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The Digital Disruption of Marketing and the Executive Knowledge Gap

You’ve probably heard that experienced marketers across every industry have reached a moment of digital crisis. Integral to this crisis is the idea that digital technologies have become more ingrained in day-to-day life and managers at the top of their professions are having trouble adapting their strategies for a world of digital natives. While that is true, what is often left unsaid is that these leaders and managers have seen this digital disruption from a mile away.

Digital has brought about profound shifts in the business of marketing, with innovation dramatically increasing the ability to target and engage with consumers. But most successful marketers have been aware of these oncoming changes from the start. That sensitivity to cultural shifts is part of the reason they have been able to prosper and find professional success.

Then why does the threat of falling behind still linger?

The impression I get from working with brands, organizations, and agencies—a mix of young upstarts, midcareer professionals, and top-level executives—is that success in digital marketing is a fast-moving target. Even as a single strategy hits the mark, a new tech development rewrites the rules and forces even the savviest marketer to start from scratch. Past successes no longer ensure future ones. Leaders complain that they need to adapt faster, and they simply don’t know how. The digital disruption has caused a knowledge gap.

In this new digital world, professional teaching and learning practices need to change. For established executives, especially, navigating the incredible challenges and opportunities of the digital shift require more than a list of Facebook (FB) best practices and a copy of Twitter for Dummies. It requires new models of collaboration and strategy—an altogether new way of thinking.

Advertising agency LBi, a fearless client that came to us, was determined to learn, develop, and find new ways to collaborate. Like many agencies, its challenge was that it needed to find its role in the new digital landscape and improve its method of working with clients. So LBi invited some of its key clients to spend three days with its people at an intensive workshop, exploring, confronting shared challenges, and setting plans on how to move forward.

That openness and transparency resulted not only in improved client relationships but also in insights into better methods of working and collaborating that could be applied to LBi’s entire organization.

For well traveled chief executives and chief marketing officers, learning through this type of experience in a collaborative environment is the best way to achieve true digital fluency. By mixing professionals at all levels of business and digital experience, participants can learn from peers and colleagues and apply the latest strategies in an open social arena where hands-on learning and teamwork are the key to becoming digitally minded and open to adaptation.

Yes, these leaders and managers will need to work hard to adapt and help their companies flourish. But, as that agency CEO discovered, if they can start developing complex strategies and campaigns from this new beginning, they will find that their experience is invaluable when deployed in a digital setting. Eventually, they will learn to wield digital as just another business tool in their arsenal.

Frelin is the CEO of Hyper Island, a global learning institute focusing on digital media, leadership and innovation.

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