The 6 Hats of a Successful Digital Marketer

Digital Marketing Comments (5)

I recently came across this rather nice infographic on Pinterest entitled “How To Be More Creative” produced by ‘Who Is Hosting This?‘, a web hosting research tool:

creative infographic

Click To See Full Infographic

Despite there being many great insights in the graphic, it was this section that interested the digital marketer in me: 6 hats of creative digital marketing It depicts a concept called the “Six Thinking Hats” thought up by Maltese physician and inventor Edward de Bono. This concept involving six coloured hats was developed by De Bono as a tool for group discussion and individual thinking. Wikipedia describes De Bono’s premise behind the method:

The human brain thinks in a number of distinct ways which can be deliberately challenged, and hence planned for use in a structured way allowing one to develop tactics for thinking about particular issues.”

De Bono identified six distinct directions in which our brains can be challenged. In each of these directions the brain identifies and centres thinking around certain aspects of the issues being considered. He created a different coloured hat as a metaphor for each direction.

By now you’re probably thinking “get to the point where you relate this to digital marketing already!”

Now I know there are two ‘hats’ regularly talked about in the world of digital marketing, specifically SEO. These are the moral White Hat and the unscrupulous Black Hat. But for a few minutes let’s forget all we know about those hats. I believe De Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’ concept reveals a potential framework and process for successful digital marketers. Note that the order of the six hats below can be used in different switched depending on the individual scenario:

White Hat – The Data Geek

White Hat

Image by Annie Pilon

So the white hat directs it’s wearer  to look at the facts, information and data in front of them. This is very important for anyone in digital marketing as an abundance of data is certainly one of our advantages.  So when wearing this hat take time to analyse and interrogate any data you may have collected. So where are you going to get all this data from? Here is a small selection of the available sources:

  • Google Analytics
  • UX Tracking Tools
  • Ecommerce Database
  • CRM Database
  • Google Adwords
  • Affiliate Networks
  • Social Media Monitoring Tools
  • Industry Reports
  • Survey Results
  • Demographic Reports (Mintel etc)
  • Governing Body Statistics (accessed through the Freedom of Information Act)

This information sets the scene for who is and isn’t your target audience and they’re online and offline habits. This hat helps you think objectively, make informed decisions and match up data to the most suitable online marketing strategy or campaign.

Red Hat – The Sensitive Type

Red Hat

Image by Mike Mozart

The red hat wearer is directed to tap into their emotions, intuition and instincts. These are great tools to utilise when thinking about your digital marketing strategy. Forget what you do as a job and try and look at things from an emotive point of view. Ask questions, for example:

  • How would you feel seeing that advert?
  • What would your instincts tell you to do when landing on that page?
  • Is that mobile application intuitive?

Of course don’t be afraid to tap into the emotions of a test audience. Utilise tools and sites like Survey Monkey, WhatUsersDo, and UserTesting to gain valuable insight from potential users of your site, app or offering.  Where you can try and separate out logic so that you are purely testing the emotive nature of what you are selling online. Why not show your team or staff your potential offering and get them to shout out the first feelings that come to mind? Don’t forget to benchmark the emotions deriving from your competitor’s website, adverts or marketing. This will help you understand how they persuade users to become customers.

Black Hat – The Cynic

The black hat wearer (AKA the party pooper) is directed to apply cautious logic to their thinking. This is an important part of any digital marketing campaign as it is where we weight up things like cost, difficulties, weaknesses, risks and dangers. Here are some digital marketing examples with the black hat thinking applied:

  • If you plan a heavy amount of SEO tactics then a logical risk may be the potential for a Google penalisation.
  • If you plan a large amount of blogger outreach using gift giving then you may have to weigh up the cost of products given away against the potential brand awareness and reach.
  • If you plan to launch a Help Team on social media platforms then a danger may be opening up the floodgates to negative comments or complaints.
  • If you plan a PPC campaign but your budget only covers bids till halfway through each day.

