Is it time to shut down digital? Challenging thinking series 4.

We are in a new era. Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution, is here and is impacting on everything we do.

We’ve moved on from the digital movement of the 1980s to 2000s that saw opportunity in computerisation and automation to one where the world wide web, Internet of Things (IoT) and robot armies mean that ‘digital’ is ingrained in every single thing we do. Often, without us realising.

A major player in marketing automation software, Marketo, offers an interesting take on this era that they’ve coined the ‘Engagement economy’. As consumers, we’re savvy, informed and in control. We don’t want to be told a story, we want to be part of it.

This revolution – arguably an evolution – is very significant in the way we should approach marketing. Did you notice that I wrote ‘marketing’ and not ‘digital marketing’? I’ll come back to that later.

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Let’s take a look at some of the trends and terminology of this era:

  • Digital.
  • Digitalisation.
  • Digital transformation.
  • Digital first.
  • Digital disruption.

We see and hear these phrases daily, but what do they actually mean? They’re used widely, often in different contexts and even Google fails to provide any clear-cut definitions.

Here are some of my own thoughts on this and I’d love to hear your views too.

As a Millennial, the term digital transformation doesn’t conjure up ideas of innovation, creative ideas or ground-breaking change. It seems a little old and sluggish. Technology has been a mainstay of my entire working life and, without question, businesses need to evolve and adapt their systems and communications channels to stay relevant and survive. Are we really still transforming, or are we simply adapting and remaining agile in a fast-developing age?

Naturally, I’m a fan of the ‘digital first’ approach to marketing. Not because it’s cool or sexy, but because it’s practical and smart. Whether you’re launching a new brand proposition or messaging framework, testing ad copy or imagery or, like M&S, launching a campaign online before rolling it out in store – you can test, track and measure its success quickly. In turn, you can learn through data, be agile and much more careful when it comes to costs.

Digital disruption is an interesting one too. This term is used to describe a challenger brand within the in worlds of fintech, insurtech and other-techs – but why are these different to any other disrupter? Masthaven Bank, for example, is a human digital bank whose challenging approach is not exclusively built around their tech, but their business model and values.

So, is the word ‘digital’ becoming meaningless?

On many occasions I’ve talked about no longer seeing digital marketing as separate to marketing – it’s one and the same. In a society where we, consumers, engage with brands using multiple online and offline channels, by a variety of methods and platforms (sometimes at the same time), we must take a less siloed approach to our marketing and communications strategy.

It seems I’m not the only one to think this either. The new CMO at L’Oreal was reported in Marketing Week to have said:

“I always smile when agencies claim they are doing digital. Honestly, maybe that was good in 2010, but in 2017 they should claim they just do marketing. We need to stop talking about digital – it’s all part of marketing.”

And at the first Sheffield Digital Conference, held at the digital campus right on our doorstep, Catherine Howe – Digital Innovation Director at Capita – spoke about how we had reached ‘peak digital’ and that using the adjective ‘digital’ was like “putting lipstick on a pig”. In short, she declared ‘relevance’ a much more appropriate term – I couldn’t agree more.

Where do we go from here?

There’s no denying that technology is an enabler. It enables us to network, connect, curate stories, innovate, create and change. With over 450 IoT platforms in existence and the rapid growth of artificial intelligence, IoT and big data will become basic requirements of any marketing strategy.

We need to learn, identify and adapt to customer needs in order to break through. We need to be authentic and relevant. We need to use the unrivalled open source community of developers at our fingertips and we need to continue to evolve, adapt and be open to the influence of our younger generations. We’re facing challenges. And the best way to address and conquer them is to collaborate and be curious.

If I were to identify the characteristics of my ideal marketer, I’d prompt you to look at this description of the hacker culture:

…a subculture of individuals who enjoy the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming limitations of software systems to achieve novel and clever outcomes. The act of engaging in activities (such as programming or other media) in a spirit of playfulness and exploration is termed “hacking”. However, the defining characteristic of a hacker is not the activities performed themselves (e.g. programming), but the manner in which it is done and whether it is something exciting and meaningful.

Am I writing myself out of my job?

No. Being Head of Digital brings a great deal of pride. Knowledge of how digital technologies can be used effectively, how a customer can influence and be influenced, and which platforms will support clients on their journeys in the most relevant and cost-effective way is essential in the development of an effective marketing solution.