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Reality check

James Dunne writes about digital marketing and shifting strategies

When we refer to change, we grope for quotes, sound bytes, cultural artefacts to encapsulate the scale and size what we are dealing with. We evoke Bob Dylan lyrics. We channel the poetry of Yeats. It sets our articles dealing with change up nicely, gives us a knowing esoteric glean and a cultural charm.

NO HIDING PLACE: The pivotal role of digital in communications was exemplified by a recent cover story in Time. Marketers and their agencies must think of the brand as 'the medium' and create engaging brand experiences and environments.

But when the IPA and the Future Foundation in the UK encourage British industry to embrace what it calls 'non traditional advertising' - that is, to effectively 'change or die' - no amount of sweet toppings is going to make such a stark warning easier to swallow in adland.

Many whisper it though; "the gig may be up". But many still cling to the traditional create-it-and-they-will-come mantra. Over the last year, one word has been dropped frequently from a height by marketing leaders in Ireland: digital.

Digital is the new integration, the silver bullet for agency growth and sustainability and untold success for clients. But the issue facing us all is how we deal with it and as agencies and brand owners understand how it will evolve.

The real problem is that digital is now being positioned and presented as a placebo, a band-aid to ailing thought and business structures in the face of a new marketing reality. So is it a revolution or an evolution? Both actually.

Those engaged in the debate from the media and facilitation and integration perspectives have mostly been right so far. Change is happening right here, right now and the dynamics of brand communications are shifting.

A new environment is emerging and it is called Reality 2.0. Reality 2.0 is a frame of mind based on the evolution in technology - mainly the web, but also mobile and iTV - the altered consumer and how it affects strategy and brands.

Eyes glaze over at the mention of Web2.0, prompting IT managers to be collared and dragged into marketing meetings. The reality is different. Web2.0 is about the idea of looking at the internet as a network of people rather than just as an extra media channel and realising online's many strengths.

To understand and appreciate the dynamics behind Web2.0, one must start with Web1.0. It began as a communication channel/publication medium. It was a one-way street, a time when websites and banner ads ruled supreme in cyberspace.

Web2.0 today is completely different; it has become more than an extra media channel and evolved into a platform for participation, networking people, opinions, content and computing power.

Newsweek labelled Audience2.0 as 'The Power of Us'. Essentially it is the fundamental shift from viewer, passive consumer and individual towards an active, participative, self-generating, networked consumer.

Networks or specifically networked people have the power to make or break brands in Reality2.0. Digitally empowered and active, examples of 'self generation' by networked consumers destroying brand equity are too numerous to detail in one article. The networked consumer is extra critical, suspicious and in control and we had better get used to it.

Marketing2.0 is a radical rethink of what value strategies produce. Given an increasingly digitalised consumer, who increasingly is setting the commercial agenda, what kind of customer do we want to engage with our marketing?

The passive type? Lemmings ready to accept our monologues without question? Or should we create evangelists, advocates and 'vibers' through effective creativity, database marketing, brand seeding, and partnerships with platforms,(a la Coke and YouTube? Brand and CRM integration anyone?

Finally, Brand2.0. Is it our brand? Or their brand? How do we execute 'brand' in Reality2.0? Retro fitting ATL or DM creative into web banners/ads is redundant.

The advent of social networking, the blogosphere and self-generating content means traditional Web1.0 approaches are rare. In Reality 2.0, digital is a creative discipline, as opposed to just an extra channel in the media mix. Digital ideas, as distinct from ideas taken from other channel executions, matter most.

Think of the brand as 'the medium' and create engaging digital brand experiences and environments. Give the user valued content, increase your consumer network interaction and digital support structures from a brand perspective. Let go of your brand for your consumers to 'vibe' with. Become a partner not a preacher. 'Breed' your brand using creativity that has social currency in consumer networks. Is the digital debate 'changing'?

Those of us working in the digital discipline (as opposed to the channel) are eager for a more balanced understanding of what digital really means and what its impact will be beyond the media debate. Great 'stand alone' strategic and creative work is bubbling up from the fringes of Irish adland.

It is a slow boil but the Irish consumer is already circumventing campaigns, creative and brands with a Reality2.0 lifestyle. For either side of the agency-client divide it is a marketing shift of epic proportions. But for most consumers it is just life and life has a funny old habit of changing.

James Dunne is business manager at i-merge digital agency

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