares a new tactic or potential channel that could be worth checking out. Unfortunately, too many marketers use these new channels without considering their goals and objectives.

The Social Media Metrics Map

Before you decide to use Snapchat, Periscope, or SlideShare, you need to know why. If you’re looking to figure out whether your company should invest in content curation or creation, you need to start with your goals.

Marketing efforts should always starts with your goals, and those goals need to be SMART:

S. Specific. M. Measurable. A. Attainable. R. Realistic. T. Timely.

The best digital marketers take the time to understand why they’re using every channel their brand has a presence on with a rationale that goes beyond “everyone else is doing it.” The best marketers make goal-setting a critical part of their planning process, ensuring it’s a part of every decision.

2) A Desire to Let Data Tell the Story

The best marketers I know are those who celebrate data.

Rebuttals like “I just don’t like it” or “But we’ve worked hard on it” are no longer valid rationale for decision-making. The best marketers embrace a/b testing, multi-variant testing, and any other test that allows data to tell the story. In their eyes, metrics and data are king.

As digital marketers, our ability to access data has never been easier. From time spent consuming content to the amount of shares on an individual article, we have the ability to understand our prospects, leads, and customers better than ever before.

For example, using the SimplyMeasured reporting system for Instagram, brands are able to identify which content is resonating most with followers:

Top Engagement

In this example, it’s clear that basic text quotes resonate with followers on Instagram 2x higher than average. As such, the best digital marketers would use this as an insight to guide their content planning moving forward.

2016 Social Marketing Planning Guide

In addition to a focus on iteration, the best digital marketers understand that there’s a place for both qualitative and quantitative data. It’s easy to obsess solely on Google Analytics and engagement rates, but there’s significant value to be found when you allocate efforts to capturing qualitative insight.

Listening to your customers’ feedback, ideas, or even listening to the organic conversations happening online presents marketers with an opportunity to gain new insight. The best digital marketers leverage qualitative analysis to uncover insights that would be impossible to pull from quantitative data.

3) Flexible When It Comes to Adopting Change

The best digital marketers understand that change happens frequently in this industry, and it’s the only thing we can be certain of. Whether it’s a change to your analytics dashboard or a change to how Facebook determines what content shows up in your newsfeed, the best digital marketers embrace and celebrate change.

The Social Marketer’s Guide to Social Media ROI

You might not like it, but those who aren’t willing to adapt are going to be replaced. The world of digital marketing is changing every single day. AdBlockers are on the rise and technological advancements like automated cars are going to shake up this industry beyond the average marketer’s imagination within the next decade or so.

The best digital marketers are staying informed. They are following the trends, reading the reports, studying the papers, and constantly pushing themselves to evolve their craft.

4) Strives to Be Surrounded by Great People

Call it cliché, but the saying that teamwork makes the dream work is true.

The best digital marketers have a team around them that will help them succeed in their role. From editors and analysts to assistants and media planners, the best digital marketers realize that great results only come from a team effort.

The best digital marketers have deep knowledge in a specific area and basic skills across a variety of different topics. A concept championed by global design consultancy IDEO’s Tim Brown, these people are considered to be T-shaped marketers:

Cross-Discipline Competition

The best digital marketers have enough of a deep discipline expertise in one or two areas that they have no choice but to bring in others to help.

Whether you look at folks like Sean Ellis (with deep knowledge in growth hacking) or Gary Vaynerchuk (with social media), the best have a specific area of expertise and surround themselves with those who fill their weaknesses.

5) Embraces the Value of Compelling Storytelling

If you haven’t noticed, podcasts have had a resurgence over the last few months. The modern web, mobile, and better technology for recording is making it easier than ever to tell compelling stories through a variety of different vehicles and podcasts just happen to be one.

The best digital marketers understand that their story is what people say about them when they’re not looking. It’s their responsibility to understand the story that is associated with their brand. It’s their responsibility to know what clients, prospects, employees, and partners think of the brand. From there, it’s their job to understand the role that different tactics like podcasts can play in influencing the perception of their brand.

As one of the greatest storytellers, Maya Angelou, once said:

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Your story is how you make people feel. The best digital marketers understand this and realize that it trickles through the life cycle of a customer or user. From the first email they receive when they sign up for a newsletter to the tweets they see online from customer support, each of these touchpoints combine to craft the overarching brand story.

6) Willingness to Put in the Work

 Great digital marketers don’t just talk the talk; they walk the walk.

They aren’t just in the boardroom to inspire great ideas. The best marketers have the experience and resume to show that they can actually deliver results. In addition, if things are chaotic, they have the tactical knowledge to step in and help the team in executing various tasks.

Some of the best share their expertise in the form of blog posts or SlideShare presentations.

Others showcase their knowledge through Twitter or speaking at conferences about the work they’ve done.

The best have numbers and case studies to support their status in the industry.

In a world where there are more “social media gurus” than ever before, the best stand out by showing their results, creating great content, launching successful campaigns, building great brands, and arming their team with the resources and insights they need to succeed.

From there, they’re sharing their stories and expertise with the next generation of great marketers and industry leaders.

So What Should You Do Next?

You’re probably wondering where to go from here.

Well, that’s simple. Take your skill set seriously. Invest in knowledge and spend time reading,
researching — then doing. That final piece is something that too few people actually embrace.

Don’t just read these words. Absorb them. Take them and apply them to your work. Write something that is worth sharing. Put together a SlideShare worth watching. Launch a blog that has the potential to change the trajectory of your career forever.

But before you do, take a second and share this post or tweet at me. I’d love to hear what you think. And if you want more insight into what lies ahead for digital marketers in 2016, download Simply Measured’s 2016 Social + Digital Marketing Predictions guide below, with advice from the industry’s best and brightest.

Get everything you need to analyze the metrics that matter

2016 Social + Digital Marketing Predictions


Ross Simmonds

Ross is passionate about technology, the future, good people, good coffee, and storytelling. He writes about a wide range of topics, including the highs and lows of entrepreneurship, along with the lessons he's learned over the last few years. Ross is the founder of Foundation (content consulting & creation), Hustle & Grind (subscription service for entrepreneurs), and Crate (content marketing software – beta).

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