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Digital marketing in the age of disruption – interview with David Sayce

Author's avatar By Simon Swan 14 Sep, 2016
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Simon Swan interviews Digital Marketing consultant David Sayce

One thing remains consistent for the role of the digital marketer, whether client side, agency or as a consultant – disruption. The need to embrace change, continuous learning and help mentor and coach colleagues and businesses to digital best practice are the skills needed to help develop your career. There are a number of factors why pursuing a career in digital is a good choice, take a look at this article in The Drum which highlighted the UK is facing a major digital skills gap.

I caught up with digital marketing consultant, David Sayce to question him on some real life questions as to the role of the digital marketer and how this has changed. We discuss a number of areas including the key challenges for businesses and what they need to be doing to retain digital marketing staff, the advice David would offer brands in digital marketing planning (rather than jumping straight into the tactical element!), and advice for people considering a digital marketing career

David Sayce

Q. Tell us a little about David

Digital Marketing Consultant, 42 year olds, dual national (UK/US) living in South East London since 2008, grew up mostly in the Midlands, miss San Diego! I love all things technology, design and sci-fi.  (Will work for IMAX Star Wars tickets!)

One year on I’m still uncertain about the beard!

Q. When did your digital career start?

That’s a little fuzzy, from an early age we had a computer in the house, this was back in the day you had to load up a blank computer with 60+ disks of software and the instruction manual was two inches thick. I was online by the early nineties when CompuServe and AOL were popular and the main browser was Mosaic. During this time I was running a wholesale sporting goods business with clients across Europe and the US, by 1996 I could see the opportunities available from the internet and began working on setting up an e-commerce platform and taking part of the business online as retail.

In 1997 DirectDarts was born. Search engines like Altavista and Lycos were popular and getting those first page rankings was as simple as a little keyword stuffing, Google came along the following year. I still believe my background in business, traditional marketing and huge curiosity are the drive factors that helped most.

Q. Services promoted from your blog include training and mentoring. What do you see as the biggest challenges or opportunities in teaching digital marketers?

The training & mentoring (and speaking) has always been a big part of what I do, whenever I am working with a company or individual I am keen there is an element of learning and understanding.  More recently I am working with both The Prince’s Trust and Virgin Startup running both workshops and 1 to 1 training along side mentoring a number of business owners.

From a totally selfish point of view I love to see people keen to embrace marketing within their business and seeing real business changes as a result. I always follow up with businesses I work with and seeing how digital channels impact bottom line sales, it is very rewarding all round.

Probably one of the biggest challenges is the rate of change within the digital environment, what I teach or talk about today might be very different in a few months, let alone a year. However, good strategic advice is the framework the tactics follow. Continual learning or at least awareness is vital.

If anyone is interested in mentoring with The Prince’s Trust or Virgin Startup, check out their website or drop me an email and I will introduce you.

Q. I am quite alarmed by how digital marketing is somewhat approached at the tactical level (the need to implement a search, affiliate social strategy) rather than working from the ground up and creating a digital marketing framework e.g. SOSTAC, RACE – do you think there is a lack of understanding in the planning element?

Absolutely! I will always advocate a wider understanding and frameworks such as SOSTAC and RACE help to understand the integration within the business, rather than a tactical approach of ‘I’m going to tweet this’. I also have an issue with vanity metrics and the chasing of likes and followers. I worked with a company recently who had achieved their goal of 3,000 followers, I think 98% of them were spam or simply irrelevant. With a fear of a rather long and passionate rant, I’ll end there!

Q. One of the key challenges for organisations is the retention of digital marketers to stay within their jobs – what can organisations be doing better to not only retain skilled digital marketers but also attract new staff?

Think about what you, as an organization, are offering, flexibility with working arrangements is a must, don’t measure ‘bums on seats’. Ultimately, employees should be valued and engaged with the organization from the very beginning and then be given support to grow and to learn, give them the chance to be experts in their field. Toxicity and poor morale within a department can have detrimental and long lasting effect on the business.

I was recently speaking to Eamon Tuhami, Founder of Motivii about this, there are more and smarter ways to gauge what is happening within an organization, simply put many of the old ways are no longer effective, real-time communications and understanding how decisions impact teams are important now, not after the end of year review.

And after all that you then need to be prepared to reward successes!

