5 Learning Strategies for Digital Marketing Leaders
“Your success in life isn't based on your ability to simply change. It is based on your ability to change faster than your competition, customers, and business.”
If you are a digital marketer you probably feel like you are running a million miles an hour, managing multiple programs across platforms, working and motivating cross functional teams, trying to make sense of large data sets and being your company’s star quarterback and team coach all rolled into one.
And let’s not forget the most exciting and sometimes the most exhausting bit about our jobs – the landscape is continuously disrupting. Instagram changes its algorithm so how does that change impact your content and your ad spends, you built your brand on Vine to figure out it’s not cool anymore with your core audiences, are you doing programmatic media buying right, has your team audited brand content to ensure its optimised across all channels, you get my drift.
We’ve never had this much data and insight into customers, their context and behaviours in every category nor have we had so many touchpoints to engage them on. It can be a marketer’s dream but it can also become overwhelming. The bottomline is this, it’s imperative to stay ahead of the trends and disastrous for you and your company to be left behind.
Now that I’ve stated the obvious, the question is how does one stay ahead of the game?
Before I break it down into the 5 learning strategies that you could adopt, I want to talk about the mindset of digital marketing leaders or even leaders in general that makes them successful.
Leaders have a learner mindset. As John.F.Kennedy said “Leadership and learning are indispensable to one another”. Great leaders instinctively understand the value of a learner mindset and how it boosts problem solving abilities, impacts ability to innovate, collaboration with teams and builds trust.
Leaders know consistency=mastery. You’ve probably heard about the 10,000 hour practice rule to gain mastery made famous by Malcom Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers’ . Whether 10,000 hours is the magic number or not, the trick to mastery is be consistent and keep at it. The actions that you take every single day matter and much more so than the stuff you do once every quarter.
Simply put, Leaders consistently learn.
Now let’s get to the tangible stuff, the 5 learning strategies you need to start doing today.
Schedule your formal learning
There’s a lot of quality content across platforms that we have access to as digital marketers, it’s really upto you how you choose to stay updated. What you have to commit to is the self-discipline that learning is as important as all the many little tasks and meetings that you are engaged in all day. It may seem like a massive ask in the beginning but it soon becomes a natural part of your day. Block an hour of your day, first thing in the morning or last thing at night on weekdays and ninety minutes on weekends and be an eager, observant student ready to learn and connect the dots. If time management is not your thing, maybe these TED talks can help.
The next question is really about content and great resources. There’s no right or wrong way to do this and I am going to share with you which platforms I love and how I use them.
- Twitter: I love the immediacy, valuable content and the thought leaders you have access to on Twitter. If you are looking for rockstars in your field there’s nothing better than extensively using Klout and Twitter Lists to find and engage with them. Follow me on Twitter or connect with me on LinkedIn if you want to discuss how to do this in more detail.
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn is an amazing platform to network, showcase your professional chops, recruit and be recruited AND it’s a great place to learn and share. I use Pulse extensively to read on all sorts of topics related to business, leadership, digital transformation etc. The other thing I suggest on LinkedIn is learn actively. Just don’t read, comment on the blog posts, reach out to the author and other commentators and engage. It’s a very receptive space where some very talented folks wants to share their experiences and learn too.
- Podcasts: Some people prefer videos but for me I love podcasts, it just feels like a purer learning environment (go figure!) I listen to them daily, on my walk, on a long car ride, on a flight etc. Within 5 minutes of listening to a podcast I know if the style and content resonates with me so I subscribe to a podcast quite judiciously but then I listen diligently. Start with the big guns of the podcast world and find your way to those hidden podcast gems. Connect with me via Twitter or LinkedIn and I’ll be happy to share some of my faves.
- Others: I have six resources that I use all the time which offer a depth of insight, knowledge and inspiration that I find invaluable. For business, leadership, culture, startups and technology I read Inc, Fast Company and Wired. For corporate strategy, digital transformation and innovation perspectives I read McKinsey Insights , BCG perspectives and strategy + business
Go to an industry conference every quarter & do a ‘think week’
Honestly, this one is a no brainer. There’s nothing like face-to-face time with your peers, deeply immersed in learning and having fun to fire off those neurons. I see too many people with some success under their belt who go to conferences only if they are speaking and don’t have the time or patience to listen and interact with others. BIG MISTAKE. Go to leading industry conferences, speak at them, network with your peers, sit in the front row with your Evernote app open and make notes, connect with new businesses and come back energized. It’s all part of the commitment to mastery and learning. And most importantly, take all insights you get at the conference and share it generously through tweets, blogs, presentations, videos, podcasts etc.
