What Does Digital Marketing Excellence Look Like in 2018?

It’s time to move past funnel metrics and look for more accurate ways to track marketing’s impact.

Marketers today are under pressure to master an ever-increasing range of new skills and technologies, but few think they’re actually doing well:

  • 39% of marketers don’t think their organization’s marketing strategy is effective (HubSpot, State of Inbound  2017)
  • Only 6% of companies think their digital marketing and traditional marketing integration process is completely optimized (Smart Insights, Managing Digital Marketing research report, 2017)
  • Only 58% of marketers say they are often successful in achieving their marketing goals (CoSchedule, State of Marketing)

With declining organic search results and click-through rates on content, it’s no wonder that digital marketers are having a harder time proving their success. However, this perceived lack of success has less to do with marketers’ abilities, and more to do with a lack of clear benchmarks for success. How do you know you’re good if you don’t know what good looks like? We’ve identified three markers of excellence for the modern digital marketing department.

The New Indicators of Digital Marketing Excellence

In the early years of digital marketing, the goal was digital adoption and scale. This meant transitioning from traditional channels to digital ones, like web, email, social media, search and display. In 2018, we’re well past that point, as the investment in digital marketing channels is outpacing traditional channels for the first time. “Going digital” is no longer a marker of success or innovation.

Instead, here are the new most important factors for driving digital marketing excellence:

Going beyond the top-of-the-funnel

Traditionally, digital marketing has focused on the beginning phase of the customer journey, where its job is to create brand awareness and consideration. But there’s no reason marketing activity should stop once a potential customer goes from a prospect to a lead or even a buyer. With its ability to create data-based content and deliver it on relevant digital channels, marketing has permission to play in areas it hasn’t before.

“There’s no reason marketing activity should stop once a potential customer goes from a prospect to a lead.”

However, this depends wholly on how well marketing can leverage the data, content and tools of customer communication used by other departments, such as sales and service. By collaborating on strategies and sharing assets, modern marketers can use advanced data analysis and personalized content to keep customers engaged at every step of the journey. They can optimize any kind of communication, ranging from targeted promotional ads on social media to personalized relevant content on the website, and post-sale emails that introduce other products or customer service information.

“3D” customer segmentation and personalization

Advertisers have always created targeted content based on demographic customer data. And digital marketers have recently become very good at targeting customers based on their online behavior, such as their keyword searches or browsing history. However, the most sophisticated marketing departments are now targeting customers using “3D” customer segmentation. This is advanced customer segmentation that combines demographic data (age, sex, location or income), behavioral data (online activity generated in the moment) and preference data (historical data from previous sales or surveys) to create a holistic profile of the customer, and their specific needs at every step of the journey.

To do this kind of segmentation, marketing departments need to invest in platforms, processes and people who can ingest, standardize and analyze customer data from many different channels and departments. It’s an exercise that requires a tremendous amount of trust and collaboration across departments, but the end result is a highly relevant customer experience that drives loyalty, advocacy and most importantly, increased revenue.

Operating in new environments

Customer expectations for communication are shifting to new environments and channels, and companies must evolve to meet them. Marketers should be prepared to operate (and innovate) in new, blended digital and physical environments. These include connected objects (i.e. the Internet of Things), smart assistants (Siri, Alexa etc.) and augmented/mixed/virtual reality environments.

Some of these new environments are not managed by marketing, however, marketing can still have an impact by sharing customer data and setting guidelines for creating compelling, relevant content that’s consistent with the brand.

Key Components of a Digital Marketing Organization

Although we’ve identified three major factors for modern marketing excellence, it can be difficult to know where to start. To help you map (and assess) your organization’s capabilities, we’ve identified four areas (or disciplines) you need to excel at:

Team Empowerment:

This includes having a clear strategy, supportive leadership and a solid idea of governance and accountability for all the marketing processes within the organization. It also includes evaluating the teams’ skill set and determining where additional training or hiring is required.

Best Move Strategy:

This is the ability to synthesize insights from multiple customer data sources to program the “next best move.” This is a highly personalized message or piece of content delivered to a customer that has the best chance of achieving the desired outcome, such as acquisition (for new products), moving closer to purchase or creating an up-sell opportunity.

Creative Customization:

This area is responsible for actually creating or setting the rules for the dynamic creation of content/messages that have been requested in the “best-move strategy” module. New demands in volume and velocity also require higher efficiency in content development and higher effectiveness in performance.

Platform Enablement:

This area focuses on having the best possible resources, in terms of data and technology that can execute the marketing plan across all the other disciplines. In many cases, it’s less a matter of adding new technologies and more about extending capabilities or creating integrations to achieve new goals.

Three Ways to Assess Your Company’s Digital Marketing Maturity

The below figure breaks down the specific tasks that are usually components of each discipline, varying by the size and type of organization.

Download Full-Size Chart

If we map these disciplines against each channel the company uses to communicate with customers, we get a grid that allows us to map exactly where the strengths and weaknesses of the marketing organization lie.

Download Full-Size Chart

You can use this grid to assess your marketing organization in three different ways:

Approach 1: Focus first on a single channel

You can evaluate the strength of every discipline within a single channel, for example, if you’d like to get better at your social media strategy, you can evaluate how well your social strategy is defined (Team Empowerment), whether you can use customer data to effectively personalize messages (Best-Move Strategy), how good your creative assets and messaging are performing (Creative Personalization) and finally you can evaluate the quality and performance of your social media management tools (Platform Enablement.) This framework provides a comprehensive way to evaluate a single channels performance, or assess the viability of a completely new channel.

Approach 2: Focus on a single discipline, across all channels

Alternatively, you can focus on improving a single discipline, especially if it is a central team that is responsible for it across all your digital channels. For example, you could focus purely on your customer analytics team (Best Move Strategy) or your integrated marketing platforms stack (Platform Enablement) to power personalized experiences across all your channels. This approach works best for organizations that want to completely embrace new and innovative practices across the board, rather than an incremental, channel-based approach.

Approach 3: Chart a path to excellence

If you’re looking for a complete overhaul of your marketing organization, the best approach might be to conduct a full-scale assessment of every discipline, across every channel, and identify gaps/weaknesses. You can then create a list of initiatives, and prioritize them according to impact, and cost, giving you a clear roadmap that not only improves existing processes, but creates ways to implement new innovations. This is a much longer approach, but it is the most methodical, and accommodating way to effect a true digital transformation of marketing.


If there’s one thing the above frameworks show, it’s that digital marketing isn’t quite marketing anymore. By using personalized content, real-time communication, and messaging that isn’t always promotional, it’s safe to say digital marketing is actually digital communications. Instead of a loudspeaker, marketing is just a speaker, (and a conversationalist at that).

This isn’t to say that sales, service and marketing should be rolled up into one uber-communications department. Each customer-facing department can continue to operate according to its traditional roles and strengths. It does mean, however, that marketing’s ownership of digital channels and customer data gives it a central – if not leading – role as an innovator and custodian of the digital customer experience. And that should empower marketers to define their success in more expansive ways than ever before.

Learn how Prophet can help you evolve your digital strategy!