Q. What was your motivation to set your own business up and step away from working in an in-house job?

I appear to move between the two quite a lot, or run them side by side, for me being a digital marketing consultant gives me the freedom to work with a number of businesses and individuals on a varied range of projects, further away from any of the internal politics that can be an issue with an in-house role. I also get to choose who I work with, I’m dedicated to every project I work on so need to know there is the dedication from both sides.

I have a passion for Digital Marketing and SMEs. Currently over 80% of my work is within the SME sector, this brings me back to my own beginnings and it is a wonderful area to work with, being freelance it allows me to go in and make changes that deliver quick results in a short amount of time.

Another reason was also the demand for high-level digital skills, which continues to grow. Businesses are now realizing the importance of an integrated digital approach and hiring a digital marketing consultant will often be the most cost-effective solution. Most of my projects have some formal element of training that runs along side up-skilling their business & marketing skills, which gives on-going value.

Q. What are your thoughts on the next frontier/challenge for digital marketing?

Ahh, crystal ball time… So much going on right now, here are three I picked at random

Data. Data will see the biggest challenge and opportunity, we have had the buzzword of ‘big data’ for a while, now is the time to put this into action at all levels. We will see a much greater integration of data into business, leading to more data led marketing decisions that not only fit with business goals, but also show clear business results.

Greater integration and the removal of silos within organisations will be a much larger cultural shift for some firms, it is only with this marketing can continue to evolve.

One of the areas I have been spending a lot of time with recently has been the AI side. IBM Watson and more specifically companies like ROSS, artificial intelligence will be making major changes in the next few years. And this will be big for SEO with Google BrainRank.

Q. We’re coming to the end of the year and it usually means evaluating and reporting on end of year reporting – what recommendations would you give to brands looking to start their digital planning for 2016 in terms of channel appraisal and setting benchmarks?

Make sure you fully understand what you are doing today. With all the changes across digital marketing in the last few years it is easy to fall behind. It is painful and time-consuming (which is why many don’t do it), but now is the time to run a full audit across your digital channels, make sure you are still working towards the overall business goals.

Once you finished reviewing it’s time to plan ahead, get a framework in place and plan, over the last few years I have been working with the 70:20:10 model, which has proved to be very successful:

  • 70% of content should be proven content that supports building your brand or attracting visitors to your site
  • 20% of content should be premier content which may be more costly or risky but has a bigger potential new audience, for example ‘viral videos’ or infographics
  • 10% of content should be more experimental

As for benchmarks, be very clear about what you are measuring and how vanity metrics have their place, but make sure you are measuring against those key business goals.

Q. What people would you recommend people follow/subscribe to in order to learn more on the digital marketing sector?

This is what I have always loved about the digital marketing community, fantastic people

  • Rand Fiskin and the Moz Team
  • Will Critchlow and the Distilled Team
  • Alyeda Solis – International SEO
  • Ian Lurie – Portent
  • Dave Chaffey – The first ‘digital’ book I bought was Dave’s
  • Nathalie Nahai -The Web Psychologist
  • Anyone who has spoken at Distilled’s SearchLove events over the years!

Q. Any advice to someone looking to focus their career in Digital Marketing?

Do it! Jump in. start reading (and writing) blogs, listen to the podcasts and ask lots of questions, so many people in the area are happy to give their time. Cover the wider areas too, get a feel for code and the technologies, understand the basics of marketing and advertising and think about the science side too, psychology plays a big role too. Of course, feel free to drop me an email, I’m always happy to offer my advice.

Q. How would you suggest a digital marketer develops their career? E.g. specialise on a specific tactic or look to take a broad approach and learn a number of different tactics? 

Find what works for you, there are so many different elements within digital marketing, do what you love! If you find a niche you love dive in and make it yours. My advice would be to think about the T-shaped marketer, or probably better as an M-shaped marketer, a wide general knowledge with a much deeper knowledge in a few key areas.

Q. What’s on your reading list?

I have 3 lists on my kindle, business, fiction and topical (this one depends current interests).

Business (to read)

  • Content Inc. Joe Pulzzi
  • The Business Romantic: Fall back in love with your work and your life (recently recommended to me by Paul Morris Head of Digital & Social Media at The Co-operative Group)
  • The Virgin Way, Richard Branson


  • Finally getting around to reading Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut


  • The Expectant Dad’s Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know
  • Commando Dad: How to be an Elite Dad or Carer, From Birth to Three Years
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By Simon Swan

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