In the early days of the digital marketing revolution, digital folk took issue with the ad people’s assumption that campaigns would centre around a TV and print campaign and be simply adapted into videos and banners. Digital was a different medium, an interactive medium, with the ability to create engagement and foster loyalty in a way that TV never could. It’s unique capabilities were woefully underused in matching luggage campaigns, and we fought the good fight for conversation, communities, activation, deep experiences and brand utility.
Things have moved on a long way in terms of our collective understanding of what the role of digital should be, and many of these once hard-fought concepts are now gospel throughout the industry, to the point where digital products, platforms and activation ideas increasingly live at the centre of campaigns.
This is progress is exciting and important. However this is still just a baby step towards the potential that digital technologies can play in achieving our real objectives.
Advertising was never a goal unto itself. Our real role has always been creating competitive advantage for the brand and product through any means available. This has traditionally meant creating differentiation for products and brands through creativity and innovation in how we positioned and told stories around those products and communicated their benefits. At it’s most blunt, it’s meant using reach and frequency to blast familiarity into peoples’ brains with catchy slogans and jingles. And so from this starting point it makes sense that we tend to focus on what we can achieve in digital through the lens of communication alone.
This is much too narrow a view.
The internet is a foundational medium that connects things multi-directionally. It connects people with people, people with companies, people with products and services, services with other services. This connectivity has been affecting our lives like a force of nature, a simple concept like the fractal, which in practice scales to an infinite variety of applications. The result of the digital revolution has in just the last 15 years alone been transformative for how not only businesses operate, but how the world works.
At it’s most dramatic and obvious, it has meant the rise and fall of whole business models, with Blockbuster going bankrupt while Netflix reaches a $15 billion valuation. But digital technologies have given rise to opportunities for disruption or differentiation in the market via all aspects of the value chain:
Step back and think about this for a minute — the creative and innovative application of digital technologies is literally affecting every aspect of the lifecycle of products and services. Each of those steps in the value chain is an opportunity for creating true differentiation in the product or service that the customer is buying. This isn’t about marketing gimmicks that get the customer to take notice, this is about creating layers of value in and around the product itself, making it something they’d prefer to buy vs the competition.
And as you can see from the examples in the chart above, agencies, marketers and all other functions have a key role to play in envisioning these innovations and making them relevant to consumers, and then breaking the silos down and connecting all of the dots to provide a truly joined up customer experience. This, in our modern digital age, is the future of brand building. It’s a whole new source of competitive advantage, and is what can separate a product in a commodified category or even help create a whole new category altogether. It’s about new business models, new service models, new types of products, new ways of using those products. And it’s something we can all participate in and help drive forward.