The end of digital marketing is nigh

A recent report from global research firm Forrester – predicting that ‘digital marketing’ will lose its prefix and become just ‘marketing’ in 2013 – has sparked a debate between marketers who agree with the forecast and those who believe digital should continue being treated as a separate discipline. In an effort to put this dispute to bed, here’s my response to the prediction.

Integrated marketing has been around for a long time. The strongest integrated agencies added a strong digital offering a long time ago and truly integrated creative thinkers don’t think about channels at the conceptual stage.

We should all understand the benefits of an integrated approach by now. So I say ditch those marketing prefixes. But don’t stop there. Dispense with client and agency labels too and make 2013 the year outdated tags are consigned to the history books. 

My first creative director, who originally trained as an architect, always encouraged me to be mindful of the Bauhausian principal, form follows function. Combine that teaching with creative driven by audience insight, and you don’t need to label marketing as digital, traditional, mobile, ambient or direct. You’re talking to the customer and it’s working. The channel is irrelevant.

I’d be genuinely disappointed if, when talking to a client, they were determined to ring-fence their marketing channels and failed to see the value in joined-up strategic thinking. Because audiences don’t act in a neat, vertical way. They use their phones while watching TV and share social content while reading the paper on the bus. We’ve seen many successful examples from brands that have embraced this principal in the recent past. Bing’s Jay Z Decoded campaign by Droga 5 is probably the most recognised and awarded; it “hooked” their audience with a collection of ambient installations that drove them to a shared online experience, all powered by Microsoft’s platform for “doing”.

Chief Marketing Officers may have appointed rosters for each channel to gain from agencies’ specialist experience. Therefore they need to encourage those roster agencies to work together and embrace divergent thinking and converge on the best ideas. Only then will audiences benefit from a consistently strong experience. We work with many global brands that break down their marketing efforts into territory or channel, or often both. This creates challenge but also opportunity where one agency can take a lead role and manage “translation” across outputs. Only when the core creative idea is agreed up front, and embedded into all iterations, can you trust that an audience will take a consistent view. Delivering a brand promise effectively across multiple touch points takes a lot of work but is worth the effort.

After all, rather than getting hung up on prefixes, we should be pursuing the perfect way to engage people; inspiring audiences rather than pigeon holing them. The study of behavioural economics points to the need to connect before selling. Here’s a great film introducing “The Science of Persuasion” by Dr Robert Cialdini – an interesting film describing a set of psychological triggers we all find hard to resist. So this year, I’ll be encouraging my team of “charming provocateurs” to spend a bit more time understanding why audiences would want to connect with brands, instead of the channel they do it in.

Alan Kittle is creative director at Mason Zimbler.