Digital, social, mobile and the problem with buzzwords
What is digital? The idea, the technology, the interaction, the behavior? Aren't good ideas just good ideas?
BBH Lab’s founder Mel Exon has a great post over on the Labs blog this week, asking do we still need the word digital in our advertising and marketing vocabulary. Isn’t everything digital? Won’t the use of the word just perpetuate the erroneous labeling of ideas, defining them as either digital or not digital?
The dilemma with words that have lots of meanings is that not everyone interprets them similarly. Is digital an application? Or the device on which it runs? Is it the process by which it’s made? Or the code that makes it work? We call people, departments and strategies digital. Does that mean if you don’t have the word in your title that you’re not digital?
Consumers, however, don’t think in terms or labels. They simply engage.
Hey, there’s a QR code on that billboard for a new camera that I can scan in order to access a video that demonstrates the features of the camera (along with a link to a Facebook page with comments from users) which I can email to a friend who can store it in her Springpad app (client), which will connect her to the best price on the web so she can buy the product directly from her Smartphone while paying for it with any of a variety of online options.
Is that digital? Or just advertising? Maybe it’s mobile. Or social. Two more terms to complicate things. Some people define mobile as a device. If you’re in marketing, maybe you consider it a channel. But isn’t it really a behavior? It’s not my phone that’s mobile. I’m mobile. I’m the one who is in motion, untethered yet connected, demanding remote access and contextual information. Same with social. It’s not a medium. It, too, is a behavior, exhibited by both individuals, and if they’re smart, companies and brands.
The example above is just basic marketing. Awareness that leads to a product demonstration that allows for sharing and subsequently a transaction. Presumably the billboard was attention getting and its location right for the audience. But the most important component in the entire process was the consumer for whom the experience isn’t digital but simply convenient, fun, informative and easy.
Which brings us back to the D-word. To a newspaper it may refer to a technological platform. To a retailer it’s an online presence and a convenient shopping experience.
But to those of us in marketing, digital should just be a mindset that inspires us to create experiences and utility rather than messages or ads.
Inside agencies and marketing departments that’s not always the case. Based on what I hear at workshops and conferences, people still solve problems with positioning statements, headlines, and ad-like objects rather than with products, platforms and services.
As long as that’s the case, maybe we do need the word if for no other reason than to remind people to make rather than say. Or as Gareth Kay and Flo Heiss recommend, to “stop having advertising ideas and start having ideas worth advertising.”
Mel also concludes that we still need the word. (No doubt the award shows with their interactive categories, Ad Age with its digital edition, clients whose RFPs ask for digital capabilities, and all those agencies with funny names are breathing a sigh of relief.) After all, digital, in all of its manifestations, is still in its infancy. What we create, the skills we need, the processes we use, the ways in which we monetize products and services, are just getting figured out. The word serves a purpose. I just hope it ends up uniting people — creatives, planners, strategists, clients, consumers–rather than segregating them. And that it makes for better ideas.
Photo from: switched.com