These are those often those conservative elements that marketers would rather not think about let alone discuss and plan for. But a successful digital marketing strategy is going to have to contain plans for these difficulties.

Yellow Hat – The Optimist

The yellow hat wearer, despite looking absurd, is directed to apply positive logic to their thinking. This is where you have to look at the benefits, positive outcomes and potential wins from a campaign or strategy. Thinking about these will also help you setup and tracked KPI’s, goal metrics or conversions. For example setting out the potential wins from a Content Marketing strategy for a fostering charity client, which could be:

  • Increased Brand Awareness
  • Increased Social Engagement
  • Decreased Website Bounce Rates
  • Increased Website Traffic
  • Increased Awareness of the Need for Foster Carers
  • Increased Local Authority Tender Wins
  • Increased Foster Carer Sign Ups
  • Increased Donations
  • Increased Marketing ROI

With this hat on you may also want to set out the potential resources you have at your (or the clients) disposal to achieve the above wins. Using the same example charity client as above, this might be:

  • Blog Post Content
  • Survey Results
  • Video Content
  • Staff Generated Content
  • Digital Agency Staff
  • Foster Carers
  • Foster Children

This thought direction can come in very handy when dealing with negative clients or those reluctant to try something new.

Green Hat – The Gardener

The green hat wearer (whilst dressed for St Patrick’s Day) should apply their thought direction towards provoking creative thought and thinking outside the box. In digital marketing you are often challenged to think on your feet and play the cards you are dealt. This may be a low client budget, an industry change, a lack of resource or a penalty. It is restrictions like these that bred today’s growth hackers and innovators keen to find creative alternatives that boost growth. Here are some great examples of brands using this type of thinking for positive outcomes:


By paying $10 cash to each new customer and $10 to the customer who referred them, Paypal was able to hack early growth to tens of millions of users before no longer offering the bonus.


Dropbox allowed users to gain additional storage by carrying out various activities including inviting friends. This helped Dropbox grow from 100,000 users to 4,000,000 in under two years.


Once Twitter found that users who followed more than 30 people were most likely to become active. They optimized the user experience to encourage this behaviour. focused on building a content rich personal finance blog that spoke to a young professional crowd they felt was being neglected. Eventually this blog became #1 hub in personal finance allowing them to promote their budgeting App to the mass of readers.


In Hotmail whenever a user emailed another user, the email would contain a message saying something like “Get your free email at Hotmail”. This lead to massive uptake in the early days before Microsoft bought it for $400 million.


Facebook created badges or profile widgets and made them embeddable so that the users could place them on their website/blog. This gave Facebook increased visibility and better search rankings.

Blue Hat – The Manager

Blue Hat

Image by mac_filko

The blue hat wearer is directed to apply a holistic (yup I’ve gone and used the ‘H’ word) way of thinking. The blue hat is often worn by an Account Manager, Team Leader or Digital Manager. This is the moment you or the team step back and look at how your campaign fits in with your overall strategy. Ask yourself or team questions like:

  • What process is needed?
  • What is the end goal?
  • Who is going to organise and complete which elements?
  • What do we do next?
  • How much time do we need?
  • Have we got the budget?

These are all answers that the client may want summarised in a proposal or plan. Ensuring you have covered these types of questions internally will also lead to a more streamlined approach with fewer mistakes.

To ‘Recap’ (hat pun completely intended)

Here are the 6 hats or thought directions you should use when planning, problem solving or facing challenges in your digital marketing. I have added a character for each to help you remember the various directions:

  • White Hat – The Data Geek
  • Red Hat – The Sensitive Type
  • Black Hat – The Cynic
  • Yellow Hat – The Optimist
  • Green Hat – The Gardener
  • Blue Hat – The Manager

If any of you are interested in reading more about Edward de Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’ concept you can buy used copies of his book here:


Right hats off! I would love to hear your comments or views on the above. Drop me a message and start a discussion in the comments section below.

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On August 6, 2014