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I’m almost embarrassed to ask…but what do we really mean when we say “digital marketing”?

If you told me ten years ago that you ran digital marketing for your company, I would have envisioned you managing the company’s website and online ad campaigns. Now, I would have no idea what you were talking about. Today, digital marketing might mean ad technology, e-commerce, online advertising, social media marketing, web personalization, mobile marketing…and the list goes on.

Like the term content marketing, digital marketing can mean almost everything … and almost nothing. So let’s forget about definitions, and instead look at connotations. To borrow from a Raymond Carver title: What do we talk about when we talk about digital marketing? Here's what some big-brand CEOs, CMOs, journalists, and one notorious outlaw are talking about, scooped from the


1. Digital marketing is context.

We don't believe in digital marketing. We believe in marketing in a digital world, and there's a huge difference.

– Clive Sirkin, CEO, Kimberly Clark (via AdAge)

2. Digital marketing is content.

Ask any marketer what the starting point and backbone to a successful digital marketing strategy is and chances are they'll tell you that it's content. Content is the spark that ignites an effective marketing strategy and what keeps it going strong throughout, but not just any content will do. What you use for your digital marketing should be quality content that draws in readers and helps drive traffic to exactly where you need it to be. 

– Roger Bryan (via Huffington Post)

The Internet requires every brand, business and individual to become a publisher. Content is the currency within our social Web.”

–  Rachel Rachel Tipograph, the Gap’s director of global digital and social media, Gap (via

3. Digital marketing is you.

“What happens when what seems like social media ephemera enters into the vaults of Big Data, where everything we do online, and increasingly offline, is collected and stored for analysis? Companies can use this data to map out the thousands of decisions a consumer might make next — likely purchases, for example — and use that information to influence them to do what they want.”

– Sarah Childress (via

"People are products sold to advertisers."

– Julian Assange (via

4. Digital marketing is marketing.

"In 2014, digital will no longer be a separate effort, but will become the leading effort for marketing."

Dowe Bergsma, CMO, Georgia Pacific Consumer Business (via

"I'd like to see the word "digital" go away in 2014. The word is not expansive enough to fully represent what is going on in the marketing and consumer world today."

– Laura Desmond, CEO, Starcom Mediavest Group (via

"Let's also call a moratorium on putting "e" in front of a word to describe a business category, as well as talking about 'digital strategy' -- in today's world digital is inherent to all strategies."

Mainardo De Nardis, global CEO, OMD (via

So there you have it: digital marketing is about reaching people in a digital context, understanding what to deliver in that context, turning consumers’ digital cookie crumbs into an almost self-service marketing model, and … just marketing. I like #1, love #2, and am slightly scared by #3. As for #4--I'd say that's the ticket. Because at the end of the day, isn't "digital" just an adjective to describe a tactic? Why erect walls around a tactic, when most marketing outcomes require an integrated mix of approaches?  If we need to compartmentalize the marketing department--or the discipline of marketing--let's draw lines around the goals, not the tactics.

What about you? What do you talk about when you talk about digital marketing?


Amy Moore writes about how marketing, sales, and customer service professionals can use storytelling techniques to better engage their customers.  Follow Amy on Twitter @moore_words

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