Is Digital Marketing Obsolete In The Age Of Digital Transformation?

December 15, 2015

Yes, I know, that's a pretty contentious question. In fact, my esteemed MD Roger Proctor took no small amount of exception when I posed it at a recent management meeting; which is unsurprising as he heads up a pretty successful agency where working in the digital space takes up at least 75% of our time these days.

However, even he became thoughtful when I put that question into the context of a recent article by the academic, brand consultant and Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson in which he, perhaps a little mischievously, posited the theory that: ‘Digital marketing is redundant' and in no need of its own discrete budget.

So for all those of you who choked on your coffee at the title of this post, I should perhaps clarify the question slightly, as when it comes down to it, Mr. Ritson is merely suggesting what many people have suspected for a while now: that traditional and digital channels are pretty much two different ways of skinning the same cat.

Online, Above The Line, Below The Line, What's My Line?

Coming from an advertising family, I grew up listening to lots of talk about working above- or below-the-line, albeit that the terms became slightly obsolete at about the time my own career began. But if truth be told, while the sexy, above-the-line agencies of the time may have looked down on below-the line-agencies, DM and promotional tactics were always just as important to the success of integrated brand campaigns as the glossy TV commercial or 48-sheet blast that led the way.

The self-evident truth at the heart of every great brand and brand campaign is that consistency counts for as much as creativity; a fact that was generally taken as read at the dawn of the digital age, when websites took their lead from the styles, messages and campaigns created for traditional media.

However, fast forward a few years and many marketing-savvy organisations have chosen to put their digital and traditional marketing efforts into separate silos, often with quite different strategic objectives and almost always battling for their individual portion of the available marketing spend.

Yet as digital channels begin to mature, and 'Digital Transformation' becomes the norm for almost every modern business, it becomes increasingly hard to see why these two silos should exist.

Isn't It Time We Got Back To Integrated Marketing In Its Truest Sense?

As I said at the beginning of this piece, Proctor + Stevenson spends perhaps 75% of the time working in the digital arena, which is unsurprising when you consider that many of our B2B clients are pretty high-tech in their own right.

However, if my calculations are correct, that still leaves 25% of the working week for us to engage with, dare I say it, old-fashioned media such as Direct Mail, press advertising and outdoor campaigns.

You see, while this may be anathema to millennials, the truth is that 'brand engagement' doesn’t simply come about when a prospect likes your Facebook page. Sometimes the most engaging thing you can offer someone is a personalised mailer that lands on their doormat: which might well be the clincher, particularly if you’ve already used tracking in digital channels to work out their level of engagement and propensity to buy.

It’s also worth noting that as marketing spends have switched en masse to digital channels, traditional media channels have had to cut their costs dramatically: making TV an option for more marketers than ever, and making outdoor advertising a viable, cost-effective choice even for many B2B clients.

It's Time To Zig While Everyone Else Is Still Zagging

One of the most interesting phenomena of the digital age is that many brands are pursuing the same audience in exactly the same ways; which is very much the opposite of what they used to do, when zigging while the competition zagged was pretty much the object of the game.

Certainly, online ad spend is falling at the moment, largely thanks to the presence of ever more sophisticated ad blocking technology, a trend that may well force many brands to fall back on traditional channels simply out of need.

My point though is that maybe it's time to start seeing digital as just one of many weapons that we marketers have in our armoury. Just as Digital Transformation enables tech-savvy businesses to join up every aspect of their operations, it's time for marketing-savvy organisations to join up every aspect of their marketing function; breaking down the barriers between digital and traditional channels forever.

To put it another way, it's all very well seeking the holy grail of a 'single customer view', but I genuinely think it's time we all matched that by integrating our resources and finally re-establishing the 'single marketing view' that used to serve us so well.

Jessica Ellis - Business Development Director

Article first published here on 08/11/15