James Dunne on why changes on the digital front are nudging people to click ahead
Digital? Everyone, from clients to agencies are scrambling to get a grip on how it will impact on their brands and businesses. As hype goes, nothing excites scares, motivates and just plain confuses marketers and agencies more than the digital debate. The problem is that digital is so ambiguous that it often means different things to different folks.
If it is an online, mobile or interactive platform, one can argue it is digital and in today’s environment, that is an awfully big canvas to fill. In Ireland, digital has meant getting a website built and ‘live’, transforming that press ad into a flash banner.
For others, digital means channel centricity as media agencies capitalise on the arrival of an extra channel in the media planning mix. But a more radical perspective is emerging: digital heralds a strategic and creative re-think and re-focus for brands, companies and agencies. Shift happens and it is moving consumers right now.
McKinsey reported that 76 per cent of consumers no longer believe what companies are telling them in their ads. No surprises there, you may say. But if you look beyond it to where the tools to circumvent and block out ads are commonplace, we are facing a huge reconfiguration of best practice thinking for brands.
For the consumer, the arrival of digital platforms of participation - basically the whole Web2.0 shooting match from MySpace, to blogs, to YouTube – have transformed their role from being the receiver of brand messages into being an active player in brand conversations. It is underscored by the phrase ‘I Am the Media’.
Say it to yourself. Let it sink in. Say it again. Out loud this time. Why? Because it is the ultimate articulation of the shift all marketing communications are experiencing. Today, conversations are fueling brands and exerting more influence over consumers than ads.
Conversations between brands and consumers were one-way, tightly managed and choreographed monologues between sender and receiver. Shouting, cajoling or whispering the benefits of your brand to a set of stationary audiences is no longer enough.
The consumer can smell a rat at a distance of a two meg download. The challenge has shifted with this new reality from brand statements to brand stories. The stories are shaped by consumer experiences, content and creative interactions.
Peer to peer is fast becoming t
he creative Holy Grail. The consumer no longer relies on a single source of information. The ability of brands to connect with consumers and inspire trust and uptake simply by advertising and traditional marketing activities is waning.
The shift is affecting senior marketers most. Globally, marketing directors are starting to question traditional marketing. Many believe it to be broken, beyond repair.
The ramifications of this prevailing thought will filter right down to the agency.
Space and time do not allow for an article about the impact digital is having on the traditional agency structure, internal processes and business model. The big networks must re-adjust to the fluidity that working in digital brings.
Internationally we are seeing increased agency brand spin-offs, more consolidations and confederations (such as the establishment of WPP Digital) emerging - all designed to jump the interactive shark. Locally, we are seeing something similar.
Whether these approaches are working for the networks is a matter of opinion and of time but it is the indie sector, the digital agencies and micro networks, which work around an idea-centric process and marketing services model that are reaping the rewards just ahead of the big boys. New agencies like Toy NY, AKQA and Glue.
Add to the mix the many consumer PR agencies moving into the digital space (a natural fit for a discipline focused on generating conversation) we not only see where digital is taking marketing communications, but also the future of the agency.
What of the technology? It is vital to ensure quality of end product – like a good production department or production company - but when discussing a digital campaign, the tendency remains to focus too heavily on the technological delivery rather than the quality of idea. Campaigns and results suffer from this inherent reductionist approach.
Digital does not mean death in the short term and those positioning the debate as an instant ‘end of history’ for traditional marketing are kidding themselves. Traditional approaches are still valid and will be for some time to come.
But the fact remains that the effectiveness of TV is diminishing year on year with key emerging segments and other traditional media too are starting to feel the strain as that awful but accurate cliché ‘Generation Bebo’ matures.
Digital will have a ruthless edge in the medium to long term and its arrival ushers in a new type of MarCom Darwinism. Those who adapt and evolve will survive and prosper beyond the present tense. That’s today’s perspective, tomorrow may be different.
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, part of the Web2.0 digitalscape where consumers have a dialogue due to the new emphasis on stories.
James Dunne (email@example.com) is strategic planner with Boondoggle digital brand agency
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