‘Digital’ will eventually become an obsolete term, but for now it’s here to stay

Mark Ritson's call for the death of the 'dreaded D word' within the marketing lexicon is premature, writes Vijay Solanki.


At this year’s Mumbrella360, one of the many things that Mark Ritson opined was that it was time to banish the word ‘digital’ from the marketing lexicon.

Vijay Solanki, CEO of IAB Australia

My take on it is a resolute “not yet”. The word digital will ultimately disappear, but currently we are still in the first stage of digital marketing. There is still considerable distance to be travelled before digital is firmly implanted in the boardroom, and within the consciousness of all marketers.

Part of Ritson’s thesis is that great marketing always starts with the strategy, and as the lines between analogue and digital are rapidly blurring, the need to specifically focus on digital is redundant because we are all digital.

I have no quibble with the first part of his thesis. I absolutely subscribe to the mantra of starting with the strategy, building out a highly detailed picture of the consumer in all her various guises and ensuring a complete understanding of the business model. Then onto the focus on brand, product brand architecture, supply chain and so on, before deciding the specifics of the channel execution.

Mark Ritson at Mumbrella 360

However, when we get to the second part of his thesis, our views diverge, because whilst I believe that silos are breaking down, we don’t yet live in a world where marketers truly understand cross-platform and channel opportunities.

That’s an important marker for me, because a prerequisite for a successful strategy is a deep understanding of the channels available, and we aren’t even close to achieving that across our industry.

Marketing teams and their agencies need an understanding of – or at least, ready access to experts – across the digital realms of mobile, video, content, social, search, and data to help them shape their strategy. I’d argue that this digital knowledge and expertise should go beyond the marketing team and permeate across the broader organisation.

Digital is, after all, transforming whole of businesses and reinventing industry verticals. It is gradually underpinning the whole enterprise, from customer, through sales and marketing, through finance and system architecture. Consequently, business needs digital champions across all key functions until ‘digital’ becomes second nature. Brands can’t afford to risk complacency and a reversion to old habits.

In the last couple of decades, digital has changed the culture of marketing. I began my career in marketing at Unilever in the nineties and vividly remember when we got our first 56k modem in the office, when Persil launched an on-pack CD-ROM and the company hired its first internet marketing manager – and all before the end of 1997.

Since then we have travelled through mobile technologies and will soon hit 5G connectivity, which has transformed consumer media and retail behaviour. In turn, this has heralded the introduction of new types of marketing specialists, from the aforementioned ‘internet marketing managers’ in the nineties, through to the growth hackers and creative technologists of today.

However, this cultural change has yet to plateau into the ‘new normal’, despite what Ritson may suggest. We still have a well documented skills gap in our industry and I’m not convinced it is going to narrow anytime soon.

As fast as our industry pivots, new technologies are emerging. These advances are going to continue coming down the pipes thick and fast. The step change in speed and capacity will be unprecedented and will drive a real revolution across society and commerce. The consequences, and opportunities, for the advertising and media industries are immense. The gap between when the technology becomes available and consumer uptake (and consequently marketing application) is going to further narrow.

Yet one “digital” size will not fit all. Different business verticals will naturally have different requirements with some, such as financial services and travel, having very robust understanding and use of digital platforms, while others will still be tinkering at the margins exploring what is possible, reasonable and realistic.

As we enter into this brave new world of total digital immersion then the ‘D’ word will likely disappear, most likely to be replaced by another type of specialism that has yet to be invented.

But for now the word serves a purpose, has a place and carries with it intent. It’s far too early to consider its banishment.

Vijay Solanki is the CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Australia.


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