How Long Till We’re Done With Digital?

— October 30, 2016

“The word ‘digital’ is a bit like the word ‘electricity’. Sure, electricity was all the rage back when it took over from steam. But it would be slightly ludicrous for a company nowadays to outline its ‘electricity strategy’. The same goes for digital – there won’t be a digital strategy in five years.”

This was the topic under debate during a panel session on digital transformation at the recent Technology for Marketing (TFM) conference in central London. It’s a debate that has been steadily brewing in disparate corners of the marketing industry and which suggests we might be going through a bit of an identity crisis. We are split, between the swathes of important people that are keen to drop the ‘digital’ from ‘digital marketing’, and those that aren’t.

PepsiCo President Brad Jakeman, for example, speaking at the US Association of National Advertising’s Masters of Marketing conference, said: “There is no such thing as digital marketing. There is marketing – most of which happens to be digital.”

It does feel like digital marketing, as a business proposition, is a tired moniker. Any marketing these days that doesn’t have at least some kind of digital element is unlikely to be worth the paper it’s printed on. More to the point, to refer to ‘digital marketing’ when really you mean ‘marketing’ can mark you out as, ironically, kind of old fashioned.

To refer to ‘digital marketing’ when really you mean ‘marketing’ can mark you out as, ironically, kind of old fashioned.

The next culture change

It was the same Mr Jakeman that also wrote in a recent blog:

“Culture drives innovation… This generation is so smart, tech-driven, and purpose-driven. They truly want to make a difference and know that doing what’s best for people and communities is the right thing to do and good business strategy.”

‘Culture drives innovation’ is a key point. The digital debate is cyclical in its nature, in the sense that it was a complete culture change that drove us to become a digital society in the first place, and it will be another culture change that drives the word ‘digital’ from ‘marketing’ in our new societal lexicon.

There won’t be a digital strategy in five years.

So what is the new culture, exactly? Well, by dropping ‘digital’ from ‘marketing’, it recognises that the digital part is no longer a nice-to-have.

It recognises that the times they have a-changed as marketing investment is now more in the digital pocket, as opposed to the ‘traditional’ one. Just last week, for example, video editing specialist Magisto released a report suggesting that millennial business leaders spend more than half (58%) of their marketing budgets on digitally-based media (and 41% spend the bulk of that investment on mobile-specific media). By comparison, business leaders from the baby boomer generation spend just 14% of their marketing budgets on digital media. These are certainly the people we’d most like to convince that the business cases for ‘digital’ and ‘marketing’ are one and the same.

Finally, it recognises what has felt like a bit of a theme for 2016 – that corporate departments cannot be siloed from each other, locked in ‘turf wars’ about who ultimately owns the marketing narrative.

Stakeholders – your customers, your staff and your prospective employees – expect their experience to be one coherent journey. It’s a journey that needs to offer complete connectivity across diverse departments like marketing, HR, internal communications, IT and sales. Digital is not a department; it’s a canvas. It’s a wall on which to draw up your marketing strategy.

It’s a canvas. It’s a wall on which to draw up your marketing strategy.

A suite of marketing skills

On that note, there is an argument to say that digital marketing distinguishes itself by the skills needed to execute it, like expertise in UX, email, data analytics, search marketing, SEO, reputation management, social media or creative content marketing. But as the marketing industry progresses, more and more of these roles require specialists. The Content Marketing Institute predicts that, as we progress, these roles will need to be overseen by a C-level executive, someone whose job it is to control and dictate business storytelling.

As the marketing industry progresses, more and more of these roles require specialists.

These specialists will work together to meet the company’s wider marketing goals. In that sense the idea of having a ‘digital marketing’ department or doing ‘digital marketing’ does seem slightly redundant. Indeed, trying to hire a ‘digital marketer’ casts the net too wide nowadays. And were you to advertise for such a role, again, you could be seen as behind the times . This would be a self-defeating hire and a waste of recruitment budget if the very top talent doesn’t even think to apply on that very basis.

Most of your marketing mix is digital, and in that sense ‘digital’ doesn’t really mean very much. I’d say that the sooner the phrase ‘digital marketing’ is consigned to the past, the quicker brands can integrate all their silos and embrace the new business culture change. It’s time that brands start investing in marketing strategies that are underpinned by the complete user experience, for those that don’t will most certainly be left behind.


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Author: Jonathan Bright

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