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 Dispense with client and agency labels too and make 2013 the year outdated tags are consigned to the history books.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.

  • Alex Craven

    I’d agree, when everything is either digital or relies upon digital for response or other success what use does the term have. Like you say there is a lot of debate around this but we’ve been more interested in what dropping the word digital means.. our conclusion is that the key point of differentiation between agencies (i don’t think the contractual element of that relationship will ever allow the terms ‘client’ and ‘agency’ to fully disappear though I agree with the sentiment) will become speed. Speed of adaption to the accelerating rate of technology, speed of real time reaction to market opportunities to grow your clients brand, rather than total reliance upon forward planned activity.. its an exciting opportunity and one that we’d argue places ‘digital’ agencies in the best position to take the lead.

  • Alan Kittle

    Thank you Alex for your comments.

    It’s true that digital platforms allow us to create and circulate reactionary content as fast as technology changes. And I can see from your own site that’s how you choose to position yourselves in the creative industry.

    We recently discussed, and admired, Amazon Kindle’s campaign which talks about the brand being the “re-inventors of normal” and of promising to “make the revolutionary routine”.
    But they’re still choosing to communicate that message with a 60 second TV advert ;}

    I’m currently reading Velocity, by AKQA’s Ajaz Ahmed and Nike’s Stefan Olander, and they concur that new media platforms don’t kill old ones. They find a way to co-exist and re-position others, defined by audiences who decide what role they all play and of course that’s different for everyone because we’re all free-willed individuals.

    So, I’m not planning on changing my view that marketers need to think about audience first, message next and channel last – at least not yet!

    Cheers, A

  • Finula Crowe

    At last!! After working for 15 years in Marketing, I had feedback from headhunters asking me to “put digital” in my title of Marketing Manager so that I had a better chance of getting the interview… Digital marketing is intrinsic to our roles folks… we are Marketers…

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