Once you become really committed to self-learning and development, you can graduate to what they call a ‘think week’. Made famous by Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg etc the idea is simple – a week off with no family, friends, work or distractions. A week dedicated to unplugging and learning by reading, introspecting and strategizing. Bill Gates has been doing ‘think weeks’ twice a year and attributes much of his and Microsoft’s success to these 7 days of seclusion. For example, one week in 1995 inspired Mr. Gates's paper, "The Internet Tidal Wave," that led Microsoft to develop its internet browser and crush Netscape. If a ‘think week’ sounds like a bucket list rather than a practical idea, start with a ‘think day’ once every quarter.
Distraction is the enemy
I struggle with this one a lot! In the last 45 minutes I have been writing this blog, I have looked at my phone 5 times, checked Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and snuck in a few texts too. With that disclaimer, let’s talk about learning strategies in the ‘age of perpetual distraction’. Here’s the thing that I know ‘the key to mastery is a maniacal focus on just a few things’ Edison was asked “How have you done so much, how can you create so much?” He replied “Most people get up every morning and do many things, I get up every day and do a few things”
I find that technology is the distraction and it also saves me from distraction. When you are in ‘the zone’ learning, absorbing, connecting the dots, furiously making and recording notes try these little tricks
- Put all your notifications on silent. I don’t switch off my phone because all I do then is think about my switched off phone and the panic me being unavailable is causing in the world!
- When it’s time to ‘say no’ to the allure of digital crack, try one of these wonderful tools like Freedom Self Control Leech Block that let you temporarily block time wasting websites and apps
- Use a time tracker like Rescue Time that tells you how much time you’ve spent on which apps and websites and understand your own productivity and distraction patterns.
Be the master of your trade and the jack of at least 2 others
Fast Company recently published an article declaring 2016 as ‘the year of the hybrid job’ which means that hyper specialist technical skills aren’t enough. As multi-generational cross-functional collaborative teams become the norm, it’s imperative to expand your learning and skill set outside your core area of expertise. For example if you are a social media specialist you are in trouble, because that’s no longer a job title, it’s a skill that all employees will be expected and trained to have. As Gloria Cordes Larson, President of Bentley University says in the article "Take courses that interest you, even if they don’t pertain to your major or your current job. Continuing to developing new skills will make it easier to adapt to changes later on in your career. The future learning curve won’t be as steep if you continually immerse yourself in the learning process."
Get some sleep
This last learning strategy may sound counter-intuitive to the focus, work tirelessly strategies listed before but this one is possibly the most important. If you like most busy executives are juggling impossible deadlines, time zones, work and personal commitments and sleeping less than 6 hours daily you have to stop now! If you want to be a leader and a master of your craft you simply can’t do it on less than 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Still not convinced or feel you are the exception to the sleep rule, then let me share some simple facts about what lack of sleep does to your ability to learn and work. These are facts that I have dug up from leading research studies
- 24 hours of sleep loss is enough to slow down your critical thinking and decision-making skills which means not only does lack of sleep slow down productivity it kills your ability to innovate.
- Sleep deprivation affects your ability to learn in two ways. Because you can’t focus as well, it’s more difficult to pick up information, so you can’t learn efficiently. It also affects short and long-term memory, which is essential to learning.
- Lack of adequate sleep affects mood, motivation, judgment, and your perception of events.
As Ariana Huffington, one of the most prominent business leaders who champions this cause says “ The way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life is getting enough sleep” Here’s her TED talk where she talks about the relationship between success and sleep.
Those are my learning strategies folks, I apply them in my life daily and I know they work. Somedays it feels impossible to keep up but remember to take your digital marketing learning efforts every day at a time. Dale Carnegie said “the best possible way to prepare for tomorrow is to concentrate with all your intelligence, all your enthusiasm, on doing today's work superbly today. That is the only possible way you can prepare for the future.”