Are digital marketers headed for a wipeout?

wipe out
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According to a new report from Forrester, marketers don’t completely understand the technology driving digital marketing.

As marketers ride the digital wave to higher salaries, greater roles and bigger budgets, will it all come crashing down? Do marketers really understand the technology that has upended their profession? If they don't improve their digital IQ in a hurry, they're risking a wipeout.

Consider this new Forrester report about marketers, 2015: The Year of the Big Digital Shift, which found swaths of poorly prepared marketers:

"A particularly surprising finding is that despite the increased spending, confidence and future expectations for digital marketing, respondents admitted they don't completely understand today's marketing environment," writes Forrester analyst Jim Nail in the report.

That's no strategy

Time and again, Forrester found a disconnect between a marketer's optimism and reality. For instance, almost two-thirds of marketers claim to have created an effective digital marketing strategy. After pressed, though, more than half admitted that their digital marketing is more tactical than strategic.

This finding in particular mirrors the theme at the MarTech Conference in San Francisco earlier this month. Attendees, mostly techies, lamented a marketer's penchant for making impulsive, tactical decisions. Speakers talked at length about architecting the technology stack and crafting a marketing tech strategy, in order to avoid shadow technology and the dreaded frankenstack.

[Related: Marketing technology is big (really big) business]

Nearly everyone in Forrester's marketer survey -- 97 percent -- agrees measuring digital marketing's impact on business goals, such as revenue growth, is important. Yet only 60 percent say they're effective at doing so. Marketers face an attribution problem when it comes to their digital investments. For instance, a consumer might conduct an initial product search on a mobile device while waiting for a bus after work, watch an advertisement for the product on television at home, and then execute the order on a tablet at midnight. Each marketing interaction may have played a role in the sale, but it's impossible to tell.

Similarly, everyone -- 96 percent -- says the idea of "creating digital experiences that will build a stronger relationships between customer and the brand" is a top priority. Yet only 62 percent rated their firm as effective. Even worse, marketers claiming to be effective are probably overly optimistic. Forrester probed deeper into this group and found that more than half admitted not investing in the technology they need to build these relationships.

The problem is the lack of technology know-how or access to technology expertise. Less than 40 percent of marketers claiming to be effective at building digital relationships say their marketing and technology teams work well together or that their technology management team has the right skills, Forrester says. The rest have a lot of work to do.

[Related: CMOs paralyzed by paradigm shift (and CIOs aren't helping)]

The good news is that investment in marketing tech is on the rise. The marketing budget grew 3.4 percent last year and should grow 4 percent this year, Forrester says. Priority investments include mobile, social, search, display advertising and email. The digital marketing budget has caught up to the traditional marketing budget.

Marketers need a little help from their friends

Although marketers face a steep learning curve, they should not attempt to climb it alone, Forrester advises. Marketers should enlist finance colleagues to educate them on measurement tools and building the business case. They should seek the help of CIOs in creating a strategic marketing technology plan and agenda, including a technology requirements list.

"B2C marketing leaders mustn't allow the latest gadget-du-jour to distract them from developing an adequate level of mastery of digital programs that have become essential to their marketing mix," Nail says. "Rather than single-mindedly chasing new opportunities, the time has come to build a stronger foundation of core digital marketing disciplines."

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