Creating a career in the digital age – an interview with Seb Hardman

As we’re all thinking about what the world will be like once restrictions are removed and how our use of technology over the last few months may change the way we work, I thought it would be interesting to share a conversation with someone who reconstructed their career at the beginning of the Internet age.

Seb is based in London and he’s started several digital-based companies in the last 20 years. I had quick chat to him about building a career in the digital age and adapting to change.

Where do you work and what does the company do?

I’m Founder/Managing Director of a company called Digital Litmus and we’re a demand generation agency. Essentially, we’re a specialist type of strategic marketing agency with a focus on B2B technology clients.

What made you decide to work in digital?

My background is slightly unconventional. I did a psychology degree and then left university to work in a conference production job that I didn’t like.

In 1999 I decided to go travelling for a year to work out what I was going to do. While I was travelling around the Internet was kicking off in a big way and I thought that it would be the place to be in terms of building a career.

So, by reading books I taught myself web development. Then I came back to the UK and got myself a job as a Web Developer in a small digital agency. After a couple of years I became the Technical Director.

How did you then get into digital marketing?

Although I enjoyed building digital products, I really wanted a role where I was figuring out what to build. So I moved into the digital product design side of things and ended up founding a VC-backed tech start up.

It was a great journey, with many learnings. However, ultimately it ended up winding down after not gaining enough traction in the market. After this, I moved into digital product consulting and finally made the move into marketing and growth.

So my background is this hybrid of technology, product development, marketing and psychology.

Have things changed since you started in this space?

There’s been massive change in marketing in the last 10-15 years. In the past it was really about batching things up and blasting them out. So technology has really improved things. If you’re able to get your head around the technology side of things, you’re able to deliver more personalised marketing than every before. Customers don’t want to feel like they’re being sold to as faceless individuals. They want to feel like businesses are engaging with them about the things they care about.

With marketing automation, if you get your segmentation and targeting right, personalisation can be really spot on and generate great results. It enables you to run highly personalised campaigns and engage with prospects based on their behaviour. For example, when you’re sending emails to somebody you can have behavioural triggers within that email sequence which will adjust what the emails say and what time they’re sent out, based on their interaction with an email or your website.

And a lot of the tools we’re using have artificial intelligence (AI) built into them. We have an email tool that uses AI to understand the sentiment of the replies that you’re getting to your emails. This determines whether or not people are replying to you in a positive or negative way and you can adjust your campaign based on those data points.

These kinds of things are brilliant and can drive productivity. But I think there are going to be downsides to it too – a lot of jobs may go.

How do those more traditional skills – like psychology – help you in the digital world?

At the end of the day we’re marketing to humans and the core of marketing to people is really engaging with them on an emotional, psychological and human level. Base human psychology hasn’t evolved for thousands, if not tens of thousands of years.

Culturally things have changed, but engaging with people and understanding them, as well as communicating about the things they care about in a way they can understand and are comfortable with, that’s not changed. That’s the heart of marketing.

In my view, you can pick up all of the tools and technology in a short space of time. But the other stuff, understanding the psychology of persuasion and human biases, that’s really what makes a good marketer and that takes time and learning.

So, do you think a tertiary education is still important for people wanting to work in the digital world?

For the moment, I do. In my experience of having employed grads and non-grads, there’s a difference in the level they start at and the level they get to.

One thing I’ve always thought is difficult to account for is that the type of people that go to university are probably different to the type of people that don’t go to university. So it’s difficult to isolate and define the impact that the actual university education has had. Perhaps if we’d employed one of our successful grads before they’d decided to go to university, they would have been just as successful.

I’m not sure how relevant the things being taught at universities are. But as much as anything, I think the experiential and human interaction, as well as the process of having to research and go deep on a subject, develops something unique to university graduates.

What is it that excites you about the future?

Being a technologist at heart, I’m really excited about all the AI stuff, the trajectory of chatbots and things like virtual reality (VR).

We’re living at a crossroads at the moment and VR has a great hope of stopping people from travelling so much – particularly business people. I think for any experience where you want to physically be somewhere and look around, VR could be brilliant.

For people like architects, you’ll be able to immerse the client in the building before it’s made. Businesses with a concrete output will be able to create it in VR prior to actually doing the work. This will add an interesting dynamic – particularly when it comes to marketing.

We’re already seeing the start of this with meetings, conferences and things like that. If there’s an amazing conference in San Francisco and they set VR up really well, there’s not really any reason to travel to San Francisco.

With VR you’ll be able to see and do a lot more than we’re currently able to do. For better or worse, imagine travelling and experiencing the world without ever leaving your home.

Now, more than any time in recent memory, there’s a need to for us to adapt to change. As Seb’s story shows – uncertainty can be tough, but crisis can also breed creativity.

This is true for individuals and it’s also true for businesses. Current circumstances are challenging, but there have never been more tools at your disposal to help build the future. Over the next few months opportunities will begin to emerge and surrounding yourself with the right people and finding the right purpose will be as important as ever.

If you’d like to have a confidential discussion regarding strategies to find the right people, contact Phil Davis, Managing Director, Q Consulting Group 0404 803 609 or