A matter of course: Digital marketing comes of age

Digital marketing used to be the junior partner to print, film and product placement. In the days of pop-ups and spam emails, the marketing channelled through the internet and other digital media seemed to be more of an irritation than a useful tool for reaching consumers and managing a brand’s image.

How things have changed. With the current ubiquity of social media and the constant invention of new and exciting technologies, there are far more potential channels to reach new and existing customers than there ever used to be in the past. As a consequence, marketing has become ever better integrated with our virtual lives, and thus far more effective. A recent report published by Econsultancy and SAS reveals that in 2011 72% of companies surveyed increased their digital marketing budgets, in comparison to only 26% increasing offline investment that year. But the same report also indicates that companies are feeling less able to perceive the ROI digital marketing provides in this brave new world. As the digital sector of the industry grows and matures, greater expertise and specialist training will be required.

The Leicester Business School at De Montfort University has responded to this demand with the creation of a new undergraduate course – the BA (Hons) Digital Marketing and Social Media. Incorporating elements of social media management, interactive marketing, online customer engagement analysis and online media design, the intent is that this course will give a new generation of young people a head start in this high-growth part of the sector, providing them with a diverse online portfolio that can be shown to prospective employers upon graduation. The three-year course is the first to combine both social media and digital marketing into a single honours degree, and can be extended to four years if students opt to take a 12 month industrial placement in addition to their academic programme of study.

Industrial involvement does not end with placement schemes. The course content has been designed in collaboration with IBM and has the backing of the award-winning Rabbit Agency, which specialises in social media. Peter Jakob, IBM UK and Ireland Brand Manager, argues that “customers are sharing their experiences widely online, giving them more control and influence over brands … The skills that the Digital Marketing and Social Media degree will offer are exactly the type of new competitive skills that marketers need.” The emphasis on social media is further warranted, as Derek Singer of the Rabbit Agency says, because “social media marketing has matured to an extent where there is a real need for a course like this that matches the theory with hands-on experience.”

As the marketing industry is waking up to the full potential of these new avenues of communication, they are looking to universities to fill the knowledge gap. The appearance of courses such as this is proof of how digital marketing, particularly through social media, is coming into its own.